Worldwide experts in Autism research meet at conference

Monday , May 18, 2015 - 9:58 AM

By CALEB LARKIN
Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Autism research, aide, and treatment center workers gathered at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City from May 13 to May 16 to share ideas and innovation.

The International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) hosted their annual meeting with thousands in attendance from China, Scandinavia, and all across the U.S. The conference included hundreds of university sponsored research projects on autism.

The “innovative technology demonstrations” varied from studies and research to apps designed to help those with autism. One project even included google glass-type wear as part of their presentation. Most of the projects and speakers at the conference focused on early detection of autism as the key factor in treatment.

The University of Utah and Brigham Young University were among those who presented. Jon Cox, a clinical faculty member at BYU, showed his research on the broader autism phenotype. “[Autism] is a spectrum,” Cox said. There are some individuals that are just below meeting the criteria to be diagnosed with autism. These individuals are categorized with the broader autism phenotype.

Cox’s research studied university students in this group. The study supported the typical stereotype that people with autism tend to perform well with numbers and figures and choose majors in math or engineering. “One surprising result we found was the broader autism phenotype had a much higher percentage of females than males. This is interesting because those classified as autistic are more commonly male,” Cox said.

The University of Utah research focused on finding a correlation between IQ and Restricted and Repetitive Behaviors (RRB). They found that as IQ scores increased the Repetitive and Sensory-Motor behaviors decreased. Researchers from a university in Stockholm also presented their findings at the convention. They identified that autism most heavily affects emotion regulation and language capabilities.

Many of the country’s leading facilities for autism research and treatment showed support for the conference. Jennifer Stapel-Wax, an associate professor at the Emery School of Medicine, works as a director for the Marcus Autism Center. “The international meeting is an excellent way to connect with colleagues on research, take back ideas, and impart our knowledge,” Stapel-Wax said. She believes the collaboration is the greatest result of the INSAR conferences.

The Marcus Autism Center reports that one in every 68 children in the U.S. has autism. The center sees almost 6,000 children a year. Their focus is on early intervention. Stapel-Wax believes early detection is the biggest challenge facing autism right now. Sally Rogers, the Director of Training and Mentoring at the MIND Institute at the University of California Davis, spoke at the convention on methods and benefits of detecting autism in toddlers. Rogers believes early intervention leads to a better understanding of the “behavioral impairments associated with early autism spectrum disorder (ASD).”

Keynote speaker, Roy Grinker, the Director of the Institute for Ethnographic Research at George Washington University, discussed “stakeholders” in autism. “Few diagnostic categories cost as much as ASD,” said Grinker. He encouraged researchers to understand how the “economy of ASD influences the science of ASD.”

The final keynote speaker, Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, an M.D. with the New York State Psychiatric Institute, discussed “pathways to new treatments.” He said there exist two main treatment methods for ASD. First a broad treatment covering a wide spectrum of autism. Second a specific genetic syndrome study, which “comprises less than two percent of individuals with ASD.” Veenstra-VanderWeele argued the second method, although less common, is likely to lead to better treatments and possible cure for autism.

INSAR will host another meeting in Shanghai, China this November. For more information go to www.autism-insar.org.

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