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Advocacy Award for Souders

The Center for Autism honored her service to children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families.

Margaret C. Souders, PhD, CRNP, Assistant Professor of Human Genetics in Penn Nursing’s Department of Biobehavioral Health Sciences, received the Dr. Bertram A. Ruttenberg Award at The Center for Autism’s Awards Celebration and Fundraiser in October 2017.

Dr. Souders is interested in phylogenetics – specifically, the oldest genetic lines in our evolution – that play a role in circadian rhythms, and changes in these rhythms may put children at risk for autism spectrum disorder. In other words, the same genetic drivers that create and maintain sleep may, when altered, play a role in the development of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Her expertise in sleep medicine and genetics allows Souders to create targeted interventions for children with autism. For example, for a child with autism and insomnia, this means establishing a regular sleep routine, including yoga, deep breathing, and a calming snack, and perhaps changes to the ecology of the patient’s home, such as creating a cool, dark, quiet bedroom free of televisions and pets.

Researching the timing mechanisms that create and maintain sleep has given Souders greater insight into autism and other disorders. Early research on autism and schizophrenia grouped those conditions together, and Souders suggests the same type of genetic variant may be implicated in these problems and bipolar disorder.

The Center for Autism is the oldest specialized autism treatment center in the nation. Founded by Bertram A. Ruttenberg, MD, AS a private, non-profit organization that focuses on treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Since 1955, it has served as an industry model and helped thousands of individuals and their families. The Center offers year-round, comprehensive evaluation, treatment and training services to children, adults and families throughout the Delaware Valley.