The Autism Spectrum Disorders Program of the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the McGill University Health Centre, funded by private donations to The Montreal Children’s Hospital Foundation, opened its clinic on May 21, 2003. This Program brings The Children’s autism specialists together in one clinic.
In addition to offering a range of clinical services to patients and their families, the Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic will also be an active site of research. The research studies include areas such as epidemiology, genetics, and intervention and will be directed by Dr. Eric Fombonne.
Epidemiology of Autism
Epidemiology is the study of trends of a particular disease. Dr. Fombonne and his colleagues will look at a number of trends in autism including the occurrence of autism within different populations and over time, the association of autism with other diseases, links between autism and environmental exposures, such as immunizations, and the effect of diet on the disease. These studies will scientifically evaluate the potential causes and risk factors for autism.
Genetics of Autism
Autism can be a genetically inherited disease but it does not result from a single flawed gene. Instead many genes seem to play a role in the disease. Researchers at the clinic will collaborate with other members from the McGill community to pinpoint the genes involved. These studies will involve large groups of patients and their families. Identifying the genes may lead to better targets for drugs and possible diagnostic tests.
All autistic patients benefit from intervention programs aimed at improving their social and communication skills and decreasing their repetitive behaviors. Dr. Fombonne, Dr. Lee Tidmarsh and their colleagues will look at what age children benefit most from intervention programs. In addition they will determine which treatments have better success.
Autism across the lifespan
Autism is a lifelong handicap. With increasing numbers of children currently diagnosed it is necessary to explore long-term outcomes of autism, to identify factors that are associated with better adjustment in adult life, and to document the service needs. Dr Fombonne and fellows are launching studies of autism in adulthood.
Developing research capacity
It is crucial to improve Canada research activity in autism and to attract to autism research trainees and new investigators. Dr Fombonne was recently awarded a large grant from CIHR to attract and train to autism research promising students and post-doctoral fellows. Administered from McGill by Dr Fombonne, this effort will associate several Canadian Universities and the best autism researchers over the next six years.