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Image of hands, bodies, and instruments around a face: Autism is a complex developmental disability.
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SYMPOSIA - 2005
Gamma Oscillations: Integrative Concepts for Autism Research - December 2005
The Smith Family Foundation, Chestnut Hill , MA


Autism is a complex phenomenon. Individuals with autism can process certain types of information, often where high levels of local detail are present, yet are claimed to lack ability to recognize facial expressions, or other measures of social interaction. Communication and language difficulties could be due to cognitive impairments, reflecting perhaps an over-abundance of white matter connections, or the problem may lie elsewhere, such as in the timing of perceptual processing, or even in the sequencing and control of motor systems. This lack of a firm physiological understanding of autism has given rise to a number of psychological concepts that have guided researchers and therapists, but will be difficult to integrate with emerging data from developmental neuroscience. One of the most influential ideas is that people with autism have ‘weak central coherence', a concept related in fundamental ways to our notions of attention, sensory integration, and global reasoning. Impressive technological advances in measuring spatial and temporal characteristics of gamma oscillations with high-density EEG have opened up the possibility of studying, in real-time, communication across different brain regions during the performance of cognitive or visual-spatial tasks. This technique could provide a much-needed bridge between cellular neuroscience and psychology.

The Boston Club on ‘Gamma Oscillations: Integrative Concepts in Autism Research' was aimed at asking whether it is possible to use EEG to investigate how persons with autism process sensory and other forms of information. It might be asked whether they, in fact, do process information differently, and if so, under what sorts of experimental conditions? Persons who cannot speak might not ‘gate' data obtained by hearing or reading in the same way as others, and this might give them superior ability in some areas. The question of rhythmicity in brain-body coordination is also central to an understanding of autism and more ‘holistic' ways of thinking about movement and its relationship to thought might lead to sophisticated simultaneous measurement of mind-body rhythms in response to stimuli. The Boston Club discussion addressed how to test individuals with autism other than those with Asperger's Syndrome (an interesting group to study, but often chosen because these individuals can comply with experimental protocols requiring spoken feedback). Finally, can bio-feedback or transcranial stimulation be used to locally stimulate brain regions to increase perceptual or cognitive processing?


Matt Anderson, M.D., Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Neural Rhythmicity, Serotonin, and Autism

Joshua Fost, Ph.D., Hampshire College

Albert Galaburda, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Connectivity in Context: Physical and Systems Considerations in the Development of Gating, Timing, Asymmetry and Connectivity Challenges in Autism
Martha Herbert, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Language & Communication Issues in Autism Research
Michael Merzenich, Ph.D., University of California , San Francisco School of Medicine

Brain Music Therapy
Galina Mindlin, M.D., Ph.D., Columbia University

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Autism: Exploring Brain Connectivity and Modulating Plasticity
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, M.D., Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Gamma Abnormalities in Autism: Implications for Communication and Sensory Integration
Georgina Rippon, Ph.D., Aston University

Through Singing to Speech: Music-Facilitated Language Recovery
Gottfried Schlaug, M.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Barbara Scolnick, M.D., Boston University

Boosting Concept Formation as a Possible Therapy for Autism
Allan Snyder, DSc, Ph.D., University of Sydney






Workshop on Autism Susceptibility Genes – September 2005
Hotel Commonwealth, Boston, MA


Twin studies suggest that autism has a large genetic component; however, to date, few autism susceptibility genes have been identified. The Foundation has mounted a major initiative to identify these genes, and supports genetics projects to deepen our understanding of the underlying molecular and biological processes involved in autism. This knowledge may one day provide the framework for medical remediation. In September 2005, the Foundation hosted a Boston Club workshop on autism susceptibility genes which afforded the opportunity for its funded investigators to present their preliminary data and/or the results of their genetics research.


A Genetic Study of Mathematical Talent and Asperger’s Syndrome
Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., Cambridge University

Alan Ezekowitz, MBCHB, D. Phil, Massachusetts General Hospital

Al Galaburda, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Brian Gilman, Panther Informatics

Genes for Autism and Absolute Pitch
Peter K. Gregersen, M.D., Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, North Shore LIJ Health System

Ingrid Holm, MD, MPH, Children’s Hospital Boston

Investigation of Imprinted Chromosomal Regions and Mitochondrial Haplotypes in Autism
Lindsey Kent, MBChB., Ph.D., MRC Psych, Cambridge University

Genetics Studies of Autism Spectrum Disorders
Isaac Kohane, MD, Ph.D., Children’s Hospital Boston

A Family Study of Genetic Susceptibility to Autistic Traits
Katherine Lawrence, Ph.D., University College London

Identifying and Understanding the Actions of Autism Susceptibility Genes
Anthony Monaco, MD, Ph.D., Oxford University

Richard S. Nowakowski, Ph.D., UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Damon Page, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The Establishment of a Well-Characterized Cohort for Autism Studies at the Massachusetts General Hospital
Susan Santangelo, Sc.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Jim Simons, Ph.D., The Simons Foundation

Marilyn Simons, Ph.D., The Simons Foundation

Richard Smith, The Smith Family Foundation

Katherine Tsatsanis, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Recessive Genes for Autism and Mental Retardation
Chris Walsh, MD, Ph.D., Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center





Workshop on Autism Communication Enhancement - July 2005
The Smith Family Foundation, Chestnut Hill, MA


Individuals with autism demonstrate difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication. The Foundation supports projects aimed at investigating communication difficulties as well as communication capacities and options for individuals with autism. The study of communication modalities, with a translational orientation, is essential to developing support systems that may enhance the quality of life for many children and adults with autism. The Boston Club on “Autism Communication Enhancement” developed out of the Foundation's strong interest in exploring communication options for people with autism and was aimed at both enhancing our understanding of this area and helping the Foundation to develop new funding programs and initiatives.


Cognitive Neural Prosthetics
Richard Andersen, Ph.D., California Institute of Technology

The Action of a Greeting Does Not Come Naturally: Autism and the Struggle for Performance
Douglas Biklen, Ph.D., Syracuse University

Shared and Specific Muscle Synergies in Natural Motor Behaviors
Emilio Bizzi, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jamie Burke

Sheree Burke

Facilitated Communication and Eye-Tracking
Andy Grayson, Ph.D., Nottingham Trent University

Al Galaburda, MD, Harvard Medical School

Dasher- Fast, Free, Fun Communication Through an Automated Facilitator
David MacKay, Ph.D., University of Cambridge






Autism as a Movement Disorder - May 2005
Boston Park Plaza Hotel, Boston, MA


The Foundation has developed a strong interest in exploring the motor disturbances that are associated with autism. In its most extreme form, the inability to speak may be a movement disorder. The purpose of this Boston Club meeting was to enhance the Foundation's understanding of this area and help the Foundation to develop new funding programs and initiatives. At this meeting, Drs. Bizzi, Fogel, Gernsbacher, Graziano, Teitelbaum, and Zeffiro presented the results of their research progress in this area.


Motor Control and Motor Learning in Vertebrates
Emilio Bizzi , M.D. , Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Movement, Emotion, and Intention
Alan Fogel, Ph.D., University of Utah

Al Galaburda, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Why Can't "Nonverbal" Individuals with Autism Speak?
Morton Ann Gernsbacher, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Ethological Organization of Motor Cortex
Michael Graziano, Ph.D., Princeton University

Martha Herbert M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital

Is the Tilting Test an indicator of subgroups in autism?
Philip Teitelbaum, Ph.D., and Osnat Teitelbaum, University of Florida

Neural Mechanisms of Voluntary Movement Control in Autism
Tom Zeffiro, M.D., PhD, Georgetown University




 
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