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IMFAR program is now online

Posted Apr 03 2013 9:00pm

IMFAR, the International Meeting for Autism Research , is held in the spring of each year. Which makes me wonder, did the people who organized this have to go through IEP meetings? I ask because IEP meetings are often are held at the end of the school year and include a lot of evaluations, making it difficult for a parent to attend a Spring research meeting? It isn’t a parent conference, so this is really just an observation.

IMFAR is the top science conference for autism. It is big and it is where a lot of new work is presented. The meeting will be held in May and the abstracts will be available May 1st. But the program , meaning the titles of the talks, are available now. I’ve just done a little browsing and found some talks which are likely to spark conversations. These may not be the talks which reflect the research most likely to impact the lives of autistics and the broader autism communities, but I suspect these will be interesting to the online parent community. For example, one doesn’t need the abstract to get the conclusion of this talk: No Differences in Early Immunization Rates Among Children with Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorders . This paper is by the U.C. Davis MIND Institute, which carries a lot of weight with the groups who promote the vaccine-induced autism-epidemic idea, so perhaps this will help to move the discussion forward from the vaccine-focus of the past decade. One can hope.

On the first day, a keynote talk is being held: How Severe Is Autism – Really?

This session reviews the coexisting problems that usually exist in individuals with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. It concludes on the note that it is possibly these associated problems and disorders that often drive the poor outcome that so many people now almost take for granted will be a consequence of autism in the longer term perspective. Language disorders, intellectual developmental disorders, non-verbal learning disability, epilepsy, medical disorders such as tuberous sclerosis and fragile X syndrome, ADHD, and depression are often the “real” cause of negative outcome in autism. Many people in the general population have marked autistic features without major “lifetime impairment”. The focus on *autism only* in early intervention programs is most likely a mistake.

And you probably thought when I said there would be talks which would likely “spark conversations” online, I was just talking epidemiology and etiology.

A recent paper proposed a correlation between a mother’s childhood history of abuse and autism risk in her children. ( Emily Willingham discusses this study at Forbes ). It appears the same team has a poster at IMFAR: Maternal Exposure to Childhood Abuse Is Associated with Elevated Risk of Autism . A big open question from that work is this: are autistics more likely to be abused as children? Which could make the link heritable. Which makes it interesting that this poster is in the same session at IMFAR: Epidemiology of Neglect and Maltreatment in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

There is an entire session on the ethical questions posed by biomarker research .

While the development of a blood biomarker as a screening or diagnostic tool for autism spectrum disorders is of great interest to the scientific and medical communities, it is also attracting intense scrutiny from other stakeholders including people with autism, ethicists, and parents. This symposium will therefore address the scientific, ethical and social challenges associated with the development of biomarkers for autism, and provide an update on the current status of research in this field. We will describe how the heterogeneity of autism, gender bias, and potential comorbidities, could derail the promise of identifying objective, reliable, and universally accepted biomarkers. We will consider the ethical and social issues relating to the development of biomarkers for autism in order to identify and describe the implications for the ‘difference versus disability’ debate; as well as consider possible wider tensions of biomarker research in relation to issues such as pre-natal screening and reproductive choice, and identity and inclusion for individuals on the autistic spectrum. Finally, we will summarize the most promising research on blood biomarkers for autism, describing the required steps to take a putative biomarker from the ‘bench to the bedside’. This educational symposium brings together researchers from scientific, ethical and psychological disciplines to provide a unique perspective on the utility of biomarkers for ascertaining autism risk, aiding in diagnosis and identifying therapeutic targets, all within the framework of the relevant ethical and social considerations.

Here’s the sort of research I wish were the sort to “spark conversations”. Adaptive Intervention For Communication In Minimally Verbal School Aged Children . That is a study I really want to see. Likewise, I am pleased to see an entire session on Young Children, Schools . And Adults, Lifespan, Methods . And services .

Terry Brugha, who headed up the U.K.’s adult autism prevalence studies of recent years will present: The Autism Epidemic Hypothesis: the Association of Autism With Age in the General Population .

There is a large international focus, with research from India, China, South America and other areas usually under represented in research. Another keynote talk discusses this in terms of epidemiology: The Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorder: Toward a More Inclusive World:

We live in an era of exciting advances in our awareness and understanding of autism spectrum disorder, but also a time of enormous global imbalance. Most of what is known about the epidemiology, genetics, clinical manifestation and course, treatment, and nearly every other aspect of autism is based on research in high income countries, where fewer than 10% of births occur and less than 20% of the population lives globally. This talk will describe opportunities to expand the horizons of autism epidemiology and service delivery to include the 80 to 90% of affected individuals and families who live in low and middle income countries, as well as those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged and living in high income countries. It will also describe some of the cultural and financial barriers to progress, and make a case for incorporating concepts of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Disability and Functioning into the classification and epidemiology of autism spectrum disorder, with the ultimate goals to include not only primary prevention of autism but also enhancement of participation and social inclusion of people with autism spectrum disorder.

One session is: 30-Year Follow-Up of Autism in Adulthood .

The population of adults with ASD is increasing rapidly, entering systems of healthcare and adult support that are already at capacity. Understanding the nature of ASD in adults, their unique needs, and availability of service options, is essential for resource planning and service development. Investigations into this period of life are increasing, but much remains unknown. This study examines adult outcomes for a large, population-based sample of adults identified as children in the 1980′s. Outcomes of interest concern diagnostic presentation, functional abilities, co-occurring medical and psychiatric conditions, social functioning, independence, service use, and access to services. Overall, outcomes for this sample were consistent with what has been reported for similar samples, yet there were notable differences in factors contributing to outcomes compared to what has been reported for other groups. Our findings support the importance of a range of accessible healthcare and support service options for adults with ASD. Detailed analyses are underway to investigate patterns leading to specific outcomes for subgroups of the population of adults with ASD.

I would have written that abstract a bit differently, but I am very appreciative that this session is being held.

Two years ago, I was able to attend IMFAR with the help of an Autism Science Foundation grant. I really wish I was able to attend this one. There looks to be a great deal of interesting research being discussed.


By Matt Carey


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