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Autism Spectrum Disorder Projects

Current projects

Longitudinal Aging – Behavior and Physiology

Through National Institute for Mental Health funding, the objectives of this research are to characterize hippocampal aging trajectories and identify the combination of MRI measures that best predict accelerated memory decline in middle-age and older adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to matched non-ASD. This is relevant to public health because findings will advance fundamental knowledge of brain aging vulnerabilities and mechanisms in ASD. Our long-term goal is identifying biomarkers and intervention targets for precision medicine care of aging autistic adult.

Through funding from the Arizona Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) Project Development grant, we will perform whole genome analysis on our adult case and control ASD cohort (n=223) to evaluate individuals with ASD for elevated Alzheimer’s polygenic risk score. We will correlate the risk score with existing longitudinal and cognitive brain data.

Multi-component behavioral intervention designed to increase functional independence during aging in ASD

This project evaluates our newly developed Strengthening Skills intervention which combines social skill training with cognitive compensation training, mindfulness-based emotional regulation, and support group work to improve independence and quality of life in adults with autism spectrum disorder. This program is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The project also includes the evaluation of clinical-grade speech and language biomarkers to measure quality of life, cognition and social communication via personal mobile devices.

Arizona Independence Initiative and Technology Innovation to Benefit Neurodiverse Adults

This project involves assessing the impact of weekly psycho-educational meetings paired with daily mindfulness meditation through a mobile app on teens with autism. The goal is to reduce stress, anxiety and depression while improving the overall quality of life for these individuals.

Investigating a Mindfulness Intervention to Reduce Anxiety and Depression in Teens with ASD and Caregivers

This project involves assessing the impact of weekly psycho-educational meetings paired with daily mindfulness meditation through a mobile app on teens with autism. The goal is to reduce stress, anxiety and depression while improving the overall quality of life for these individuals.

Anchoring Habits Among Autistic Adults to Increase Meditation App Adherence for Depression Reduction

This work examines if habit formation techniques in a meditation app improve depression outcomes in autistic adults across their lifespans.

Experiences of Transition Age Latino Youth with Autism: Understanding and Addressing Health and Access to Care Disparities

This project is being carried out through a Health Resources and Services Administration Autism Single Investigator Innovation Program (Autism-SIIP) — Autism Transitions Research Project grant.

Student involvement

We offer comprehensive training for students in both research and clinical practice. Our Master of Science in communication disorders and Master of Arts in special education with a concentration in autism spectrum disorders programs provide classroom preparation and internship opportunities through the EASE program and research clinical trials.” We also support undergraduate, master's and PhD students in conducting research, including thesis and dissertation work.

Our research-focused programs aim to foster students' development towards their future goals, whether it be pursuing further education or entering the industry. Additionally, we provide support to autistic students in engineering through the EASE program, as well as through group activities previously offered by the Advocating Sun Devils student group. Clinical students gain skills in assessment and intervention for autistic clients, while research students develop expertise in experimental design, data collection, analysis and dissemination.

Our students come from a diverse background including speech and hearing science, neuroscience, exercise and wellness, bioinformatics, engineering and psychology. We plan to continue to recruit from these majors and potentially expand.

contact our co-leads

Community partners

We have established relationships with community partners with Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC), Barrow Neurological Institute, Translational Genomic Research Institute, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Mayo Clinic, local school districts and community organizations, including the Autism Society of Greater Phoenix.