Advances in Autism Conference 2017

Our annual Advances in Autism Conference, established in 1996, brings together academic, parent, and community groups to participate in thoughtful and informative presentations. The goals of the conference are to teach participants about recent advances in understanding the causes of autism, brain development in people with autism, and current treatments for autism. This year was the 21st Annual Advances in Autism Conference. 


Meet our Speakers!

Image of Shelli Avenevoli PhD

Shelli Avenevoli, Ph.D., is the Deputy Director for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). NIMH is the lead federal agency for research on mental illnesses, and seeks to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

In 2001, Dr. Avenevoli joined the NIMH intramural research program as a staff scientist in the Section of Developmental Genetic Epidemiology of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program. In 2005, she moved to the NIMH division of extramural research as Chief of the Emotion, Mood, and Depressive Disorders Program. In 2008, Dr. Avenevoli became Chief of the Developmental Trajectories of Mental Disorders Branch. She has been heavily involved in a number of key NIMH efforts, including revising NIMH’s Strategic Plan, re-defining the Institute’s approach to supporting research in neurodevelopment and bipolar disorder, and serving as a liaison to other agencies for special initiatives.

Prior to joining NIMH, Dr. Avenevoli received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Temple University, and completed an NIMH-funded postdoctoral fellowship in psychiatric epidemiology at Yale University School of Medicine.


Catalina Betancur, MD, PhD is Director of Research at the INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research). Currently, she is at an INSERM/CNRS laboratory at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. She received her medical degree from the Universidad CES in Medellin, Colombia, followed by a PhD in neuroscience from the University of Bordeaux, France. Dr. Betancur's work is focused on the elucidation of the genetic basis of ASD and the underlying pathophysiological mechanisms. She has participated in studies implicating novel genes in autism and is involved in international consortia performing large-scale analyses of rare structural and sequence variants in ASD, including the Autism Genome Project, and most recently the Autism Sequencing Consortium. With the identification of rare ASD genes, her laboratory carries out functional studies for such genes in model systems and directs genotype-phenotype correlation studies.

image of Elizabeth Burns PhD

Elizabeth Burns, Ph.D. is the author of TILT, a widely acclaimed novel based on her experiences raising her daughter with profound autism. She served on boards of social service organizations and county committees. She is also an award-winning poet and professor of English. She holds a doctorate in Poetics from SUNY Buffalo, and now lives in Minneapolis.

Image of Joseph D. Buxbaum

Joseph D. Buxbaum, PhD is the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience, and Genetic and Genomic Sciences, Deputy Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai, and the Director of the Seaver Autism Center. His research focuses on using techniques of molecular genetics and neurobiology to identify, and ultimately characterize, genes that contribute to autism susceptibility. His laboratory has identified common and rare genetic variants that underlie ASD and has developed model systems in which novel therapeutics can be tested. In addition, Dr. Buxbaum has taken a lead in several international consortia, most recently the Autism Sequencing Consortium aimed at analyzing 50,000 exomes, dedicated to advancing research in ASD. Dr. Buxbaum is the author of more than 200 publications, and he is co-editor-in-chief of the journal Molecular Autism ( In 2015, he was elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

Image of Carissa Cascio

Carissa Cascio, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She is an Investigator in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research in Human Development and the Vanderbilt Brain Institute.  Her research focuses on using brain imaging and behavioral approaches to understand emotion and sensory responses in individuals with ASD.  Her laboratory’s work has called attention to links between emotion and bodily sensation in autism. Recent studies have shed light on how sensory differences may contribute to social symptoms, and have highlighted the need for a better understanding of how individuals with autism experience and express pain. Her work is funded by the NIH and the Autism Science Foundation.

Image of Alex Kolevzon

Alex Kolevzon, MD is a Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics and serves as the Clinical Director of the Seaver Autism Center and the Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry for the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Kolevzon is a world leader in clinical phenotyping and testing novel therapeutics in rare syndromes associated with ASD. He leads the Experimental Therapeutics Program at the Seaver Autism Center, which conducts studies that range from small pilot trials to multi-centered pivotal FDA studies and are funded internally, through industry, and through the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Kolevzon took the lead on the prospective assessment of Phelan-McDermid Syndrome (now with over 90 participants) and is the lead for the Phelan-McDermid Syndrome network of the Rare Disease Clinical Research Network.