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Autism Acceptance Month: Emotional Development Expert

For April’s Autism Acceptance Month, the Drexel News Blog is highlighting experts and projects from Drexel University’s A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Research from the Autism Institute is built around a public health science approach to understanding and addressing the challenges of autism spectrum disorders by discovering, developing and sharing population-level and community-based outcomes.

Andrea Wieckowski, PhD, is an assistant research professor in the Early Detection and Intervention program at the Autism Institute. Her research uses technology in assessment and treatment of social communication differences in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and focuses on emotional development, including emotion recognition, expression and regulation. Recently, Wieckowski has also been researching early detection of ASD through complementary processes of screening and surveillance.

Wieckowski is currently working on a project examining children’s emotional responses through multiple complementary methods — behavioral coding, eye tracking and electroencephalogram (EEG) — to understand facial emotion expression differences in young children with and without ASD. The goal is to identify emotional responses early in development and identify possible signs leading to emotional challenges later in life.

While working with Diana Robins, PhD, director of the Autism Institute, Wieckowski is developing new expertise in early detection. This research focuses on detecting ASD early – as early diagnosis leads to earlier autism-specific treatment and improved outcomes.

A recent publication led by Wieckowski explores timing and accuracy of early and repeated screening for ASD during well-child visits.

“We found that screening for ASD should occur early and at multiple ages, but that there is not one best schedule for universal autism screening,” said Wieckowski.

Additionally, another project explored the accuracy of clinicians’ initial impressions of whether a child has autism — made within first five minutes of interacting with the child during diagnostic evaluations. Wieckowski and her colleagues found that observations that indicate ASD should trigger referral to intervention services, but that even though clinicians are often accurate about their initial impressions, first impressions alone are not enough to rule out ASD.

“Overall, these and other studies suggest that ASD can be detected early in development through early and repeated screening,” said Wieckowski. “And that consistent with current recommendations, both screening and developmental surveillance are needed to identify as many toddlers with ASD as possible.”

Wieckowski believes Autism Acceptance Month is important because, “There are still many misconceptions about autism, as well as continued gaps and delays in getting families the care they need.” Wieckowski adds the best way to combat these misconceptions is through raising awareness, increasing knowledge and better supporting families.

“There are also still major barriers in the field of autism research which need to be addressed, in order to provide the necessary supports and resources for all individuals,” said Wieckowski. “Awareness and acceptance are both needed to continue to make improvements in reaching all individuals with autism, as well as building more welcoming and inclusive communities.”

Media interested in speaking with Wieckowski should contact Annie Korp, news manager, at 215-571-4244 or

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