Jun. 30, 2020

Above left to right: Dr. Idan Menashe, Dr. Gal Meiri and Dr. Ilan Dinstein of the National Autism Research Center of Israel

The David and Laura Merage Foundation in Englewood, Colorado and the Merage Foundation Israel (MFI) have granted $100,000 to BGU to create smart autism day care centers throughout Israel.

Prof. Ilan Dinstein​ is the director of the National Autism Research Center of Israel, a collaboration between scientists from BGU and physicians from Soroka University Medical Center. The Autism Center studies, diagnoses and treats autism, while collecting vital information from children with autism and their families to improve outcomes. Prof. Dinstein will oversee the day care project.

The smart day care center project is a collaboration between the center and ALUT, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children in Israel. ALUT manages a network of 22 day care centers throughout Israel, where over 150 children with autism ages 2 to 3 years-old receive daily care.

“We are so grateful to the Merage Foundation who recognized the urgency to fund this project due to the COVID-19 crisis, when it hasn’t been possible to directly diagnose or treat children with autism,” says Prof. Dinstein. “The grant will fund audiovisual technology and software to help clinicians and therapists remotely track children’s behavior and quantify the severity of autism symptoms over time.”

Dinstein and his team have developed a variety of software tools to automatically analyze these recordings and extract the children’s facial expressions, eye and body movements, and their vocalizations/speech. For example, children with autism tend to produce fewer facial expressions, exhibit repetitive body movements (e.g., hand flapping), focus on atypical objects, and speak in unusual ways (e.g., using inappropriate volume and intonation).

Numerous studies have shown that early intervention can be extremely effective in reducing autism symptoms.

David Merage says, “We are proud to support this groundbreaking innovation emerging from the Negev region to improve the lives of children with autism around the world. This project envisioned by Prof. Dinstein and his team has the potential to further improve early behavioral treatment for toddlers with autism by enabling the clinical team to build the most effective personalized program for each child.”

Prof. Dinstein and his colleagues at BGU and Soroka have been recognized as pioneers of autism research. The Israeli government chose BGU to lead and develop the National Autism Research Center of Israel.

AABGU will be conducting a webinar in collaboration with Soroka University Medical Center featuring Prof. Dinstein and three other leaders of the National Autism Research Center of Israel on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. EDT. To register, go to www.aabgu.org/webinar-autism