Wanted: Visionaries to Accelerate Autism Research and Cutting-Edge Care

Raphael Bernier

Dr. Raphael Bernier – renowned autism expert and head of Seattle Children’s Autism Center – found his calling in the classifieds.

Scanning the Help Wanted ads in The Boston Globe 20 years ago, Bernier – equipped at the time with a master’s degree in psychology and a restless desire to help families dealing with behavioral and mental health challenges – spotted an intriguing opening to be a research assistant to Dr. Susan Folstein. Folstein, a pioneering psychiatrist, proved that autism was caused not by unloving “refrigerator moms” – once the prevailing theory – but by genetics. Bernier got the job and got hooked on autism.

Today he’s a national leader in unraveling genetics’ role in autism. In addition to genetics, he conducts clinical trials, researches behavioral characteristics and studies neural mechanisms, using techniques ranging from electroencephalography and eye tracking to MRI. The goal? Pinpointing autism’s causes and developing personalized treatments. “Autism is not one disorder, it’s a thousand,” he explains.

Bernier speaks from abundant research and vast clinical experience. The Autism Center diagnoses and treats 4,000 children each year – with a staff of just 70.

He spends his days ricocheting between research, patient evaluations, family support, staffing, fundraising and even blogcasting: he and speech pathologist Jim Mancini co-star in The Autism Blogcast, a series of short, upbeat YouTube videos for caregivers and families.

Bernier is passionate about the Autism Center’s twofold approach to autism: “It’s science driving cutting-edge care,” he says. “Nobody – nobody – does that better.” He’s also enamored of philanthropy. “Our door is open to all,” he stresses, “even families who can’t afford to pay. And our family services team, which is totally unique, is completely funded by philanthropy.”

He dreams of a philanthropic flood tide: an infusion of funding that accelerates research, expands community outreach, supports telemedicine consults region-wide and makes family services even stronger.

“Help Wanted”: Bernier responded long ago. He seeks others to answer the call today.

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