The College of Public Health is recruiting participants and rallying donors to support autism research as it prepares to send a team to the Eagles Autism Challenge on August 21, 2021. The annual event, sponsored by the Philadelphia Eagles, funds research and programs for people on the autism spectrum, including an ambitious project that postdoctoral fellow Wei Song is conducting at Temple.
College leadership, staff and faculty members, many of whom work on autism research and programs, have committed to raising at least $350 apiece by participating in the 5k run/walk. The CPH team hopes to hit at least $5,000. Supporters can pledge to the team or individual participants in amounts beginning at $25.
The event includes a 5k course that begins at the Eagles’ stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, and runs through the surrounding neighborhood before returning for a post-race celebration, traditionally attended by some players. Participants receive a t-shirt and a ticket to an Eagles practice the next day.
Song is working under a two-year fellowship from the Eagles Autism Foundation to conduct “the most thorough examination to date of community participation among autistic adults.” Participation in work, school, and social life has been shown to influence health and quality of life, but reduced rates of participation among autistic adults contribute to poor health outcomes. The aim of Song’s research is to identify barriers to community participation for autistic people and factors that can improve it.
“We're looking at personal factors and environmental factors and trying to figure out how to best support them to go out in their communities,” Song says. “For example, if people have access to public transportation, will that help them participate more in the community?”
Working with Mark Salzer, professor of social and behavioral sciences and director of the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion, as well as Drexel University's Lindsay Shea, Song is analyzing one of the largest surveys of autistic adults to date, the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment (PANA). It includes more than 1,300 autistic adults over the age of 18 and incorporates a metric developed at Temple, The Temple University Community Participation Measure.
The Eagles Autism Challenge has raised more than $9 million in three years to fund autism research and programs. The team’s commitment to improving the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum also includes a quiet “sensory room” at the stadium for fans on the autism spectrum. The team also hosted a sensory-friendly vaccination clinic in March.