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Posts Tagged ‘IMFAR ASF’

By Kadi Luchsinger

Kadi Luchsinger, selected by Autism Science Foundation as a 2012 IMFAR Travel Grantee, is a parent an 11 year old son with Dup15q Syndrome.

I was so pleased to have the opportunity to attend the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). I went with a mission: to meet as many people as I could and learn from them, but also to share my knowledge of Dup15q Syndrome. I’m pleased to say I accomplished my mission.

I spent a fair amount of my time at IMFAR reviewing the poster presentations. It was wonderful to see the young researchers’ excitement and to discuss their research. I wanted to know how they developed their hypothesis, how they were funded and what obstacles they encountered. It was enlightening for me to talk to those in the trenches and to gain a better understanding of the research world. As the Executive Director of Dup15q Alliance, gaining this understanding was important because our organization is moving in the direction of funding research. Speaking with some of the top experts in the field who are working on Dup15q related projects was also a priority to me.

As a science junkie, I enjoyed the keynote address by Dr. Feldman, entitled Bio-Behavioral Synchrony and the Development of Social Reciprocity. The details of her work and the videos were fascinating. She provided a great overview of the importance of relationships to children with autism, explaining it on a biochemical level. There were so many outstanding sessions, at times I felt information overload!

My favorite session was called Communicating Autism Science. The presenters focused on media training, working with the press and communicating with families. I learned about the importance of being prepared ahead of time for the press by developing three key points and practicing these points. This was a great session for me to attend as our organization is a volunteer-run parent organization and we do not have a staff to handle media relations.

In addition to research findings, I learned more about other organizations and the resources they offer in order to share resources with our members. Though I learned so much about the latest autism research, the best thing about IMFAR was meeting the leaders in the field of autism research. I made wonderful connections and learned so much from other attendees.

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By Marjorie Madfis

Marjorie Madfis, selected by Autism Science Foundation as a 2012 IMFAR Travel Grantee, is a parent. Additional posts by Marjorie from IMFAR can be found at her blog.

I am the mother of a 16 year old girl who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, when she was two and a half. Before she was born, I never knew anyone with autism. By the time my daughter was 12 months old, I had a suspicion. By the time she was 18 months old, I knew something was out of the ordinary, though my pediatrician did not. I sat down in a friend’s office and cried. For several years, I thought, “Oh, one more speech therapy session and she’ll be all better.” Since then, I’ve undergone a continual process of learning. I found that being a mother of a child with autism is an all-consuming job and life, yet I have to juggle full-time employment with parenting.

When I started fundraising for National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) in 2001, I thought that within a few years, we would have identified a cause and a cure. Eleven years later, as I attended various sessions at IMFAR, it seemed to me that identifying the cause or causes — let alone a “cure” — is still at least a few years away.  However, I was reminded that scientists have undertaken a vast amount of research, which has led to greater understanding of the disorder and its attributes.

At IMFAR, I attended an interest group session about autism in females and learned that females make up only about 20-25% of children diagnosed with ASD. This session left me with many questions about why fewer females are diagnosed. Is it because they are not identified until they are older? Are females better able to compensate?

I also attended a session about cognition and behavior across the lifespan. I understood roughly 33% of what was said. The researchers reported on auditory and visual processing, multisensory processing, motor impairments, posture, balance and the implications of each for socialization. This session helped me understand that there is a correlation between the sensory system and social skills.

It was taxing to comprehend the data and findings from the researchers’ sessions. Parents are not the primary audience at IMFAR. In fact, I would guess we made up less than 5% of the audience. However, several researchers approached me during the cocktail reception to tell me they appreciated my questions during the Q&A sessions. I told them I wanted to make sure I got the most out of it. My dad always said, “There is no such thing as a stupid question; if you don’t know, ask.”

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By Eric Hogan

Eric Hogan, selected by Autism Science Foundation as a 2012 IMFAR Travel Grantee, is a self-identified individual with autism. This post was also featured on his blog.

In May, I attended International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) 2012 in Toronto, Canada. There were about 2,000 professionals from the autism field, and many autism stakeholders in attendance. International Society for Autism Research  (INSAR), the organization that put this event together, had a room with hundreds of posters on display.

Each poster represented a unique research project on a particular facet of autism. There was an autism expert in front of each poster available to answer any questions. In my opinion, the best thing about the event was the accessibility to a wide range of people from parents of people with autism to medical doctors, and persons with autism such as myself.

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By Deb Dunn

Deb Dunn, selected by Autism Science Foundation as a 2012 IMFAR Travel Grantee, is a parent of two children with ASD and Outreach Director at Center for Autism Research at CHOP.

I am honored to have been selected as a recipient of a travel grant from the Autism Science Foundation to attend the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), held this May in Toronto, Canada. As both a professional working in the field of autism and the parent of two children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, I know of no other conference that packs so much in-depth, meaningful information into just a few days.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend IMFAR in the past. Thus I know firsthand how overwhelming the conference can seem – with new presentations every 15-30 minutes and competing topics of interest being presented at the same time in different rooms. To attempt to convey how IMFAR feels to someone who has never attended, I recorded the Parent’s Guide to IMFAR video post, which is posted on the YouTube channel for the Center for Autism Research (CAR):  and on CAR’s blog.

I also created a YouTube video following a presentation I attended on adolescents who “outgrow” their autism diagnosis. The study found that 26% of children moved off the autism spectrum as they aged. However, a large percentage of these individuals moved into other diagnostic categories.  My video discusses the potential implications of “optimal outcome,” including how having this mindset might be a disservice to individuals with autism as they enter adulthood.

A number of other presentations piqued my curiosity over the three days of the conference. The first morning, I attended Dr. Ruth Feldman’s keynote presentation, Bio-behavioral Synchrony and the Development of Social Reciprocity, which discussed the benefits of oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone that is currently being tested in some individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Oxytocin has been used to increase social bonding. Unlike the majority of oxytocin studies, however, Dr. Feldman discussed using oxytocin in parents of children with ASD as opposed to in the children themselves. When parents of very young children were administered oxytocin intranasally, oxytocin levels increased not only in the parents who were administered the hormone, but also in their children. This mimicking response showed promise as a prophylactic intervention for children at risk for developing ASD. One concern I had with Dr. Feldman’s presentation, however, was the potential for her research to be misconstrued. For too long, parents – particularly “Refrigerator Mothers” – were considered at fault for their children’s autism. I don’t think Dr. Feldman intended to imply that parents are not capable of bonding with their children and thus are responsible for their children’s autism, but several parents I spoke with in the room came away with a feeling that once again parents were being blamed.

Throughout the conference, there was much discussion of the proposed revisions to the definition of pervasive developmental disorders/autism spectrum disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – DSM-5. Presentations discussing the changes were particularly popular at the conference, especially the special session on Friday afternoon, presented by the members of the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Disorders Workgroup. In this session, I learned much about the process of making the changes as well as their substance. I took this information and created, with input from two of my co-workers who attended the conference, a handout for parents to help them understand what the changes are and the potential implications. This handout has been distributed at many conferences in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is available on in PDF form on CAR’s website.  It is also on the website for autismMatch, a registry for families interested in participating in autism research, and was sent to over 10,000 subscribers of CAR’s email newsletter. Additionally, I presented on DSM-5 changes as part of a presentation to parents of adolescents with ASD in September and have been asked to do another presentation in 2013.

On Friday of the conference, I had the good fortune to attend the Autism Stakeholders Luncheon. Dr. Beth Malow discussed sleep issues in children with ASD, Dr. Marjorie Solomon talked about a topic of special interest to many stakeholders in the room – friendship during adolescence, Dr. Susan Swedo discussed DSM-5 changes and communicated her own distress at the way media stories had sensationalized the changes and vilified her committee, and Dr. Matthew Goodwin discussed new ways to measure distress in children with ASD by monitoring physical symptoms of stress.

Saturday of the conference continued to be full of information and insight. I attended Dr. Alan Evan’s keynote address that morning, Structural Connectivity in Neurodevelopment, in which he described brain connections using the analogy of roads. Brains should be globally efficient, with clusters of local roads, connector hubs, and highways for traveling long distance.  As someone who frequently speaks to parents about autism neuroimaging research, I found Dr. Evan’s presentation a good model to follow in simplifying difficult concepts for a lay audience. (For me, this presentation was a nice complement to the Invited Educational Symposium on Communicating Autism Science, which was held Thursday afternoon.)

In addition to the dozens of presentations I attended at IMFAR, I also made several tours through the poster sessions. Frequently the poster session presenters are young students, research assistants, or autism fellows still in training. The enthusiasm and dedication I witnessed in all that I spoke to is encouraging for the future of autism research. I videotaped several of poster presentations and posted them to CAR’s YouTube channel.

I am honored to have been given a grant by the Autism Science Foundation to attend IMFAR 2012. The knowledge I gained from attending continues to permeate my work at the Center for Autism Research and, I hope, informs my discussions with parents of children with ASD. Thank you for the opportunity.

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