Love of children inspires young researcher to tackle autism

Tamara GermaniAs an occupational therapist, Tamara Germani builds on the strengths of the children with autism that she works with at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. Germani, who is also a PhD student in the department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, focuses on children’s strengths in her research on autism, as well.

As part of her thesis, she is developing a way of classifying the social participation of preschool children with autism. The five-level classification system aims to help health care professionals to determine what individual and community program supports are most appropriate for children.
 
“If you know what a child can actually do, then you have a better idea of what supports the child really needs,” says Germani, whose doctoral research was funded by a WCHRI graduate studentship in 2014.
 
Her proposed system has already attracted attention. Germani recently presented the first part of her PhD project at the Paediatric Society Development Program in Newport Beach, California. In June 2015, she will take it to Berlin to the Ninth World Congress of the International Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.
 
Germani made her mark as an up-and-coming young researcher while working on a national study of infant siblings of children with autism led by her supervisor, Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, who holds the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Autism Research. Her task was to look at the sensory responses of younger siblings, and she found that, as the research team suspected, by 24 months, the children were much more likely to be hypersensitive. She presented these findings to the Canadian Pediatric Society in 2013, the only Canadian trainee invited to present, and her results have been published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
 
As a researcher and occupational therapist specializing in autism, Germani is taking on a complicated disorder that currently affects about 67,000 children in Canada. The potential to make these children’s lives better is partly what motivates her. They make her life a whole lot better, too, Germani notes. 
 
“Working with these kids makes me really happy,” she says. “I love how they call me out and tell it like it is.”
 
Germani's research is supported by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through WCHRI.