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Reflections on Autism Research from the Netherlands

  • Elizabeth Kauffman
Posted on June 12, 2018

I was extraordinarily excited to go to Rotterdam for the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) annual meeting, not only because it’s a great opportunity to share and learn about autism research that everyone has worked hard on over the past year, but also because this time the location was near and dear to me. My family is Dutch, and I grew up in a town with a festival each year celebrating our cultural heritage. To have the opportunity to merge the Netherlands and science, two key parts of my identity, was a transformative experience.

The science presented at INSAR represented the forefront of what we should all strive to be: comprehensive, accurate, and visionary. While it’s easy to get mired down by our research topics in the day-to-day function of our jobs, this meeting was a great reminder to take a bird’s eye view and see the whole picture.

Scientists from all walks of life who study all walks of life attend the annual INSAR meeting. While the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute’s mission is to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism of all ages, it’s impossible to do it all by ourselves. Going to the meeting allows us as scientists to remember that while we alone can’t improve, solve, or understand everything, together as an international community we can make great strides. Each talk brought critical insights into the complexity of autism spectrum disorder, from how some environmental exposures to air pollution during early development may increase the risk of autism, to learning how new wearable technology can measure stress responses in children with autism.

While the research presented was thought-provoking and innovative, the main message I walked away with was that while we have come a long way, we still have further to go. The work isn’t done, and as a scientific community we have plenty of opportunities for growing and learning. We can grow to be more inclusive by incorporating feedback, concerns, and ideas from individuals with autism directly into our research. We can aim to be more collaborative, creating partnerships, sharing information, and working together to create more powerful and useful science. To be sure, the scientific community has made significant strides in our knowledge about the risk factors, diagnoses, and outcomes of autism since it was first described and recognized in the early 60s. The answers we’ve generated have brought forward even more questions to answer. The meeting was a reminder that we must answer these questions with thoughtfulness and inclusivity for them to be useful.

The views expressed in this blog post are the author's own and not necessarily those of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute.
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