First Annual Autism Conference at Packard Children's and Stanford Brings Parents and Researchers Together

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 General News
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PALO ALTO, Calif., May 20 Parents of children with autismoften grapple with a bewildering array of questions and choices: "Did I dosomething to cause the disorder? Could it be genetic? What is it like to be achild with autism? Are there new medications or therapies that might alleviatesome of my child's symptoms?"

On May 31, family members, caregivers and teachers of children with autismwill have a unique opportunity to hear from researchers on the front line ofthe difficult disorder. 'Recent Advances in Autism Treatment and Research' isthe first in what organizers from Lucile Packard Children's Hospital andStanford University hope will be an annual event aimed at sharing the latestin autism research with the families of affected children.

"We're engaging family members and caregivers of children with autism,"said Carl Feinstein, MD, the Endowed Director of Psychiatry at PackardChildren's. "We want to share with the parents what we have learned and learnfrom the parents what they know."

Feinstein, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford'smedical school, co-directs the Stanford Autism Working Group -- acollaboration of physicians, geneticists, neuroscientists, cell biologists,and bioengineers dedicated to discovering the neurological and biologicalbasis of the complex disorder. The conference is meant to be the first in aseries of productive exchanges between parents and members of the group.

"Parents are powerful advocates for their kids," said child psychiatristAntonio Hardan, MD, who directs the autism and developmental disabilitiesclinic at Packard Children's. "But it is very important for them to beinformed about the risks and benefits of intervention. We want to empower themby giving them a balanced view of the latest research and medical treatments."

At the all-day conference on the Stanford campus, Hardan, an assistantprofessor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford's medical school,will review the safety and effectiveness of traditional and innovativemedications for some of the symptoms of autism and Asperger's Disorder. Hewill be joined by many other researchers and physicians from Stanford andPackard Children's.

"Stanford and Packard Children's have a very broad scientific communitydevoted to autism research," said child psychiatrist Joachim Hallmayer, MD.Hallmayer, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences atStanford, is studying pairs of twins to determine if there is a genetic linkto autism. He will discuss the role of genes in the development of thedisorder.

In addition to Hardan and Hallmayer, other researchers will discuss themedical management of autism, the basic science of autism, neurologicalproblems associated with the disorder, and how a child with autism perceivesthe world. Finally, Judith Grether, PhD, from the California Department ofPublic Health, will review patterns and puzzles in environmental risk factorsfor autism.

"Much of the research owes its existence to the family members of thesechildren," said Hallmayer. "There are some very good, very strong parentgroups driving these types of investigations. They push for resources, forservices and for public awareness of autism and associated disorders."

"We want to share what we've learned with these parents, even though wedon't have all the answers," said Hardan. "They need to know what evidencethere is, or isn't. This can help them understand the effectiveness ofdifferent approaches, enabling them to make the best decisions for theirchildren."

"It's the beginning of what we hope will be a very open and productivedialogue," said Feinstein, "and we're excited about the possibilities."

The conference is organized by the Autism Working Group at Lucile PackardChildren's Hospital and the Stanford University School of Medicine, aided bythe Lucile Packa

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