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Summer 2021

Autism Lecture Series

Overview

We are thrilled to be partnering with Pediatric Neurologist Margaret Bauman and Director of the University of California MIND Institute’s Autism Center of Excellence, David Amaral, to host an Autism Lecture Series on the Riverview campus this summer. This lecture series will offer the general public opportunities to come to the Riverview campus to learn about Autism from leading researchers in the field. There is NO cost to attend but seating is limited, therefore registration is required. Click top button on the right.

LECTURE DESCRIPTIONS:

July 8: What is Autism?

Charles A. Nelson III, PhD, is currently Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Education in the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His lecture begins by describing some of the earliest observations of autism, and then turns to how autism is currently defined by clinicians. What is known about the genetics and neurobiology of autism is explored, as well as the various treatment options that are currently recommended. The discussion concludes with how autism changes across the lifespan, from childhood through adolescence into adulthood.

July 15: Exploring the Brain-Gut Connection in Autism

The Brain-Gut Connection has been discussed for many years but in rather vague, non-specific ways. We will aim to sharpen this connection by investigating the multiple interactions of the brain and the GI tract. From neural connections to potential biochemical effects of an altered microbiome to new thoughts about the blood brain barrier, we are closer to understanding how gastrointestinal factors affect the brain and behavior. We will demonstrate this with clinical examples in individuals with autism.

July 22: Healthy Relationships on the Autism Spectrum (HEARTS): A friendship and dating relationships intervention co-created with autistic people

This discussion will introduce the audience to the novel Healthy Relationships on the Autism Spectrum (HEARTS) intervention, which promotes healthy friendship and dating relationship skills. HEARTS is a six-session, weekly, online psychoeducational workshop which is offered to autistic individuals worldwide through the U.S.-based organization AANE. HEARTS is unique because it was co-created by a NIH-funded non-autistic research team and a five-person team of autistic adults, is based on formative research with 25 autistic adults about skills that they expressed they wanted to learn. It is co-facilitated by an autistic and non-autistic teaching team. HEARTS teaches relationship skills such as the ability to recognize abusive vs. equitable behavior, communicate and respect boundaries, express affection and attraction in mutually acceptable ways, resolve conflict and problem solve, have conversations about sensitive topics, and—if necessary—end relationships safely. The co-authors of HEARTS have first-hand experience working with survivors and perpetrators of dating and sexual violence, coaching people with an interest in online dating, supporting people with unconventional relationship structures (i.e., polyamory), and people with gender and sexual orientation minority identities (i.e., transgender, non-binary, and LGBQPIA+). A description of the non-experimental evaluation of intervention efficacy will also be provided.

July 29: Technology and Autism

Unpredictable and potentially dangerous challenging behavior (aggression to others, self-injury, emotion dysregulation) can create barriers to accessing community, therapeutic, medical, and educational services for individuals with autism. The current line of research evaluates whether peripheral nervous system and physical activity data obtained from a wearable biosensor can be used to predict challenging behaviors before they occur. Iterative results in a sample of 70 psychiatric inpatients with autism suggest that aggression to others, self-injury, and tantrums can all be predicted 3 minutes in advance with 80% average accuracy using machine learning classifiers. These findings lay the groundwork for the future development of precursor behavior analysis and just-in-time adaptive intervention systems to prevent or mitigate the emergence, occurrence, and impact of challenging behavior in individuals with autism.

August 5: Transition to Adulthood: Navigating the Challenges and Finding Opportunities for those who have Autism Spectrum Disorder in Massachusetts

Transition from the role of student to adult - the thought of learning, living and working in the world as an adult can very overwhelming for any young person. For parents and caregivers of a child on the autism spectrum and who have similar neurodevelopmental conditions, the thought of entering adult life in the community is even more daunting. Often thought of as "going over the cliff", this journey to the adult services world can be a very stressful one. This talk on Cape Cod in summer 2021, uses an appropriate analogy of navigating uncharted waters, the process of building a " bridge " to the other side by preparing in advance so that the journey does not have to be solo and feel like they are not alone. The goal of this presentation is to help alleviate some of the stress for parents and students by providing an overview of what most consider the "major" domains to focus on at this time-medical/mental healthcare, education, employment, legal/financial planning; public benefits and state agencies, and to share important information, steps/tasks and related timelines, services and resources.

August 12: Epilepsy and Autism: what is the connection?

Dr. Spence’s lecture will explore the connection between epilepsy and autism and discuss what parents and providers need to know. It has long been known that epilepsy is a relatively common co-occurring condition in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. It is present in ~20% of all children and adults with ASD. The seizures can start in early childhood or in later adolescence. However, there is no one epilepsy syndrome in patients with ASD – any seizure type can occur. Some seizures are obvious like the convulsive (aka grand mal) seizures that are easy to recognize but others are quite subtle and can be confused with typical autism behaviors and it is important to know how to tell the difference. Predicting who will or will not develop epilepsy is difficult but there are known risk factors which include having co-occurring intellectual disability, having a neurological condition or genetic syndrome that predisposes to epilepsy and being female. Thankfully most of the epilepsy is relatively easy to treat; however, there is a very small risk of a devastating outcome called SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy) which will be discussed. Dr. Spence will talk about what is known about the overlapping biological mechanisms of epilepsy and autism. Finally, Dr. Spence will review emerging data for the use of CANNABIDIOL (CBD) for treatment of seizures in autism.

August 19: Developing Biomarkers to Improve Clinical Research in Autism

Participant characterization and selection for research and clinical trials relies on subjective clinical assessments and caregiver report measures. There is a critical need for objective and sensitive measures to quantify social and communicative symptomatology in ASD for the purposes of predicting response to intervention, measuring treatment outcomes, and stratifying a heterogeneous population into more homogenous subgroups. The discussion will review ongoing research in the McPartland Lab and the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical trials designed to evaluate feasibility of electrophysiological and eye-tracking biomarkers to address these needs.

August 26: Panel: The Future of Autism Research and Treatment

Extended Q & A: Everything you wanted to know about autism and couldn’t find someone to ask...
with Dr. David Amaral and Dr. Margaret Bauman

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