The Autism Blog

Autism 202: Best Practices in ASD Treatment: Applied Behavior Analysis Update

This month’s Autism 200 series class is Autism 202:  Best Practices in ASD Treatment: Applied Behavior Analysis Update

Instructors: Mendy Minjarez, PhD, and Elizabeth Hatzenbuhler, MS, BCBA

Interventions grounded in applied behavior analysis (ABA) have demonstrated effectiveness across a variety of individuals and behaviors especially within the treatment of autism. Decades of research support that ABA is an effective scientific methodology with an emphasis on teaching skills and reducing challenging behaviors. As ABA can be implemented in many different ways and the field has evolved over the last few decades, there are many types of treatment strategies supported by a large body of knowledge. As such, this can be confusing for parents, autistic individuals and other consumers outside of the field to navigate. This talk will provide an overview of the defining features of the science of ABA, provide an overview of some examples of how it can be applied and discuss quality indicators that can be used to evaluate ABA programs. It will also highlight some of the misconceptions and sources of confusion about ABA, including the origins of these issues as well as the response from the ABA field.  

This class will be held Thursday, February 21, 2019, at Seattle Children’s Hospital in Wright Auditorium from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.

Please join us in person or watch on Facebook live. For more information see the  Autism 200 Series webpage.

Science with Sara: Biology Underlying ASD: Research Advances and Great Reviews

In this month’s Science with Sara blog entry, I’ve asked two researchers from the University of Washington & Seattle Children’s Research Institute — whose work falls under the broad area of the Biology Underlying ASD – to highlight an important or informative review or summary paper from their field.

Dr. Stephen Smith PhD is an Assistant Professor at the UW and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. His work focuses on how proteins located at the junctions between brain cells (called synapses) work or, in the case of neurodevelopmental disorders, why they might malfunction. Dr. Smith uses multiple animal models of ASD in order to understand how different genetic variants impact synapse function, and in turn, how this changes how a person learns and remembers.

Dr. Smith’s Pick:
• Sestan, N., & State, M. W. (2018). Lost in Translation: Traversing the Complex Path from Genomics to Therapeutics in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Neuron, 100(2), 406-423.

“This beast of a review paper is co-authored by Dr. Matthew State, who has been at the forefront of gene discovery in Autism for many years. I hesitate to recommend this paper for a non-specialist audience because it is so dense, but its depth and quality make it worth the effort. While it’s a bit heavy on the details of the genetics (Dr. State is a geneticist, after all), the main takeaway is that, after many years of gene discovery, we are beginning to understand the central pathways that are disrupted in autism- neuronal signaling, dynamic control of DNA translation, and how those processes play central roles in development. State and his co-author Dr. Nenad Sestan then discuss future efforts to understand how mutated genes lead to atypical behavior. Although this is clearly a difficult path, they outline a plausible route that many research groups, including mine, will be taking in the years ahead.“

You can find a full list of Dr. State’s work on

Dr. Smith’s website provides updates on the work in his lab.

Dr. Smita Yadav PhD is an Assistant Professor in Pharmacology at the UW. Her work focuses on neuronal networks (networks of brain cells) and specifically on how molecules regulate communication between brain cells. One focus of Dr. Yadav’s research is in the 16p11.2 genetic location – there are 29 genes that are in this region of our DNA, and structural changes to this area of our DNA are associated with both ASD and schizophrenia.

Dr. Yadav’s pick:
• Quesnel-Vallières, M., Weatheritt, R. J., Cordes, S. P., & Blencowe, B. J. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder: insights into convergent mechanisms from transcriptomics. Nature Reviews Genetics, 1.

“The first one is a review about understanding the ~75% non-syndromic, idiopathic cases of autism. The authors argue that a common pathway is emerging from transcriptome analyses that implicates RNA processing in ASD. The evidence includes: (1) cortical patterning of gene expression is lost in autism; (2) mRNA, lncRNA, miRNA and other non-coding RNA programmes are disrupted in ASD; (3) subsets of mRNAs regulating neuronal processes are consistently downregulated in individuals with ASD; and (4) RNA splicing regulatory programmes disrupted in ASD are responsive to neuronal activity and, conversely, affect neuronal activity.”

• Amin, N. D., & Paşca, S. P. (2018). Building models of brain disorders with three-dimensional organoids. Neuron, 100(2), 389-405.

“The second paper is a review on using 3D brain organoids to model neuropsychiatric diseases. While this review is not specific to autism, in my view, this space is where a lot of the research on the biological basis of autism will be in the future. The different kinds of organoids and the questions that we can now ask are quite amazing. Some caveats of this technology remain.”

Additional References

IACC Office of Autism Research Coordination Summary of Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorder Research: Calendar Year 2017. Question 2: What is the Biology Underlying ASD?

IACC Office of Autism Research Coordination Strategic Plan For Autism Spectrum Disorder Research 2016-2017 Update. Question 2: What is the Biology Underlying ASD?

Autism 101 Class Tonight

Join us tonight from 7pm – 8:30pm for our quarterly Autism 101 class.

In this free lecture, participants will learn about:

  • Up-to-date, evidence-based information regarding the core deficits of ASD
  • Variability and presentation of behaviors associated with autism
    Prevalence and etiology (study of the cause of the disorder)
  • Treatments available
  • Resources for families

This lecture is intended for parents and families of children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is no need to register in advance to attend. Read the series flyer (PDF).

Lectures are held at Seattle Children’s Hospital’s main campus in room RC.3.905 near the River entrance unless otherwise noted. Parking at Seattle Children’s main campus is free in Lot 1 for those who attend the lecture in person.

Classes may also be viewed live via WebEx:

Join Webex meeting  Click this link to join , download the WebEx app or go to

Meeting number (access code): 289 813 988
Meeting password: Autism101  – you may or may not be prompted to enter a password.

1-855-244-8681 – if you do not have audio on your computer you will need to call this number to listen to the presentation.


Not All Who Stare Are Mean

My son Arthur was diagnosed with autism at age two. He is now nineteen. When he was much younger he would often vocalize loudly, perform jazz fingers in front of his eyes, or vigorously sniff everything within a two-foot radius of his nose. On those occasions when Arthur did odd things, I found myself looking at the faces of those around us. I would see their eyes move quickly to me with looks of confusion, anger, even disgust. Fortunately, there was usually a compassionate person who gave me a look of soft kindness and a small nod as if to say, “You got this.”  I love those people.

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Ask Dr. Emily – Feeling Judged in Public

Welcome to the January edition of Ask Dr. Emily!

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this, Dr. Emily Neuhaus, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format.

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