Bettering the Lives of People With Autism | Research at PCOM
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Bettering Lives

Autism Research at PCOM

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Autism Research

At PCOM, we are interested in learning more about the relationship between treatment approaches and behavior in children with autism. Please join our community of families, researchers and providers dedicated to bettering the lives of people with autism and understanding more about this condition.

Participate in Autism Research

We are looking for adult caregivers of children/teens with autism (age 19 years or younger) to participate in research studies. Please review the information below to learn more about our current research and to find out how you can participate. Email us at AutismResearch@pcom.edu with any questions.

PCOM is conducting a survey of adult caregivers of children and teens with autism who are using medical marijuana. This three-month, online study is looking at changes in the way youth with autism think and act after using medical marijuana.

To be in this study, you must:

  • Be 18 years or older;
  • Be a caregiver for a child/teen with autism (age 19 years or younger) that has been approved to use medical marijuana by a doctor;
  • Be using medical marijuana to treat your child/teen or planning to start using medical marijuana to treat your child/teen;
  • Be willing to use the internet to complete a survey about the child/teen today;
  • Complete an online survey again in three months; and
  • Be willing to provide access to medical marijuana dispensary records.

Each survey (2) will take 30-35 minutes to complete. Your answers will be kept private but you will be asked to enter your information so that we can pay you ($50 debit card now and again at three months) and offer you a discount on your medical marijuana at Organic Remedies (the study sponsor) while you are in the study.

Your participation is completely voluntary. You can drop out at any time. At the end of the study, we will send you a summary of the findings.

PCOM IRB# #H22-027

Participate in the ASD and Medical Marijuana (Pennsylvania Residents Only) Study

If you are interested in participating in this study, please complete our contact form:

Contact Us

PCOM is conducting a survey of adult caregivers of children and teens with autism who are in treatment. This three-month, online study is looking at changes in the way youth with autism think and act.

To be in this study, you must:

  • Be 18 years or older;
  • Care for a child or teen with autism (age 19 or younger) in treatment (e.g., ABA, group/individual/family therapy, skills training, medicine);
  • Be willing to use the internet to complete a survey about the child/teen today; and
  • Complete an online survey again in three months.

Each survey (2) will take 30-35 minutes to complete. You will be asked to enter your information so that we can pay you ($50 debit card now and again at three months).

PCOM IRB# H23-016

Participate in the ASD Treatment Study

If you are interested in participating in this study, please complete our contact form:

Contact Us

About Autism

Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition that impacts how people socialize, communicate, learn and behave. Typically, autism is associated with difficulties in social communication, restricted interests and repetitive behavior.

Social communication differences may include how a person connects with others, how they understand friendships and relationships, and how they interpret and respond to social cues or body language. Restricted and repetitive differences may include how an individual processes information, adheres to a routine, responds to sensory input or copes with change. However, the characteristics of autism and the degree that it impacts a person's life can vary.

Often, autism is first recognized in young children, although recent advances in understanding autism have led to adults receiving their diagnosis later in life. About one in 36 children were identified with autism according to a 2023 study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suggesting an increase in rates of autism from previous years. Although autism has likely always existed, within the past 20 years or so, researchers have sought to better recognize and understand autism, what it means and how it impacts people's lives.

The word “neurodiversity” is used to describe the different ways people's brains learn and process information, influencing the way they interact with the world around them. These differences are not considered deficits, and for many neurodiverse people, their individuality may be regarded as a strength. Neurodiversity can describe anyone but is commonly associated with conditions such as Autism, ADHD and learning disabilities.

The neurodiversity movement is a social justice movement aiming to increase acceptance and understanding of neurological differences. Through this movement, the language used to describe neurodiverse people, efforts for inclusion, and flexibility in accommodations have been challenged in order to reduce stigma and increase quality of life. The autistic community specifically has worked within the neurodiversity movement to increase acceptance of autism as an aspect of a person's identity, focus on a strengths-based understanding of how autism impacts a person, and on recognizing subtle differences in how autism presents in adults, women and people of color.

Signs of autism can be recognized as early as within the first year of life, although, for many children, it is not fully recognized until they are about 2-3 years of age. Early signs of autism may include missed developmental milestones, limited eye contact, gestures, joint attention, responding to their name or difficulties with language. As a child grows some of the ways symptoms of autism impact their life may change or may remain the same.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following information about the signs and symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Common social differences experienced by autistic individuals include:

  • Avoids or does not keep eye contact
  • Does not respond to name by 9 months of age
  • Does not show facial expressions like happy, sad, angry and surprised by 9 months of age
  • Does not play simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months of age
  • Uses few or no gestures by 12 months of age (for example, does not wave goodbye)
  • Does not share interests with others by 15 months of age (for example, shows you an object that they like)
  • Does not point to show you something interesting by 18 months of age
  • Does not notice when others are hurt or upset by 24 months of age
  • Does not notice other children and join them in play by 36 months of age
  • Does not pretend to be something else, like a teacher or superhero, during play by 48 months of age
  • Does not sing, dance or act for you by 60 months of age

Common behaviors experienced by autistic individuals include:

  • Lines up toys or other objects and gets upset when order is changed
  • Repeats words or phrases over and over (called echolalia)
  • Plays with toys the same way every time
  • Is focused on parts of objects (for example, wheels)
  • Gets upset by minor changes
  • Has obsessive interests
  • Must follow certain routines
  • Flaps hands, rocks body or spins self in circles
  • Has unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look or feel

Other characteristics commonly associated with autism include:

  • Delayed language skills
  • Delayed movement skills
  • Delayed cognitive or learning skills
  • Hyperactive, impulsive and/or inattentive behavior
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Unusual eating and sleeping habits
  • Gastrointestinal issues (for example, constipation)
  • Unusual mood or emotional reactions
  • Anxiety, stress or excessive worry
  • Lack of fear or more fear than expected

There are a variety of treatments and resources available that seek to support autistic individuals. Behavioral treatments, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) seek to focus on skill building so an individual may gain activities of daily living and adaptive behaviors. Developmental treatments such as physical, occupational or speech therapy aim to support a child in achieving missed milestones. Individual and family therapy may be beneficial in reducing any co-occurring anxiety, depression, coping with change, or increasing attachment between family members. Additionally, some medications are utilized by psychiatrists to support an individual in increasing attention, regulating mood or reducing self-harming behaviors. Finally, social skills instruction and groups are beneficial in supporting an individual to feel more confident and comfortable interacting in social situations.

Families looking to learn more about autism, or wish to gather more resources and support are encouraged to check out the following resources. 

Resources highlighting autistic voices:

Resource networks in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia: 

Research at PCOM

PCOM aims to develop innovative approaches to promoting health through basic, translational, clinical, behavioral, education and community research projects.

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