PSU Holds Autism Conference

I was in Penn State yesterday attending the National Autism Conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.  I’m going to share with you today a few thoughts from the discussions.

Janet Twyman, PhD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, offered the opening keynote, “Making Evidence Meaningful.”   She stressed that we must measure what we’re teaching and follow the data to tell us what is working.  I am a strong proponent of this philosophy. Unless we measure the effectiveness of our teaching practices, we will not know if our students are learning.  Our data must provide us the basis of making instructional decisions.

Alice Kau, PhD, director of the Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, provided an update on autism research.  The initial topic was, of course, the DSM V.  She reviewed the two system domains – social communication deficits and fixed interests/repetitive behavior – that are found in the DSM V.  Also, she noted that hyper- or hypo-reactivity to sensory input is now included.  Because of this factor, retrospective studies to determine any changes in prevalence are not valid.

Other key points included:

  • The rising 2012 prevalence numbers are, in fact, based on a record review completed in 2008.
  • 11.3 per thousand children are diagnosed with ASD; 1 in 54 males, 1 in 252 females
  • 38% of children on the spectrum have intellectual disabilities

Dr. Kau also discussed a sibling study which found that of children diagnosed with ASD, 19% of the younger siblings have autism.  Structural changes are noted in the sibling brain as young as 6 months of age.

She also reported in a recent early intervention study, Kasai et al., 2012.  Of children who received 30 hours per week of an ABA preschool program, 80% had a functional use of spoken language five years after completion of early intervention.

I encourage you to go to sites listed below for handouts from the presentations.

The conference had great information.  I encourage parents and professionals to consider going next year.

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