> Autism experts to chart new research directions

Autism experts to chart new research directions

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Dan Weeks, 778.782.3358; daniel_weeks@sfu.ca
Grace Iarocci, 604.812.4248; giarocci@sfu.ca
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.4323

February 25, 2008
Canada’s top autism researchers agree there is a critical need for study in the area of intervention strategies for families of autistic children.

They’ll meet in Vancouver March 1 – 3 to plan strategies around research aimed at improving the quality of life for children with autism.

The working symposium, hosted by Simon Fraser University, will also provide valuable input on the role that the university’s new Chair in Autism Intervention Research will play in a national research strategy.

Both the federal and provincial governments have committed $1 million each towards the chair. SFU is raising another $3 million to endow the chair and the university has committed research space along with an additional faculty position and support staff. The search for a chair holder is underway.

While the government is now willing to provide funding for services for families, SFU psychology professor Grace Iarocci, who studies autism, says there is a need for research to substantiate how current intervention strategies are working.

“That’s a big reason why the government is supporting this – they want to know whether those funds are being used in the best way possible and that the kids are getting better,” Iaroocci says.

Chair to connect autism research team

The new chair will unite a team of SFU researchers from various faculties. They include Iarocci - a Michael Smith award scholar - who studies what makes autistic children different in how they think and function socially.

Health sciences professor Charlotte Waddell, who studies policy issues related to autism; education professor Maureen Hoskyn, who is interested in the conditions related to children with autism, including learning disabilities and cognitive differences; and Dan Weeks, chair of psychology, who focuses on attention in situations requiring social interaction.

“The symposium is SFU’s first step in carving out a direction for the new research chair,” says Weeks. “The focus of this chair and autism research at SFU is effective intervention, with the goal of enhancing the lives of children with autism and their families. It’s exciting to see parent groups, the university and both levels of government working together to take a leadership role in autism research in Canada.”

“The chair builds on SFU’s commitment to interdisciplinary research that can be translated into practice for the benefit of society,” adds Lesley Cormack, dean of arts and social sciences. “We’ll be putting our research to work, helping to ensure that iniatives in autism intervention are effective.”

Public talk follows symposium

Some 50 researchers and key stakeholders, including representatives of parent resource groups and clinicians, will participate in the symposium. Researchers include Jake Burack, director of the McGill Youth Study Team, UBC special education professor Pat Mirenda, and Susan Bryson, who holds a privately funded chair in autism at Dalhousie University.

Bryson, the founding director of the Autism Research Unit at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, will give a public talk on recent advances and future directions for autistic disorders, at the Segal Graduate School of Business, 500 Granville St., on Monday, March 3 at 6 p.m. To reserve seats for this free lecture please call 778.782.5100 or email cs_hc@sfu.ca.

Researchers are meeting at the Listel Hotel in downtown Vancouver and can be available to share the results of their discussion. The talks wind down at noon on March 3. Interviews can be arranged. Contact Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.4323/3210.