Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

Let's Talk About Autism - hosted by RCSI Society of Neuroscience

14 November 2016

Let's Talk About Autism

   

"Thank you and all the team for a great morning; very informative and great speakers! Really looking forward to more in the future..." The words of one attendee at a recent public event held by RCSI Society of Neuroscience on Saturday the 8th of October. The Society of Neuroscience has a strong record of hosting interesting, informative and innovative events open to the public and medical students alike.  

"Let's Talk About Autism", which lived up to its precedents, was a half day symposium consisting of an audience of eighty people and four outstanding speakers filling Houston Lecture theatre.

Over the years we have seen tremendous progress in Ireland with respect to our ability to "talk" about various stigmatising disorders, such as: depression, cancer, anxiety, and addiction. These disorders are increasingly affecting our neighbours, friends, families, and even ourselves. Sadly, as other disorders are being more recognised and de-stigmatised autism is a few laps behind on the marathon towards social understanding and acceptance. One of the main reasons attributing to the lack of progress is the lack of understanding associated with the condition.

With hopes to increase knowledge of various future medical practitioners and the public, "Let's Talk About Autism" was born. By talking we can try to understand and accept individuals, which aids in their full integration into society.

Our Key Note speaker received a standing ovation. Mr. Adam Harris gave an eloquent and inspiring account of his own experiences of struggling with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Having been diagnosed at an early age, Mr. Harris was fortunate to receive special education supports throughout his entire life. Combined with the incredible love and patience of his family, he was gradually able to better integrate into society. Understanding that many people with his diagnosis face greater difficulties than he had. Mr. Harris now shares his success story at schools and events nationwide to advocate for more comprehensive ASD support networks in Ireland. The inspirational talk was described by a special needs assistant who attended the symposium; "Everyone working with autism should hear Adam's speech".

Following Adam, Prof Louise Gallagher, addressed the group. Prof. Louise Gallagher is a clinician researcher from Trinity College Dublin who has focused her academic work on studying the genetics and neurobiology of ASD. Her talk stressed how poorly understood ASD remains today and the need for more research into this complex spectrum. Her work has revealed genetic links to the cellular processes of neuronal development, synapse function, and epigenetic regulation of chromatin in numerous brain regions. According to a medical student who attended the event; "Prof. Gallagher explained the basis of genetics and now, finally, I understand the basis of genetics in ASD".

Dr. Jacqueline Fitzgerald opened the second half of the event. Dr. Jacqueline Fitzgerald is a postdoctoral fellow working closely with Prof. Gallagher to examine alterations in brain architecture associated with ASD. She expertly guided us through her vast collection of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data to bring home a few important conclusions including the fact that ASD is associated with reduced white matter connectivity throughout the brain, resulting in abnormal functional patterns when performing attention-based tasks. As one attendee put it "I never knew we knew so much". Dr. Fitzgerald's presentation opened our eyes to the fantastic work of researchers in the area, work that is forever changing and evolving.

Finally, to close off our event, we invited Prof. Michael Fitzgerald to the stage. Prof. Fitzgerald was the first professor in child and adolescent psychiatry and has written and co-written 32 books on psychiatric disorders and specialized his clinical practice on ASD. In his presentation, he discussed his opinions on the diagnosis of ASD and its impact on the individual and their family. He closed the event on a positive note, highlighting the amazing number of prominent scientists, scholars, and artists throughout history who most likely suffered undiagnosed ASD throughout their lives. As a gentleman in the second back row put it, "an incredible human being" and anyone who was there to hear his presentation will agree.

Thank you to all our speakers and to the students who participated in our event.

 

Yours sincerely,
RCSI Neuroscience Society: