Philadelphia, May 1, 2019 – Two researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) were among five international experts selected to present the results of two innovative studies shaping the field of autism research at the 2019 annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), held this year in Montreal, on May 1-4.

INSAR’s annual meeting is the world's largest gathering of scientists and specialists to exchange and disseminate the latest scientific discoveries and stimulate progress into the nature, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The two studies led by CHOP researchers will be presented during a press conference on May 1 at 11 a.m. EST.

Virtual Reality is a Safe and Feasible Way of Training Children with Autism How to Interact with Police

A new virtual reality-based police safety module appears to be a safe and feasible method of training adolescents and adults with ASD on how to interact with the police, according to the results of a study conducted by researchers at CHOP.

Approximately one in five adolescents with ASD will be stopped and questioned by a police officer before the age of 21. Individuals with disabilities, including ASD, are five times more likely to be incarcerated, and civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among this population.

Researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Autism Research (CAR) tested the program, developed by Floreo, Inc., in 60 autistic individuals between the ages of 12 and 60 years old. Participants completed up to three visits during phase I of the study, during which they engaged in four two-minute interactions with virtual police officers. At the end of this phase of the study, 80% of participants said they would like to use this program again.

“This study showed us that this new technology is a safe and feasible with no serious adverse effects,” said lead co-author Julia Parish-Morris, PhD, a scientist in the Center for Autism Research (CAR) and faculty member in the Departments of Child Psychiatry and Biomedical & Health Informatics at CHOP. “We are about to begin a randomized control trial that will test whether the skills learned with a VR program will translate into positive interactions with live police officers.” The new study is funded by a $1.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.


Developmental Deceleration Can Be Identified During Primary Care Visits

CHOP’s researchers wanted to determine whether a routine developmental screening in primary care could identify developmental deceleration, or the slowing down of developmental progress, and whether this could be used to improve early detection of ASD.

New screening methods are needed to address the wide gap between when the first signs of ASD emerge at age 18 to 24 months and when the average child receives a diagnosis, typically around 4 years of age and sometimes older in certain populations. Early detection is critical because research shows that children benefit most from early intervention, ideally autism-specific therapies started before a child’s third birthday.

The CAR study team used data collected from the Survey of Wellbeing in Young Children (SWYC) Developmental Milestones, which is typically administered at well-child visits at 9 months, 18 months, and 24 to 30 months. They included all patients with at least one SWYC screening in primary care who were followed in the CHOP system through at least four years of age.

According to the results of the study, researchers were able to identify a subgroup of children who showed developmental deceleration using a brief, 10-item screener. They also found that children who showed this developmental deceleration had an elevated risk of being diagnosed later with ASD compared with children who did not show developmental deceleration.

“Our findings demonstrate that clear developmental deceleration can be detected through the routine developmental screenings that primary care pediatricians are already administering,” said Whitney Guthrie, PhD, a scientist and co-director of the Data and Statistical Core at CAR. “In addition to their current utility in identifying developmental delays, our results suggest that these routine developmental screeners may also help us identify children who are at risk for ASD, but may be missed by our traditional autism screeners. We are encouraged by these results, which may move us closer to the goal of identifying all children with ASD as early as possible.”

About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide.  Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country.  In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 564-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit

Meeting Link: INSAR Annual Meeting, May-2019