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A.J. Schwichtenberg, HDFS

HHS Advances Autism Research

A.J. Schwichtenberg

A.J. Schwichtenberg

Assistant Professor
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
Department of Psychological Sciences (Courtesy)
Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences (Courtesy)


Postdoctoral Autism Research Training Program, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Davis, 2010

PhD, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2008

MS, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2004

BS, Psychology and Communications, Hamline University, 1997


Principle Investigator, Purdue University 2013-Present
NIMH Pathways to Independence Award to study sleep and self-regulation in children with and at increased risk for autism spectrum disorders.

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, M.I.N.D. Institute 2008-2010
NIMH Autism Research Training Program in parent-child interactions, sleep, and the early identification of autism spectrum disorders.

Predoctoral Fellow, University of Wisconsin, Waisman Center 2005-2008
NICHD Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for the study of sleep development in preterm and low birthweight infants.

Predoctoral Training, University of Wisconsin, Waisman Center 2003-2005
Designed and obtained funding for a research extension of an NIH funded study on self-regulation development in preterm and low birthweight infants.

Graduate Student Investigator, University of Wisconsin, Department of Human Development and Family Studies 2002-2007
Designed, completed, and published results from a study assessing the roles of intervention intensity on families raising children with autism spectrum disorders.

Research Assistant, University of Wisconsin, Waisman Center 2002-2005
Aided in longitudinal data collection and management of an NIH funded study on self-regulation development in preterm and low birthweight infants.

Research Assistant, University of Minnesota, Institute of Child Development 2000
Aided in the development of interpersonal coding scales and audio-tape coding for a longitudinal study on attachment security.


Pathways to Independence Award (NIMH K99/R00) 2011

Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NICHD F31) 2005

Friends of the Waisman Center Alvin L. Berman and Ruth Bleier Memorial Research Award, University of Wisconsin 2005

Graduate Student Council Graduate Student Mentor Award, University of Wisconsin 2005, 2002


American Psychological Association
Autism Society of America
International Society for Autism Research
International Society on Infant Studies
National Sleep Foundation
Sleep Research Society
Society for Research in Child Development

Embedded in the new HHS strategic plan and explicit in its vision is the quest to recruit, develop and retain top faculty as well as independent researchers and collaborative groups who conduct internationally recognized basic and applied research.

Enter A.J. Schwichtenberg, assistant professor of human development and family studies, as one example.

Schwichtenberg arrived at Purdue in January from University of California, Davis, with a $930,000 grant that she received in 2011 from the National Institute of Mental Health to study the development of autism in young children.

Schwichtenberg's cutting-edge research as the principal investigator for Purdue's Early Autism Identification Study monitors the progress of babies from 6 to 30 months of age who have an older sibling already diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It also comes at a time when the rate of autism has steadily grown over the last 20 years and is now considered the fastest-growing developmental disorder, according to the National Autism Association.

"We are interested in learning more about early social, language, cognitive, emotional regulation, and physiological development to identify and understand autism at earlier ages," she says. "Previous infant sibling studies tell us that approximately 25 percent of the younger siblings of children with autism will develop autism themselves."

In addition to looking at the early risk factors for children — in hopes of lowering the age of diagnosis for autism — outcomes also may provide participating families with detailed developmental information on the growing infant sibling.

"At its core autism is a social disorder, but it is not synonymous with 'disability,' she insists. "Autism can vary in severity in the way people communicate and interact with others. There is a saying: 'If you know one individual with autism, you know one individual with autism,' because everyone is so different." Early intervention is key in effective treatment and progress.

Coming to Purdue was an ideal fit for her teaching, research and career goals, as well as her family, Schwichtenberg says.

Another reason was the emerging Purdue Autism Network (PAN). The interdisciplinary group of clinical and research faculty across the University also includes local public education and other professionals who are dedicated to developing a center for ASD research. PAN began in May 2008 in response to increased funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a recent 10-year agenda for more ASD research and treatment network centers.

"PAN was one of the reasons I was drawn to Purdue — it was certainly part of the selling points," says Schwichtenberg. "We want to focus on what we can do to make a difference. People here have been so truly amazing and supportive of the need for ASD research, and it takes people who are passionate about what we do to move things forward."

Purdue's Early Autism Identification Study also expands research opportunities for undergraduate students, another goal of the new HHS strategic plan. Those interested in participating are encouraged to contact AJ Schwichtenberg at 765-494-6610 or AJLab@purdue.edu.