by Max Rolison
IMFAR 2011 was an unbelievable experience. I am a high school senior at Scarsdale High School and I will be attending Yale University in the fall. Currently, I am an intern at the Autism Science Foundation for the spring and summer, and I was one of eleven lucky recipients of an ASF IMFAR travel grant.
I was so excited to be going to IMFAR. When I told my friends that I was going to be going to the International Meeting for Autism Research and explained to them what it was, they gave me confused looks, chuckled at me and said “Max, you are probably the only eighteen year old who would be excited to go to a conference to listen to scientists present their research on autism.” I guess I might be, but my anticipation was definitely worthwhile.
I cannot even begin to explain all that I gained from attending IMFAR. With only a high school science education, I can’t pretend that I understood a large amount of the research presented, but what I did understand was outstanding. I left the presentations and poster sessions with a headache—but a good headache from all that I learned. There are a few presentations that have remained with me the most. First, I enjoyed Dr. Ricardo Dolmetsch’s keynote on the use of pluripotent stem cells to study autism. This past year in my advanced topics biology course, we spent a significant amount of time discussing totipotent and pluripotent stem cells and the later induction and differentiation of cells. I was able to understand a large amount of Dr. Dolmetsch’s research, which was highly technical and to many esoteric, because of what I had learned in school, which I found very exciting.
Additionally, I was intrigued by Matt Carey’s, another ASF travel grant recipient, presentation on parental expectations of their children with ASD and their children’s actual outcomes. For the past six years, I have worked with children and teens with ASD. Through my work, one of the things that struck me most was the varying level of expectations parents placed on their children and how they view their child’s abilities. In some cases, I understand the parent’s projected outcome of their child, but in other circumstances, I wonder whether the parents and I are observing the same child—to me, the parent’s expectations seem unrealistic, to both extremes. I also enjoyed the poster presentation by J.L. Taylor and P. Shattuck, from the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and Washington University, respectively, “The Role of Parental Expectations In Predicting Post-High School Outcomes for Youth with ASD,” which addressed the variance I observed.
Above all, attending IMFAR allowed me the opportunity to meet with many of the top scientists and professionals in the field—an experience that was invaluable. As a young individual who is interested in pursuing a career in autism, it was helpful to discuss the field with young pre and post-doctoral students to hear their opinions and advice, and the experienced scientists who have dedicated over twenty years to the field and could answer virtually any question I had about autism research. Since I am attending Yale next fall, it was valuable to meet many of the researchers from the autism program at the Yale Child Study Center—one of the top centers for autism research in the country. During my undergraduate years, I definitely want to participate in autism research, so meeting the people I will be working with was a wonderful experience.
For me, IMFAR was an incredible networking experienced. I met so many fascinating and influential people in one three-day span, more than I will probably meet again in my life. I am so grateful for the IMFAR travel grant I received from the Autism Science Foundation that enabled me to go to IMFAR and have this experience. Thank you, ASF!