Research at University of Virginia Hospital Screens for Autism in Infants
For many families, delayed autism diagnoses can result in children missing out on vital therapies and interventions. At the University of Virginia Hospital, researchers will now be able to screen newborn babies for autism thanks to a grant from the Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the University of Virginia (UVA) Alumni Association. The research efforts are being led by Dr. Meghan Puglia, Assistant Professor with the Department of Neurology; Dr. Santina Zanelli, associate professor for the department of pediatrics; and Dr. Micah Mazurek, a psychologist in the Curry School of Education. Through the project (officially named the Transformative Autism Biomarker Research Initiative), Puglia said she and her colleagues hope to identify signs of autism within the first months of life, to enable earlier interventions. The typical age for an autism diagnosis is currently 4 years old. Puglia said she and her colleagues hope to study 360 infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. The study is non-invasive and does not hurt the patients. Dr. Mazurek says the Jefferson Trust grant will “allow us to collect data across a really large sample of babies, and follow them over time to see if these early predictors can help us identify who's at risk for developing autism." According to Zanelli, the goal of the research is to help parents and people with autism navigate their futures. “Often what happens is we don't realize it's a problem until they're in second or third grade, fourth grade, and by then they're behind and catching up is just a huge ordeal,” Zanelli said. “The hope is that we can live in a world with patients or people with autism, that really perceive social cues differently can really navigate life transitions successfully and really get to be who they want to be, so I think if we start early we can really get to that place."