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IMFAR 2012 Preconference Highlights

This blog post is by Harold Doherty. His son Conor has autism. Visit Harold's blog Facing Autism in New Brunswick for more!

You can find the original post here.


Yesterday was a busy day at the IMFAR 2012 Preconference sessions. Although described as a Preconference the days events were packed with information and persons in attendance had to use their time carefully, whether they were suffering from jet lag or not, to maximize their participation.  The highlights of my day at the Pre-Conference were:

1) IMFAR Press Conference Highlighting Key Studies. Introduced by INSAR President  Helen Tager Flusberg with presentations by Steven Scherer, Dan Messenger, Nanit Gordon, Terry Bennett and Rebecca Landa. Dr. Tager Flusberg opened the press conference presentations with a brief overview of the IMFAR presentations during this second decade of IMFAR conventions. The presentations are the cutting edge or leading articles in autism research during the past year and have not been yet been presented for full review prior to publication in learned journals.  
I will be writing more about each speaker's presentation when time permits.  I was very interested in Dr. Nanit Gordon's presentation about Oxytocin's Impact on Social Cognitive Brain Function in Youth with ASD which seemed to follow directly from a presentation I heard earlier in a preconference session about parental behaviors and children's capacity to become members of the social group, understand complex social signals and develop social collaboration. I reference that session in paragraph 2).  Dr. Gordon presented data including fMRI images showing the effect of Oxytocin on areas of the brain important to the aforementioned social capacities.  Oxytocin was one of the response items to certain types of interaction, particularly parental interaction. My concern and my questions concerned whether if parental interaction increases a hormonal response, oxytocin, which improves capacity for at risk children to develop social capacity does that imply that our current research is indicating a return to the Bettelheim era when autism was blamed on cold, aloof mothers?  Dr. Gordon and Dr. Helen Tager Flusberg both spoke with me after the presentations and assured me that was not the case ... the data does not support the view that  parental personality or interaction, particularly mothers, plays a role in causing autism disorders in children. The aim of the research is to find treatments to help improve the social capacities of children with autism.

2) Preconference sessions for people with ASD, families, clinicians, researchers, policymakers and others interested in Autism Spectrum Disorder(s). I attended a preconference session at which study results and information  were presented concerning "Bio-Behavioral Synchrony and the Development of Social Reciprocity"".  As stated in the Press Book Abstract, the speaker Ruth Feldman, Ph. D., Bar-Ilan University, described "how micro-level social behaviors in the gaze, vocal, affective, and touch modalities are dynamically integrated with online phsyiological processes and hormonal response to create dyad specific attachments and support children's capacity to become members of the social group, understand complex social signals, and develop social collaboration." As a parent listening to the presentation the information presented as summarized about seemed to be providing data that suggested a return to Bettelheims' Refrigerator Mothers theory of autism causation.  When the moderator took the podium to thank the speaker at the conclusion of her presentation he alluded to this possible interpretation of the presentation indicating that it is a delicate area to explore and one which must be done with balance. One of the response items measured was Oxytocin which prompted my questions to Dr. Gordon at the subsequent press conference.
3) Autism Treatment Network and the information about health issues of particular interest to persons with, or parents of children with, autism disorders. 
Many issues were covered including constipationseizures, and sleep disorders. From the perspective of a parent of a son with severe autism disorder and developmental delays these are very important topics. Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network and the various speakers presented helpful practical information for families and health care practicioners including "Strategies to Improve Sleep in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders A Parent's Guide".
4) IPAD - Purdue Study on "Infusing Speech Output Into the Picture Exchange Communication System for Children with autism, Oliver Wendt, Ph.D., Ning Hsu, M.S., Rachel Casey, B.S. & Evan Mattice, B.S.  Contact info was presented concerning the study for Oliver Wendt, Conclusions without getting too specific at this time included that "All participants mastered iPad intervention, but varied in ability to complete later protocol phase, which are replicable across settings."


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.