Autism Symposium Offers New Interventions for the Disorder; Experts Present New Research and Treatment Information to Families

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Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Parents, therapists and health care providers crowded into Jacksonville's second annual Autism Symposium on Wednesday in search of answers where few exist.

On everyone's mind: new figures showing that autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 110 children, showing the mysterious condition could be even more prevalent than previously thought.

On the agenda: new research and interventions for children and teenagers with autism - and frank questions and answers about the complementary and alternative treatments sought by as many as half of families affected by the disorder.

With approximately 500 attendees, the symposium was overflowing the conference room at the University Center at the University of North Florida. Attendance is up since the first event last year, said Jerry Bridgham, chief medical officer at Wolfson Children's Hospital and one of the event chairs. Wolfson, Nemours Children's Clinic and the University of Florida coordinated the symposium.

"I think there's a lot of information presented today to give parents a greater sense of hope," Bridgham said.

The autism spectrum includes different conditions that range widely in severity, but all are typically characterized by impairment in communication skills and social abilities and by repetitive behaviors. Its cause is unknown.

Among the topics outlined by experts invited to the conference:

- New research into possible genetic links and brain imaging showing deficiencies in areas related to social communication. "It's an extremely exciting time," said Robert Schultz, director of the Center for Autism Research at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Schultz presented images from a special kind of MRI, which early research has indicated could be used to diagnose autism. Certain areas of the brain linked to facial recognition lit up on such tests in different ways for people with autism, the research found. …