As cases of autism spectrum disorder continue to increase around the world,
hundreds of researchers, educators and policy experts join families affected by
autism at ICare4Autism's 2012 International Autism Conference. This unique
gathering, held on August 1-2, 2012 in Jerusalem, aims at sharing current
research into the causes and treatment of the brain disorder characterized by
communication and perception difficulties.
"Because to me it's the center of the world," says Dr. Joshua Weinstein, the
New York-based CEO and founder of ICare4Autism. "And I found out that many people consider
Jerusalem a place they'd love to come to for a conference."
This is the second biennial conference he's facilitated in Jerusalem, but
whereas in 2010 there were about 600 attendees in a hotel conference room, this
time Weinstein moved the venue to the Jerusalem Convention Center because he
anticipated more than 1,000 - at least half from overseas.
There's another good reason to hold the conference in Israel's capital city:
Weinstein's organization is building the world's first global autism research
center on a five-acre site adjoining the Hebrew University campus on Jerusalem's
Mount Scopus. Expected to be completed in about four years, the center will
house researchers as well as a model school for autistic students; the world's
first advanced professional school of autism studies; the ICare4Autism
Foundation; and a workforce development initiative for young adults.
"Our Global Autism Center in Jerusalem will enable us to convene and support
an interdisciplinary global community of researchers, educators and advocates;
drive the research needed to discover the etiology of autism and its biologic
and environmental causes; and create opportunities for powerful collaborations
that will bring better methods of detection and treatment to patients and their
families all over the world," says Weinstein.
The Hebrew University is one of the partners in the conference, along with
the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa
and Bar Ilan University, held under the auspices of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat,
and headlined by Dame Stephanie Shirley, the first UK ambassador for
Philanthropy and chair of the Shirley Foundation.
A global epidemic
"We have entered a new era of autism research and advocacy," says Weinstein.
"On the one hand, we have seen an unprecedented uptick in autism incidents,
while at the same time there have been incredible advancements in research,
early diagnosis and more effective intervention."
Autism is diagnosed about every 18 minutes, amounting to more than 25,000 new
cases each year. That's why it is increasingly considered to be a global
The international and apolitical nature of ICare4Autism allowed Weinstein to
recruit "all the right people" to the August conference. "Look at the array of
superstar researchers, educators and policymakers who are coming from across the
world," he says.
Dr. Eric Hollander, a psychiatrist at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in
New York and chairman of the ICare4Autism Advisory Council, said the conference
"will be a unique opportunity for leading researchers, clinicians, educators and
policymakers from all over the world to share their latest findings and create
powerful new international collaborations."
While all aspects of autism were covered during the two-day gathering, the
main focus was on the latest developments in biomedical research and practice,
education-behavioral research and practice; and policy and awareness, exhibiting
the latest innovative technologies aimed at helping those with autism.
Pre-conference professional workshops run in conjunction with the Hebrew
University featured leading lecturers on topics such as language and functional
"Israel is the right place for high-tech relevant to the autism field," says
Weinstein. "We've had smaller conferences in Beersheva, Haifa - all over the
country. We have some of the brightest researchers here, working on tremendous
studies. There's a big benefit to Israel, and Israel will help benefit the
He wants to foster closer collaborations among the many prominent autism
researchers in Israel. ICare4Autism has an alliance with Hebrew
University-Hadassah Medical Center and also will collaborate with scientists at
Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva and Ziv Medical Center in Safed. "More
announcements will be coming prior to the conference," he promises.
In addition to the ICare4Autism gathering, a conference
on autism and other special needs targeting the ultra-orthodox community was
held in Jerusalem in December 2011.