Interview with Dr. Joshua Gordon, NIMH Director, IACC Chair
Hi, my name is Joshua Gordon, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health. Welcome to National Autism Awareness month, a time when we take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of those on the Autism Spectrum, as well as the needs of those with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families.
Connection to Autism
I began to recognize the importance of working with individuals on the spectrum and their families and really doing research to understand autism when I was a graduate student. I had started out in medical school and then went to graduate school to study neuroscience, but I wanted to maintain a connection with patients and I had a colleague and friend and mentor, John Rubenstein, who was a child psychiatrist, and he took me under his wing and I went weekly with him to an autism clinic at the University of California where I was studying, and really worked with families whose children were being brought into the clinic to see if they might have autism and to find out what services might be available for them, and that was really a powerful introduction.
Learning from the Autism Community
I’ve learned about the tremendous talent in the autism community and that talent includes self-advocates who in an articulate way tell us what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum, what they need help with, and frankly, what they bring to the table in terms of commitment and ability.
Research at NIH
So we have research programs that are aimed at identifying, at finding out ways to identify individuals with autism early in life. We have research that’s focused specifically on trying to figure out what services individuals with autism need as they make the transition from youth into adulthood, and a number of other research programs as well.
Neuroscience and Autism
We have a number of initiatives both at the NIMH and in other areas of the NIH to understand how the brain works, how it produces the behaviors that we all think of as impaired or different in individuals with autism, particularly around social function, around repetitive behaviors, around sensory experiences, and we know that some of these symptoms can be really troubling for those who have autism. Understanding how the brain produces those behaviors and understanding how the brain is different in autism that results in the symptoms that those who have autism experience, is going to help us know where in the brain to look for new treatments, what kinds of treatments are going to be available that will help individuals with autism improve their lives.
Reflections on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee
I have really personally enjoyed the IACC tremendously because it’s facilitated my interactions with the community of individuals with autism and their families. That’s been uniquely rewarding to learn firsthand from them.
Again, I want top emphasis to everyone that this is Autism Awareness Month. It’s a chance to recognize those on the autism spectrum, what they bring to the table, and to reinvigorate our efforts to develop a better understanding of autism and to improve the care and services available to those with autism and their families.