As part of our ongoing series to feature Canadian ASD researchers, Dr. Jonathan Weiss, Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research, sat down with Dr. Stelios Georgiades to learn more about his research on children with autism.
About Dr. Stelio Georgiades
Dr. Stelios Georgiades, is an Assistant Professor and Researcher at McMaster University in the Offord Centre for Child Studies. For the past 10 years, he has been working very closely with Dr. Peter Szatmari and other collaborators across the country doing autism research.
Pathways in Autism Spectrum Disorders Study
The Pathways in Autism Spectrum Disorders Study has researched the different pathways that children with ASD may develop along, and the potential outcomes these routes have. This study had a collaboration of researchers from all across Canada, making it the largest study of its kind worldwide. Dr. Georgiades recently published an article on some of the findings of this study, focusing on how children with ASD uniquely differ from one another. He sat down to speak with us about this research.
Question: What kind of research do you do?
Response: My research is focused on gaining a better understanding of the differences and similarities in children with autism. We know that autism can be described using a spectrum, autism spectrum disorder, but at the same time we also know that every child with autism is different. So I’m really interested in understanding not only the common symptoms and behaviours across children with autism, but what are the unique aspects of each child? What are the strengths and difficulties that each individual child is facing?
Question: What have you been learning through your research?
Response: I think the biggest lesson for us was that this heterogeneity, the differences across children with autism, is in fact greater than previously thought. More importantly, this heterogeneity cuts across different symptom and behaviour domains. And it’s not static; it changes over time. So it is very important for us to look at this closely in a systematic way, and try and better understand the similarities and differences as these children develop.
Question: Is there a recent study that you can highlight?
Response: Yes, we recently published a series of studies that examined this heterogeneity in preschool children with autism. And in these studies, we find that there are different subgroups of children with autism that show differences in symptoms (both in terms of levels and types of symptoms) but also across other behaviours, adaptive functioning, and also language skills. So in these studies, we identified a number of subgroups that we think are meaningful and potentially informative ways of classifying children with autism for future research studies and clinical purposes.
Question: How does your research inform how we treat and care for people with ASD?
Response: I think that is the key question that every researcher, every scientist should have in mind In the specific studies, we believe that by developing a better understanding of how children are similar but also different, we can develop specific tailored interventions that actually address the needs and build on the strengths of each child. And the hope, of course, is for those interventions to lead to better outcomes.
Question: What are some of your next steps in research?
Response: The next step is to actually test these models that we developed (these classification models based on the similarities and differences of children) to see if children from the different subgroups actually respond differently to treatment. That would be a very useful investigation. The other step is to see how these children grow and develop. Do they follow different developmental pathways? Do they end up with different outcomes? And finally, to see if children from different subgroups have different etiologies of ASD.
Question: Do you have any final message to parents?
Response: I think my message to parents, based on my experience in the past 10 years, is to actually communicate with your clinicians, communicate with the researchers, because we now know that the best research questions, the best topics for investigation, actually come from the people who understand children best. And those are the parents themselves.