IMFAR 2015


Emerge clinicians attended the International Meeting for Autism Research last month in Salt Lake City.  As always, there were many interesting talks and chances to see the most up to date research related to autism diagnosis, treatment and risk factors.  This blog will introduce some of the topics and upcoming blogs will share information from various talks.
Anthropologists spoke this year about the debate between calling Autism a disorder versus a condition which may be seen as less stigmatizing.  Speakers discussed the “Neurodiversity movement” as high functioning individuals on the Autism Spectrum often resent language indicating that Autism is a disorder. Others feel that to dismiss the challenges associated with ASD, we make light of the struggles many individuals and families face daily. Other talks focused on the genetics and epigenetics of autism and studies further investigating causes and treatments. Sally Rodgers spoke on the Early Start Denver Model, Applied Behavior Analysis and Pivotal Response Therapy. Other talks noted that as scientists work to develop medications to treat autism, it is important to target subsets of symptoms as autism falls on such a broad spectrum and medication that works for one person may not work for another (Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, Pathways to New Treatments in Autism Spectrum Disorder).
One interesting topic for this clinician was Kenneth Gadow’s research on diagnostic comorbidity with ASD. Gadow explored the high rates of comorbidity and discussed the need to address symptoms related to these comorbidities in order to treat our clients. Dr. Gadow used the measure the CASI-4 and created a comparison group diagnosed with AD/HD Inattentive type. He identified many comorbidities for ASD including AD/HD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia. His research asks the question, “Are these other syndromes altered by ASD?” The answer he found is yes. ASD symptoms are altered by co-occurring psychiatric symptoms. He found that the psychiatric syndrome in the ASD clinical phenotype is a unique variant and autism may make individuals more likely to express these other symptoms. Hyperactivity and social deficits are associated on different gene alleles and at times alleles of the same gene are associated with different symptoms. This research speaks to the overlapping risk factors modulating gene expression. This research cannot imply causation but clearly speaks to overlapping risk factors. Research like this can impact how we study and treat various symptoms and comorbidities that may occur with ASD. There will be more blogging in upcoming weeks on IMFAR 2015 data.