Mission Moment

Jennifer Lodi-Smith, PhD, associate professor of psychology (left) and Jonathan Rodgers, PhD, assistant professor of psychology (right)

April 30, 2019

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St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, experienced his conversion while recuperating from a cannonball wound in the early 16th century. St. Ignatius went from priding himself as a Spanish nobleman, focused on continuing a life in the court, to undergoing a spiritual journey that led to the founding of the Jesuits and a much more ascetic lifestyle. Ignatius’ “cannonball moment” was the catalyst for a different way of proceeding, focused on finding God in all things and being a contemplative in action. What would a "cannonball moment" be for you—a moment, perhaps personal or professional, that changed your course of study, a job, a relationship?

For Assistant Professor of Psychology Jonathan Rodgers, PhD, and Associate Professor of Psychology Jennifer Lodi-Smith, PhD, researchers at the Institute for Autism Research (IAR), a “cannonball moment” inspired the direction of their new research examining the relationship between aging and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Their research recently received a federal grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging. Dr. Rodgers was inspired by a mentor and his previous research with Canisius’ IAR. Dr. Lodi-Smith’s “cannonball moment” came when she picked up Far from the Tree, a book that discusses different marginalized communities and its corresponding scholarship. One chapter was on individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

Drs. Lodi-Smith and Rodgers, each from their own research areas, began to discuss the lack of research and understanding of autism spectrum disorder throughout the aging process. They commented on their study, “Research on Autism Spectrum Disorder in older adulthood lags significantly behind that of research in other age groups. This research will allow us to better understand the life outcomes of adults with ASD.” This is one of only a handful of studies worldwide to focus on this understudied relationship. Dr. Lodi-Smith and Dr. Rodgers are trying to better characterize and promote healthy aging, while examining the potential for early intervention.

The Institute for Autism Research is an interdisciplinary collaborative research center dedicated to understanding autism spectrum disorder and enhancing the lives of those affected and their families. Researchers from diverse backgrounds work together to address critical questions involving causes, development, assessment, clinical treatment, and education. This research work has led to development of several new and effective treatments which are provided by IAR staff to community partners and schools.

Researchers at the IAR are also dedicated to training the next generation of researchers and practitioners through advanced academic, research, and clinical and community-based experiences. As part of the grant, three undergraduate students have the opportunity to be involved in paid, federally-funded research. These students are learning to recruit for the survey and code data analysis. This faculty-student collaboration exemplifies the unique opportunities afforded at Canisius to work closely with faculty on graduate-level research.

Junior Sarah Khan, student researcher, says of her work with the IAR, “As a sibling of someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my family has endured the ups and downs of someone struggling with this illness. Every small step, any possible thing I can do to help someone like my brother, means the world to me. Furthermore, just learning more about individuals on the spectrum allows me to gain more insight as to what I may want to do in the future. I really hope to get involved in the mental health field one day, and my experience at the IAR really propels my interest.”

Sophomore Valeria Marquez Luna, student researcher, comments, "Being involved in this study is all about increasing our knowledge of ASD and for me it is about being a part of something that has not been studied before and contributing to society. I completely see myself using these skills later in life because I am not just learning about ASD, but I am learning about how a study works and what it takes to get studies out there and get people to participate.”

The public is invited to participate in this important ongoing research at www.canisius.edu/iar_aging. A diagnosis of ASD is NOT necessary to participate in this study. Participation by individuals with varying degrees of ASD characteristics, from minimal to high, is essential to building the best possible data for the study. Participation from adults of all ages is welcome, with a particular interest in understanding ASD characteristics or lack thereof in individuals over the age of 65.

Study participants complete a set of online surveys. A sub-sample will then complete a battery of in-person assessments. Participants will be characterized on ASD characteristics and personality traits alongside multiple domains of aging including physical health, cognitive performance, and psychological well-being.

Sarah Signorino '04, '12, MS '09, director, Mission & Identity