Autism focus of prize winning research

November 28, 2007

The differing rate of development of children with Autism is the focus of the research of one of the 2007 Michael Young Prize winners, awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Young Foundation.

Previously most research in this area has focussed on the causes of autism rather than understanding it as a developmental disorder. By following a group of autistic children over a period of three years Dr Elizabeth Pellicano, from Bristol University, found that there was no uniform pattern of development.

Dr Pellicano commented "I am delighted to receive this prize. Not only does it recognise my work with children with autism, but it also recognises the significance of charting the development of autism - the changes that take place across time, and the types of factors that play a role in shaping such changes.

"My research findings bring hope to parents, teachers, and professionals working with young people with autism. They show that children with autism can make positive gains over a relatively short time period. In particular, children's improvements in social interactions were especially impressive. They were chattier than previously, some were beginning to form friendships, and most showed fewer unusual behaviours and interests. We need to identify why these improvements took places, and how we can foster them further.

"Teasing apart the types of factors that shape changes across time - and particularly those that promote children's well-being - demands a research programme that follows children and families across time. This longitudinal research is of critical importance to the understanding of autism as a developmental condition."

Conceived in honour of the founder of the ESRC, the late Lord Michael Young, the prize aims to reward and encourage early career researchers whose work offers genuine new insights and is likely to have an impact beyond academia. Elizabeth wins £3,000 to help her communicate her research to users outside of academia.

Dr Pellicano said: "Winning the prize will enable me to hold a series of events inviting people with autism, parents and carers of children with autism, and policymakers to consider the changes and continuities that take place as children make the transition to adolescence and adulthood."

Benet Middleton, National Autistic Society Director of Communications, said: "There is an urgent need for more research into autism to help us better understand and respond to this very complex, lifelong and disabling condition. We are really pleased that Dr Pellicano's work has been recognised and awarded accordingly. We look forward to seeing further work and events from Dr Pellicano and wish her every success with future research".
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

ESRC Press Office:
Alexandra Saxon (Tel: 01793 413032 / 07971027335, email: alexandra.saxon@esrc.ac.uk)
Danielle Moore (Tel: 01793 413122, email: danielle.moore@esrc.ac.uk)

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. A podcast interview with Elizabeth Pellicano talking about her research is available at: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/podcasts/

2. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research relevant to business, the public sector and voluntary organisations. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2007/08 is £181 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

3. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at http://www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk

Economic & Social Research Council

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