Dark End of the Spectrum

Helen Tager-Flusberg’s plans as head of a federal autism center at BU.

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Helen Tager-Flusberg was born in England. She did her graduate work at Harvard in experimental psychology in the 1970s when B. F. Skinner still roamed the halls. But it’s at BU that she’s tackling one of the most baffling—and neglected—areas of autism research. Reaching and testing children with no language skills.

Last fall, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $10 million to establish an Autism Center of Excellence, giving hope to scientists and to the families of children on this dark end of the autism spectrum. Researchers put their number at 30 percent. Tager-Flusberg, a professor of psychology, will lead the effort.

“There has been almost no research on this group of children and adults, and we have already designed several key projects to address this gap in our knowledge.”

The BU center, the first federally designated one of its kind in the nation, will marshal researchers from several fields to study autism and language. The goal is to develop tools that predict whether or not therapy will be successful.

“We need new ways of reaching these children,” Tager-Flusberg says. “There has been almost no research on this group of children and adults, and we have already designed several key projects to address this gap in our knowledge.”