Autism Europe Keynote Report: Professor Fred R. Volkmar, M.D.: “State of the Art Lecture: Autism today – what we do and don’t know”

image-1-volkmarDr. Fred Volkmar presenting his keynote at the conference.

 Dr. Volkmar provided a broad overview of autism research, highlighting critical advances in the early period of autism research following its official recognition in 1980.  Furthermore, he expressed a critical review of areas where knowledge has been lacking and pointed to where future efforts should be made to connect advances in research with applied treatments.

It is clear that autism is a brain based, highly genetic condition that, for many individuals, often responds to a range of evidence based treatments.”                 -Dr. Fred Volkmar

volker-pic-best-275Dr. Volkmar is the primary author of the autism and pervasive developmental disorders section DSM-IV. [Yale School of Medicine, Child Study Center]

 Dr. Volkmar is the author of several hundred scientific papers and book chapters as well as a number of books including Asperger’s Syndrome (Guilford Press), Health Care for Children on the Autism Spectrum (Woodbine Publishing), The Handbook of Autism (Wiley Publishing), and A Practical Guide to Autism: What Every Parent, Teacher and Family Members Needs to Know (Wiley Publishing).

image-3-volkmarDr. Volkmar’s presentation was eye-opening, providing a broad overview of autism research.

 The advent of research-based practices is a relatively new development and Dr. Volkmar was a leader in that initiative.

 He was part of a critical advance in the late 1980s with the evolution of reliable diagnostic tools to screen for autism and distinguish it from other forms of disability.

 It was a time when the best and brightest clinicians and scientists in the field reworked the criteria for diagnosis through careful study and a re-examination of the observations chronicled by Asperger and Kanner in the 1940’s. image-4-volkmarFor example, the work done by in 1987 by Lorna Wing, an English psychiatrist and pioneer in childhood developmental disorders and two American psychologists, Lynn Waterhouse and Bryna Siegel was a huge step forward compared to what had come before.  It is to be found in the DSM-III-R.

 DSM-III-R was hugely successful and advanced the understanding of autism worldwide. Autism entered mainstream awareness and for the first time, clinicians now welcomed parents’ input and collaboration became essential to the process. Diagnosing autism stopped being the exclusive domain of a small, elite network of specialists.  A common language and standard criteria were introduced.

 After DSM-III-R, Dr. Fred Volkmar, the chairman of the autism research program at the Yale Child Study Center was assigned the development of an even more comprehensive and precise set of criteria to be included in the DSM-IV which was published in 1994.

image-5-volkmarThe upward trend in observed prevalence began with the DSM-III-R and snowballed after the publication of the DSM-IV. Inevitably, the more that clinicians and educators looked for a condition, the more they found it. Stay tuned for more from the conference in an upcoming post. For an overview of the history of diagnosing autism posted earlier on this blog, click or tap here.