On April 10, 2014, the Autism Science Foundation celebrated its fifth anniversary by hosting a Day of Learning and an Evening of Celebration at the Yale Club of New York City. For the Day of Learning, ASF presented the autism community’s first TED-Style Talks, which were given by nine experts in the autism field. At this sold-out event, over 250 scientists, parents, individuals with autism, and other stakeholders gathered to listen and learn about autism spectrum disorders.
TED-Style Talks are short, powerful presentations that usually only last about 15 minutes. They are intended to share information in a concise and inspiring way, often encouraging the audience to take action after the presentation is over. This format allowed for this event’s attendants to hear from many experts in the autism field in just one afternoon.
The topics presented at ASF’s TED-Style Talks touched on a variety of subjects that are relevant to individuals in the autism community. The day’s first presenter was Dr. Tom Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Insel gave a talk entitled, From Four Kingdoms to One Community for Autism, presenting autism as an illness, an injury, an insight, and an identity, and calling on the audience to act as one community. He noted that it is crucial for everyone to work together in order to advance the science and to improve the lives of those with autism.
Dr. David Amaral of the University of California, Davis and the Director of Autism BrainNet also touched on the need for community support. Dr. Amaral presented Why It Takes Brains to Solve Autism, informing the crowd that fewer than 150 physical brains have ever been studied in the history of autism research. In order to advance the science, researchers depend on brain tissue donations from the community. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the crucial gift of brain tissue donation can visit www.TakesBrains.org.
Another speaker who added his own perspective to the day’s proceedings was Paul Morris, a 26-year-old adult with high-functioning autism. Mr. Morris shared Growing Up with Autism, his personal account of some of the struggles and triumphs he has experienced. He inspired the crowd as he spoke, inviting them into his life’s story. During the question and answer session at the end of his talk, Mr. Morris shared that his greatest dream is for people with and without autism to become friends, and for all people to have a greater understanding of ASDs.
Rounding out the day’s talks was Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Offit’s talk asked, Is Alternative Medicine Really an Alternative? He explained that because there is no clear cure for autism right now, people often look to alternative, untested medicine for answers. Dr. Offit warned the audience to be careful when considering alternative medicine because it is an unregulated industry.
Other topics of ASF’s TED-Style Talks included the new “1 in 68” autism prevalence numbers from Dr. Cathy Rice of the CDC, a look at why autism interventions often fail in schools from Dr. David Mandell of the University of Pennsylvania, and a talk on finding autism biomarkers in young babies by Dr. Ami Klin of the Marcus Autism Center at Emory University.
Many of the Day of Learning’s attendants were parents who embraced the unique opportunity to hear first-hand from numerous scientists presenting the field’s latest research in understandable manner. Lauren Rimland, a parent of a child with autism, stated, “The speakers were well aware that they were addressing families who might not have the same background or experience as scientists, and they prepared accordingly, using humor and family-friendly language in many instances.”
Dr. Connie Anderson, Director of Autism Studies at Towson University, also attended the event. One of Dr. Anderson’s favorite parts of the TED-Style Talks was the fact that they were all recorded and uploaded to the Autism Science Foundation’s website. She commented, “I have never attended an event where the latest research was shared in such a succinct, understandable and focused fashion. There’s not a single talk that I won’t be sharing with my students. And the fact that all of these can be shared with so many makes them much more valuable.”
If you were unable to attend this year’s Day of Learning, take heart in knowing that the Autism Science Foundation is already planning next year’s TED-Style Talks. In the meantime, all of this year’s talks can be found at www.autismsciencefoundation.org/TEDstyletalks.