About the Work Group on Autism Research and Training

Recent surveys in the United States suggest that as many as 1 in 68 children will be diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), compared to previous estimates of 4 to 5 per 10,000. This makes autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

ASD spreads across all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and disproportionately affects boys. ASD includes autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, including atypical autism), and Asperger syndrome. While it is unclear whether the growing number of children diagnosed with ASD is due to an actual increase in the frequency of the disorder or the result of broadened criteria, a diagnosis of ASD typically means a lifelong need for services and supports to function within the family and community. Despite some progress in understanding ASD, too much is unknown.

The Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART) includes two major branches: discovering insights into the primary neurobehavioral basis for ASD and interventions to prevent and treat the impact of ASD on individuals and families and our society at large.

Researching the Neurobehavioral Basis of ASD

Impact: Behavioral and cognitive neuroscience research holds the greatest potential for uncovering the causes of ASD, ultimately leading to preventing the disorder.

Identifying the primary neural or cognitive basis for ASD remains elusive. The greatest promise for major scientific breakthroughs likely rests with the behavioral and cognitive neuroscience of ASD. A renowned and dedicated group of University of Kansas researchers has come together through K-CART to advance science in this crucial area.

Research to Improve the Management of ASD

Impact: New work by K-CART will include larger clinical trials and interdisciplinary collaborations to greatly expand knowledge and develop proven strategies to manage ADS.

A second priority area of research concerns the careful and rigorous evaluation of interventions to improve the outcomes of individuals with ASD and families. Partners for the autism initiative have conducted important research to address the core features of autism such as social-communication and behavioral interventions, language disorders in children and the genetics of language acquisition and augmentative communication systems.

2017-22: Major five-year study of motor abnormalities and functional brain mechanisms in the autism spectrum disorder

While much research has been devoted to the social and communication issues that define autism spectrum disorders (ASD), much less is known about motor deficits that affect the majority of, if not all, individuals with ASD. These include not only repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping and rocking, but also problems with both fine and gross motor skills such as walking, feeding, and lifting and holding objects.

Beginning in 2017, K-CART Director Matthew Mosconi began a five-year $2.3 million grant project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to begin research that will define motor deficits in ASD from childhood through adulthood. The goal of this work is to better understand the motor problems experienced by individuals with ASD and to determine their bases in the brain. These studies have the long-term potential to teach us about the causes of both motor and related behavioral issues in ASD and to develop more objective, biologically based targets for treatment development and validation.

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