Newswise — ATLANTA–The Center for Leadership in Disability (CLD) at Georgia State University has won a federal grant to study the relationship between nature walks and behaviors associated with autism stress responses in children.

The three-year, multi-phased study will be funded by a $160,650 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s National Urban and Community Forestry Challenge. 

The research will examine the impact of tree canopy in urban landscapes on the symptoms of children with autism. The studies will also look at the relationship between nature walks and memory in children with autism participating in community partners’ summer programs.

Dr. Brian Barger, a research assistant professor at CLD in Georgia State’s School of Public Health, will collaborate with university researchers and community partners in Georgia, Arizona, Nebraska, Colorado and South Carolina.

“We are building on prior studies of other populations, researching the relationship between natural environments and stress, depression, memory and capacity to focus,” said Barger, “and we will take that approach and extend those findings to focus the lens on children with autism.”

In addition to scientific articles, research teams will work with community partners to develop a “Lessons Learned” document aimed at providing practical advice to nature groups interested in working with children with autism.

“We are excited about the grant funding,” said Dr. Daniel Crimmins, director of the CLD. “This research will give us another tool to pass on to caregivers and communities to use towards improving care for children with autism and related disabilities.”

CLD is part of a network of University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, one of 67 programs in the country funded by the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CLD is in the Mark Chaffin Center for Healthy Development at the School of Public Health at Georgia State.