From May 1 to May 4, 2019, the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) Annual Meeting convened in Montreal, Québec with the purpose of supporting aspiring researchers, showcasing autism studies that address the diverse needs of autism, and providing a space for researchers to discuss and collaborate on their research efforts.
The four-day conference attracted a diverse group of more than 2,500 delegates from over 50 countries, including clinical researchers, psychologists, therapists, educators, parents, and self-advocates. This year’s event featured a wide range of topics that informed autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, treatment, intervention, and processes, with a greater emphasis on biological and medical sciences and neuroscience.
Here are a few highlights from INSAR 2019, selected from more than 1,800 sessions and posters:
- Sarah Cassidy, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, surveyed more than 1,000 people, many of whom were autistic, to determine 10 research priorities on the topic of suicidal ideation and behavior. Tools sensitive to the needs and cognitive processing of individuals with autism are needed to detect suicidal ideation and behaviors.
- During the special interest group on adapting and advancing postsecondary education for autistic students, led by Brad Cox from Florida State University, delegates discussed the need for autism support programs to collaborate and develop a framework for future program development. Areas that need to be addressed include executive functioning skills, social skills, and mental health issues. Funding remains limited and discrete.
- Geraldine Dawson from the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, Duke University, presented The Use of Computer Vision Analysis for Early Autism Symptom Detection and Monitoring. A tablet app collected eye-tracking data from infants watching a video. The app was more accurate at detecting early indicators of autism, including failure to orient to name, reduced social attention, and flat affect, compared to trained clinicians. More research is needed to address the scalability of the app in relation to cultural and sex differences.
- Laura Graham Holmes, an OAR applied grantee, along with Dr. Jeroen Dewinter and co-leader Ann van der Miesen, led a productive special interest group on Gender, Sexuality, and Romantic Relationships. Discussants raised concerns about the lack of sexual resources for autistic individuals with intellectual disability and LGBTQ+ needs specifically. Individuals with ASD need help learning about personal boundaries and appropriate ways of interacting with and expressing their romantic interests to others.
- Katie Maras from the Centre for Applied Autism Research, University of Bath, gave an oral presentation on mock juror perceptions of credibility and culpability in an autistic defendant. Mock jurors who were informed of a violent defendant’s autism diagnosis and given background information about autism were more likely to judge the defendant as being more honest, more likeable, less blameworthy, and not guilty compared to mock jurors that were not informed of the defendant’s diagnosis.
Spectrum News offers additional reactions and highlights.