Autism Awareness Month: Meet the Expert, Nathaniel Snyder, Modifiable Risk Factor Researcher

Portrait photo of Nathanial Snyder
Nathaniel Snyder, PhD works in the Modifiable Risk Factor research program to identify risks of autism.

Throughout Autism Awareness month, the Drexel News Blog is speaking with researchers from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, who are experts in the four core areas of the Institute, to shed light on their projects and what it means for individuals with autism. 

The Autism Institute focuses on four core disciplines: modifiable autism spectrum disorder (ASD) risk factors; early detection and intervention; life course outcomes; and policy and analytics to understand and address the challenges of ASD and improve the quality of life for individuals of all ages with ASD.

Nathaniel Snyder, PhD is an assistant professor in the Autism Institute and works in the Modifiable Risk Factors research program to identify risks of autism.

What are modifiable risk factors?  

Modifiable risk factors are potentially diverse factors that could include individual molecules or physiological processes that change the risk of ASD and related conditions at a population or individual level. 

In order to find these factors, our laboratory also works on the basic methods and techniques that we use to measure these potential factors, especially those approaches that can be used in hard to study populations, like pregnant women.

How did you become interested in autism research?

I have always been aware of the public health importance of autism research, but my background is in analytical chemistry, toxicology, and metabolism. Although I had never really taken a long read of the literature around the causes and risks of ASD, I was inspired by the job posting for my position now. Pretty immediately, I saw a chance to do some good science on a critical problem. After I interviewed here, my conviction solidified that there is a lot of really impactful work to be done in the field.

Why is Autism Awareness month important?

Autism is a public health problem in so many dimensions but there are three big ones that Autism Awareness touches on. 

First, there is a societal issue where we need to make society more open and accepting to neurodiversity and disability. 

Second, there are major outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases (one in Philadelphia right now!) that are likely caused by the unsupported choice of putting others at risk by skipping effective, safe, and life-saving preventative vaccinations. 

Finally, ASD is a great demonstration of how much of human biology we don’t understand – especially around pregnancy, the brain, development, epigenetics, genetics, and environment.

To read the first interview of the series with A.J. Drexel Autism Institute interim director and professor Diana Robins, PhD, click here.

Media interested in an interview with Nathaniel Snyder should contact Annie Korp at 215-571-4244 or