2021 Virtual Research Symposium
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"Developmental science meets public health challenge: lessons from autism in infants and toddlers."
Ami Klin, PhD, Director, Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Professor, The Bernie Marcus Chair in Autism, and Chief, Division of Autism & Related Disorders, Department of Pediatrics, Emory University School of Medicine; Emory Center for Translational Social Neuroscience
This presentation highlights the critical role of early diagnosis and intervention in attenuating the symptoms and in optimizing outcomes of toddlers with autism. Data will be presented on early diagnostic indicators obtained through eye-tracking-based behavioral assays that quantify the social disabilities in autism. The results of these assays were used to generate "growth charts" of normative social engagement, and the deviations from the norm were taken as early indicators of risk. These methods yielded high sensitivity and specificity for the screening of infants and toddlers. The ultimate goal of this effort is to develop objective and quantitative tools for the detection of autism in infancy and toddlerhood, tools that might be deployed in primary care practices. This work will be contextualized in terms of recent developmental social neuroscience research with toddlers with autism, which implicated developmentally very early emerging, and evolutionarily highly conserved, mechanisms of social adaptation that set the stage for reciprocal social interaction, which in term represent the platform for early social brain development. These mechanisms of socialization are under stringent genetic control, setting the scientific basis for parent-delivered, community-viable, early treatment in which social engagement is “engineered” via daily activities, thus impacting a child’s development during every moment of social interaction.
Dr. Ami Klin is the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar Professor, The Bernie Marcus Distinguished Chair in Autism, and Chief of the Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities at Emory University School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics, and Director of the Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of London, and completed clinical and research post-doctoral fellowships at the Yale University School of Medicine. He directed the Autism Program at the Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine until 2010, where he was the Harris Professor of Child Psychology & Psychiatry. The Marcus Autism Center is one of the largest centers of clinical care in the country, providing a broad range of diagnostic and treatment services. Collaborative projects include several departments at Emory and others institutions such as the CDC and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, as well as care-providing agencies in the community. The Center also provides training in a broad range of disciplines, and is strongly committed to advocacy at the local, national and international levels. Dr. Klin’s primary research activities focus on social mind and social brain, and on developmental aspects of autism from infancy through adulthood. These studies include novel techniques such as the eye-tracking laboratories co-directed with Warren Jones, which allow researchers to see the world through the eyes of individuals with autism. These techniques are now being applied in the screening of toddlers at risk for autism. He is the author of over 250 publications in the field of autism and related conditions.