The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) has released its 2011 Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research, which is intended to provide a blueprint for future ASD research efforts. The Plan provides a set of research recommendations to guide federal autism research efforts and serves as a basis for partnerships with other agencies and private organizations involved in ASD research and services.
“Federal and private investment in autism research has increased markedly in the past two years,” said IACC Chairman and NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel. “At the same time, the IACC has heard from the community about the growing need for research and the importance of new areas for rigorous scientific study. This updated research Strategic Plan builds on recent discoveries and emerging opportunities to identify new areas where science can make a difference for individuals and families with ASD.”
Several new areas of focus have been identified in the 2011 Plan, including studies on the use and accessibility of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) tools for nonverbal individuals on the spectrum and studies of health promotion and the prevention of related health concerns such as obesity and mental health issues. In addition, in response to public concerns about the health and safety of children and adults with autism, the committee added new objectives related to understanding safety issues that may contribute to the increased risk of injury and premature death that has been reported in the literature.
In total, the IACC added 16 new objectives to the Plan during the update and added an addendum section to each chapter describing what has been learned over the past year, what gap areas have emerged, and what progress has been made in fulfilling the existing objectives. During the annual update of the Plan, which is required under the Combating Autism Act of 2006, the IACC considered input from ASD community, advocacy groups, research funding organizations, and the scientific community. Also incorporated was information from the IACC Portfolio Analysis of ASD Research Funding in 2009 (the most recent year for which there was complete funding data), the 2010 IACC Summary of Advances in ASD Research, the Request for Information (RFI) on the 2010 Plan, and the proceedings of the IACC Services Workshop held in November 2010.
In developing the 2011 Plan, the committee highlighted many successful collaborations that have been recently formed among member agencies and organizations. These collaborations included a joint conference held by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and Autism Speaks on autism and the environment; an information portal called AutismNOW supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), in partnership with the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) and the Autism Society; and the Autism Informatics Consortium, which is designed to improve the utility and usability of informatics tools for ASD researchers and represents a collaboration between NIH, Autism Speaks, and the Simons Foundation. These public-private partnerships embody the spirit of collaboration described in the Plan’s Mission Statement and are critical to making progress toward understanding ASD and improving the lives of people on the spectrum, as well as those of their families.