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Education and Research in Autism and Human Developmental Disorders

Solving the mysteries of autism spectrum disorders and developing effective therapies is critically dependent upon the recruitment of new research scientists into the field. The decision of young scientists and physicians to focus their research on problems related to autism can be influenced by educating students and young scientists about the importance of the field and the exciting, interdisciplinary science taking place. Dr. Birren developed a new model for autism education that included the expansion of an innovative undergraduate course on autism and related disorders, integration of undergraduates into autism-related laboratory research, and training advanced graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in autism education and research. Guest lecturers exposed students to their research and clinical work in the autism field. Students undertook independent research projects and participated in class colloquium including poster sessions and oral presentations. A web-based manual was prepared, including a sample syllabus, reading lists and other published and online resources, as well as suggestions for student involvement developed from the experience of conducting this course. The goal of this project was to increase awareness of our current understanding of autism spectrum disorders and their impact on society, and to establish an ongoing mechanism for translating that awareness into a commitment to pursue autism research. This program provided a blueprint for other institutions interested in expanding programs in autism education and significantly impacted young scientists as they made decisions about their future research careers.