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Lauren Franz

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Global Health
Duke Global Health Institute
Lauren Franz

Summary

Developmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are a major global public health challenge. Individuals with ASD present with impairments in reciprocal social communication and repetitive, stereotyped behaviors. Comorbidities are common and may include intellectual disability, seizure disorders, language impairment, sleep deficits, feeding difficulties, sensory deficits, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and mood disorders. ASD is considered to be a life-long disorder but emerging evidence suggests that early detection and intervention can alter developmental trajectories and decrease the impairment associated with this disorder. The effectiveness of early intervention has until recently been limited to costly highly intensive programs delivered by specialized professionals. A significant global challenge is to develop scalable, feasible early interventions for ASD that can be implemented in diverse and low resource communities. There is growing excitement around innovative caregiver-mediated early intervention strategies. Engagement of caregivers in a service delivery model promises new ways to address the capacity barrier globally. Dr Franz is the recipient of a Career Development Award from the National Institute of Mental Health. This award will lay the foundation for a career focused on addressing two specific Grand Challenges in Global Mental Health priorities: 1) improving child access to evidence-based mental health care, and 2) reducing the duration of untreated illness by developing culturally-sensitive early interventions. Dr Franz's research aims to assess the acceptability, feasibility, and impact of a brief caregiver-mediated early autism intervention adapted for use in a low resource setting. Data from this pilot study would inform scalable early autism intervention programs for implementation in underserved, low resource, and low-literacy populations globally.

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