Autism Awareness: 2021 UofSC faculty experts list



April is Autism Awareness Month and to help reporters develop stories about autism spectrum disorder, the University of South Carolina has compiled a list of faculty experts. To interview a faculty member, contact the staff member listed with each expert.


Autism and families

Robert Hock, a professor in the College of Social Work, specializes in the impact of autism spectrum disorder on family life and best practices for supporting families across service systems. He has been engaged in clinical work and research with individuals with autism and their families for more than 11 years. Hock has designed and evaluated several parent interventions and facilitated a federally funded effort to help state agencies develop family-centered services for youth, including those with autism. His current research focuses on understanding the factors that contribute to family adjustment, parent well-being and treatment engagement in families. Hock has developed a program called Autism Parent Navigators, which allows parents of children with ASD make home visits to other parents whose children have just received a diagnois. 

News contact: Chris Woodley,cwoodley@mailbox.sc.edu;803-777-9434. 


Diagnosing autism

Kimberly Hills, a clinical professor of psychology, specializes in the identification and diagnosis of autism and disorders that coexist with it, such as ones involving language, anxiety, attention or medical. She directs the Autism Diagnostic Division at the university’s Psychology Services Center and implements multidisciplinary training in autism for graduate students. In addition to assessing and diagnosing autism, Hills can discuss autism as it relates to school and clinical psychology, graduate training and post-diagnosis recommendations for families.

News contact: Bryan Gentry, brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650


Autism intervention

Katie Wolfe, an associate professor of special education in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of South Carolina, coordinates the board-certified behavior analysis coursework and the M.Ed. in Applied Behavior Analysis. Katie is a BCBA-D with 18 years of experience providing intervention to individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families in public schools, private schools and home-based services. Her research interests include evaluating the effectiveness and feasibility of teacher-implemented interventions to promote language and communication skills in children with ASD and developmental delays. She can discuss evidence-based practices for students with autism, including those designed to address challenging behaviors and teach appropriate language and communication skills.

News contact: Carol Ward, ward8@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-7549. 

Jessica Bradshaw, an assistant professor of psychology and licensed clinical psychologist, directs the Early Social Development and Intervention Lab at the University of South Carolina. Her research focuses on early identification and intervention for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in infancy. She studies very early social behavior, visual attention and motor skills in neonates, infants and toddlers. Bradshaw also specializes in naturalistic developmental behavioral interventions (NDBIs) for infants and toddlers with or at risk for ASD and is interested in using eye tracking to identify both parent and child predictors of treatment response and using these predictors to better individualize treatment.

News contact: Bryan Gentry, brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650


Autism and the language of music

Scott Price, Carolina Distinguished Professor of piano and piano pedagogy in the University of South Carolina School of Music, is the founder of the Carolina LifeSong Initiative. Carolina Lifesong provides piano lessons and music experiences for students with special needs, including autism. The initiative is dedicated in fostering best practices in teaching music to students with special needs. His work with special needs musicians has been featured nationally in the “Clavier Companion Magazine,” NBC’s “Dateline” and CNN.


Autism and fragile X

Jane Roberts, professor of psychology, is among a handful of researchers in the world who study autism-fragile X relationships. Fragile X is a single-gene disorder that is the No. 1 known biological cause of autism. Among males, nearly 75 percent of fragile X cases also are diagnosed with autism. She runs the Neurodevelopmental Disorders Lab at the Univeristy of South Carolina, and her research focuses on early detection methods among high-risk populations. Roberts can discuss the link between autism and fragile X and her research to understand both.

News contact: Bryan Gentry, brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650


Severe autism

Sofia B. Lizarraga, a biological sciences professor, specializes in the study of severe autism, which affects close to 30 percent of autism patients and is associated with intellectual disability and/or seizures. Her research group focuses on the study of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie the development of severe autism. They use human experimental systems to understand the early stages of human neuronal development. Dr. Lizarraga is also on the medical advisory board of the Care4ASH1L foundation, an organization that brings together families affected by autism related to mutations in the chromatin regulator ASH1L.

News contact: Bryan Gentry, brgentry@sc.edu, 803-576-7650

Jessica Klusek, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders in the Arnold School of Public Health, studies communication disorders associated with autism and fragile X syndrome. Fragile X syndrome represents the most common known genetic cause of autism. Klusek’s work investigates communication and autism-associated phenotypes that are associated with FMR1, the gene that causes fragile X syndrome. She also studies broader profiles among family members of children with autism or fragile X syndrome that are linked to genetic risk. She can discuss the overlap between autism and fragile X and implications for both conditions.

News contact: Erin Bluvas,bluvase@sc.edu; 843-302-1681. 


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