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Dr. Ami Klin Shares a New Framing for More Effective Early Childhood Autism Interventions and Policy

Outdated perceptions about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are often at the foundation of states’ failure to adequately screen, assess, and intervene in early childhood. Dr. Ami Klin, a leading national voice on autism and autism policy, helped us see how bringing an early brain-development framing to the table can lead to better policy — and better outcomes for these young children and their families.

Dr. Klin captivated the Alliance webinar audience with new evidence that fuels a diversity-not-disability perspective and paves the way for a more effective — and equitable — early screening and diagnosis model. 

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As the most common form of complex developmental disability, with lifetime consequences, autism is emblematic of public health challenges associated with missed opportunities to reduce family burdens and societal costs, and of public health opportunities associated with more accessible and effective early surveillance, screening, diagnosis and intervention that apply to the vast majority of children born with genetic, medical or environmental liabilities.

Autism is also emblematic of entrenched and unconscionable disparities in healthcare access and outcomes affecting minority, low-income and rural families, disparities that were brought to a sharper focus during the twin pandemics of 2020. Leveraging illustrations from developmental social neuroscience, this presentation will show how developmental disabilities unfold in the first three years of life, demonstrating that the greatest burdens of autism –intellectual and language disabilities as well as severe behavior challenges, which account for child, family and society’s greatest costs—are not inevitable: they result from divergences in developmental trajectories from birth that grow with time, creating disability as a result of the accrual of thousands and thousands of missed opportunities for social learning, and eventually leading to emergence of symptoms, to delays in development, and ultimately, to compromised outcomes. However, the fact that disability emerges from the interaction between inborn risks and environmental demands creates a unique opportunity to “engineer” environments that promote development and attenuate symptoms via community-viable, evidence-based, intensive, caregiver-mediated interventions building on everyday infant-caregiver interactions that support social engagement and provides “language nutrition”.

The webinar covered new cost-effective, objective and quantitative methods for early detection of autism and related developmental delays, and new online platforms and mobile technologies for parent support, developmental surveillance and treatment.

“This new science promises to change the narrative of autism from one of disability to one of diversity,” Klin says, “and ushers a new model for neurodevelopmental medicine the promise of which is only now being recognized.”

Additional Resources from Dr. Ami Klin’s Early Childhood Autism Webinar: 

Supporting Social-Emotional and Mental Health Needs of Young Children Through Part C Early Intervention: A 50-State Survey, National Center for Children in Poverty

Structural Racism and Autism, Sarabeth Broder-Fingert, MD, MPH, Camilla Mateo, MD, MPH, Katherine E. Zuckerman, MD, MPH

Timing of the Diagnosis of Autism in African American Children, John N. Constantino, MD, Anna M. Abbacchi, MS, Celine Saulnier, PhD, Cheryl Klaiman, PhD, David S. Mandell, ScD, Yi Zhang, MS, Zoe Hawks, MA, Julianna Bates, PhD, Ami Klin, PhD, Paul Shattuck, PhD, Sophie Molholm, PhD, Robert Fitzgerald, PhD, Anne Roux, MPH, Jennifer K. Lowe, PhD, Daniel H. Geschwind, MD, PhD

Affording Autism an Early Brain Development Re-Definition, Ami Klin, Megan Micheletti, Cheryl Klaiman1, Sarah Shultz, John N. Constantino, and Warren Jones

Neonatal Transitions in Social Behavior and Their Implications for Autism, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Sarah Shultz, Ami Klin, and Warren Jones

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