Wisconsin Researcher Hopes to Find 'Unified Framework' for Treating People with Autism

Jun 14, 2018

Scientists at universities around the country often rely on outside money to fund their research, and this can pose some challenges. Often, financial grants and awards come with a lot of strings attached, which can limit how and what scientists research.

But the Shaw Scientist Award is a bit different. Named for late Milwaukee attorney James Shaw, this award is given to a scientist rather than a specific research project.

"We're trying to understand autism in terms of the neural, computational deficits that might occur in this disorder, or changes in the disorder."

Ari Rosenberg is one of the 2018 recipients. He's an assistant professor for the department of neuroscience at UW-Madison, and his current research is dealing with the neurological basis for autism. With a PhD in computational neuroscience, Rosenberg says his approach to studying autism is a bit different from most other labs. 

He explains, "We're trying to understand autism in terms of the neural, computational deficits that might occur in this disorder, or changes in the disorder." 

Essentially, Rosenberg is hoping to find an equation for how different people with autism are impacted by specific elements. This would allow researchers, and ultimately clinicians, to categorize people with autism, allowing them to individualize their care more efficiently. 

"There's some resistance to funding research that will attempt to come up with a unified framework. It just doesn't make intuitive sense to a lot of individuals."

But because autism manifests itself so differently in different people, research seeking to come up with a "unified framework" - a template for treating people with different types of autism - can be somewhat controversial. 

"There's some resistance to funding research that will attempt to come up with a unified framework," says Rosenberg. "It just doesn't make intuitive sense to a lot of individuals." 

The money from the Shaw Scientist Award will go to funding this research, in hopes of finding a way to improve care for people with autism. Rosenberg says, "Moving forward, we're actually hoping to start working with clinicians to take these behavioral metrics to guide treatment plans for their patients."