Letter From the Director

Dr. Rebecca Landa headshot.

Dear Friends:

We have had an exciting first half of 2024! In addition to the many happenings here at the Center for Autism Services, Science and Innovation (CASSITM) within Maryland, we have been traveling extensively to work with and visit our autism, early childhood education and developmental science colleagues around the globe. As you scroll through our summer newsletter, we hope you will feel inspired by our achievements and excited for all of the good things to come.

Your support has an extraordinary impact on our ability to achieve more. We listen carefully to what autistic individuals tell us about what they need and desire, and the autism community looks to us to pave new paths to discovery and design innovations in care. Some of the priorities defined by the autism community include better tools to detect autism and social communication challenges in the first years of life, better and earlier treatments for anxiety, effective interventions that can be accessed remotely, and pathways for transitioning into adult heath care, to name a few. We are tackling every one of these priorities in our research and translating findings into clinical care. We have made significant strides, and I am excited for a brighter future for autistic individuals and their loved ones.

Have a wonderful summer, and I hope each and every one of you uses this time to recharge.

Rebecca Landa, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL
Founder and Executive Director, CASSI

3rd Annual Golf Outing

Get ready for an exclusive golf outing that combines a fun day of camaraderie and purpose on Monday, Aug. 5, at the Country Club of Maryland in Towson. Your participation benefits the important programs, services and research at CASSI. Each registration includes:

  • Lunch
  • Green fees
  • Drinks
  • Post-golf banquet
  • Cart rental
  • And more!

New this year: Not a golfer? We have some exciting events for the nongolfers who would like to participate:

A man and woman high five on the green of a golf course. They are standing behind the hole, which is marked by a red flag with a shield that shows the pattern of Maryland's flag.
  • Golfing 101, led by a professional instructor. Learn proper technique for the driving range and the putting green.
  • Wine Tasting 101, featuring fine wines from California.

We also have a few exciting sponsorship opportunities available for businesses or individuals who would like to support this worthwhile cause. 

Visit KennedyKrieger.org/Golf2024 to learn more, to register or to view available sponsorships. 

See you on the links!

Research Spotlight

Seeking Validation and Creating Meaningful Interactions

A recent paper in the journal Infants & Young Children focused on the importance of family access to early and appropriate intervention for those in the first years of life with a possible developmental disability. It was written by Dr. Landa and Christine Hess, PhD, of CASSI, along with Danika Pfeiffer, PhD, CCC-SLP, of Old Dominion University, who was Dr. Landa’s postdoctoral fellow.

Why is this study important?

Eighteen percent of children in the United States have a developmental disability. In most cases, children receive inadequate amounts of intervention during the first years of life, which is a formative period of brain development. Dr. Landa and her team designed an intervention that could be implemented by parents of infants showing social and communication delays. The goal was to accelerate development of these infants in a way that could lay the foundation for more developmental advances. The intervention was designed to strengthen the relationships and interactions between parents and their infants in order to support children’s communication and social skills.

Parents who received the intervention discussed their experience and the impact that the intervention had. The study revealed the following:

  • The parent coaching program focus was deemed meaningful and empowering by parents.
  • Better education of primary health care providers, child care providers and early intervention professionals is needed to enable them to recognize the signs, both subtle and overt, of social and communication delays in infants.
  • Professionals should not use a wait-and-see approach when parents are concerned about their baby’s development.
  • Training for early intervention providers is needed to advance their knowledge in accelerating infant development and parent-child relationships.

The findings of this study should have significant implications for medical and educational professionals and lead to improved training and increased vigilance in caring for very young children with developmental disabilities.

For information about early social and communication milestones, click here.

Click here to read an abstract of the study.

Making a Global Impact

CASSI staff traveled to present research and expand their knowledge on autism. They traveled to various parts of the United States and Australia. Staff members reached over 50,000 globally in April and May 2024. 1,200 registrants for CASSI live webinars. 5 webinars, 8 conferences, 13 presentations and 20 different topics.

It has long been the mission of the team at CASSI to transform the lives of autistic individuals and those who care for them. Our aim is to share best practices in clinical care and cutting-edge research with the community and partner organizations around the world. We have given a multitude of presentations and strengthened collaborations around the world, from Melbourne, Australia, to California to Boston and numerous places in between. Key topics that we highlighted in our presentations over the past few months include:

  • Increased access to early intervention
  • Early detection pathways from pediatricians to diagnosis to interventions
  • Sex differences
  • Sensory and motor challenges
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Inclusive schools and child care
  • Effective interventions for implementation by speech language pathologists
  • Mental health and autism
  • Behavior regulation

Virtual Research Recruitment

Kennedy Krieger Institute is recruiting families of 12- to 36-month-olds to test a new online social communication screening tool. Participation is free and 100% virtual.

Eligible families will receive a free virtual developmental assessment of their child’s social, communication, interaction and play skills, including personalized feedback from a developmental specialist.

Click here to sign up.

Outreach and Training

In recognition of Autism Acceptance Month in April, CASSI was pleased to present our fourth annual virtual World Autism Month Miniseries. The weekly miniseries, which attracted more than 600 registrants, provided expert insights to parents, autistic individuals, medical providers, teachers and school administrators, and community advocates on the following topics:

  • “The State of Education for Autistic Students: A Community Conversation”
  • “Experiences with Adult-Life Planning for Autistic Individuals”
  • “Making Sense of Sensory Processing”
  • “Supporting Behavioral and Emotional Regulation in the Context of Neurodiversity Affirming Care”

Autism and Mental Health

Kennedy Krieger Institute’s exclusive learning series, “Exploring the Brain,” focuses on pediatric neurodevelopmental disorders and diseases, and how Kennedy Krieger’s expert researchers and clinicians are studying these conditions and developing new interventions and treatments. The series is hosted by President and CEO Dr. Bradley L. Schlaggar.

The spring episode featured a panel of mental health and autism experts discussing how most children who are diagnosed with autism have one or more mental health conditions. Early diagnosis of mental health conditions is crucial in children with autism, as the longer a child experiences a mental health condition, the more complex it is to treat. The panel also talked about warning signs, exciting new research and evolving conditions.

The panelists were:

  • Roma Vasa, MD, director of psychiatric services and professor at CASSI, and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Luke Kalb, PhD, associate professor at CASSI and the Center for Neuropsychological and Psychological Assessment at Kennedy Krieger
  • Amy Keefer, PhD, ABPP, clinical psychologist and psychology supervisor at CASSI, and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • Daniel Hoover, PhD, clinical child and adolescent psychologist at Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Child and Family Traumatic Stress, and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

To listen to the segment, click here.

In addition to the “Exploring the Brain” segment, mental health and autism stayed top of mind at Kennedy Krieger. During Autism Acceptance Month in April, we discussed the subject on our monthly public radio podcast, “Your Child’s Brain.” Dr. Schlaggar and his guests, Drs. Keefer and Vasa from CASSI, discussed the anxiety disorders common in individuals with autism and why this population may be particularly vulnerable to the co-occurring symptoms of anxiety. They also talked about treatment options and research being done in this field.

To listen to this podcast episode or any of the other segments, click here.