Dr. Susan Bryson
Getting a head start:
Dr. Susan Bryson, a world-renowned autism researcher, is co-heading a study of siblings of children with autism that shows babies can be diagnosed before the age of two. Most children are not diagnosed with this extremely prevalent neuro-developmental disorder until they are three or four years old – so they have already missed critical ‘windows of opportunity’ for connecting with and learning from other people.
“The earlier we can identify autism, the sooner we can intervene to help the baby connect with his or her mother,” says Dr. Bryson, holder of Dalhousie’s Joan and Jack Craig Research Chair in Autism. “This dramatically improves the children’s ability to communicate and form social bonds.”
The sibling study currently involves 350 families at three centres: the IWK Health Centre, Toronto Sick Kids, and Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. The researchers are also finding that families with a child with autism have, on average, a 15-to-20 per cent risk of having a second child with autism or related developmental disorder – a risk much greater than previously thought.
The sibling study is but one of Dr. Bryson’s numerous projects. Dr. Bryson joined Dalhousie from York University in Toronto in 2001 to accept the role of professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Psychology, as well as the Craig Chair in Autism Research. This chair was established through a generous donation of $1 million to Dalhousie University from Joan and Jack Craig, with additional support from DMRF. A founding member of the Canadian Autism Intervention Research Network, Dr. Bryson is also well known for her work to establish the Autism Research Unit at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. Her research emphasizes early identification and intervention, along with studies of emotion, attention and risk for depression and anxiety disorders in autism.