University of Gothenburg

Birgit Olsson Lecture 2016

Professor Fred Volkmar's lecture "The Changing Face of Autism"

Navigate to video: The Changing Face of Autism
Video (1:27:45)
The Changing Face of Autism

About Professor Fred Volkmar

Fred R. Volkmar is Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology at the Yale University Child Study Center, School of Medicine. Professor Fred R. Volkmar has published over 200 scientific papers as well as a number of books and book chapters in the field of autism spectrum disorder focusing on genetics and other neurobiological aspects, diagnostic issues, treatment, course and outcome, adaptive skills, somatic comorbidity and language impairment. Professor Volkmar was the primary author of the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV autism and pervasive developmental disorders section.  



"The Changing Face of Autism"

Under the heading "The changing face of autism" Professor Volkmar spoke about ASD as a disorder of social interaction associated with unusual patterns of learning and over-engagement with the non-social world. In the 1970s the perception of autism as a brain based and strongly genetic condition first emerged and the need for structured treatment was stressed. Pointing to the immense increase in research and public interest on ASD from the 1980s and onwards, Professor Volkmar reported on both research advances and current knowledge gaps. He mentioned genetics as an area in which considerable advances have been made while research on older adults and ageing in ASD as well as research on interventions were named as areas that are difficult to fund and that remain sparsely studied. Other knowledge gaps that were brought forward were studies on depression and mood problems, studies on how to match children with the best treatment, and those concerned with new approaches to early diagnosis. Professor Volkmar also spoke about issues connected to conducting research on ASD, particularly when researching evidence-based interventions. Sample selection was identified as an issue relating to how representative a study can make claims to being. The increasing understanding that overlapping of symptoms is the norm rather than the exception in people with ASD is not adequately reflected in research, with many studies aiming to include only those individuals with "pure" autism. When individuals are excluded from studies based on comorbidity, the resulting sample could be said to constitute a sub-sample rather than a sample that can make claims to represent the whole or the majority of the group. Professor Volkmar also stressed the need for individualised interventions and support in school, noting that schools often have one method that is applied according to a one-size-fits-all logic.