The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding innovative autism research and supporting families facing autism, today announced the recipients of its annual pre- and postdoctoral fellowship grants. Seven predoctoral and two postdoctoral fellowship grants will be awarded to students for their novel project proposals, ranging from understanding sex-based differences in autism to assessing depression in
minimally verbal autistic adults.

“In our ongoing effort to support early-career autism scientists, we are incredibly proud to fund the research initiatives proposed by this year’s impressive group of pre- and postdoctoral grantees,” said Autism Science Foundation Chief Science Officer Dr. Alycia Halladay. “At ASF, we recognize the immense value in ensuring that we foster the next generation of researchers, whose passion and dedication will continue to propel the field forward and whose work is poised to tangibly improve the lives of people with autism.”

“These nine innovative studies will help bring us closer to understanding the causes of autism and to developing better treatments,” said ASF Co-Founder and President Alison Singer. “The ASF team worked closely with our world-class Scientific Advisory Board to identify research projects that address the issues important to the families we serve. This important work would not be possible without the support of our donors. We are exceptionally grateful for their continued generosity, which allowed us to increase the funding levels for each of these awards this year.”

Since its founding in 2009, the Autism Science Foundation has funded more than $5 million in grants that have resulted in breakthroughs that have made a demonstrably positive impact on the lives of people with autism. Throughout the pandemic, ASF funded 13 new research grants aimed at understanding the unique effects of COVID-19 on people with autism. Additionally, in the past year ASF has also funded the ‘Next Gen Sibs’ research project to aid and better understand the
children of typically developing siblings, four new ‘Baby Siblings Research Consortium’ grants and five new undergraduate research grants. ASF is also currently accepting applications for its newly renamed Suzanne Wright Memorial Accelerator Awards through June 14.

The following pre- and postdoctoral projects were selected for spring 2022 funding:

Wilkinson Headshot 755x1024

Ellen Wilkinson

Mentor: Vanessa Bal, Ph.D.
Advisors: Richard Hastings, Ph.D. and Andrew Jahoda, Ph.D.

Measuring Depression and Low Mood in Minimally-Verbal Autistic Adults: Establishing and Adapting Tools to Assess Emotional Well-Being\

Despite the awareness that depression is common in autistic people, the mental health of minimally verbal (MV) autistic adults has received inadequate attention. Part of the problem is the lack of valid tools to assess depression in MV autistic adults. This study will investigate the utility and appropriateness of using surveys administered by a caregiver around depression and will gather information about behaviors that caregivers believe reflect low mood or depression. This project addresses a gap in mental health support for MV autistic adults and will assist clinicians in determining which tools should be used for people with autism who show signs of depression but cannot verbally communicate their feelings.