A Message from the Director

On April 2nd, the United Nations recognizes “World Autism Awareness Day” and encourages citizens around the world to build a more inclusive and accessible world that recognizes the contributions of all people. Here at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, this is our mission each and every day. We envision a world where all individuals on the spectrum are able to reach their full potential, allowing society to benefit from the talents and perspectives that neurodiverse individuals offer. Our research families, community partners, donors, and friends are key partners in our success.

We hope you will join us as we celebrate Autism Acceptance Month with our special guest, Representative Jessica Benham (D-PA), a self-advocate and champion for inclusion who is one of only a few US legislators who identifies as autistic. Please join us for her presentation, “Overcoming Stigma, Not Autism: How Being Autistic Makes Me a Good Legislator,” on April 14 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. The event will take place virtually, and is free and open to all. We look forward to celebrating neurodiversities all month across our social media platforms. Please Like and Follow us, and share your thoughts in our “What’s 1 Thing?” campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As always, visit our website to keep up with all our events and news.

In this issue of our Connections newsletter, we hope you enjoy reading about some of our recent scientific journal publications and learning about our new research studies, such as the Duke Autism HERO Study, which seeks to understand the overlap between autism and anxiety. If you haven’t had a chance to read our latest Impact Report, I encourage you to do so.

As always, we thank you for your partnership as we work to ensure autistic individuals are able to live their lives to their fullest potential. 
Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
Director, Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development
Center Launches the Duke Autism HERO Study to Investigate the Overlap of Autism and Anxiety

The Duke Center for Autism is enrolling autistic kids ages 4-7 years for the Duke Autism HERO study. Parents, your child could help us learn about the overlap between autism, ADHD, and anxiety. Your child gets an in-person evaluation at the Duke Center for Autism at no cost to you. And, we will be here to answer questions you have along the way. All Duke Autism HERO participants also get an official “Duke Research Superhero” certificate to take home to show their friends, family, and teachers! Only two or three in-person visits are needed, plus one parent interview that can be done virtually. Parents will be compensated for their time. For more information, email autismresearch@dm.duke.edu or visit the study website here. [Pro#00108001]
New Autism Clinicians Reflect on Skill Gaps and Gains After Remote Training 
The pandemic has left many clinical trainees feeling isolated from their instructors and classmates. In an editorial published in Autism Research, Duke Center for Autism clinician researcher Marika Coffman, PhD, and other trainees offered recommendations on how educators can support trainees in the remote learning environment and how trainees can advocate for themselves, should future lockdowns arise and some remote instruction stay the norm. 
Guillermo Sapiro Elected a Member of the National Academy of Engineering
Guillermo Sapiro, PhD, James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University, has been named a member of the National Academy of Engineering — among the highest professional distinctions for an engineer. Dr. Sapiro was cited for contributions to the theory and practice of imaging and has long been working at the forefront of the imaging and machine learning fields. In partnership with Duke Center for Autism researchers, Dr. Sapiro helped create an app used in many center research investigations that helps detect signs of autism in early childhood. Read the full article here.
Meta-analysis Shows that Autistic People are More Likely to Die Early
Duke Center for Autism Director Highlights Need for Preventative Health Care
CNN Health highlighted research that shows having autism or ADHD could come with a higher risk of dying earlier than normal, according to new research. Previous studies have suggested that some neurodevelopmental conditions may be linked to a higher risk of premature death, but findings were inconsistent, according to a new meta-analysis (review of data from many previous studies) published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The meta-analysis examined 27 studies, which included more than 642,000 participants. In a commentary on the analysis, Duke Center for Autism Director Geraldine Dawson, PhD, and neurodevelopment expert Russell A. Barkley, PhD, explain that preventive health care is needed to make a positive impact.
Autistic Autism Researchers Share Challenges and Benefits in Roundtable Discussion
Historically, few autism researchers have been autistic. Fortunately, a growing number of autistic scholars have begun to make their presence known. An article in Autism in Adulthood shares a roundtable discussion with autistic scholars, including Duke Center for Autism’s clinical research specialist Jordan Grapel, who are among the growing number of individuals on the spectrum who are conducting autism research. 
Autism Science Foundation "Year in Review" features
Duke Center for Autism's Research
In its summary of significant autism discoveries and related news of 2021, the Autism Science Foundation has, once again, highlighted multiple Duke Center of Autism and Brain Development research studies designed identify new tools for screening, diagnosis, and treatment.
"Overcoming Stigma, Not Autism: Why Being Autistic Makes Me a Good Legislator" JOIN US! Free, Virtual, and Open to ALL! April 14 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.
Celebrate Autism Acceptance Month 2022 with the Duke Center for Autism! Please join us as we welcome autistic self-advocate and legislator Jessica Benham (D-PA). When the 30-year-old disability activist was sworn into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives last year, she became one of only a handful of politicians who self-disclose as autistic, and as a bisexual woman, one of the few LGBTQ women in politics. Before her election, Rep. Benham founded the Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, a grassroots self-advocacy project run by autistic people. She is an advocate for the rights of autistic people, especially for increased access to individualized education for public school students, addressing healthcare access barriers, and opening doors to employment for neurodiverse individuals.

The event is co-sponsored by Duke POLIS: Center for Politics and is FREE, VIRTUAL, and OPEN TO ALL. Please register in advance here.
UN Virtual Program will Highlight the Need for Worldwide Inclusive Education for All

The United Nations will address the need for inclusive education with a virtual event that will include a moderated panel discussion, along with presentations by self-advocates, educators, and other experts. The event is organized by the UN Department of Global Communications and UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, with support from partners such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the Global Autism Project, and others. Learn more and register here.
In case you missed it…

Congratulations to our 2021 Holiday Greeting Art Gallery Contest winner, Catherine, a nine-year-old artist with autism, epilepsy, and ADHD. Her painting, “Snowman Snow” was featured on our Duke Center for Autism’s holiday greeting card. More than 35 artists of all ages from around the world submitted art for the Duke Center for Autism Holiday Greeting Art Gallery.
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