The International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) was May 17-19 in Toronto. The annual event is organized by the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) and is essentially the annual rotating Mecca for those involved or interested in autism research.

To give you an idea of the content at IMFAR, one of the organizers, Dr. Stephen Scherer, introduced the conference by saying that a lot of the information presented was unpublished, but certainly will lead to publication. This makes it very exciting, but also forces us to buffer our excitement and understand that so much of this research is in its early stages.

Dr. Janet Lainhart had a great presentation that addressed this topic by proposing more careful classification of research studies into different “phases” to help researchers appropriately communicate data publicly. The idea was that classifying a study as “Phase 1” would indicate that the data are very rough (maybe because of very low sample numbers, a new type of analysis, etc.). As the study sample size (N = ___) gets larger and repeatable results are produced, then it would progress to a Phase 2, Phase 3, and finally Phase 4 (which would mean it is a treatment or evaluation tool that is ready for PRIMETIME). As a clinician who wants to let parents know about exciting new research, but also doesn’t want to get hopes up about interventions that are still experimental at best, this type of classification makes a lot of sense to me.

The most well attended presentations of the conference were those surrounding the DSM-5 updates (Dr. King’s blog post from a few months ago). Dr. Sue Swedo, who chairs the DSM-5 Neurodevelopmental Group that is charged with coming to a consensus on Autism Spectrum Disorder (among other diagnoses), presented the most recent revisions. It sounds like they are continuing to fine tune wording, but the general structure remains very similar to how it looked more than one year ago. Dr. Swedo responded to concerns that people with Asperger’s Disorder would lose their diagnosis or “erase our identities,” as one self-identified Aspie stated. While we would move to a single diagnosis, the update from the conference was reassuring that there would be some way of noting the syndromic (specifics of the disorder that fit a person) features of Asperger’s within the diagnosis of ASD.

Dr. Geri Dawson, Chief Science Officer at Autism Speaks, had a wonderful overview of the DSM discussion from IMFAR three weeks ago. She was taking MUCH better notes than I was!

There is some exciting new research that we heard about on topics such as elopement (children who are prone to running/wandering/bolting away without regard to safety) in those with ASD, use of early screening tools, new diagnostic tools, and finally some emerging data on older adolescents and adults. This blog post, also from Autism Speaks, talks more about the research on adults – it seems there will be a lot more to come on this segment of the population in the near future.

We’re all very motivated to try and put some of this knowledge into meaningful practice between now and IMFAR 2013 – some of us will be off to Spain for that conference!

Are there any areas of autism research that have you excited???