202010 Autism Centers of Excellence

Program seeks Council approval for an initiative titled “Autism Centers of Excellence.” Five NIH institutes currently fund 10 Autism Centers of Excellence that conduct groundbreaking research, disseminate research findings, and mentor the next generation of researchers and clinicians in autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  ASD remains an urgent public health challenge.  Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicate that from 2002 to 2016 the prevalence of ASD in eight-year-olds rose from 1 in 150 to 1 in 54. For the first time, the CDC released a prevalence estimate for ASD in adults aged 18 years and older in the United States at 2.21%.

The impairments associated with ASD typically persist throughout life and have huge societal costs.  Significant advances have been made in many areas such as : (1) providing new insight into disparities in ASD screening and diagnosis; (2) understanding complex contributors of genetic and environmental risk and protective factors; (3) supporting the use of technology-based social learning devices; and (4) developing early interventions that lead to improved outcomes for many children. The research advances have brought to light many challenges that still need to be addressed. The average age of diagnosis remains at about four years of age despite the fact that subtle signs of ASD features can be detected in the first year of life.  The overall disparity between the number of black children diagnosed with ASD compared to white children has been reduced. However, racial and ethnic disparities remain both for the age of receiving evaluation and for recognition of the children who have intellectual disability as well as ASD,  Much progress has been made in early screening and behavior intervention, but community-based practice lags university-based studies in replicating the outcomes. The repository of genetic data on individuals and families affected by ASD has expanded, as has the diversity of participants in genomic research. Overall, ASD genetic risk remains complex and multifactorial. Efforts to identify environmental contributors to ASD have begun to make progress. However, studying the interactions between genes and environmental factors has been challenging.

Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, studies that better understand genetic and environmental risk and resilience factors for ASD, close the racial and ethnic gaps in the identification of and interventions for ASD, and understand co-occurring physical and mental health conditions in ASD.

This proposed concept directly addresses multiple themes of NICHD Strategic Plan: Setting the Foundation for Healthy Pregnancies and Lifelong Wellness, Improving Child and Adolescent Health and the Transitions to Adulthood, and Advancing Safe and Effective Therapeutics and Devices.

This proposed concept also aligns with the IDD branch research priority of a) Studying on the Etiologies of ASD, b) Understanding the Complexity of Comorbid Symptoms, and c) Promoting Translational and Implementation Research to Develop Safe and Effective Therapeutics and Devices.

Program Contact

Alice Kau
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Branch (IDDB)

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