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Luyster in Bermuda autism workshop

Assistant Professor Rhiannon Luyster led a two-day workshop in Bermuda last month to educate doctors and local residents on how to recognize early signs of autism spectrum disorder in children.

It’s a pressing issue on the small island where a family in need of medical treatment—or even a diagnosis from a doctor—often requires flying to another country.

“The idea is to build up expertise on the island so people are trained and well informed,” said Luyster, of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “Not all families have the time or resources to fly to another country to get diagnosed.”

Luyster, who co-authored a section of Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (Western Psychological Services, 2012) that focuses on improved methods for diagnosing babies and toddlers, said early treatment is paramount.

“The earlier you can get a child into intervention, the more gains they’ll make in language development, cognitive development, and social development,” Luyster said.

Luyster co-authored the widely regarded textbook during its first update in a decade. She said methods to detect whether a child is on the autism spectrum are continually improving.

“The two areas clinicians and parents can look at are language development and social development,” Luyster said. “In language development, you often see a language delay, like children not talking when they should be.

“For babies, they start babbling in the first year of life, and they babble socially with caregivers. Are they doing that? For early social development…infants are very social creatures. Are they smiling at people in a direct way in their first three to six months of life? Are they interested in playing Peekaboo?”

The Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute, part of the Bermuda Hospitals Board, invited Luyster to speak as an expert in early childhood autism.

Her visit was reported by the Royal Gazette newspaper. Coincidentally, the article was written by Emerson alumna Jessie Moniz ’97, MFA ’04.

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