Many families with normally developing children have suffered heightened levels of trauma and stress after October 7, even though they were not directly touched by the horrifying events. However, an expert from Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found that families with autistic children have been profoundly affected in the last two months.
Dr. Judah Koller and his team at HU’s Autism Child and Family Lab in the Seymour Fox School of Education revealed that both autistic and typically developing children show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with autistic children experiencing higher levels of distress. In response, the lab has curated and created resources in multiple languages to aid affected families.
Despite these unprecedented times, the lab remains dedicated, securing significant grants for one of the world’s largest developmental autism studies, including a groundbreaking project in Israel researching the Jewish and Arab populations.
They are also establishing an Arabic-language diagnostic service to support this underserved community. This underscores the lab’s commitment to conducting meaningful research in a manner that advances both the science and support of autistic children and their families, they said.
The findings of the lab
Initial data collected since October 7 revealed startling insights. Both autistic children and their typically developing peers exhibited symptoms meeting the cut-off for PTSD based on measures reported by parents. However, parents reported significantly higher levels of trauma among autistic children. Moreover, these parents reported elevated levels of stress and anxiety compared to those of typically developing children.
These findings mark the preliminary results of an ongoing longitudinal study led by Koller’s team, in collaboration with researchers from ALUT, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, and Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. This comprehensive study aims to track these families’ experiences until October 7, 2024, providing valuable insights into the long-term effects on autistic children and their families.
“Recent events have unveiled the acute vulnerabilities of autistic children to traumatic disruptions in routine and predictability,” Koller stressed. “Our research shines a light on the critical need to support all children and parents, particularly autistic children and their parents, as we navigate these challenging times. Acting now to support the emergent mental health needs of these families will prevent an even larger crisis that looms ahead.”
In response to the pressing need for support during these unprecedented times, the Autism Child and Family Lab swiftly curated resources, available in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English. The lab’s website, hosting these resources, has witnessed a staggering increase in traffic, surpassing a remarkable 1,000% surge in the past two months.
Dedicated during the war
Despite the challenges of the war, the lab remains steadfast in its commitment to conducting meaningful autism research. Koller’s team recently secured a substantial five-year, $468,000 grant from the Azrieli Foundation to support one of the world’s largest international developmental studies on autism. Beginning this coming February, the study aligns with a parallel multi-site study in Canada, led by Dr. Stelios Georgiades at McMaster University.
Setting a significant milestone in autism research within Israel, the upcoming study will be conducted in both Hebrew and Arabic. The inclusion of the Arab sector in this groundbreaking research became feasible through another recent grant from the Aviv Foundation. This grant aims to establish an Arabic-language diagnostic service within the lab, complementing existing services in Hebrew, English, and Russian. Scheduled to begin next month, it will fill a critical resource gap within the Arabic-speaking community.