Foundation for Physical Therapy Research Scholarship Recipient, Jeffrey Konrad, PT, DPT, is using his award to create a low-cost way of identifying children with autism to guide early diagnoses and interventions.

Nearly one in 59 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a lifelong developmental disability caused by differences in the brain. Children with ASD display a wide range of symptoms that vary from person to person. Some of the most common challenges these children face involve problems with their social and communication skills. Some children with ASD also experience incoordination and hyperactivity.

Early diagnosis leads to improved quality of life. However, early diagnosis is often difficult and occurs after missed developmental milestones. Thus, tracking movement can reveal developmental deviations before symptoms of autism appear.

Jeffrey Konrad, PT, DPT, a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, is quantifying the characteristics of how people move in the hopes of identifying early diagnoses of ASD.

Recently, Konrad received a Foundation for Physical Therapy Research (FPTR) Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) I Scholarship. This PODS I Scholarship was funded by the American Physical Therapy Association’s Scholarship Fund.

Konrad will use this award to study movement in children with autism using wearable sensors. The sensors provide data that will quantify motor traits in these children. This information could be used to help clinicians identify children at risk of autism and make earlier diagnoses.

“This information can inform an objective autism diagnosis or be used to set treatment priorities and assess intervention efficacy,” says Konrad. “Physical therapists have a unique ability to treat motor impairments and for these kids targeted interventions, particularly at early ages, could alter their developmental trajectory.”

According to Konrad, research funding for projects that will advance care across physical therapy disciplines and patient populations is crucial. “In physical therapy research, there are so many questions that need answers; answers that put more tools in the hands of clinicians,” said Konrad.

Konrad is not discouraged by the current health climate and sees a continued need for physical therapists. “I think patients and physical therapists will develop an even greater appreciation for the immense value physical therapy creates during in-person, hands-on, patient-centered care; the type of care our profession excels at,” said Konrad.

Update: Konrad has since presented preliminary findings at a National Center for Medical Rehabilitation Research conference where he also learned how adaptive technology is used to overcome impairments. Konrad has also attended the Penn State National Autism Conference where he learned about the adaptive skills of children with autism. Along with his lab colleagues, Konrad published a perspective paper on the use of wearable technology in clinical populations.

FPTR awards PODS I Scholarships of $7,500 each year to physical therapists or physical therapist assistants who have completed at least two full semesters or three full quarters of their coursework toward a postprofessional doctoral degree. In July, FPTR awarded $212,500 in fellowship and scholarship funding to 12 promising physical therapist researchers. The awards will help these new investigators begin their research careers and complete doctoral studies.

Select Foundation Grants and Scholarships Awarded

In the course of my career in physical therapy to date, I have been exposed to many different areas. I have taught students both in the clinic and classroom, worked as a legislative chairman for the Eastern District of the Illinois Physical Therapy Association and held both clinical and administrative positions. I have been an instructor in the Physical Therapy Program at Marquette University, an instructor and pre-Physical Therapy advisor at both the University of Alaska and Seattle University and now an instructor in Neuroanatomy for Physical Therapy and Medical Students at the University of Minnesota. All the while, I have advanced my own education and continued to treat patients in the clinic simultaneously. I would now like to use that education and experience more fully by combining teaching, research and clinical work in a physical therapy academic setting. My overarching goal is to challenge traditional ideas about optimal therapies, best practice and outcomes. As our profession continues to increase its role in interdisciplinary teamwork, I would like to be on the leading edge of
those professionals who continue to work toward questioning our practices and the manner in which we contribute to the rehabilitation of an individual. Specifically, I would like to spend my doctoral work developing an advanced foundation in rehabilitation research and neuroscience. I am interested in post-doctoral training specifically to further my ability to pursue neuroscientific research, and I intend to apply for a position at the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation (CNBS) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School. During this post-doctoral pursuit I would also like to complete the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) interdisciplinary training program. This program is geared toward post-graduate fellows who are interested in assuming leadership roles in providing health care services for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families. I hope to apply this postdoctoral training by obtaining an academic position in a Physical Therapy program that would allow me to
combine research and clinical work with teaching. I was recently asked what I would like to have said about me, one day, when I retire. I would be honored to have it said of me that I somehow contributed to the growth and quality of life of others, whether towards the growth of the student who is interested in becoming a PT or the patient who recovers function. I am confident that my doctoral work will give me all the tools I need to make that contribution.



  • Moerchen VA, Habibi M, Lynett KA, Konrad JD, Hoefakker HL. Treadmill training and overground gait: decision making for a toddler with spina bifida. Pediatr Phys Ther. 2011 Spring;23(1):53-61. PubMed PMID: 21304342.