Course Title: Session C - The Birch Memorial Lecture: Optimal Outcome in Autism Spectrum Disorders


Credit Hours: 1.0


Instructor(s) Deborah A. Fein, PhD


The Birch Memorial Lecture: Optimal Outcome in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Abstract & Learning Objectives

A serious obstacle for progress in autism research, as with other psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, is the existence of significant heterogeneity at all levels of analysis (genes, cells, behavior, etc.) and in all domains of functioning. Some theorists have even questioned the utility of the construct of autism itself. In addition, findings at different levels of analysis have not been found to correlate in any straightforward way. I will review some approaches to this variability, including that of the DSM-5. One domain of extreme heterogeneity is outcome: although varied outcome has been noted for many years, normalization of social communication and repetitive behaviors with loss of diagnosis has not generally been thought possible. I will report on a group of individuals who have reached this optimal outcome, and present data on cognitive functioning, psychiatric comorbidity, early development and intervention, and neuroimaging. Possible paths to this outcome, and implications for the heterogeneity problem, will be discussed.


Deborah A. Fein, PhD

Deborah A. Fein, PhD

Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor
Departments of Psychology and Pediatrics
University of Connecticut

Attendees of this lecture will be able to:
1) describe issues of heterogeneity in the study of autism,
2) list approaches to dealing with this variability, and
3) discuss potential positive outcomes in autism

Click here to view 43rd Annual Meeting presenter and program planner disclosures.

Speaker Biography

Deborah Fein is a clinical neuropsychologist who began doing autism research in the late 1970’s at Boston University School of Medicine, where she trained with Edith Kaplan and Allan Mirsky, and since 1988 at the University of Connecticut. She is currently Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut. She has investigated numerous areas in autism, including biochemical abnormalities, language and memory, cognitive skills, sensory abnormalities, outcome, early detection and screening, and theoretical issues concerning diagnosis. She recently edited “The Neuropsychology of Autism” for Oxford Press and co-authored the widely used screening tool, “Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (MCHAT)”. She has served on the Board of Directors of the American Association for Clinical Neuropsychology, was Secretary of the International Society for Autism Research and was Associate Editor of the APA journal Neuropsychology. She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband and has two grown daughters who are usually gallivanting around the globe.