News Release 

Ben-Gurion University receives grant for smart autism centers from Merage Foundation

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

NEW YORK/DENVER...June 30, 2020 - The David and Laura Merage Foundation in Englewood, Colorado and the Merage Foundation Israel (MFI) have granted $100,000 to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) to create smart autism day care centers throughout Israel.

Prof. Ilan Dinstein is the director of the National Autism Research Center, 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."

"David and Laura Merage are dedicated philanthropists to the state of Israel and are extremely committed to the growth of the Negev," says Doug Seserman, chief executive officer, American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU). "I am privileged to know them and thank them for their incredible generosity on behalf of children with autism."

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 http://www.aabgu.org/webinar-autism

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American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) plays a vital role in sustaining David Ben-Gurion's vision: creating a world-class institution of education and research in the Israeli desert, nurturing the Negev community and sharing the University's expertise locally and around the globe. As Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) celebrates its 50th birthday, AABGU imagines a future that goes beyond the walls of academia. It is a future where BGU invents a new world and inspires a vision for a stronger Israel and its next generation of leaders. Together with supporters, AABGU will help the University foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev for the next 50 years and beyond. AABGU, headquartered in Manhattan, has offices throughout the United States. For more information visit http://www.aabgu.org.

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