UTHSC Participating in Autism Intervention Research Network for Physical Health

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Dr. Toni Whitaker

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is partnering with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities to participate in the Autism Intervention Research Network for Physical Health (AIR-P), which was recently funded by a $15 million investment over five years by the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau.

The purpose of the AIR-P network is to improve the lives of people with disabilities across the lifespan through professional training, technical assistance, service, research, and information sharing. The overall funding was granted to researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and partners at Kaiser Permanente, the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, and the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

Dr. Bruce Keisling

UTHSC will receive $100,000 from the Association of University Centers on Disabilities to conduct research on autism, a neurodevelopmental condition that affects one in 54 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Efforts will be led by Toni M. Whitaker, MD, director of the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program in the UT-Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities, and Bruce L. Keisling, PhD, executive director and Shainberg Professorship in Developmental Pediatrics for the UT-Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities.

“We are pleased to be a part of this national research network and contribute to our understanding of promoting positive physical health outcomes for people with autism across the lifespan,” Dr. Keisling said.

As autistic children age into adulthood, health-related behaviors that may develop in childhood can have long-term consequences. Diet and exercise can impact cardiovascular risk, particularly in families with a history of hypertension, diabetes or cardiac complications. Autistic children and adults often do not get the recommended preventive services. Additional research focus areas include health services, primary care/prevention, well-being, neurology, genetics, sexual health, and health care transitions.