The Waisman Center and its Autism-Related Efforts

This path month I had the opportunity to visit the Waisman Center in Madison, Wisconsin in order to provide the John D. Wiley Seminar Series. I was hosted by my good friends Janet Lainhart and Andrew Alexander. It used to be that in giving a lecture I would visit a university and then leave. This time I had to arrive one day early and meet with about 15 different people including both senior researchers and training fellows. In addition, I had a video conference call with 5-7 different researchers through Google cloud.The researchers were all part of a team investigating the natural history of autism.

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Figure: My good friend of many years and world renowned autism researcher Janet Lainhart. Janet is currently pursuing a multi-institutional longitudinal study following brain development in autism.
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Figure: My good friend Andrew Alexander with whom I share the passion for a good steak dinner.

I enjoyed my stay in Madison and hope to return many times in years to come. Not surprisingly, at least to me, the city recently received the distinction for being one of the best places to live in the United States. In terms of research the University of Wisconsin-Madison ranks as one of the most prolific in the world. Its educational enterprise, with an annual budget of nearly $2.5 billion, is one of the largest in the country. In 2010 the University surpassed the $1 billion mark in research spending which according to the National Science Foundation (NSF) makes it the third largest institution in the country.

At the University of Wisconin, the Waisman Center is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge regarding developmental disabilities. The Center was named in honor of Dr. Harry Waisman whose pioneering work and advocacy in regard to screening patients for phenylketonuria saved thousands of individuals from developmental disability. From 2002 and until recently the Center was directed by Marsha Mailick a homegrown product of the University of Wisconsin whose PhD was in Social Welfare. Under her leadership the Waisman Center became the undisputed leader tracking the impact of disability on the family during the life course of the ASD individual. Her research fills the scarcity of data regarding experiences of individuals with an ASD as they transition adolescence into adulthood. More recently (2014) the job of the Director has fallen on the shoulders of Dr. Albee Messing, one of a curious breed of veterinary neuropathologists. Dr. Messing is also the Director of the Rodent Core Animal Facility.

I recently had the opportunity to write a blog in regards to Dr. Marsha Mailick’s work and direct those interested to read the same (http://bit.ly/YBU8jx). Her lecture at IMFAR was probably the best I have ever heard. The Waisman Center also boasts an Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic in partnership with the local family children’s hospital. This is an interdisciplinary clinic with a larger number of health related practitioners including 30 or so Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Developmental Pediatricians, Neurodevelopmental Behavioral Pediatricians, Speech Language Pathologists, Nutritionists, Occupational Therapists, Nurses, Social Workers, and Family Navigators.

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Figure: Marsha Mailick PhD

Least to say I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of services and the dedication of those who provided the same at the Waisman Center. Their Autism Center has taken an advocacy role in trying to establish community resources that support individuals with ASD to maintain as independent a life as possible and to promote major policy issues to ensure the provision of adequate services to adolescents and adults with ASD. Overall this is a hidden gem that should enjoy more recognition within autism circles. I am also envious that we lack similar services at our institution. We should certainly model efforts like those of the Waisman Center.

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