Over the past five years, global autism awareness has increased dramatically. In many countries, however, the lack of qualified personnel for diagnosis and educational intervention remains one of the main obstacles to developing robust services and research efforts. To address this challenge in the Americas, Autism Speaks in collaboration with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Carso Health Institute of Mexico recently announced the Pan American Autism Awareness and Training Initiative (PAAATI), an unprecedented international private-public partnership. The purpose of PAAATI is to: (1) increase public and professional awareness of autism spectrum disorders; (2) increase research expertise and international collaboration among countries in North, South, and Central America by providing training to interdisciplinary autism researchers, with a focus on epidemiology, screening and early diagnosis; and (3) enhance service delivery across the Americas by providing training to professional service providers that focuses on screening, diagnosis and educational intervention.
As part of its mission, Autism Speaks is committed to increasing autism awareness, service delivery, and research collaboration not only nationally, but also world-wide. In order to achieve these goals, it is critical to form partnerships among countries with different cultures, varying levels of expertise, and within the existing service infrastructure. Such partnerships share the mutual goal of enhancing the quality of life for individuals with autism and their families through awareness, services and research.
As a result of PAATI, it is hoped that newly trained service providers will deliver immediate benefits to the community, while the next generation of autism researchers will contribute to a longer-term impact on science and care. Such training infrastructure is expected to provide a strong foundation for high impact research into autism risk factors, and, given the potential social and cultural variables involved, influences on diagnosis and treatment approaches that would inform the field as a whole.
While enhancing awareness and training is the focus of this initiative, research activities will also be integrated into the effort by comparing the effectiveness of various service delivery models. Given the language and cultural similarities among Latin American and Caribbean countries, there is an opportunity to explore and develop models that could potentially be replicated in other regional territories.
A series of workshops is planned to focus on topics relevant to the overall PAAATI objectives. The first of these workshops, focusing on public and professional awareness, will be held in New York City on June 27, 2008. In addition to the partner organizations, participants will include representatives from the Pan American Health Organization, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and their counterparts in Canada and Mexico.