News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Research Update: Texas Autism Research & Resource Center 2012 Conference

JCCHD | Tue, July 17, 2012 | [Events][News][Research]


Last weekend the Texas Autism Research & Resource Center (TARRC) hosted the 2012 Texas Autism Research Conference. TARRC was formed in 2009 by the 81st Texas Legislature; each year they host a conference to provide the community with opportunities to learn about cutting-edge autism research and evidence-based practices related to the diagnosis and treatment of people with ASD.

The focus of the conference was the work of researchers, from Texas and across the nation, who are respected experts in the field of ASD. Conference presenters shared their research findings and explained important implications for practices. Researchers, physicians, teachers, behavior analysts, speech therapists, and parents were on hand for two days of lectures, poster presentations, and exhibitors.

The poster presentations took place on Friday, and covered a wide variety of topics. Researchers from The Johnson Center presented three posters:
• A Retrospective Evaluation of Nutritional Status in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
• Vitamin D Deficiency in a Cohort of Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
• A Pilot Study Examining Maternal Parenting Stress and Aberrant Behavior in Children with Autism Participating in a Multi-Disciplinary Program Providing Medical Care, Dietetic Support, Educational Assessment and Family Resources

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., the Chief Science Officer from Autism Speaks, kicked off the presentation segment with an overview of the state of autism research and practice.

Dr. Dawson explained the current thinking on diagnosis and prevalence, acknowledging that the rates of autism have increased 1,000% in the last four decades, with at least 50% of the increase still unexplained; she commented that this is why we have to look at environmental factors as a possible contributor.  She stressed the importance of early intervention, and provided an overview of the medical conditions associated with ASD, including sleep issues, seizures, GI problems, food sensitivity, anxiety, and depression. She underlined that these issues have a “significant impact on the quality of life for people with ASD” and “can contribute to behavioral challenges and impair ability to fully benefit from educational interventions.” Dr. Dawson went on to say that these medical issues are associated with the increased maladaptive behaviors often associated with ASD, and that when these behaviors emerge, medical conditions need to be ruled out.

Several other impressive presenters, including Katherine Loveland, Ph.D., emphasized the idea that if a person with ASD has a treatable condition, he or she should be treated for it.  This simple statement is a productive step forward – for decades, symptoms of poor health in the ASD population have often been dismissed, wrongly assumed to be psychological in nature. Other presenters discussed research on effective screening tools, brain development, the effects of stimulant medication treatment, techniques to improve communication, caring for adults on the spectrum, and more.

Laura Hewitson, Ph.D., Director of Research for The Johnson Center, presented on the identification and validation of biomarkers for autism. This presentation explained the challenges and need for more research on identifying biomarkers, in order to improve current diagnostics and monitoring of treatment efficacy.

Claire Schutte, Psy.D., BCBA-D, Staff Psychologist at The Johnson Center, lectured on the relationship between the ADOS Stereotyped Behaviors and Restricted Interests Domain Score, and the ADOS Diagnostic Classification and DSM-IV Diagnosis, investigating whether any current relationship exists between the ADOS SBRI domain score and the overall ADOS diagnostic classification, and the DSM-IV diagnosis.

Kelly Barnhill, MBA, CN, CCN, Clinical Care Director at The Johnson Center, presented a review of documented nutritional deficiencies in people with ASD.

Special thanks to Alice Antilley, Program Coordinator for TARRC, and the rest of the staff and volunteers who organized an interesting, informative conference.