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2024 Autism Acceptance Month: USC faculty experts list

April is Autism Acceptance Month. The CDC estimates that 1 out of every 36 8-year-olds is affected by autism, a lifelong developmental disorder. As South Carolina’s leader in health sciences, USC has researchers across disciplines who specialize in autism. 

The university has compiled a list of faculty experts to help reporters develop stories about autism spectrum disorder. 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. “My work helps families of young children find healing and growth,” Hock says. “In partnership with communities, I create family interventions that impact parenting skills and confidence, family relationships and access to services for young children with autism spectrum disorder.” Hock has developed the Autism Parent Navigators, a program that pairs families who have experienced autism with families who have newly received a diagnosis. 
News contact: Victoria Montgomery,, 803-777-9462

Diagnosing autism

Christian O’Reilly, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, specializes in how different areas of the brain communicate. His research in computational neuroscience, biosignal processing and neuroimaging aims to identify the organizing principles of the brain, notably for the development of biomarkers for the early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. He also researches novel ways to study autism and the brain through modeling and artificial intelligence. He is a member of the Artificial Intelligence Institute, the Institute for Mind and Brain and the Carolina Autism and Neurodevelopment Research Center.
News contact: Chris Woodley,, 803-576-7745

Caitlin Hudac is an associate professor of psychology and director of the Brain Research Across Development (B-RAD) Lab. Her work uses cognitive neuroscience technologies, including eye tracking, EEG and functional MRI, to understand how the brain and body change from birth into adulthood. Hudac is identifying biomarkers such as brain and heart rate signatures that could be critical for generating targeted treatments for those with autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disability and rare genetic conditions.
News contact: Bryan Gentry,, 803-576-7650

Kimberly Hills, a clinical professor of psychology, specializes in the identification and diagnosis of autism and its coexisting disorders, such as ones involving language, learning, anxiety or attention. She trains graduate students and supervises child and adolescent services, including autism evaluations, at the university’s Psychology Services Center. Hills can also discuss autism as it relates to school and clinical psychology and post-diagnosis recommendations for families.
News contact: Bryan Gentry,, 803-576-7650

Jessica Bradshaw is an associate professor of psychology and director of the Early Social Development Lab. Her research focuses on methods for early detection of autism in infancy. She studies early development of attention, motor skills and social interaction that predict the emergence of communication skills and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
News contact: Bryan Gentry,, 803-576-7650

Autism intervention

Dan Foster is an assistant professor at the School of Medicine Columbia’s Department of Pharmacology, Physiology and Neuroscience. His research focuses on discovering new drugs to help treat repetitive behaviors seen in individuals on the autism spectrum. Foster’s work studies the brain circuits involved in these behaviors to identify specific targets in the brain through which drugs can modulate these circuits and help suppress repetitive behaviors.
News contact: Emily Miles,, 803-216-3302

Katie Wolfe is an associate professor of special education and applied behavior analysis in the College of Education. She researches how teachers monitor progress and make instructional decisions to maximize outcomes for students with autism and related disabilities. She can discuss applied behavior analysis (ABA) and evidence-based practices for students with autism, especially those designed to address challenging behaviors and teach language and communication skills. 
News contact: Anna Westbury,, 803-576-6851

Sarah Edmunds is an assistant professor of psychology. She directs the Community-Oriented Lab for Autism and Behavioral Interventions (COLAB). Her research focuses on interventions for social communication and how we can identify the most effective interventions for each autistic child or teen. She studies emotion regulation and externalizing behavior in autistic toddlers, along with ways of training or supporting community systems to incorporate evidence-based early interventions into their practice with families. 
News contact: Bryan Gentry,, 803-576-7650

Liz Will is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the Arnold School of Public Health. She investigates early atypical development and co-occurring autism in genetic conditions associated with intellectual disability, specifically Down syndrome. She is particularly interested in attention and motor phenotypes and aims to understand how they interact across development to shape outcomes related to cognition, communication and co-occurring conditions, including autism and ADHD.
News contact: Erin Bluvas,, 843-302-1681

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, 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,, 803-576-7650

Jessica Klusek is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the Arnold School of Public Health. She studies communication disorders associated with autism and fragile X syndrome. Fragile X syndrome represents the most known genetic cause of autism. Klusek’s work investigates communication and autism characteristics 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,, 843-302-1681

Autism and anxiety

Abigail Hogan is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the Arnold School of Public Health. She is a key member of a growing group of USC scholars who research neurodevelopmental disorders. Hogan's research focuses on how, when and why anxiety develops in young autistic children and children with associated conditions such as fragile X syndrome. Hogan aims to understand how across early development that anxiety symptoms impact broader abilities, such as social communication. Her research informs targeted treatments that will reduce the negative impacts of anxiety and improve quality of life in children and their families.
News contact: Erin Bluvas,, 843-302-1681

Autism and the language of music

Scott Price is the Carolina Distinguished Professor of piano and piano pedagogy in the School of Music. He is the founder of the Carolina LifeSong Initiative, which provides creative music experiences and piano lessons for students with special needs and is dedicated in fostering best practices in teaching music to students with special needs. His book “Autism and Piano Study: A Basic Teaching Vocabulary” was published in 2023. Price’s work with special needs musicians has been featured by organizations in the United States and internationally.
News contact: Marlena Crovatt-Bagwell,, 803-777-7962

Why it matters

  • The CDC estimates that 1 out of every 36 8-year-olds is affected by autism, a lifelong developmental disorder.
  • Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder than girls.
  • Autism can be diagnosed as early as age 2. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening between 18 and 24 months.
  • 38% of children with autism have an intellectual disability.