Research on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs)

ASD is complex neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by intellectual problems, language problems, and another medical or genetic condition that is related to or contributes to autism, such as seizures or Fragile X syndrome. The most recent ASD prevalence estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are available at

During the last decade-and-a-half, the NICHD has supported a considerable number of research projects related to ASDs.  The NICHD’s past autism research efforts included the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) Network on the Neurobiology and Genetics of Autism, which was co-funded by the NIDCD, and the Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) Network, with co-funding from the NIMH, NINDS, NIDCD, and the NIEHS. 

To maximize coordination and cohesion of NIH-sponsored efforts in autism research, the NIH consolidated the CPEA and STAART Networks into the trans-NIH Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program in 2007 to avoid duplication, allow pooling and most efficient use of resources, and involve a larger number of investigators in autism research.  The NICHD is one of the five NIH Institutes sponsoring the ACE Program, which also includes NIMH, NINDS, NIDCD, and NIEHS. 

The ACE Program includes ACE research centers, which foster collaboration between teams of specialists who share the same facility to address a particular research problem in depth, and ACE research networks, which consist of researchers at many facilities in locations throughout the country, all of whom work together on a single research question. In the initial round of funding, the NIH funded six ACE research centers (via the P50 mechanism) and five ACE research networks (through the R01 mechanism) in its first competition. 

The ACE program was recompeted in 2012-2013, with three ACE research centers and eight research networks funded to support studies on a range of autism topics, including: early identification and intervention in infants at risk for ASDs ;  early brain abnormalities and functioning ; studies of the genetic disorder, tuberous sclerosis, which has a high prevalence of autism; environmental risk factors and biomarkers across generations and cultures; intensive early behavioral intervention strategies; adaptive interventions for minimally verbal children with autism; risk factors for autism in females and in minority populations; long-term effects of early intervention ; and trials of new medication treatments such as the pro-social drug, oxytocin. 

For more information on the ACE program, visit   

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