Monday, May 19, 2014

IMFAR 2014: A Week in Review


By Dr. Erin McNerney

Last week Dr. Bruinsma and I had the opportunity to attend the International Meeting for Autism Research, held in Atlanta, Georgia. We had a wonderful time learning about cutting edge research in the field of autism, meeting old colleagues, making new connections, and eating some famous Southern food. Some highlights from our trip:

Naturalistic Developmental Behavior Intervention: Get ready to hear this term! Naturalistic Developmental Behavior Intervention (NDBI) refers to empirically supported, naturalistic intervention, grounded in both developmental and ABA literature.  The emergence of “NDBI” as a term is exciting for us as it represents the unification of naturalistic treatment approaches that integrate both developmental and behavioral principles (e.g., PRT, EMT, ESDM, incidental teaching, etc.). This classification will help parents as they will be able to clearly see the commonalities among numerous naturalistic approaches. It will also help researchers as they work to identify active ingredients and quality indicators of intervention. And, it will help funding sources clearly distinguish between available treatments, those that are a more traditional ABA (DTT), and those that are naturalistic and developmental in their ABA approach.

RESEARCH – We saw presentations about all kinds of research projects on areas such as eye-tracking, identification of biomarkers in autism, brain imaging, genetics, and randomized clinical trials. Overall, we are obtaining more and more evidence that genetics plays a key role in the development of autism, although environmental and/or epigenetic factors may also be playing a role. Eye tracking research is focusing on where individuals with autism look during tasks or interactions to try to define the qualitative differences that might exist, and that might impact ability to attend to, and appropriately participate in interactions. Biomarker research is focusing on identification of biochemical indicators (neurotransmitter or other molecules) that are indicative of autism. Randomized clinical trial research has more recently become more prevalent and is critical in identifying treatments (or active ingredients) that are both efficacious and effective (i.e. they work both in research AND in practice)! 

PRACTICE – Most if not all of the applied research studies presented focused on “natural” behavioral approaches. Many presentations also included a “parent-mediated” component, which is where parents and caregivers learn how to provide teaching and learning opportunities during daily routines. This was exciting for us to see that autism treatment is moving in the direction that already aligns with our In STEPPS model.  

PEOPLE and PLACES – IMFAR is a virtual “Who’s Who” of autism research! Yvonne and I were able to take a tour of the Emory Autism Center, led by Dr. Gail McGee and Dr. Michael Morrier. This center is a full inclusion NDBI model preschool located on the Emory campus, and has classrooms from age 2 through pre-K. What a delight it was to see this successful program! We also had the opportunity to see many other imminent figures such as Dr. Fred Volkmar, Dr. Sally Rogers, Dr. Ami Klin, Dr. Laura Schreibman, Dr. Aubyn Stahmer, Dr. Brooke Ingersoll, Dr. Sam Odom, Dr. Paul Yoder, and Dr. Daniel Openden. We met up with many of our previous colleagues from UCSB and UCSD, and made many new and exciting plans!

FOOD – Southern food was a new experience for Yvonne and me. We treated ourselves to some fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, grits, and bread pudding, among other delicacies. Wow, were these delicious! I think we are now converts!

After our whirlwind week Yvonne and I are now settling back to our daily lives at In STEPPS and busily making plans on how we can follow up on new ideas. We are already looking forward to IMFAR 2015!