Researcher Awarded NIH Grant to Study Autism Early Intervention
Among low-income, minority, and rural families, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses can come up to one and a half years later than the national average. This means that many families are missing the window for early intervention, educational, and behavioral services that have been shown to vastly improve outcomes for children with ASD, as well as reduce healthcare costs in the short and long term.
Researchers from Boston Medical Center, led by Emily Feinberg, associate professor of community health sciences and associate professor of pediatric medicine at the School of Medicine, in conjunction with researchers from Florida State University and others across the country, are collaborating on a study that aims to help these parents access early intervention services sooner. The study is funded as part of a five-year, $10.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to the network of Autism Centers of Excellence.
In a first for evidence-based ASD treatment efforts, the intervention will be implemented by patient navigators who live in the same communities as the participants, taking on the shortage of linguistically diverse ASD service providers and providing culturally tailored services to traditionally underserved families.
“We know we can diagnose ASD at an early age,” Feinberg says. “Now we need to figure out how to make that happen more frequently, and also provide families with the support, education, and treatments they need to ensure their child thrives.”
The researchers will test a two-part intervention to engage parents with problem-solving educational tools that will help them to better adapt to caring for their child’s needs and to access the necessary support services. Some parents will also receive training in early social interaction so that they can support their child’s communication and social skills in everyday activities and routines.
Researchers will then evaluate if families with the added training in early social interaction are seeing more growth in social communication skills, development, and other ASD-affected areas. From there, they will use the data to create a hybrid intervention and test how feasible it is to implement in a health system.
Patients and families will be recruited at BMC and affiliated health centers for the first phase of the study.