Dr. Genova wins K18 award to advance research on transition-age youth with autism

Helen M. Genova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation, was awarded a two-year K18 grant for $266,988 from the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - the NIMH Career Enhancement Award to Advance Autism Services Research for Adults and Transition-Age Youth. This K18 award will provide Dr. Genova with support to develop her expertise in the field of transition-aged youth with autism spectrum disorders, including her research project, "A strength-based intervention to improve job interview skills in transition age youth with autism spectrum disorder."

Dr. Genova, assistant director of the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation, is known for her research in disorders of social functioning in populations with brain injury and multiple sclerosis, with broad-based funding from federal, state, and private sources. Through Kessler Foundation's partnership with Children's Specialized Hospital, she applied this background to adolescents with autism, whose difficulties with social functioning can affect their interactions with family members, educators, and peers.

With support from Children's Specialized, New Jersey's Governor's Council on Medical Research Treatment of Autism, and the Reitman Foundation, Dr. Genova has explored the practical aspects of employment readiness, studying how adolescents with autism express themselves on job interviews. Through the K18 award, she will expand upon this work by examining how a behavioral training tool helps adolescents with autism identify and express their personal strengths to others.

Job interviews are especially challenging for young people with autism spectrum disorders who have difficulties with social interactions. Developing ways to help them deal with these challenges is important to their ability to contribute their talents to the workplace, and reap the personal, social, and economic benefits of employment. This award will bring us closer to the goal of improving the outlook for jobseekers with autism."

Dr. Helen M. Genova, PhD, Kessler Foundation

Under the supervision of her mentors (Matthew Smith, PhD, MSW, MPE, LCSW, of the University of Michigan, Robert McGrath, PhD, of Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Alex Kolevzon, MD, of Mount Sinai), Dr. Genova will participate in formal coursework, hands-on research experiences and clinical/school-based observations of transition age youth with autism. To advance her research in transition to work, she has joined the Level Up: Employment Skills Simulation Lab at the University of Michigan School of Social Work as a faculty fellow. Directed by Dr. Smith, the Level Up Lab seeks to bridge the gap in employment opportunities for underserved youth.

In addition to serving as assistant director, Dr. Genova directs the Social Cognition and Neuroscience Laboratory at the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, and is a research assistant professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers University-New Jersey Medical School.

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