The Day of Learning: The Days After

by Alycia Halladay, PhD, Chief Science Officer

Despite all the challenges associated with the pandemic, one thing that’s become even more clear this past year is the critical role science plays in keeping us safe and healthy. We at the Autism Science Foundation have always championed science as the key to improving lives, and we know the critical role evidence-based research plays in improving the lives of people with autism. Science is at the core of what we do, it was at the heart of last Thursday’s successful Day of Learning.

Although we missed seeing everyone in person, we are proud that the event shattered all previous attendance records. This robust participation demonstrated our community’s collective commitment to autism science, and the critical role research plays in learning more about the causes of autism and how to treat people with autism more effectively.

I recapped the event in my podcast this week, and I encourage you to take a listen to get a quick overview of the important topics we covered—which, like always, were determined based on feedback from the ASF community.

Unsurprisingly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains front of mind for many, and we are grateful to both Dr. Pam Feliciano of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative for providing an overview of the impact of the pandemic on autism families, and to Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum of the University of Alberta, Canada, for ways we can rethink ASD assessment in the pandemic and beyond. 

Another important story on people’s mind this past year following the murder of George Floyd is social justice, and to making sure that marginalized groups receive the quality of care they deserve in a timely manner. Dr. Brian Boyd of the University of Kansas noted in his talk that Black people are less likely to be diagnosed with autism, and if they are diagnosed it typically happens later. As I say in my podcast, one thing that has become clear is we need to prioritize the pillars of social justice to support these families: equity, participation, diversity and human rights.

Our other speakers also touched on some of the most important issues in the autism community right now. Dr. Sarah Spence of Boston Children’s Hospital delivered the inaugural Jake Rimland Memorial Talk on what you need to know about autism and Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP); Dr. Shafali Jeste of the University of California, Los Angeles discussed finding the right help for people with autism; and Dr. Orrin Devinsky of New York University discussed the latest on cannabidiol research in treating ASD. I also recap all these talks in my latest podcast.

In addition to my podcast, we will also be releasing videos of each talk shortly, and we are grateful to all our Day of Learning speakers for sharing their findings with us. We also thank everyone who joined us for the event, and to the entire ASF community for its commitment to our shared goal of supporting science that can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people with autism.