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Expert Available: Autism Awareness Month— Research and Early Diagnosis Provide Hope for Children with Autism

March 23rd, 2016

Story Contact: Sheena Rice, 573-882-8353,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – April is Autism Awareness Month, an opportunity to promote autism awareness and acceptance for the tens of thousands who are facing an autism diagnosis. With one in 68 children living with autism in the U.S., the need for awareness and research is significant. Stephen Kanne, associate professor and executive director of the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri says early detection and ongoing research are key in helping those living with autism.

“The most important thing to remember during Autism Awareness Month is that autism is a serious disorder; however, it is not one without hope,” said Kanne. “Early diagnosis, along with effective treatments and groundbreaking research, mean children with autism can and will get better.”

Kanne’s recommendation for parents is to seek help, either by talking to their child’s pediatrician or someone in the child’s school. Health providers and schools often have access to autism-specific resources and can help parents address their child’s needs. Parents who notice “red flags” in their children’s behavior should consult their doctor as soon as possible. Examples of “red flags” include:

  • No big smiles or warm or joyful expressions by six months or thereafter;
  • No babbling by 12 months;
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age;
  • Not turning to their name when called.

“Parents, especially mothers, who are concerned something is wrong with their child should trust their instincts,” Kanne said. “Past research has found that 80 percent of the time, a mother’s instinct about her child’s health was correct. So, if parents are concerned, they should not hesitate to ask for a referral to an autism specialist.”

An important aspect of Autism Awareness Month is drawing attention to the ongoing need for research. The Thompson Center for Autism currently is conducting research in a broad range of areas, from studying genetics to determine the cause of autism and learning how biomarkers can improve early diagnosis. Geneticists are working to pinpoint the cause of autism. Researchers are working with engineers to use biomarkers for detection and diagnosis, such as facial recognition to help diagnosis autism in children in the first several months, well before there may be behavioral clues. The Thompson Center for Autism also is trying new, innovative ways for effectively treating autism, ranging from behavioral therapies to pet companionship.

The MU Thompson Center is a national leader in confronting the challenges of autism and other developmental conditions through its collaborative research, training and service programs. Based on the medical home model, Thompson Center’s diagnostic, assessment and treatment services emphasize family-centered care that is comprehensive, coordinated, compassionate, culturally sensitive and accessible. The center aims to support families from the point of initial contact through access to needed services in the community with routine follow-up care over time to ensure the best possible outcome for each child and family.

To support Autism Awareness Month, many communities participate in Light It Up Blue, a national awareness campaign on April 2 each year where homes, businesses and prominent landmarks like the Empire State Building are illuminated with blue light in support of individuals with autism and their families.

Visit for more information about Light It Up Blue in Columbia.