Marie Schaer

ESCAP 2017 state of the art lecture

Translate latest findings in autism from research to clinical practice

ESCAP 2017 state of the art lecture by professor Dr Marie Schaer (University of Geneva, Switzerland) on translating the latest findings in autism from research into clinical practice. 


Autism has become a topic of intense research over the last decade, with a burst of published studies covering both clinical and neuroscience topics. Progressively, these studies impact the way we think about autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and the way we diagnose and treat affected individuals. For instance, a large body of clinical research has shown that early and intensive interventions dramatically decrease the social deficits and learning difficulties faced by affected children. Concomitantly, many neuroscience studies have sought to understand why the first three years of life may represent a “window of opportunity” when therapeutic interventions yield the most optimal long-term benefits. Neurosciences studies using techniques such as eye-tracking and neuroimaging have started to examine much younger individuals, with the goal to identify predictors of autism, as well as to provide opportunities to improve therapeutic strategies.
In this talk, we will summarize some of the clinical and neuroscience studies that are the most pertinent for the clinicians working with children on the spectrum, with a particular focus on the early development of social cognition in infants, toddlers and preschoolers. We will review our current responses to critical questions in the field, such as: What are the different hypotheses explaining the emergence of ASD? What are the mechanisms by which early intensive intervention affects the brain development? When do the trajectories of brain development start to diverge between healthy children and those who will be later diagnosed with autism? As the autism spectrum is highly heterogeneous, can we distinguish different subgroups that will respond differently to treatment? If the last decade has brought many partial answers to these questions, there is no doubt that the autism field will continue to gather knowledge at an increasing pace, with a tremendous potential to improve the way we care for individuals with ASD.