Vanderbilt University receives $1.8 million CDC autism surveillance grant

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Vanderbilt University Medical Center has received a $1.8 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to join the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network. The project will be led by Zachary Warren, Ph.D., director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorder (VKC TRIAD).

Over the past two decades, the ADDM network has been charged with conducting rigorous population studies of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related developmental disorders in the United States. This specific network has been responsible for documenting the dramatic increases in the number of children identified with ASD in the country, with current estimates suggesting a prevalence of 1 in 68.

“This CDC project will not only increase our fundamental scientific understanding of ASD and changes in prevalence but also will provide us with critical information that will enhance our ability to care for children with ASD in our own backyard,” said Zachary Warren, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry, and Special Education, and principal investigator for the CDC ADDM grant at Vanderbilt.

The Vanderbilt ADDM site will conduct two waves of population estimates of ASD and intellectual disability via comprehensive medical and educational record surveillance over the next four years. The surveillance area will focus on ASD prevalence in the Middle Tennessee region and includes an explicit focus on understanding ASD in traditionally under-represented and under-ascertained groups.

“A unique feature of the Vanderbilt site is surveillance among children in state custody, one of the most vulnerable groups of children,” Warren said. “We are fortunate to have had long-standing productive relationships with the Department of Education, the Department of Children’s Services, and the Tennessee Department of Health that allow for us to proactively understand how best to serve children with special health care needs.”

The Vanderbilt ADDM network team also includes Melissa McPheeters, Ph.D., M.P.H., as director of epidemiology; Richard Epstein, Ph.D. M.P.H., as director of epidemiology for vulnerable populations; Pablo Juarez, M.Ed., BCBA, as director of stakeholder engagement; and Richard Urbano, Ph.D., as data coordination lead.

Vanderbilt is one of only two new ADDM sites across the 10-site network, and the only new site that has not previously been a part of the CDC’s larger surveillance program.

“This highly competitive award takes advantage of the best that Vanderbilt University offers, including the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, strong partnerships with Pediatrics, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and the State of Tennessee,” said Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Chair, professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics, and VKC director.

“Becoming an ADDM site amid strong national competition is a testament to the excellence of autism research at Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt’s research infrastructure, its extensive health care network, the expertise of TRIAD leadership, and TRIAD’s collaborative relationships with State of Tennessee agencies,” said Steven Webber, M.D., James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics. “In addition to advancing knowledge of ASD and other developmental disabilities nationally, the Vanderbilt ADDM site will provide invaluable data and information that will enhance care for children in the state of Tennessee.”


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