Growing up, Lauren Singer thought her older sister, Jodie, was just a little quirky. “She would do funny things. In the grocery store, she would sometimes throw a tantrum or sing,” Singer says. Other people weren’t as accepting. “Some people would point at her and laugh, and that would make me very upset.”
Jodie has autism, a developmental disability that affects her communication and social skills. When Singer was in sixth grade, she volunteered with Sunday/Funday, an enrichment program at the Jewish Community Center in Scarsdale, NY, for kids like Jodie with developmental disabilities.
Through her volunteer work, Singer became more aware of what it means to live with autism, and she learned that being different isn’t always a bad thing. “I started to understand that a lot of behaviors people think are abnormal just represent different ways that people think. They aren’t necessarily negative.”
Singer has always been interested in science, and after her sophomore year at Scarsdale High School, she spent the summer in the lab of autism researcher Joseph Buxbaum, PhD, at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “After working with children and adults with developmental disabilities, I was interested in researching a treatment that could immediately help people," she says.
She joined a team of scientists who were testing insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) as a treatment on mice bred to have autism. The following summer, she took part in another study using an EEG (a test that measures the brain’s electrical activity) as a way to diagnose an autism subtype called Phelan-McDermid syndrome.
Singer is now a freshman at Yale University studying perceptive cognitive science. “I think it will give me an opportunity to combine my interest in neuroscience with another interest I have: philosophy,” she says. “What I ultimately want to do is become a psychiatrist who works with people with developmental disabilities, or a combination of a psychiatrist and a researcher.”