How typically developing kids help their peers with autism through research

What if you could help Marcus Autism Center better understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) while getting valuable information about your baby’s growth and development? Laura Toops was able to do just that by participating in an ongoing research study at the center with her daughter, Maggie.

“I just heard an ad on the radio.”

Laura heard about the study on the radio in 2015 while she was pregnant with Maggie. Researchers at Marcus Autism Center were looking for expecting moms and newborns to participate in simple research studies to learn more about autism. During the study participants would do baby-friendly activities, like watching colorful videos and blowing bubbles. Maggie was due in November of that year, so Laura decided to enroll to learn more about Maggie and to help make a difference for future kids.

"I have seen a surge in autism diagnoses over my lifetime and have many friends with children who have been diagnosed,” said Laura. “I hear of their frustration to get access to the right resources and start intervention. Anything I can do to minimize these challenges for future parents and allow for these sweet kiddos to receive interventions as early as possible is a win in my book. "

So easy a newborn can do it 

Maggie started the study when she was one week old with an in-home doctor visit. Future visits were held once a month at the center over the course of two years.

“It was generally fun testing—all play and watching videos,” Laura said. “The few times Maggie was having an off day and didn’t feel like participating, they were so awesome about it. They never pushed her past what she wanted to do and never made me feel like it was an inconvenience for them because she wasn’t into it that day. I was actually a little sad when she was done with the research. Marcus is one-of-a-kind, with an amazing group of people who provide the best care.”

Being a part of something big 

Laura considers the overall experience incredibly worthwhile and encourages other mothers to participate. “The testing and information you receive is leaps and bounds over what your standard pediatrician is going to do. There is so much to learn about the infant brain, why not be a part of something big?  You get to watch your baby play and learn while getting invaluable milestone and growth information,” she said. 

“While I am thankful all diagnostics were within normal limits for my child, I love that we are able to help. We are really good at telling people, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do,’ when someone has a challenge. What better way than this for so many families and their children who will benefit from early diagnosis and intervention?”

How to participate 

There are only a few requirements to participate. The study is for newborns, younger than 2 months, who have an older biological sibling. Families do not need to have a history of autism to participate. Babies are enrolled until they are 24 or 36 months old, and clinicians monitor their progress and give proper support and direction. Parents can discuss any developmental concerns with a staff clinician, and if a child shows signs of autism, clinicians will assign him or her to an autism treatment program.

If you or someone you know is interested in more information or participating in the study, you can view a full list of studies, or call 404-785-7600. The study is ongoing through 2022.