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Research, Collaboration and a Big Lesson

I attended a stimulating panel discussion last night at Georgetown University. It was offered by Georgetown University's Italian Research Institute, in collaboration with the Embassy of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute. Two leading experts, one form the U.S. and one from Italy, in the field of neuroscience related to persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) presented their latest research.

First, Dr. Kevin Pelphrey spoke about the function of using biomarkers to predict which treatment method would be most effective for individuals. He pointed out that the current process for determining treatment is largely based on insurance policies, geography and availability of skilled practitioners in various approaches. Conversely, if there was a scientific method for matching treatment methods to an individual's biological make-up, a tremendous amount of resources, the greatest of which is individuals' precious time, could be saved. Dr. Pelphrey also shared how brain imaging can "identify neurobiological mechanisms for social cognition in typically developing people and the disruption of these mechanisms in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)."

Secondly, Dr. Luigi Mazzone from Rome, Italy, spoke about comorbid conditions of autism with various other neurological differences. He shared current research on medications to treat core symptoms of ASD, and the need to identify differences in cognitive functioning or autism symptom severity when determining the most appropriate pharmacological treatment. Dr. Mazzone also discussed the value of neurodiversity, shared widely by individuals characterized with Asperger syndrome, and cautioned the assumption to alter such diversity. At the conclusion of his talk, Dr. Mazzone stressed the importance of building a social network for individuals with ASD, by sharing a touching video of a youth group from Italy who took fencing classes as part of social skill building and then attended the Olympic Games in Brazil together.

As the moderator turned to the audience for questions, one was in regards to integrative therapy. Following all the scientific findings from brain imaging, molecular genetics, GABAergic systems in the brain and pathophysiology of autism, came this response:

"The best integrative therapy is that of meaningful experiences."

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