The division’s current projects and programs for autistic people, at a glance
April 18, 2022
In recognition of Autism Month, a round-up of all that's happening at USC Chan.
By Bryan Morales
The month of April is recognized as Autism Month, dedicated to the inclusion and recognition of autistic individuals and those in the autism community, including parents, caretakers, teachers, practitioners and self-advocates. Within the USC Chan Division is a collection of projects and programs that aims to address various aspects of the lives of autistic individuals. Below is a round-up of our research labs and active grants, community projects and partnerships, clinical services and educational opportunities. Read below to learn more!
Research Labs and Active Grants
The A-Z Lab (PI: Lisa Aziz-Zadeh) explores the idea that rudimentary sensory-motor brain regions, which may have been originally designed for processing our own body states, may be intrinsically involved in processing aspects of higher cognition, including language, thought, emotions, empathy and social understanding.
- Neural Correlates of Sensory Processing in Autism Spectrum Disorder Aimed at informing the development of targeted occupational therapies for children with autism and co-occurring sensory processing difficulties by identifying unique neural mechanisms related to social and non-social sensory processing, and investigating how activity in sensory-related brain regions is related to barriers to occupational engagement.
- The Relationship Between Brain Functioning, Behavior, and Microbiota in Autism Spectrum Disorder Aimed at explaining differences in ASD in different children and developing biomarkers and new therapies, with the ultimate goal of building new personalized treatments for ASD aimed at how the brain and the gut microbiome work together.
Boundary Crossings (PI: Mary Lawlor) addresses a range of issues related to the lived experiences of children, adolescents and adults who have health and developmental challenges as they engage in the extraordinary and ordinary activities that constitute living and learning in daily life.
- Transforming Research: Understanding Sensory Experiences in ASD, Stakeholders Working Together—TRUST Aimed at establishing a diverse alliance comprised of self-advocates, family members and caregivers, clinicians and providers, researchers and community partners; determining research priorities, producing resources and distributing recommendations; and developing a plan for sustainability and examining long-term impact.
- Building the Future: Managing Uncertainty in the Lives of Autistic Children, Families, and Clinicians Aimed at eliciting multiple perspectives, including those of clinicians, to bridge the understandings about home, community and clinical practice worlds, thus addressing service gaps that have resulted from the pandemic and enhancing existing services for autistic individuals moving forward.
The Disparity Reduction and Equity in Autism Services (DREAmS) Lab (PI: Amber Angell) works to identify, measure, understand and reduce disparities in autism diagnosis and services, with an overarching vision to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity for all individuals on the autism spectrum.
- Adapting and Implementing a Healthcare Toolkit to Improve Women’s Healthcare Utilization for Autistic Women Aimed at adapting and implementing an evidence-based healthcare toolkit to improve women’s healthcare navigation for autistic women.
- Health Services Utilization of Autistic Youth: Are Therapeutic Services Associated with Reduced Acute Psychiatric Care? Aimed at investigating associations between therapeutic and acute psychiatric service utilization among autistic youth in Florida.
- Using Machine Learning with Real-World Data to Identify Autism Risk in Children Aimed at developing a computable phenotype for ASD using both structured and unstructured EHR data and developing a machine-learning risk prediction model for ASD, laying the foundation for a clinical decision support tool.
The Innovations in Neurodevelopmental Sensory Processing Research (insp!re) Lab (PI: Grace Baranek) is aimed at advancing knowledge of early risk signs of ASD and related neurodevelopmental disorders.
- Moving Beyond the Average: Building a Comprehensive Model of Classroom Quality that Incorporates Children’s Individual Experiences Aimed at exploring how individual children’s engagement varies within classrooms, and the degree to which variation in child engagement is associated with children’s outcomes.
The Sensory Adaptations in Dental Environments Lab (PI: Sharon Cermak) studies the sensory characteristics of the dental environment in order to decrease children’s physiological anxiety and negative responses during oral care and contribute to increased child comfort as well as safer, more efficient and less costly dental treatment.
- Sensory Adapted Dental Environments to Enhance Oral Care for Children (SADE-2) Aimed at investigating the efficacy of a sensory adapted dental environment (SADE), compared to a regular dental environment, to decrease children’s physiological anxiety, distress behavior, perception of pain and sensory discomfort during a dental cleaning.
Community Projects and Partnerships
- Sensory Processing and Autism Network (SPAN) Aimed at leveraging collective expertise, resources and stakeholders to synergize goals, generate new discoveries, test/implement tailored assessments and interventions and mobilize knowledge to influence practice, education and policy.
- HELP Group partnership and doctoral residency Aimed at helping young people fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive and rewarding lives through services for children, adolescents and young adults with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional challenges.
- Training for USC’s Department of Public Safety officers Aimed at educating the University of Southern California’s Department of Public Safety on what signs to look for, and how those signs can often be misinterpreted by those who are unfamiliar with autism.
- Lifestyle Redesign® for Autism Spectrum Disorder Aimed at helping individuals with autism implement changes to their habits and routines in order to better manage their health and meet personal goals.
- Faculty practice model at Momentum PTN sensory integration clinics Aimed at carrying out high quality, innovative programs based on the foundation of sensory integration, clinical training, education and research.
- Occupational therapy clinical faculty at Boone Fetter Clinic for Autism Treatment Aimed at offering specialized care, family centered care, exceptional access to treatment, feeding expertise and long-term support to families of children with autism or related neurodevelopmental disorders.
- Occupational therapy clinical faculty at USC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Aimed at continuously leveraging resources throughout the CHLA and USC campuses, in collaboration with DD Network Partners, and our essential partnerships with community agencies to foster systemic change.
- USC Sensory Integration Hands-On Clinical Training Program (OT 610) Aimed at teaching entry-level practitioners the foundations of sensory integration theory and research in detail, problem solving individual treatment cases and learning the intervention concepts provided by A. Jean Ayres.
- Sensory Integration Continuing Education (CE) Certificate Program Aimed at providing training in the theory, assessment and intervention principles of sensory integration as originated by former faculty member A. Jean Ayres (1920–1988)
- The Diversity, Access, and Equity (DAE) Committee is a group of faculty, staff and students who work collaboratively to support the diversity efforts in the Chan Division.