Kurt Widmer, a freelance filmmaker from Munich, Switzerland, spent two days at the UC Davis MIND Institute this week interviewing researchers and families about autism spectrum disorder.
Widmer is developing a 30-minute documentary on autism for NZZ, a leading national newspaper that also produces Format, a public television program.
Widmer learned about the MIND Institute from autism experts in Switzerland, where he embarked on a story about progress in interventions for children and adults with autism.
“I’m really impressed with what is going on here,” Widmer said at the conclusion of his visit. “I’m surprised with the buildings, the atmosphere – I didn’t expect it to be as open. Everything seems to be about the kids.”
During his visit the filmmaker conducted an extensive interview with MIND Institute Professor Sally Rogers of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences about the Early Start Denver Model, the early-intervention approach she helped develop for very young children with autism symptoms that has since been replicated around the world. He then spent several hours observing Dr. Rogers and other researchers working with children using the model.
Widmer also interviewed postdoctoral researcher Derek Andrews, who works with Christine Wu Nordahl using MRI images to better understand brain development in children, and took video as laboratory assistant Melissa Regester processed a new blood sample from a child involved in the Brain Research in Autism Investigating Neurophenotypes (BRAIN) Study, a part of the MIND Institute Autism Center of Excellence grant, led by David Amaral.
Widmer said he was also struck by the robust grant portfolio at the MIND, which drives the research enterprise and has led to many advances in the field of neurodevelopmental disorders.
“To be able to do all this research so that so many people can benefit from your work is great,” he said.
Leonard Abbuduto, MIND Institute executive director, provided an overview of the MIND, its founding by families and its interdisciplinary and comprehensive approach to understanding and treating symptoms of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
The documentary will air in Switzerland on Dec. 13.