Bringing the Autism Spectrum Into Focus

A young child wearing mirrored sunglasses which reflect the prism all around her

Bringing the Autism Spectrum Into Focus

Updated April 24. Originally published April 7, 2017

Across Georgia Tech, researchers, faculty members, and students from every discipline are devoted to finding the causes of and effective treatments for autism.

Autism and autism spectrum disorder are names for a complex group of disorders of brain development characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulties in social interaction and communication. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 68 children in the United States is affected by this prevalent disorder. 

Each week in April, we will add more stories to this page of our autism-related work.

Week Four

Autism at Georgia Tech Wrap Up


What Causes Autism?

Jennifer S. Singh, author of Multiple Autisms: Spectrums of Advocacy and Genomic Science, recalls the various ways this question has been answered in the past.



Autism in Numbers and Stories

A visual depiction of the cost, benefits, and outcomes of early detection and treatment of autism spectrum disorder; autism prevalence in the state of Georgia; and stories from affected families.


Estimated number of children in Georgia who go undiagnosed 

$1.2 Million

Money that can be saved over a child’s lifetime with early treatment


Percentage of children who receive early treatment who can then be successfully included in regular education

Week 3

Autism and Engineering

A collage featuring an image of researcher Christine Payne, who was recruited for the BRAIN initiative, synapses exchanging neurochemicals, and prismatic colors.

Georgia Tech engineers are developing new technologies that make autism diagnosis and treatment more effective and accessible.




Small Wonders

To get the best care for her three autistic children, Mandi Larkin used to drive three hours from her family’s home in Tifton, Georgia, to the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. Today, Larkin’s children receive world-class medical care at her local hospital via state-of-the-art telemedicine optimized by scientists at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and Cisco Systems, Inc.

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Creating the Next Research Center

A $15.7 million grant from the Atlanta-based Marcus Foundation has helped launch a new Georgia Institute of Technology research center that will develop processes and techniques for ensuring the consistent, low-cost, large-scale manufacture of high-quality living cells used in cell-based therapies.

The therapies will be used for a variety of disorders such as cancer, lung fibrosis, autism, neuro-degenerative diseases, autoimmune disorders, and spinal-cord injury — as well as in regenerative medicine.

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BRAIN Initiative Taps Two Labs from Georgia Tech

Two faculty members of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience are part of a new round of projects to support the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

Launched by President Barack Obama, the BRAIN Initiative is a broad effort to equip researchers with fundamental insights for treating a range of brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.

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Autism and Inclusion

Two students studying together surrounded by a beautiful spectrum of colors

Georgia Tech's educational and support programs provide students with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to experience college in full. 



Excel at Georgia Tech

In 2015, Georgia Tech began offering a postsecondary academy for high school graduates with mild intellectual and developmental disabilities. The program, Excel, provides these students with a learning experience in which they can build on their education, life skills, and independence.

Students who participate in the four-year program earn two certificates: one in social growth and academic enrichment, and a second that also incorporates career exploration. 

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Student Alumni Association Donates $40,000 to Excel Program

Georgia Tech’s Excel program now has $40,000 to improve programming for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, thanks to the Student Alumni Association’s 2016 Gift to Tech. Each year, the association donates a "Gift to Tech," which benefits a different campus initiative selected by members. 

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The 2016 Gift to Tech will benefit the Excel Program.

"SAA’s gift not only provides much needed funding, but validates the importance of Excel and ensures students will be able to contribute their gifts to society," says Ken Surdin, director of the Excel Program.



Autism Spectrum Counseling Group

The Georgia Tech Counseling Center hosts a weekly group meeting for students with ASD and Asperger's to help them improve relationships in their lives.

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Week Two


Autism and Computing

A father encourages his young son to look at a computer screen. Prismatic color and light sorrounds them.

Autism research in computing runs the gamut from helping clinicians diagnose and manage the disorder to informing research in artificial intelligence.


Moving the Needle Forward in Autism Research​

The kind of technological advancement that drastically moves the research needle forward has been lagging in the field of behavioral psychology. However, it’s a challenge that many researchers in the College of Computing’s School of Interactive Computing are trying to overcome.

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A therapist measuring eye contact while a child plays during therapy sessions.



From a Single Observation, Autism Research Blooms at Georgia Tech​

While autism research at Georgia Tech began with just one researcher for the most personal of reasons, today it involves a network of scientists, labs, and students.

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Supporting Autism Diagnosis Using Home Videos

A Georgia Tech research team has developed a mobile phone-based telehealth application that allows parents to easily collect in-home videos of their child’s behavior and share them with a diagnostician for remote diagnostic assessment for autism. 

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Electrical and computer engineering professor Ayanna Howard launched Zyrobotics, which develops mobile-accessible technologies for children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other challenges.

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A child using a Zyrobotics accesible learning toy

“Our products engage both typical children as well as children with special needs, such as children with autism or cerebral palsy," Howard says. "Our focus is to ensure all children are provided equal access to fun and engaging educational STEM curriculum.”



Autism and Social Policy

Week One

Hands working together to solve a puzzle

Sociological research of autism seeks to understand the study and treatment of the disorder in its social, cultural, and political context.



Unlocking Autism: Illuminating the Complexities of Genomic Science

Jennifer Singh, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of History and Sociology, has chronicled the history of genetics-focused autism research. Her research illuminates larger questions about how biomedical research priorities are set and, ultimately, who benefits from the massive research investments of time and money.

Read About Jennifer Singh's Work




Multiple Autisms: Spectrums of Advocacy and Genomic Science

Jennifer Singh sets out to discover how autism emerged as a genetic disorder and how this affects those who study autism and those who live with it.

Dr. Jennifer Singh and her Book cover: Multiple Autisms: Spectrums of Advocacy and Genomic Science by Jennifer S. Singh

Read the Excerpt