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Public Health prof to study disparities in autism diagnosis, services

September 10, 2015
Lucy Bilaver

Lucy Bilaver

Lucy Bilaver, assistant professor in the NIU School of Nursing and Health Studies, has been awarded a highly competitive research grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Bilaver’s project will identify racial and ethnic disparities in the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism and answer several important questions when considering race and ethnicity:

  • Are there differences in autism service use such as assessments of child development, diagnostic services and educational therapies?
  • Are there differences in the resources expended for autism treatment?
  • Are there differences in these treatments and services based on where the children live?

Answering these questions will make it easier to plan and deliver autism services and make the availability of the services equitable, Bilaver says.

“Previous research has advanced understanding of racial and ethnic disparities in the age of autism diagnosis, much less is known about how this translates to disparities in treatment,” she says. “This project will investigate racial and ethnic disparities among Medicaid-enrolled children in the state of Illinois and identify the contribution of geographic variation in access to services.”

The societal importance of Bilaver’s research – part of a growing focus on disabilities within the College of Health and Human Sciences, says Dean Derryl Block – cannot be overstated.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing that 1 in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition to the considerable human cost, autism costs more than $35 billion to care for people over their lifetimes.

The HRSA award, totaling nearly $100,000, will bring together the talents of researchers from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania with whom Bilaver has established strong collaborative relationships. Multi-university collaborative research initiatives have become more common over the past few decades because of the large benefit they bring in pooling talent to address complex research questions.

“Dr. Bilaver’s collaboration with researchers from Chapin Hall and the University of Pennsylvania attests to the strength of her research and promises to improve the delivery of care to children with autism,” said Jerry Blazey, interim vice president for Research and Innovation Partnerships at NIU.

Bilaver joined the NIU public health faculty in 2010 after having served as a post-doctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Institute for Healthcare Studies. She has published extensively on the issues related to children with special health care needs, particularly the needs of children with autism.