Recognized as a scholar with unique and specific focus on adults with autism

Vanessa Bal
Vanessa Hus Bal has been named the Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism.
Photo: Courtesy of Vanessa Hus Bal

The Rutgers Board of Governors today awarded the Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism to Vanessa Hus Bal, associate professor in the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology (GSAPP), whose unique research emphasizes a life span perspective in the understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in adulthood.

Internationally recognized for her scholarly contributions and leadership, Bal has established herself as a scholar with a unique and specific focus on adults with autism, examining both biological and behavioral approaches that may be useful in screening and diagnostics. She has served in working group leadership positions for the International Meeting for Autism Research and the Interagency Autism Coordinating Center and has over 20 awards and honors for her work.

“Dr. Bal will implement knowledge gained at each stage of her research to enhance long-term prospects for health and well-being and provide a deeper appreciation for neurodiversity that will inform policy and societal change to support the inclusion of people with ASD and their diverse range of abilities,” said Francine Conway, GSAPP dean.

The chair was established in 2013 by Dina Karmazin Elkins, daughter of Mel Karmazin, philanthropist and former CEO of Sirius XM Radio; and Michael Lillard, chief investment officer of Prudential Fixed Income, and his wife, Amy. Both families have sons on the autism spectrum.

The endowed professorship addresses the much-needed intervention and research for adults with autism spectrum disorders from both academic and training perspectives and positions Rutgers as a global leader in issues related to autism.

Bal earned her master’s degree in neuroscience from the University of Oxford and her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Michigan.  She also completed a clinical psychology internship at the University of Michigan and a postdoc in human genetics at the University of California, San Francisco.

She has authored 46 peer-reviewed published papers and 13 peer-reviewed oral papers and has been invited to deliver 18 presentations on ASD. She has been a principal investigator in research exploring a variety of issues relating to adults with autism, including examining emotions processing and the characteristics of minimally verbal adults.

Bal emphasizes a multidimensional approach, looking at social communication, language, cognition and emotions in context of neurodevelopmental disorders in order to devise interventions that capitalize on individual strengths.

“Her unique area of clinical and research expertise is ideally suited to the specific focus of the Karmazin and Lillard Chair in Adult Autism,” said Conway. “We expect that she will be a high-impact researcher who will energize and innovate the field and bring attention to the adult population.”

Approximately 1 in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed each year with an autism spectrum disorder, one of a range of conditions classified as pervasive development disorders.  In New Jersey, the number is higher, with1 in 34 children diagnosed.

A new statewide autism center based at Rutgers University-New Brunswick will improve research, treatment and services for people with autism spectrum disorder and become a national model for programs that integrate autism research, clinical care and education.