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Posts Tagged ‘Geri Dawson’

Autism Boom: An Epidemic of Disease or Discovery?

December 16, 2011 24 comments

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer is from Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

Earlier this week, the LA Times ran a provocative article under the questioning headline above. It suggested that autism’s twentyfold increase over the last generation may be “more of a surge in diagnosis than in disease.” In fact, scientific evidence suggests that autism’s dramatic increase is only partially explained by improved screening and diagnosis.

Some of the clearest evidence of this increase comes from research documenting a 600 percent jump in autism caseload in California between 1992 and 2006. In related studies (here and here), Peter Bearman estimated that around 42 percent of the increase can be explained by changes in diagnostic methods and awareness with another 11 percent possibly due to increases in parental age at the time of conception (a known risk factor).

Taking into account all the factors that have been studied, this leaves approximately half of the increase due to still-unidentified factors. Through research, we’re increasing our understanding of these influences. For example, we now know that prematurity and extreme low-birth weight increase autism risk in babies. Certainly survival rates for premature and very low birth weight infants have increased considerably over the last twenty years.

While no single factor is likely to explain the marked increase in autism’s prevalence, researchers agree that a number of influences likely work together to determine the risk that a child will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Bottom line: It is undeniable that more children are being diagnosed with ASD than ever before. The need for increased funding for autism science and services has never been greater. Autism costs society is a staggering $35 billion per year. And with more cases, that figure is likely to increase. Fortunately, there is clear evidence that earlier identification and intervention and supports throughout the lifespan can improve outcomes and quality of life.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, please see the “Learn the Signs” page of our website. If you are an adult struggling with issues that might be related to autism, please follow the hyperlinks to our resource page for adults and our page on Asperger Syndrome.

Got more questions? Send them to GotQuestions@autismspeaks.org. And join our next live webchat with Dr. Dawson and her co-host, Autism Speaks assistant vice president and head of medical research Joe Horrigan, MD on January 5th. More information on their monthly webchats here.

TEDxPeachtree – Ami Klin – Autism: Disruptions in Early Human Social Adaptation Mechanisms

December 13, 2011 3 comments

A note from Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson PhD:

Dr. Ami Klin explains the importance of helping the young child with autism become engaged with the social environment, which increases the learning opportunities that are available to the child.  Although our goal is to get children with autism into intervention as soon as possible, it is never too late for an individual with autism to benefit from interventions that focus on increasing social interaction.  

World renowned autism authority Dr. Ami Klin takes a deeper look at autism beyond its widely acknowledged genetic origins. He explores how autism results when the evolutionarily conserved and developmentally early emerging mechanisms of social adaptation, such as the mutually reinforcing choreography between infant and caregiver, are disrupted.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.*
(*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

Uploaded from TEDxTalks YouTube

Webchat on Promoting Language, Learning and Engagement in Toddlers and Preschoolers

December 1, 2011 3 comments

Thanks to all who joined us for today’s “Office Hour” webchat with our Chief Science Officer, clinical psychologist Geri Dawson, PhD. Here’s the full transcript.

Thursday December 1, 2011

12:30
Hello everyone. This is Dr. Geri Dawson. Thanks so much for joining me today. I am looking forward to reading your questions.
12:33
From Melanie
I am curious as to the research base on the consultative model and its impact in providing services with the very young child/toddlers with the diagnosis of ASD. Can this question be answered? Thanks
12:34
Hi, Melanie. Providing consultation to birth-to-three providers is a frequently used strategy for helping those providers learn to use ASD-specific intervention approaches. However, I am not aware of any empirical studies that compare a consultative model to direct intervention by specialists. The currently recommendation is for young children with ASD to receive direct one-on-one intervention with highly trained and well-supervised therapists for a significant part of their overall intervention program.
12:34
Comment From Julie

Hi Dr. Dawson. My son is 6 and he is echolalic and scripts a lot. any thoughts on how to best address both of these communication issues?

12:37
Hi Julie, Echolalia is a common way for kids with ASD to learn to speak. When your child echos back a word or phrase, treat it as a real communication regardless of whether it seems to make sense or not. Use part of the echoed speech but modify it to be more appropriate. For example, if he says, “You want cookie” when he wants something to eat, say “Cookie – you can say ‘I want cookie’ – and then give him what he wants. Continue to model appropriate speech incorporating parts of his echoed speech. The important thing is for him to feel successful in his attempts to communicate as this will keep his motivation high.
12:39
Comment From Troy S.

I do, but not sure how to ask it. It’s very general. We have a 2 yr old who hasn’t spoken a word. He was diagnosed at Kennedy Kreiger as being on the s[ectrum. And we are wondering if there are any realistic expectations of when we can expect him to speak his first words….?

12:41
Hi Troy, Many two year olds with autism have not yet developed speech. Is your child making any sounds at all? Vocalizing? If so, build on this sounds by imitating them, playing with sounds and songs, and always responding to his sounds as if they are meaningful communication, while modeling the correct word for hiim. Likely, he will start to use words eventually.
12:42
Comment From April Costello

@ Julie, there is a wonderful article which further reinforces Dr. Dawson’s recommendation. It is called Finding the Words, To Tell the “Whole” Story by Marge Blanc. It was a tremendous help to me in understanding my Son’s speech patters! :)

12:43
Hi April, There are many strategies that parents can use at home to promote language. You’ll want to use these throughout the day during your regular activities, such as mealtime, bathtime, at the park, and so on. Lynn Koegal has written a book called “Overcoming Autism” which describes many strategies that parents can use at home at promote speech. I think you will find that they are very helpful. Here is the link:
12:44
Comment From Shane Lynch

Based on Dawson and Osterling (1997) and the National Research Council (2001), family involvement has been cited as an element of best practice. However, unlike the other elements, family involvement is less quantifiable. Have you any thoughts on what “quantity” of involvement is related to improved outcomes? Thanks.

12:47
Hi Shane, Family involvement in early intervention is essential. Parents should be at the helm of any intervention program. Although it is difficult to “quantify” as you point out, the key points are that (1) parents should be involved in setting goals for their child that they find meaningful and important, (2) sensitivity to the individual family – their values, beliefs, culture, and so on is needed, (3) parents should be taught strategies for promoting skills at home using similar approaches that are being used at school and in therapy so that these skills can generalize to the larger community environment. The good news is that research is showing that parents can learn these strategies and are effective at using them to help their child.
12:49
Comment From Julie

Thanks. as far as scripting. He scripts a lot of TV/ movies and at inappropriate times, like during library time at school. Any ideas on how to manage it when it’s not approproate but also encourage him as he is learning new words through this avenue. many thanks!

12:52
Hi again Julie, The key thing here is to determine why and how he is using his echolalia. Does it signal that he is getting overwhelmed? Is he using it in a self-stimulatory fashion? Is he using it to communicate? Depending on the function, you will want to respond in different ways. For example, if he is using it in a self-stimulatory fashion in inappropriate places like library time, his teacher can teach him the idea of “quiet voice” – i.e. he should be reinforced for keeping quiet during the times when that is appropriate.
12:52
Comment From Matissa

Hi Dr. Dawson. I teach 2 & 3 year olds at a preschool and we have a few children within our program who are on the spectrum. What tips can you give us as we work with these children alongside neuro-typical children? Esp. as it pertains to class structure and discipline.

12:56
Hi Matissa, Children with autism tend to thrive in an environment that is structured, provides routine, and visual supports (such as pictures that explain the sequence of activities). The neurotypical children can be taught to help the children with autism by teaching the neurotypical children to approach and involve them in play. There are a number of well-established curricula and program features that have been used effectively for children with ASD. Here is a link that describes the features of a good preschool program:
12:56
Comment From Tami

Is sign language an appropriate tool? It seemed to help our neural typical child and I am wondering how commonly it is used with non-verbal children on the spectrum

12:59
Tami, I am not sure how old youg child is, but sign language can help a child with autism communicate. Sign language still can be challenging, however, because it involves complex motor movements and has its own syntax, and so on. So, often the signs used are simple ones. Spoken language, and perhaps other augmentative language devices, such as pictures, should always be used along with sign language.
1:02
Advance question From Breiana
My 2.5 year old son was diagnosed with autism 4 weeks ago. We were told to get him in ABA/VB. Is this the most effective method of ABA? What interventions do you recommend we do at home? We are also looking at preschools for when he turns 3. Do you typically recommend an inclusion preschool or an autism only preschool? Thanks
1:03
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a well-established effective intervention method for young children with autism. Within the broad category of ABA interventions, there are many different models, and Verbal Behavior (VB) is one of those approaches. There is no evidence that VB is more effective than other approaches that are based on ABA. The choice of classroom depends on many factors and the individual child. There is no one size fits all answer.Here is a good website that discusses how to evaluate a preschool program http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED486480.pdf . Here are some features you should look for in a preschool program:
-The intervention program should be individualized to each child, taking into account each child’s unique characteristics, strengths, and challenges, and utilized well-validated intervention methods, such as ABA.
-The intervention program should be designed and overseen by a trained, professional, interdisciplinary team.
-A curriculum that focuses on the specific areas of challenges in ASD should be used.
-The program should provide for ongoing data collection on the progress the child is making in each skill area, with adjustments to the program made when progress is not evident.
-The child should be engaged in the intervention activities and receive at least 25 hours of structured intervention each week.
-Parents should be closely involved in the intervention, setting goals and priorities, and be taught how to implement the intervention strategies at home.
1:04
Hi Terry – A good article describing the important elements of an intervention program can be found at this link:
1:05
Comment From Tracy

Hello Dr. Dawson. Are there national standards in early interventions that you see most frequently used or cited?

1:06
Hi Tracy, Here is a document that describes national standards for early intervention:
1:07
National Autism Center. National Standards Project – Addressing the Need for Evidence-Based Practice Guidelines for Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2009.http://www.nationalautismcenter.org/pdf/NAC%20Standards%20Report.pdf
1:08
Comment From Guest

My daughter is struggling to learn how to handle and care for her 6yr old autistic child. We have been looking for resources but keep coming up empty. Any advise?

1:09
Hello Guest at 12:46, Please check out the Resource Guide From Autism Speaks’ Family Services:
1:09
Resources Guide from Family Services:
http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/resource-guide
1:10
Comment From Tami

My grandson is 6 and it seems as though his behavior changes weekly if not daily. When he does something wrong timeout did work, taking toys away did work, now it seems as though NOTHING works. Should an autistic child be punished? and if so what is the best form of punishment to use?

1:14
still typing …
1:14
Hi Tami, Children with autism often have behavioral challenges, such as tantrums and sometimes aggressive behavior. Often these behaviors are used to communicate a need or want. Given that children with autism have trouble with communicating with words, they use these behaviors instead. So, the first step is figuring out why the behavior is occuring and what your grandson is trying to communicate. Sometimes, the behavior occurs because the child is overwhelmed or frustrated. So reducing overwhelming situations and frustrations will help. But, ultimately, you will want to teach your grandson to communicate his needs in a more appropriate way. For example, if he tantrums when he wants something, you will want to make sure that you model for him how to ask for something appropriately (even if this is just helping shape his pointing toward an object) and then reinforcing that appropriate behavior by giving him what he is requesting. It is helpful to work with a trained professional who can help you use these strategies. I do not recommend punishment because these challenging behaviors are really the result of difficulties in communication.
1:15
Comment From Kristen

I wanted to add about Gabe that he has started to babble A LOT in the last month. He runs up to one of us and screetches AH or EE wanting us to mimic him. Can this lead to eventual speech? He is even making eye contact for periods of 3 to 5 seconds when we are doing this. Is there a way to mold this into more sounds. Right now he does not want to deviate from the 3 or 4 sounds he is comfortable with.

1:17
Hi Kristen, Wonderful!! It is such a good sign that Gabe is babbling a lot. Make sure to respond by imitating his babbling and, when appropriate, modeling a word that is simple and builds on the babbling sound. For example, “AH” can eventually become “BAH” and then “BALL”.
1:18
Comment From Bill

Dr Dawson, can you comment on how we could do a better job at individualizing the learning and communication for various ‘colors’ of the spectrum. many school districts, doctors and academics have a tendency to lump all of our kids into one ‘autism’ bucket (The DSM V may exacerbate this). How can WE better communicate these more individualized needs of the autistic children to the general population? What do you see us as the autism community need to do better?

1:20
Hi Bill,I couldn’t agree more. Kids with autism are each unique and each have their own ways of learning, strengths, and challenges. Although there are some general principles that are helpful for most kids, it is important to individualize each child’s program. Some children learn best through the visual modality and need lots of support to develop speech. Others are talking up a storm but are focusing on only one topic and need to learn how to engage in a conversation. A good educator or therapist should be identifying each child’s learning style and objectives and then developing an indivualized plan for that child.
1:22
Comment From Guest

Tami, sign language has been very helpful to my twin sons who are on the spectrum. It seems to have lead to words for one of my boys and it lessens frustration for the other.

1:22
Comment From Julie

We’re trying to integrate our son into the typical kindergarten classroom. Any advice to give on how to successful to this. His current classroom is 8 children all on the spectrum. The typical kindergarten classroom is 20 – 25 children. Thus far we’ve agreed to do it one subject at time, starting with library time, moving into music as these are the activities he enjoys the most.

1:24
Hi Julie, A good strategy is to familiarize your child with the teacher and classroom ahead of time, teaching him about the layout, routine, and so on. While he is in the classroom with other kids on the spectrum, identify the specific skills that he will need to be successful in the typical kindergarten classroom. Will he need to stand in a line, raise his hand, sit for long periods of time, and so on. Teach and practice those skills ahead of time and then help him generalize those skills to the typical classroom. In addition, start with short periods of time in the typical classroom during periods that are least challenging and then extend the amount of time he is there. Good luck!
1:26
Comment From Matissa

Will the transcript from this live chat be available for print after the chat is over? Would love to share this information and links with my fellow teachers.

1:26
Yes, we’ll be posting the transcript on our science blog. Here’s the linkhttp://blog.autismspeaks.org/category/science/
1:27
Comment From zenaida

My son is 6. I’m trying so hard to teach him to do the right thing. What he does is he takes his poop and puts it all over himself, the sink, door and towel. I don’t know how to stop this. I need help

1:29
Zenaida, I know this must be very challenging for you. I think it would be best if you could work with a behavior specialist who can help you get this behavior under control. Here is a link to resources in your area: If you can’t find someone, please contact us at Autism Response Team and we will help you sort this out. Here is the link:
1:31
Comment From Tiffany

My non-verbal 4 year-old has just been diagnosed on the spectrum and has been in early intervention programs and speech therapy since she was 2. It seems like she has been on the verge of of communicating vrbally for the last year, she says words here and there, just not consistently. We have been advised to get her in an ABA program, but our insurance won’t cover it. What other resources do you suggest to get our little girl consistently communicating?

1:33
Hi Tiffany, Your local school is obligated to provide preschool programming for your child, so be sure to take advantage of that. You can also use strategies at home. Lynn Koegal’s book “Overcoming Autism” describes many strategies for promoting speech and language that parents can use at home. The fact that your daughter is saying words here and there is a very positive sign. Be sure to imitate those words and reinforce them by responding to them.
1:35
Dear everyone, I am sorry that the hour is over and went so quickly. I wish I had more time to respond to each one of your questions. Please visit Autism Speaks’ website, especially the Family Services section, to find many resources and tool kits for families. I will be holding another chat in the future so I hope we will have a chance to communicate again. Best wishes, Dr. Dawson
1:36
Transcript coming on our science blog:http://blog.autismspeaks.org/category/science/

Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson Hosts Webchat on Early Behavioral Interventions

December 1, 2011 1 comment

Please join Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, PhD, on Dec 1 from 12:30 to 1:30 Eastern for a live “Office Hour” on early behavioral interventions that promote language, learning and engagement in toddlers and preschoolers. Look for the “Live CHAT” tab in the left column of our Facebook page. Dr. Dawson also welcomes advance questions at ScienceChat@autismspeaks.org.

Live Monthly Webchats with Drs Dawson and Horrigan

November 22, 2011 13 comments

The Doctors Are In!
* First Thursday of every month
* 3 pm Eastern (2 Central/1 Mountain/noon Pacific)
* Join via the Live Chat tab at https://www.facebook.com/autismspeaks

Autism Speaks Science Team Returns from China

November 8, 2011 3 comments


Posted by Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

The Autism Speaks science team traveled to Shanghai, China, last week with the goal of enhancing collaboration among Chinese and North American scientists. Despite the challenges of speaking different languages, we learned a lot from each other. Our Chinese colleagues were eager to hear about new research and treatments being developed in North America. The Americans were impressed with the technological prowess of the Chinese.

A prime example of this technological power is the Beijing Genome Institute, the largest genome sequencing institution in the world and a new Autism Speaks partner. In the coming year, the Beijing Genome Institute will be sequencing the DNA of families participating in our Autism Genome Resource Exchange (AGRE) program, allowing us to create the world’s largest whole genome sequence library for autism research. (See our related news item.)

Another example is a recently launched Chinese program that sends text messages to new mothers, alerting them to the early signs of autism. Chinese researchers are studying whether this innovative “eHealth” strategy results in better referral, assessment and intervention rates for children with early symptoms.

Although my conversations and learnings from my Chinese colleagues were enlightening and we planned many future collaborations, the most significant moment for me was talking to 200 Chinese parents of children with autism. I walked into a room filled with mothers and fathers eager to hear new information about autism. Through a translator, I described new research findings and treatments and fielded questions from the audience.

The questions were remarkably similar to those I hear from parents in the United States. One mother told me that her son had frequent tummy aches and constipation; she wondered if this could be related to his autism. Another parent asked what she should do about her daughter’s fear of fireworks, a common part of special events here. Should she keep her at home and miss the family outings?  A father showed me a large bag filled with medicines he had purchased through the mail and asked if I thought they would help his child.

We talked about the association between autism and gastrointestinal problems and how treating these physical problems can relieve discomfort and, so, help children gain more from their educational programs. We talked about auditory sensitivities and discussed a range of strategies for helping children cope with loud noises. And we talked about how to evaluate whether a treatment is truly effective and safe for a child.

As our conversation continued, I was struck by the fact that, although China and the United States are very different cultures, autism is a common bond. Parents across the globe are looking for answers to help their children. My hope is that Autism Speaks Global Autism Public Health Initiative will be able to make a difference for these families. By partnering with scientists and clinicians in China, we can translate and adapt many of the tool kits and other resources we have developed here in North America—while also learning from our colleagues and families in China.

New findings on risk of autism in siblings – What do they mean for parents?

August 15, 2011 56 comments

A message from Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, PhD

Parents of a child with autism are understandably concerned about the likelihood that their subsequent children will be affected. Autism Speaks and its legacy organization, the National Alliance for Autism Research, have been funding research on younger siblings for nearly 15 years– to help us better understand their development.

In 2003, we began organizing and co-funding a very special collaboration—the High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium—in partnership with Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health Development.

This week, we announced the results of the consortium’s largest ever siblings study. The researchers followed younger brothers and sisters from infancy through the preschool period, when autism diagnosis becomes possible.  The study revealed a markedly higher risk among younger siblings than had been previously reported.

As the autism community absorbs the news, let me give you some background on the quality and importance of this research—and what it means for parents.

Our “Baby Sibs” researchers are an international network of clinical researchers who have been pooling information from studies of affected families in 21 sites in the US, Canada, Israel and the UK. Alycia Halladay, Autism Speaks director of research for environmental sciences, and Andy Shih, vice president of scientific affairs, have led the consortium from the start and continue to coordinate its activities.

In the study making headlines this week, the consortium researchers assessed 664 infants. Each had at least one older sibling diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They found that 1 in 5 babies with an older sibling on the spectrum will likewise be affected—more than double previous estimates. The rate was higher among younger brothers—1 in 4, versus 1 in 9 for younger sisters. And autism affected nearly 1 in 3 infants with more than one older sibling on the spectrum. (Previous estimates came out of much smaller and sometimes less reliably conducted studies.)

So what does this mean for parents?

If you have an older child on the spectrum and you are concerned about your infant, talk to your pediatrician about your baby’s risk and your desire for close monitoring. And if you have any concerns about your child’s development, don’t wait. Speak with your doctor about screening.

Here are links to a number of helpful resources:

* Recent research funded by Autism Speaks shows that a one-page baby-toddler checklist can be used effectively as early as 12 months as an initial screen for autism and other developmental disorders. The screener is available here.

* The American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that all children be screened for autism at their 18 month well baby checkups, using the M-CHAT toddler screener, available here.

* As a parent or caregiver, one of the most important things you can do is learn the early signs of autism and understand the developmental milestones your child should be reaching.  You can see the Learn the Signs guidelines on our website, here.

* Finally, families with one or more children on the spectrum can contact their nearest “Baby Sibs” consortium researcher if they would like to participate in this important research. The list is on our website, here.

By monitoring your infant closely and promptly beginning intervention if signs of autism appear, you can ensure that your child will have the best possible outcome.

Autism risk ‘high’ for kids with older sibling with the disorder. Autism Speaks’ Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., provides perspective of NPR’s All Things Considered. To listen to the segment, visit here.

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