A Passion for Behavioral Health

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Three generations of women from one family have joined forces to fuel innovative autism and behavioral health research at CHOP. The women — Lisa Maslow; her mother, Judith Nissenbaum; and her grandmother, Janet Zolot — have been longtime supporters, including throughout the campaign For Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs. Together, the women have championed groundbreaking research, care and treatment for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Young boy smiling Their shared philanthropic mission has upheld their family’s tradition. “My grandmother and late grandfather first and foremost dedicated themselves to charitable causes,” says Maslow. “From a young age, I was taught the importance of philanthropy and giving back. Children’s health — in particular, behavioral health — is extremely important to our family. It is an area in which we feel most passionate about supporting.”

Robert T. Schultz, PhD, Director of the Center for Autism Research, can’t say enough about the importance of philanthropy: “All of our incredible progress is made possible by funding from generous donors.”

Examples of that progress include a computer vision analysis program created by CHOP’s Center for Autism Research. The program uses coordinated movements and nonverbal signals between two people during a brief conversation to assess ASD in children. This new method is about 90% accurate in identifying ASD, compared to 80% accuracy in previous assessment methods, which take hours to complete. With fast and accurate diagnoses, children with ASD can access services earlier and ultimately achieve a better quality of life.

The women’s generosity has enabled CHOP’s Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics to add an important educational advocate position to help families integrate their child with ASD into their school routine. For instance, the educational advocate worked with the family and school of one 8-year-old boy with ASD to place him in an inclusive classroom rather than in special education, allowing him to be intellectually challenged yet able to receive one-on-one help when needed.

Thanks to the Maslow-Nissenbaum-Zolot gifts that supported early-stage research, CHOP was able to win $2.5 million in grant funding for three additional studies that will build on these early results and validate CHOP’s approach on a larger scale.

The Particular Challenges of ADHD

Children with ADHD almost uniformly have problems with executive function, which is the thought process that allows us to go beyond reacting to immediate stimuli by directing our behavior toward achieving goals. In addition, a lack of social skills and the resultant peer rejection and limited friendships are often the most painful aspects of ADHD for both children and their parents. A 2019 Maslow-Nissenbaum-Zolot gift is enabling CHOP to dramatically advance ADHD research, intervention and care to help these children.

“It is our goal to help keep CHOP at the forefront for ADHD programming,” says Maslow. “Developing cutting-edge, evidence-based approaches for parents and educators that will assist with remediating executive functioning and social challenges that impact children with ADHD is the main goal of the project we’re supporting, and we are very excited to be a part of it.”

This is just one of the many stories of donor impact that happened during the campaign For Tomorrow’s Breakthroughs.

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