A Closer Look

Div. 33 (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) has launched a yearlong membership drive to draw more members and graduate students interested in autism to the division, which has a traditionally strong focus on autism practice and research, among other areas.

"Some of the most exciting, creative research happening anywhere is happening in autism," says Div. 33 President Sara Sparrow, PhD, of the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University. "Psychologists who work with autism need a forum at APA and there isn't one--but we should be it."

With diagnosis of autism rising at alarming rates--some sources estimate diagnosed cases are increasing at a rate of 10 to 17 percent per year--more psychologists are working in the area, explains Sparrow. However, many of them don't think to join Div. 33 because they are coming to autism from a developmental or cognitive neuroscience background, she points out. She says she'd like to see all psychologists working in autism--whether it's in genetics, neuroscience, psychopharmacology or clinical research, to name a few areas--add their expertise to Div. 33.

"This is the point where all of us who work in autism can get together and really make things happen," says Sparrow. For example, division members can work to close the science-to-practice gap and initiate cross-university research projects, she says.

To accomplish their goal, division officers, members and graduate student members are reaching out to potential members and showcasing division activities on listservs. One activity Div. 33 will highlight is the division's role in shaping social policy: Qualified members are providing expert opinion in court cases that involve adults and children with autism, mental retardation and other developmental disabilities.

They'll also emphasize the division's focus on understanding the strengths of children with autism and other developmental disabilities and on the development of interventions to enhance children's learning and participation in the community, says Ann Kaiser, PhD, past-president of the division and a professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University.

The division also publicized its focus on autism in August at APA's 2004 Annual Convention in Honolulu, where it sponsored 44 sessions on autism topics ranging from behavioral genetics to cutting-edge assessment technology. Sessions on autism are being planned for next year's meeting as well, and the division leadership plans to propose joint meetings on autism with other groups, such as the American Association on Mental Retardation.

"Autism is a very complex problem, and one that no one discipline is likely to be able to solve alone," says Kaiser. "We need the methodology, clinical and developmental knowledge of many different disciplines. Our division can be a forum within psychology where we can bring knowledge from these different areas to bear on an important problem."

Div. 33 at a glance

Div. 33 (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) was formed in 1973 as a home for psychologists committed to advancing psychology practice and research on mental retardation and developmental disabilities. The division has five special interest groups: behavior modification and technology, dual diagnosis, early intervention, aging and adult development, and transitioning into adulthood. Members receive the newsletter Psychology in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities three times per year and can network and learn about funding opportunities through the division's listserv. To join, contact Dennis Harper,PhD.