'It's time to focus on the success of autistic college students': Meet the researchers leading national efforts to conduct autism research
Dr. Brad Cox (Florida State University) interviews with the HDSI team. Dr. Brett Ranon Nachman (North Carolina State University) is the project's Co-PI alongside Dr. Cox.
Dr. Bradley Cox sits back in his chair, surrounded by beige walls and bright, open windows. “Please call me Brad,” he implores the group. Casually dressed in a t-shirt for this meeting, Brad’s relaxed, approachable nature belies his distinguished professional titles and his immense passion for his research topic: Autism.
Brad listens intently via Zoom to the team of technologists, cybersecurity professionals, and data specialists leading FSU’s Health Data Sciences Initiative (HDSI). As the group discusses Brad’s next big research project, he leans in to reveal his vision. “Most studies concerning autistic college students have ten participants or less. I want to scale that information to advance research in this area. I envision creating a large, national database across multiple institutions that houses data related to how autism affects college students.”
With my curiosity piqued, I sat down with Brad—an Associate Professor for FSU’s Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, a Senior Research Associate for the FSU Center for Postsecondary Success, and a researcher who has amassed over $580,000 in grant funding—to discuss the importance of his upcoming research project.
Why is college student autism research so important to you?
“Like a lot of people who enter the field of autism research, my interest was prompted by my son being diagnosed with autism,” Brad says. “When I started looking into research on autism in college students, I found virtually nothing. I realized that with a personal interest and a professional drive, I could help fill the gap.”
And fill the gap he did. “With more autistic students coming to college than ever before, it is necessary to provide methods for higher education institutions to increase autistic student success,” Brad says. “In the last five years, the field of research on autism in college students has grown exponentially.”
This is no doubt due to Brad’s national leadership in the field. In 2016, Brad founded the College Autism Network, a national nonprofit organization focused on advocacy, research, and training that uses evidence-based approaches to improve student wellbeing, educational achievement, and institutional responsiveness. The organization’s website has a wealth of information and resources for individuals and college administrators, and also features the upcoming 2022 College Autism Summit, a must-attend event for higher education professionals that advocate for students on the autism spectrum.
What made you excited to work with the FSU Health Data Sciences Initiative (HDSI) team on this large research initiative?
Brad says that working with the HDSI team has provided him a sense of comfort. “I was worried that the complexities of education data and autism data would run into legal and security issues. However, after talking with the HDSI team, I’m confident we’ll be able to collect data and create a database in a way that is both secure and compliant.”
Additionally, the HDSI team is working with Brad to customize his online research environment and his database. “The ability to work with this team to ensure my research team’s needs are met is a great benefit,” Brad adds.
Brad's current research, the P.E.A.C.E.S. (Postsecondary Education: Autistic College Students' Experiences of Success) Project, is a multi-institution study that will collect longitudinal data to create the most comprehensive college student autism database to-date. Co-led by Dr. Brett Nachman (NCSU), the P.E.A.C.E.S. project spans the fields of education and health and will increase access to information regarding autism and college student success.
The HDSI team is building a system that will provide secure data collection, compute, and analysis resources for researchers working with sensitive data that requires HIPAA protection. If you’re interested in working with us, contact Kennetha Anderson and April Lovett.
Author: April Lovett