Diana L. Robins, PhD, is currently a professor and director at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute, where she also leads the Research Program in Early Detection and Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Much of her work has centered around developing, validating, and refining a widely used screening tool for ASD, the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. The original M-CHAT paper has been cited more than 1100 times, and the validation of the recent revision, M-CHAT-R with Follow-Up (M-CHAT-R/F), demonstrated that the 2-stage screening questionnaire detects many cases of autism, and children in the study were diagnosed about two years younger than the national median, which improves access to ASD-specific early intervention. Robins’ other research endeavors use neuro-imaging and other techniques to understand deficits in social cognition in individuals with ASD, as well as neural mechanisms of intact social cognition in typically developing individuals. She also collaborates with colleagues from Georgia State University on studies of imitation, social cognition, and the development of social, play and communication skills in toddlers at risk for ASD.
Robins’ research has been funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Autism Speaks, and the National Institute of Mental Health, and she has collaborated on projects funded by the Department of Defense and the Templeton Foundation. Her work has been published in leading pediatric and autism journals, including Pediatrics, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, and Autism: the International Journal of Science and Practice. She currently sits on the editorial boards for Neuropsychology and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, and is an ad hoc reviewer for dozens of journals and grant panels.
Robins received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Clinical Neuropsychology from the University of Connecticut. Following her APA-approved internship at the University of Florida Health Sciences Center, she completed a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Yale University School of Medicine Child Study Center. She then spent 10 years on the faculty at Georgia State University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Psychology and the Neuroscience Institute. Robins was among the faculty on Georgia’s first Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) program, housed at Georgia State University.
How I Make a Difference in Research:
Robins’ work in the Early Detection and Intervention research program at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute emphasizes partnering with community agencies to improve implementation of evidence-based practices to detect, diagnose and treat autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as early as possible. Given that research demonstrates that children who receive intensive, ASD-specific treatment earlier have better outcomes across the lifespan, Robins’ projects aim to accomplish goals such as determining the optimal ages for universal screening in primary care settings, identifying community settings outside the medical home to reach underserved populations, and to directly relate the early detection practices in pediatric settings to readiness for kindergarten among children with ASD. In addition to directly touching the lives of thousands of toddlers and their parents in her studies, these research projects have direct impact on policy and practice, and align with the public health mission of the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University.