Jennifer Harrison Elder, Ph.D., R.N.

Professor and Chair of Health Care Environment and Systems

College of Nursing

2008 Awardee

For families who want to unlock the mysteries of their autistic children, Jennifer Harrison Elder may have the key.

Elder, a registered nurse and a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, has spent 27 years researching autism and other child neuropsychiatric disorders. Her research has spanned everything from parent interaction to the child’s diet and toys.

As Elder studied, she discovered that training was available for mothers of autistic children, but fathers were often all but left on their own. As a result, Elder is now the principal investigator on a million-dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to analyze the effects of training for fathers of autistic children. She has written several papers regarding fathers’ interactions with their autistic children. She has also analyzed the behavior of fathers of children with ADHD

Elder has studied and evaluated the effects of a diet free of wheat and milk products, a regimen that has been praised for successfully treating some behavioral problems seen in children with autism.

Her research, one of the first published double-blind clinical trials of this gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet, indicated that while some parents noted positive effects, overall there was no statistiically significant difference between the control and experimental conditions.

Kathleen Ann Long, dean of the College of Nursing, said that Elder’s significant and novel contributions to children’s neuropsychological disorders has attracted worldwide attention.

“She is internationally recognized for her expertise in autism and other child disorders,” Long said. “I am confident that Dr. Elder will continue to increase her national and international recognition in the field of autism, other child psychiatric disorders and family mental health.”

Elder has used her knowledge to lead junior faculty members and graduate and undergraduate researchers. Her ability to mentor faculty and students alike won her a Distinguished Mentor Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.