From Stanford University: “Finding solutions for people with autism and their families”

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Stanford University

March 5, 2018
Erin Digitale

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More than 1 in 68 children are living with some form of autism, and each diagnosis has a ripple effect on families, schools and medical professionals who support those individuals. Stanford experts have been part of the teams not only diagnosing and treating the condition, but also trying to understand its causes and helping people with autism and their families live full lives.


Recent Stanford advances in understanding autism have come, in part, through scientists working across disciplinary boundaries. Clinicians, neuroscientists, engineers and educators have been collaborating to help people with autism and their families.

Diagnosing and treating autism

Autism emerges gradually and its signs run across a spectrum from mild to severe, making it a challenge to diagnose. Without this accurate information, parents can’t start accessing treatment for their children. Making it faster and easier to diagnose the condition, new tools aim to speed the process of getting kids started in therapy.

Those therapies are also getting better, with drugs under development that target cardinal features of autism, and apps that teach people with autism to communicate and interact. Speeding the rate at which children start getting treatment, these advances improve their chances of receiving help.

Understanding autism

Despite the number of people diagnosed with autism each year and the high personal and financial cost of supporting those individuals, very little is known about what disruption in the brain’s intricate wiring causes the condition.

Stanford scientists are now beginning to unravel the brain differences that underlie autism, and also tease apart how those changes alter the way autistic brains process and respond to the world. These discoveries have come, in part, through advances in technologies for imaging the brain at work and for probing the neurons’ inner workings, and in some cases through a very personal quest to understand this devastating disease.

Living with autism

People’s daily interactions rely on subtle social clues and facial expressions that are critical for communication but indecipherable to those with autism. Deficits in social and emotional skills can range from challenging to completely disabling, and put an incredible burden on those who care for people with autism.

Stanford researchers have created a number of tools to help people with autism navigate their daily lives and to support families in accessing resources. These include classes to help families understand and participate in autism therapy and apps to connect families with resources. There are even engineering courses at Stanford that teach students how to design for people with conditions including autism.

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Leland and Jane Stanford founded the University to “promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization.” Stanford opened its doors in 1891, and more than a century later, it remains dedicated to finding solutions to the great challenges of the day and to preparing our students for leadership in today’s complex world. Stanford, is an American private research university located in Stanford, California on an 8,180-acre (3,310 ha) campus near Palo Alto. Since 1952, more than 54 Stanford faculty, staff, and alumni have won the Nobel Prize, including 19 current faculty members

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