In the News

Autism Care

Research
Education
Community
Policy

Research

“Future research needs to focus not only on the biological markers of ASD but also include data about functioning, participation, and environmental barriers and facilitators.”

Dr. Olaf Kraus de Camargo  //  Developmental Pediatrician

 

MacART is laying the foundation for creating a systematic way of linking scientific research on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at McMaster University to clinical practice at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

The physical proximity of McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, and McMaster University has a number of characteristics that provides the rare opportunity for collaborative research. Taking advantage of existing university and clinical infrastructure and cross-appointments for clinicians at the university, ASD experts from these organizations are coming together to integrate ASD research into clinical practice.

The focus of MacART members’ research is in the areas of basic science, clinical practice, clinical research, epidemiology and statistical modelling, knowledge translation and exchange, and social science research. By promoting the collaboration of stakeholders across disciplines, MacART is reducing barriers to implementing research in clinical practice, with the goal of advancing autism care through meaningful research.

Learn more about our research HERE.

Education

MacART members are now supervising more than 50 research trainees at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels, and are engaged in the mentoring of junior and intermediate faculty members.

In the future, we intend to establish research and clinical training programs for students in McMaster’s undergraduate medical, health sciences, and psychology programs, and for residents and fellows in Pediatrics and Psychiatry.

By training and mentoring emerging researchers and practitioners, we will help to solidify their understanding of and commitment to using basic science to inform their clinical practice, and to use their clinical experience to help formulate research questions. It is our belief that involving these learners in MacART educational activities will promote their use of practices that advance autism care through meaningful research.

Community

“Our scientists are working collaboratively with local clinicians to generate the evidence needed to improve autism services. This symposium is a great example of McMaster’s community engagement efforts.”

Dr. Patrick Deane // President & Vice-Chancellor // McMaster University

 

The community engagement component of MacART strives to work with stakeholders and involve them as partners in every step of the research process.  By doing so, the questions that drive research begin to change. They become more meaningful because they address the real day-to-day challenges faced by children and their families, and the clinicians supporting them.

MacART aims to increase participation and involvement of members of the McMaster and Hamilton communities in the research process. With community members driving the research, new and relevant knowledge can be produced to bridge the research-to-practice gap in ASD and advance autism care through meaningful research.

Policy

“People whose lives are connected to the challenge of autism can share knowledge – from clinicians to educators to parents – and what an amazing opportunity that is. We have a real opportunity to translate challenges into research, and research into practice that will help families living with autism.”

Rob MacIsaac  //  President & CEO // Hamilton Health Sciences

 

Policies should be created using the best available evidence that make positive impacts on the lives of individuals with ASD, along with their families.

MacART’s founder, Stelios Georgiades, serves on both federal and provincial advisory committees about ASD treatment funding.  Along with the wide-ranging expertise of its many ASD experts, MacART is set to act as a highly credible source of evidence-based information to influence and inform public policy about the provision and funding of ASD diagnosis, treatment, and family supports.

MacART will continue to find ways to collaborate with policymakers to both learn more about the policymaking process, and to contribute our expertise and knowledge to inform policymaking, in order to advance autism care through meaningful research.

Summer students - 2017

This summer the McMaster Autism Research Team was pleased to host 3 summer students, each from different backgrounds, and provide them with experience in the world of research.  These bright and capable students showed great initiative and willingness to help with whatever tasks were thrown their way – we truly appreciate the help they provided us over the past few weeks! 

 

Sandra Lee 

Sandra Lee worked with us in 2015, as a recipient of a Hamilton Health Sciences Health Research Bursary Award for graduating high school students. At that time she worked on the Pathways in ASD study - a longitudinal study following up on children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Sandra has since been accepted into the Bachelor of Health Sciences program at McMaster, and this year was the recipient of a BHSc Summer Research Scholarship. This scholarship program contributes funds for BHSc (Honours) students to pursue summer research opportunities at McMaster University with a faculty member. Her faculty research supervisor was MacART co-director Dr. Stelios Georgiades.

We were happy to have her back with us! This summer Sandra supported us on a wide range of tasks, including data checking and scanning for various studies, developing promotional materials, conducting literature reviews, questionnaire development and pilot testing, supporting the planning of our MacART research stakeholder symposium, and more. It was a very busy summer, particularly with preparing for the rollout of the Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Project, but Sandra took on the many tasks given to her with ease and aplomb!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ahsas Nagee

MacART participated once again in the Hamilton Health Sciences Health Research Bursary Awards Program for graduating high school students, and this year we hosted Ahsas Nagee.  Ahsas is a graduate of the IB program at Michael Power/St. Joseph High School in Etobicoke. He will be attending the Medical Sciences program at Western University this fall, hoping to pursue a career in medicine and healthcare research.

During his time with MacART this summer, Ahsas has computerized patient surveys and conducted a literature review for the Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Project, which aims to build a standardized research protocol that caters to the needs of families dealing with autism.  Ahsas has also worked with the WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model to evaluate the measures used in the PARC Project. He has learned extensively about research not only in neurodevelopmental disorders, but the state of scientific research in general while also gaining invaluable skills in the field.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rukaiyah Lakkadghatwala

Rukaiyah Lakkadghatwala is a first-year medical student at Queen's School of Medicine, who has an interest in gender studies and the social determinants of health. She has a passion and considerable experience working with children (as a support worker for children and youth with intellectual disabilities, a tutor for children and youth at community shelters, a leader of a Girl Guide unit, and an Ontario Early Years Centre volunteer), and recognizes the many factors that impact wellness. She contacted the Offord Centre for Child Studies searching for volunteer experiences to strengthen her knowledge of the social determinants of health and was put in touch with our ASD team, who are interested in similar issues. 

This summer Rukaiyah has helped MacART with developing presentation materials, conducting literature reviews, drafting an evaluation plan, questionnaire development and pilot testing, supporting the planning of our MacART research stakeholder symposium, and more. Together with Ahsas, she is also using the WHO’s International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health model to evaluate the measures used in the PARC Project.  Rukaiyah was eager and willing to take on all the tasks given to her, and we appreciate her efforts to volunteer her time with us! 

A Collaborative Approach to Autism Research

Following the launch of the new Ontario Autism Program, MacART has begun the Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Project.  The aim of the Ontario Autism Program is to ensure child and youth ASD services are delivered consistently across the province, while the PARC Project is working to develop a research protocol that can be embedded into the delivery of these services. 

"We’re excited to have researchers and clinicians working together in a collaborative way,” says Dr. Caroline Roncadin, clinical director of ASD services at the MCH Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre. “The PARC Project will have the potential to produce research findings that can directly inform the clinical care we provide families.”

To read more about the PARC Project, please see our story in HHS Share.

The new Ontario Autism Program and the PARC Project

Today, June 26th, is the start date for the new Ontario Autism Program.  The province has worked closely with families, caregivers, advocates, clinicians and providers to build the new OAP.

Some key features of the OAP include:

  • A single point of access. 
  • Family-centred decision-making. 
  • Collaborative approach to service. 
  • Service based on need. 

More information on the OAP can be found here: http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/specialneeds/autism/ontario-autism-program.aspx

As this new program rolls out, this also marks the beginning of MacART’s new pilot research project – the Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Project. Together with our local team of clinicians, we are working together to establish an ASD Research Protocol that can be embedded into clinical practice and allow for the ongoing collection of data on all children who receive an ASD diagnosis in our region.

MacART is excited to begin this important work to not only improve our understanding of ASD, but also to improve the individual treatment and clinical care that children receive.

 

New autism program coming to Ontario

Today the province of Ontario announced its new autism program, set to begin on June 26th 2017.  The announcement was made by Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services – more information can be found here: https://news.ontario.ca/mcys/en/2017/06/ontario-transforming-autism-services-for-children-and-their-families.html

MacART is encouraged to see that input from the autism community has been taken into account to help the Ontario government move towards a refined system of care for children and families affected by autism. 

MacART Trainee Travel Awards RFA

The McMaster Autism Research Team (MacART) is pleased to announce a Request for Applications for trainee travel awards! 

The MacART Trainee Travel Awards are meant to help trainees working in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) research to travel to events that will enhance their research training experience. This may include traveling to a conference or workshop, presenting their research at an event, attending a course, or visiting a research lab in order to learn from a researcher. 

Criteria for applicants: This RFA is open to students and trainees of all levels (e.g. undergraduate, graduate, post-doctoral fellow, medical resident, etc.) whose work is related to Autism Spectrum Disorders, as long as they are affiliated with McMaster, Hamilton Health Sciences, or MacART in some way. Only one award per trainee will be provided.

Value: Maximum $500 per individual.  The award covers registration fees, accommodation, transportation costs, etc.; expenses such as meals and entertainment costs are not eligible.

Deadline for application: Friday June 30th, 2017.

Application process: Please submit the application form, describing the following:

  • Trainee contact information
  • Details of the travel - location, dates, purpose, etc.
  • Award amount requested, and for what (i.e. itemization of expenses).
  • What do you hope to learn from this experience?
  • How will this travel help to impact/advance ASD care and research?

Submit this form to autism@mcmaster.ca as one PDF document.

A review committee will evaluate the applications based on the following criteria:

  • Overall strength of the applicant’s learning objectives.
  • Overall significance of the learning experience to ASD care and research.

Winners will be announced at our 2nd annual MacART Research Stakeholder Symposium, to be held on Friday September 15th, 2017.

If you have any questions, please contact Anna Kata, MacART Research Coordinator at autism@mcmaster.ca.

MacART at IMFAR

Last week (May 10-13, 2017), the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) held its annual scientific meeting – the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR). Now in its 16th year, IMFAR is the oldest and largest autism research meeting in the world and only grows larger every year. More than 2,200 researchers, clinicians, and other participants from 50 countries gathered in San Francisco to learn about the latest scientific discoveries with over 1,500 panels, posters, and oral sessions. This included excellent representation from numerous MacART members!

MacART members took part in the following sessions. Click on the title to read the abstracts.

Oral sessions:

Poster sessions:

Panel Discussions:

 

Dr. Terry Bennett presenting on autism trajectories. 

  

 

Dr. Stelios Georgiades preparing for his panel discussion with Alycia Halladay, Special Interest Group leader.

 

MacART members at TEDxYorkUSalon - Autism Innovations

On April 22nd 2017, York University held a 2nd TEDxYorkUSalon, this time focusing on innovations for people with autism within their community and in research. These TEDxYorkUSalons provide a forum for ideas within the Canadian autism community of stakeholders. This Salon showcased 4 speakers followed by a series of lightning talks – 3 minute talks by a dozen researchers in the ASD field (from York University and other universities in the GTHA) - that showcased innovative research related to autism.

MacART was well-represented at this event, with lightning talks given by some of our members:

  • Stelios Georgiades - introducing the concept of "chronogeneity" to explore developmental change over time
  • Jane Foster - exploring the link between microbes and mental health
  • Briano Di Rezze - using a common, strengths-based language to describe social communication 
  • Diana Parvinchi - cognitive training to exercise brain networks

Click on the names above to see brief video clips of the speakers (full videos will be coming soon!). Huge thanks go out to York University and Drs. Jonathan Weiss and Jonathan Lai for hosting us for this excellent afternoon - it was exciting to not only hear about the innovation happening in the ASD field, but also to interact and collaborate with the stakeholders who will be directly impacted by this work. 

    

  

Statement from MacART on World Autism Awareness Day

April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day – a day to recognize all those individuals around the globe who live on the autism spectrum.

These are our family members, friends, classmates, and colleagues. In Canada, 1 in 68 children are currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The McMaster Autism Research Team (MacART; www.macautism.ca) is proud to embody the goals of World Autism Awareness Day. MacART is a partnership between McMaster Children’s Hospital, Hamilton Health Sciences, and McMaster University that aims to bridge the research-to-practice gap in ASD. MacART is designed to foster collaboration among the families, researchers, clinicians, educators, and policymakers whose lives and work are touched by ASD. An essential part of this mission is working with stakeholders, including individuals with ASD.

In the upcoming months, MacART will be launching the Pediatric Autism Research Collaborative (PARC) Study together with clinicians at McMaster Children’s Hospital. The PARC Study will work to embed a research protocol into ASD Services, which will follow children newly diagnosed with autism and their families over an initial period of two years.

 “We are excited to have researchers and clinicians working together in a collaborative way,” says Dr. Caroline Roncadin, Clinical Director of ASD Services at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre. “The PARC Study will have the potential to produce research findings that can directly inform the clinical care we provide families.”

One of the tools that will be used in the PARC Study will be the Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication (ACSF:SC), a standardized assessment that identifies the strengths and abilities of children with ASD. “This tool will help us profile the social communication abilities of children within the different ASD programs at McMaster Children’s Hospital,” says Dr. Briano Di Rezze, Assistant Professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science and one of the tool’s developers. “The focus on strengths is a unique feature – we try to focus on what these children can do, instead of on what they cannot.”

This emphasis on strengths is important to remember on not only World Autism Awareness Day, but every day. MacART will continue working towards its goal of advancing autism care through meaningful research, and a key component of this goal is celebrating the many ways in which individuals with ASD contribute to our society.

Viewpoint: Tracing autism’s trajectories could help explain its diversity

MacART co-director Stelios Georgiades has written a Viewpoint for Spectrum News, a news site that provides comprehensive analysis of advances in autism research. The opinion piece discusses the concept of ‘chronogeneity’ - the idea of studying the heterogeneity of autism features over time in order to better understand common patterns of change across children with autism, as well as understanding the paths of children who do better or worse than might be expected. This concept is being incorporated into MacART's upcoming PARC Study, where together with local clinicians we will explore whether chronogeneity can inform clinical practice. To read the article, please click here

Interdisciplinary Research Funding Awarded to Dr. Vickie Galea

Congratulations to Dr. Vickie Galea, who is part of a successful application to McMaster’s Interdisciplinary Research Fund (IRF). The IRF supports research projects involving two or more Faculties and is intended to build and strengthen academic, industry and community networks.  This interdisciplinary collaboration is at the core of MacART.

The objective of the proposal to the IRF is to use machine–learning models to finalize the development and validation of an automated, quantitative measurement protocol applied to the immature motor system yielding movement phenotypes. This very novel analysis of infant spontaneous movement will provide a unique window into their early neuromotor development.  The hope is this work will be able to provide early identification of possible neurodevelopmental consequences – such as ASD – in high-risk infants. The sensory/motor phenotypes uncovered by Dr. Galea and her group will be informative to MacART clinician/scientists in the development of targeted age-appropriate interventions for these infants.