University of Southern California
University of Southern California
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Chan Division News

How one PhD student is emphasizing the World in World Autism Month
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By Bryan Kang MA ’18, OTD ’19

April is World Autism Month, a time to recommit to raising awareness of, and support understanding for, individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy continues to be a leader in autism research, and has a renown that attracts students from around the globe.

One of those scholars is current occupational science student Claire Chen PhD ’22. Originally from Taiwan, Chen has been at USC for two years conducting research with Grace Baranek, the division’s associate dean, chair and Mrs. T.H. Chan Professor of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy. Chen is a member of Baranek’s Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research — or, insp!re — lab, which focuses on improving understanding of the early risk signs and sensory features of ASD.

Claire Chen PhD ’22 conducts research to understand the early risk signs of ASD

Claire Chen PhD ’22 conducts research to understand the early risk signs of ASD

“My past research experience in visual/auditory attention to social stimuli in ASD brought me to Dr. Baranek’s work,” Chen says. “I believe that infancy is a critical stage of development for practitioners to provide necessary services and support for individuals with ASD and their families.”

When Baranek was recruited to USC from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in early 2017, Chen, then a first-year PhD student at UNC, followed her to the West Coast. But Chen traces her own passion for autism research even earlier, to when she was a master’s student in neuropsychology in Japan and worked as a pediatric occupational therapist in Taiwan. With the ASD research expertise she is now gaining, Chen hopes to one day serve the autism community as a whole.

“I would love to further improve the diagnostic accuracy of early screens and biomarkers for ASD, targeting a broader range of populations, and to investigate how the heterogeneous nature of ASD impacts early identification,” Chen says.

Better screening tools can serve individuals with autism and their families, both domestically and internationally. Chen’s long-term goals include translating and utilizing research findings for Chinese-speaking countries, including her home country of Taiwan, truly putting an emphasis on the word “world” in World Autism Month.

“Improving our screening procedures can help target a broader range of populations, such as individuals in lower socioeconomic classes and various cultural backgrounds.”