Autism in Infancy: Predetermined or Produced by Active Treatable Processes? presented by Martha Herbert, MD, PhD

On November 19, 2010, 3:35 pm

Is autism stamped into the brain by genes from conception? Or does it develop? If it develops, what influences that development? And how can we influence those influences? If the brain isn't indelibly stamped with autism, then what happens to it to transform it so that it starts producing autistic behaviors? At what range of prenatal or postnatal ages might this start? Is there any way of detecting those changes in living babies? If we can head off the emergence of the debilitating features of autism, how can we prove we did this if we can't be sure ahead of time whether this might be where a baby is headed? Does it matter whether our measures are specific for autism or not? How can we make medical screening and prevention measures the standard of care? What would we need to demonstrate to make this happen, and how would we do this most powerfully? What are the biggest obstacles we would need to overcome? What would population-wide health-promotion and health-protection measures look like? What would be the most efficient and effective ways to carry this out? How much is our success in this a function of how well we answer the above questions?

Martha Herbert, MD, PhD is a pediatric neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, and an affiliate of the Harvard-MIT-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. She is director of the TRANSCEND Research Program (Treatment Research and Neuroscience Evaluation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders,, which takes a whole body approach to brain research to guide the development of sensitive methods for measuring brain changes from treatment so that we can have objective measures for treatment outcome studies. She is also pursuing multisystem prospective at-risk infant sibling research starting prenatally and at birth for the infant to monitor medical and physiological development in parallel with behavioral development so that we can identify measures of risk for autism that will allow targeted medical intervention as early as possible.

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