Autism Speaks and the Marcus Autism Center sponsored a really interesting event this past Saturday that I had the pleasure to attend. Autism researchers from the CDC, and the Marcus Center presented their very imformative results.
Dr. Warren Jones from the Marcus Center discussed his research using eye-tracking of young children to differentiate autistic from non-autistic children. He showed the babies a video and used sophisticated technology to determine where in the video the baby was looking at. He discovered that, starting at about nine months of age, typically developing children focused on social cues, while the children later diagnosed as autistic were looking at movement and sound generally. In other words, the typically developing children were watching eyes, while autistic children were watching the mouth. The differences were striking and if the technology could be deployed in pediatrician's offices, they could act as a screener for children so that beneficial early interventions could be applied earlier. Dr. Jones' group is running more research trials for babies and is hoping to run studies on older children. Sign up on the Marcus Center website.
The CDC discussed prelimiary data from the SEED program, which is a huge study looking into the prevelance of autism in society. The presenter mentioned that a second stage for SEED is starting. If you have you children and are interested in participating, check them out. Other presenters from the Marcus Institute talked about the difference between screeners for autism, which only raise concerns, and diagnostic evaluations, that give a diagnosis. Just because a screener suggests autism does not mean that your child has autism.
Some discussion of importan issues in the IEP were also discussed. One speaker discussed the importance of planning for transition out of school, after graduation. The IDEA recognizes this important issue and as graduation approaches, IEPs must contain planning for life after graduation, including lifeskills training as appropriate. Early is better, because the more training, the more prepared your child will be for life after public schooling.
Another speaker discussed the pending change to the definition of autism in the DSM-V. I think my colleague Jennifer Laviano covered the issue very well. As she noted, autism is defined in the IDEA without reference to the DSM-V. If your child meets that definition, your child is eligible for services regardless of the definition in the DSM. And once a child is eligible for services, the school district is obligated to create an individualized plan that deals with a child's specific needs - no matter what eligibility category led to eligibility for services.