NICHD Autism Research Goals

NICHD supports and conducts research on a wide range of topics related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including genetics, neurodevelopment, screening, and interventions. The overarching aims of this research are to find causes, examine developmental trajectories of the disorder, and develop new or improved interventions or preventions.

Specific objectives include:

  • Improving strategies for early screening and diagnosis. Early screening and accurate diagnosis are prerequisites for early intervention, which is the best way to maximize the child's cognitive, social, and language functioning. Tools for screening and diagnosis may include behavioral instruments, biomarkers, imaging methodologies, and others.
  • Identifying and characterizing autism susceptibility genes. It is still unclear how the large number of genetic variants associated with ASD increase risk for this condition.
  • Understanding the neuropathology of autism and autism-related behaviors.
  • Understanding the role of endocrine, metabolic, and immunologic pathways in ASD.
  • Detailing the environmental variables that interact with genetic susceptibility factors to produce the ASD phenotype.
  • Understanding cognitive, linguistic, and emotional development in autism.
  • Testing potential interventions for ASD. These may include drug treatments, dietary interventions, behavioral interventions, and interventions to improve adaptability to various academic, social, and employment environments.
  • Developing preventive strategies for ASD.
  • Contributing to the overall health and well-being of people with autism throughout the lifespan.
  • Developing and supporting research infrastructure to aid in ASD research. This includes autism research networks, training for researchers interested in studying autism, and banks for brain and other tissue.
  • Understanding the prevention, etiology, and treatment of conditions and diseases that are commonly comorbid with ASD, such as Fragile X syndrome, anxiety, and epilepsy.

In addition to these goals, NICHD also pursues goals set out by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee (NIHACC). Visit to review progress reports, as well as the 2013 Update to the IACC Strategic Plan.

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