The Autism Treatment Network (ATN) held its kick-off meeting for the newly expanded treatment network January 12-13, in Santa Monica, Calif. The meeting was an unprecedented gathering of medical autism experts from across the United States and Canada. The ATN program staff hosted 112 attendees including six representatives from each of the participating ATN sites
as well as members of the ATN Steering Committee.
The ATN is a collaboration of hospitals and medical centers dedicated to improving medical care for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and to standardizing the care those individuals receive. The network aims to develop common clinical standards for medical care for individuals with ASD and to increase the pool of autism medical specialists through trainee mentorship and outreach to community-based physicians. In December, Autism Speaks announced the expansion of the ATN with the funding of fifteen participating sites, a three-fold growth from the original five sites [for more details, see Autism Speaks Announces Major Expansion of Autism Treatment Network in our Press Release section].
Peter Bell, executive vice-president of program and services, opened the meeting highlighting the need for the ATN to change the treatment paradigm for children with autism. After his opening presentation Bell remarked, "It was a slightly surreal experience to stand before over 100 leading clinicians talking about treating autism. When my 15 year old son was diagnosed 12 years ago, most people told us 'autism isn't treatable.' Times have changed."
Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer of Autism Speaks and a founding member of the Autism Treatment Network continued this theme. Dr. Dawson emphasized why the ATN's focus on medical issues is vitally important to the overall approach to autism treatment and intervention. "It is essential that we address the medical needs of individuals with autism. The ATN will develop standards of medical care that will address issues such as sleep and GI problems which affect not only quality of life, but also the ability to respond to behavioral intervention."
Presentations addressing goals for network clinical activity, policy and governmental activity and supporting ATN-based research were given by participating ATN physicians and ATN Steering Committee members. A major objective was to discuss the establishment of standards for the medical care of children with autism. Key issues were addressed in specialty working groups in the areas of sleep, GI, psychology, neurology, psychiatry and developmental pediatrics. In each specialty workgroup, lead representatives from the ATN sites outlined the healthcare needs for individuals with autism in their respective areas, and made plans for the development of standards of care for their specialties.
Richard Fade, ATN Steering Committee member and co-founder of the ATN summarized the importance of the newly expanded network. "Through the ATN, Autism Speaks is advancing and defining the standard of care for autism and will make that care available at 15 locations across the United States and Canada. We are at the beginning, but are helping clinicians and families alike do a much better job in treating this disorder—it's long overdue."