Shamefully, I haven’t posted for two months. And now I can hardly believe that the AWARE event is just around the corner. Amazingly, we were awarded funding for an event for 25 people but the latest delegate count indicates we’ll be hosting over 40. The event program is really exciting, with talks from experts about the software development process, panel discussions involving stakeholders in software development for autism and representatives of the commercial sector, and a series of case studies showing us how successful and worthwhile academic software development projects can be.
I’ve been to two excellent events this month as well, so I just hope our little one-day workshop can live up to those. The first was the BPS developmental conference, in Strathclyde at the start of September. The conference was packed with fascinating presentations and I was really disappointed that I couldn’t attend more. I took part in a great symposium on technology for developmental disabilities, where, as well as Click-East, another autism project called ECHOES, some work with children with ADHD and a survey of technology used by teenagers with SLI (specific language impairment) were presented.
Then this week I was down in London for a meeting of the BASIS network who are doing pioneering and high quality research with younger siblings of children with autism. One of the massive obstacles to really understanding autism in the early years is that in order to end up with a sample of say 30 children with autism at age 4 years old, you would need to start out by recruiting at least 3000 infants. Infants with an older sibling with autism are at a slightly elevated risk of developing autism themselves, due to the genetic component of the disorder – though this is by no means inevitable. Nevertheless, by focussing on these younger siblings we have a much better chance of working out what are the reliable indicators of autism in the first or second year of life – maybe even before birth. This in turn will allow clinicans to intervene earlier in life, to help children with autism develop useful skills, like communicating with others, on time. For the families enrolled in the trial, there is the satisfaction of doing something worthwhile to help the wider autism community, and some extra support for them, especially if they have concerns about their younger child. The BASIS network represents autism research at its very best.