Noémie Hébert-Lalonde, PhD, is a neuropsychologist who specializes in working with children and youth with neurodevelopmental conditions at The Neuro's Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR).
She will be facilitating the next 6-session virtual workshop on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2) beginning in October 2022.
What motivates you to do the work you do as a clinical researcher?
I was always passionate about working with children and developed an interest in working with children with neurodevelopmental conditions while studying neuropsychology. My passion for work in the autism field followed when I understood just how complex the human brain is. I wanted to better understand the brain’s mysteries and to help improve the lives of autistic individuals and their families.
I believe that research and clinical work are intrinsically linked. Being in the know of the latest research and having access to the latest statistics is critical for the delivery of quality clinical services. Similarly, a strong understanding of clinical issues is essential to guide research towards appropriate and consistent goals that address the needs of various populations and advance science. That is why I like to contribute concurrently to these two areas of knowledge.
Knowledge transfer is another crucial aspect for the delivery of quality clinical services. I enjoy sharing what I know and engaging in clinical and scientific discussions. I learn as much from others as I hope others learn form me. Providing training in this collaborative way is then very rewarding, as much for the trainers as for the participants.
What assessment tools do you use in your practice to diagnose autism, and why are these tools important?
There is no perfect diagnostic tool. Professionals involved in diagnosing autism must ideally be familiar with a large variety of tools to be able to choose the most appropriate for a specific context.
Of course, the ADOS-2 and ADI-R (Autism Diagnostic Interview – Revised) are tools for autism diagnosis that I use often.
The ADI-R, for example, allows parents to give precise accounts of behaviours that are often associated with autism. It’s a process that is very enlightening for parents and helps guide their understanding of their child’s behaviour. It also helps me include the components that make up the basis of the assessment report.
The ADOS-2 also provides me with a standardised sample of a child’s social behaviours. The tool’s standardised aspect allows for a more balanced comparison of these behaviours to those expected in autism. Also, when parents have an opportunity to attend or observe the ADOS-2, they provide interesting comments based on their own observations. This often makes the discussion rich and meaningful for the parents, the child and the professional.
However, we must always remember that these tools are only one part of the assessment process.
I also rely on the information obtained through autism or non-autism-related surveys. Surveys that pertain to attention and behaviour or emotions management, which are often full of information that help establish differential diagnoses.
As a neuropsychologist, it's also important to assess the child’s intellectual capabilities. The information gathered through this process often sheds light on an autistic child’s complex profile. Parents also appreciate knowing more about their child’s overall development and often find the information very enlightening.
Furthermore, all the information gathered through assessments should be as context-specific as possible, and should make it possible to prepare recommendations or support plans that are specific to the child’s needs and environment. Performing a developmental interview and contacting the professionals involved with the child are also of the utmost importance during this assessment process.
What message would you like to share with new professionals in the field?
I encourage young professionals to contribute as much as possible and to engage in collaborative work with professionals from different fields.
While autism research and clinical work are very specific, they are impossible to undertake without contributions from other stakeholders within the broader autism and neurodivergent communities. It's important to recognize our expertise as well as that of others, which includes the vital lived experiences of patients and self-advocates, their families and their allies. Only by collaborating with all parties involved can we deliver the best care possible and implement the best research projects.
Also, I encourage professionals to remain curious and seek out new knowledge throughout their career. I believe that professional development, even if it simply means reading up on a subject to stay up-to-date, is a pillar of excellence.
How can professionals benefit from your training?
The ADOS-2 introductory training is a must for all autism professionals, whether they are experienced or new to the field!
First, for professionals wanting to learn about this tool, the training provides an opportunity to become more familiar with and confident using the tool, and also to better understand its fundamentals.
For experienced professionals, it offers a complete review of the tool. Professionals tend to appreciate this opportunity to refresh their knowledge as it is not uncommon to drift from standard procedures over time.
ACAR delivers a high-quality training. With a focus on both theory and practice, our programs make it easy for new and experienced professionals to understand concepts and integrate them quickly in their day-to-day work.
We also offer group and individual support to interested parties, and a variety of ongoing professional development opportunities throughout the year. We invite people to stay tuned for upcoming training opportunities.
Building a community of shared learning
The ACAR Clinic's annual professional development and training opportunities help to enhance the skills of new and experienced autism professionals, and build a community of shared learning, support and expertise.
For more information, visit our website and join our mailing list.