Autism Diagnoses, Research and Stiff Competition for Grant Dollars at U.S. Universities and Colleges

Up until he was two years old, Katharine Kollins had no idea her first-born child Grayson had autism. Then she got the diagnosis and her world came crashing.

Now, researchers at Columbia University say their review of new guidelines for defining autism spectrum disorders issued last year by the American Psychiatric Association may leave thousands of children in the United States without the required diagnosis to qualify for medical benefits and social services.

Kristine M. Kulage, director of research and scholarly development at the School of Nursing, said her team found a 31 percent decrease in autism spectrum diagnoses using the new version of the Diagnostic and Standard Manual of Mental Disorders, compared to the number of cases that would have been revealed under the previous guidelines.

Experts in both the United States and Canada rely on DSM, considered the “bible of psychiatry,” to diagnose and classify mental disorders. Giving children with autism the support they need sooner helps them to grow and increases the likelihood they will thrive. Kulage said the Columbia study raises a concern that some of the most vulnerable children may lose a diagnosis and the valued medical treatment that goes with it as well.

Research on college campuses like Columbia University, leads to greater discovery and better education including – in this case — early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. But, colleges have limited budgets, as well as competing goals and needs. And research costs money.

Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of GrantWatch.com, said a major role of a researcher at a college or university is devoted to applying for grant money from private companies and organizations, or local and national governments.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is a government agency that distributes about $32 billion a year toward medical and public health research. Hikind said while GrantWatch.com lists funding opportunities under the NIH Research Project Grant Program, GrantWatch also lists many similar research funding opportunities from foundations and corporations. 

Kulage said securing funds for university research is more difficult than ever. In the 20 years she has been working in university research, the grant application process has become longer and more complex.

Time, compliance regulations and the new systems through which to submit grant proposals are common hindrances. Because the application, process for grant money is highly competitive, Hikind encourages researchers who do not have the human resources or the skills to create a proposal to identify a writer at GrantWriterTeam.com for assistance.

Kulage said colleges and universities must do more to help their researchers secure grant money. Columbia’s nursing school invested $127,000 to employ administrators to complete grant applications and free researchers to spend more time on their work. Administrators and other researchers met with the grant writers to review the applications. The team was expected to defend its proposal.

In a five-year period following implementation of the support system, Kulage said proposals that went through review were almost twice as likely to be accepted. That $127,000 investment led to Columbia's School of Nursing earning $3 million in outside funding.

Nonprofits, universities, public and private foundations, small businesses and entrepreneurs frustrated by the often-overwhelming process involved with searching for grants for research can identify funding opportunities that are easy to read and simple to comprehend at GrantWatch.com. Sign-up here to receive the weekly GrantWatch newsletter which features geographic-specific funding opportunities.

About the Author: Staff Writer for GrantWatch.com