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University of Iowa autism research center launches amid growing diagnosis concerns

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:20 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Ted Abel’s son, Seamus, loves to play the piano, speaks German, and is currently learning chemistry. That’s despite the challenges that come from an autism diagnosis.

“Our son, Shamus, who is now a man; he just finished his freshman year at the University of Iowa, is on the autism spectrum,” Abel said. “Since he was in the neonatal intensive care when he was four days old, we followed his development closely.”

After his diagnosis, Shamus became part of Abel’s own research. Abel leads the Iowa Neuroscience Institute at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, as well as the new UI Hawkeye Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center.

“This idea really grew out of a community and out of an incredible need for our kids in Iowa, kids, and families that are facing the challenges of neurodevelopmental disorders,” Abel said.

The new center is focused on helping families, and also researchers identify what’s behind the rising diagnoses.

“The benefit really is in terms of enabling us to do outreach events to connect with families, and connect families to each other, and connect families to researchers,” Abel said.

That includes researchers like Lane Strathearn.

“We’re seeing more of these children who are being diagnosed with Autism reaching adolescent and adulthood, and those needs don’t just disappear,” Strathearn said.

Part of his research is on why cases are rising. One reason is better awareness and diagnosing. However, an app called “Babysteps” is helping look for other factors.

“The app allows them to easily provide information on day-to-day living. We’re asking them to take video of their babies at home, so we can get a sense of social experience and development in the home setting. Then, the really exciting piece of the research is looking at genetic markers that change over time,” Strathearn said.

The hope is to provide comfort to families, and one day unravel the mystery of what causes autism.

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