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Science News About Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Portrait of Dr. Susan Daniels
NIMH’s Dr. Susan Daniels Designated National Autism Coordinator

Susan A. Daniels, Ph.D. has been appointed as the HHS National Autism Coordinator and Director of the Office of National Autism Coordination (ONAC).

A smiling parent sits in an exam room holding her happy child and talking with a health care provider
Infants’ Health Record Data May Improve Early Autism Screening

Research supported by NIMH suggests that children’s health records may yield some promising insights that could improve the accuracy of early autism screening.

Toddlers playing with blocks
Attention to Geometric Images May Offer Biomarker for Some Toddlers with Autism

An NIMH-supported study shows that preference for geometric images may be robust enough to serve as a biomarker for identifying some young children with autism.

Winners of 2022 Speaking Up About Mental Health
NIH Announces Winners of High School Mental Health Essay Contest

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is pleased to announce the winners of 2022 Speaking Up About Mental Health! This Is My Story essay contest.

A row of abstract circles in various colors
NIH Awards $100 Million for Autism Centers of Excellence Program

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a total of $100 million over the next five years to support nine Autism Centers of Excellence. This endeavor funds large research projects to understand and develop interventions for autism spectrum disorder.

Father sitting and talking to his toddler
Toddlers’ Responses to “Baby Talk” Linked to Social, Cognitive, Language Abilities

In an NIMH-supported study, researchers found that toddlers respond to emotionally expressive speech in different ways, and these varied responses are linked with their social, linguistic, and cognitive abilities.

A mother and toddler with a health care provider
Multistage Autism Screening in Early Intervention Settings May Reduce Disparities

An NIMH-supported study shows that incorporating a multistage screening process for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) into federally funded early intervention services may reduce disparities in early ASD diagnosis.

3D rendering of a molecule
Autism and Congenital Heart Disease Share Underlying Molecular Network

A recent study of gene networks may hold some promising clues about shared mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorder and congenital heart disease, two physiologically distinct disorders that often co-occur.

A close-up view of an adult man’s face and eye
Machine Learning Study Sheds Light on Gaze Patterns in Adults With Autism

NIMH researchers examine what people with ASD and people without ASD look at when viewing a social scene.

abstract artwork made of wide lines
Acting National Autism Coordinator Named

National Autism Coordinator Ann E. Wagner, Ph.D., will retire from federal service on June 30, 2021—Susan A. Daniels, Ph.D., will serve as Acting National Autism Coordinator beginning on July 1, 2021, and until a permanent successor is named.

mom holding baby, talking to doctor
Media Advisory: Prototype App for Mobile Devices Could Screen Children at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

A mobile app was successful at distinguishing toddlers diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) from typically developing toddlers based on their eye movements while watching videos, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.

a young boy stacks wooden alphabet blocks
Testing and Refining Biomarkers to Support Intervention Research for Children with Autism

NIMH, along with other NIH Institutes, is supporting the ABC-CT project, a multisite study that aims to test and refine biomarkers that can be used as objective measures of social impairment for children with autism in clinical trials, leading to more predictive and personalized treatment.

Infant and female caregiver holding tablet and speaking with doctor.
Supporting the Development of Early Autism Screening Tools

NIMH, along with other NIH Institutes, is supporting the goal of identifying autism in the first year of life by funding projects that seek to seek to translate findings related to early-emerging signs of autism into practical ASD screening tools that can be implemented in the general population and community settings.

This image shows double-helix DNA strands.
Large-Scale Genetics Study Sheds Light on Developmental Origins of Autism

Researchers were able to identify different types of rare genetic variations associated with autism spectrum disorder by analyzing data shared via the NIMH-funded Autism Sequencing Consortium.

Infant and female caregiver holding tablet and speaking with doctor.
NIH Awards Funding for Early Autism Screening

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than four million dollars in FY 2019 to support seven research projects aimed at developing and validating screening tools to detect signs of autism spectrum disorder in the first year of life.

A heatmap shows the amount of time a mouse spent in locations of an open field chamber during optogenetic stimulation of the cerebellar input to the VTA.
New Findings Reveal Surprising Role of the Cerebellum in Reward and Social Behaviors

A new study in rodents has demonstrated, for the first time, that the brain’s cerebellum plays a role in controlling reward and social preference behavior—findings that shed light on the brain circuits critical to the affective and social dysfunction seen across multiple psychiatric disorders.

brain scan showing molecular structure
2,000 Human Brains Yield Clues to How Genes Raise Risk for Mental Illnesses

PsychENCODE researchers are discovering the biological mechanisms by which mental illness risk genes work in the human brain.

MRI scan of infant's brain
Inflammation in Pregnant Moms Linked to Child’s Brain Development

High levels of maternal inflammation during pregnancy have been linked to effects in children, including reduced brain circuit communications and altered long-distance brain wiring at birth, poorer cognitive function at one year – and to reduced impulse control and working memory at two years.

a finger points to a section of a brain scan on a screen
“Covert” Neurofeedback Tunes-up the Social Brain in ASD

Young people with autism unknowingly tuned up flagging neural connections by playing a picture puzzle game that was rigged by their own brain activity.

Illustration of a DNA double helix
Inherited Variations in Noncoding Sections of DNA Associated with Autism

A new study has identified an association between paternally-inherited rare structural variants in noncoding segments of genes and the development of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study adds to a growing body of research describing genetic contributors to ASD.

Chart shows correlations of gene expression between mental disorders.
Suspect Molecules Overlap in Autism, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder

Depression, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder share some of the same patterns of suspect gene expression – molecular signatures.

National Institute of Mental Health
NIMH’s Dr. Ann Wagner Designated as the National Autism Coordinator

NIMH’s Dr. Ann Wagner has been designed as the National Autism Coordinator. In this role, she will play a vital role in ensuring the implementation of national autism spectrum disorder research, services, and support activities across federal agencies.

Neanderthal gene-influenced brain visual system areas
Our Brains Harbor “Residual Echo” of Neanderthal Genes

Researchers have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a “residual echo” from our ancient past. The more a person’s genome carries genetic vestiges of Neanderthals, the more certain parts of his or her brain and skull resemble those of humans’ evolutionary cousins that went extinct 40,000 years ago.

Brain scan showing connectivity related to repetitive behaviors
Neuroimaging Technique May Help Predict Autism among High-Risk Infants

Functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) may predict which high-risk, 6-month old infants will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 2 years.

2 adult voles with 5 baby voles
Brain Circuit Tweak Wins Her Affection (if she’s a vole)

For the first time, neuroscientists have boosted a female rodent’s partnering with a male by stimulating connectivity of a brain reward circuit. Understanding the circuitry of such affiliative behaviors may lead to improved treatments for social impairment in severe mental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder.

Fused Forebrain Spheroids - assembled forebrain in vitro
Human Forebrain Circuits Under Construction – in a Dish

Neuroscientists have created a 3D window into the human brain’s budding executive hub assembling itself during a critical period in prenatal development.

Toddler walking - delayed
Delayed Walking May Signal Spontaneous Gene Anomalies in Autism

Researchers have discovered a pattern of genetic glitches and behavioral features, such as delayed walking, in some cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that could ultimately lead to identification of subgroups and improved treatment.

ASD gene mutation
A Third of Suspect Mutations in ASD Just “Noise”

Researchers have narrowed suspected genetic causes of autism and related developmental disabilities by ruling out what they call the “noise of benign variation.”

Gene activation by cortex layer featured image
Schizophrenia, Autism Risk Gene Trajectories Point to Shared Causes

Schizophrenia, autism risk gene trajectories point to shared causes

Side view of large model of human brain
NIH-supported NeuroBioBank Joins Autism BrainNet in Brain Donation Initiative

Two of the world’s largest brain tissue banks unify efforts to collect and distribute a critical number of brain donations for important autism research.

three children holding hands
NIH Joins Public-Private Partnership to Fund Research on Autism Biomarkers

James McPartland, Ph.D. of Yale University will lead a new four-year $28 million Biomarkers Consortium project that aims to improve clinical evaluation of treatments for social impairment in children with autism.

Dr. Thomas Insel
Dr. Insel Reflects on Autism Awareness Month

Dr. Insel describes recent accomplishments related to autism spectrum disorder over the past year—from the reauthorization of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to promising therapeutic results from clinical trials.

Joseph Buxbaum, Ph.D.
Largest Autism Gene Dragnet Fingers 33 Prime Suspects

Many patients with psychosis develop health risks associated with premature death early in the course of their mental illness, researchers have found.

National Institute of Mental Health
New Grants Fund Cross-lifespan Services Research for Autism Spectrum Disorder

NIH-funded projects aim at improving access, timeliness of interventions.

Buxbaum Autism Architecture Chart
Common Gene Variants Account for Most Genetic Risk for Autism

Most of the genetic risk for autism comes from versions of genes that are common in the population rather than from rare variants or spontaneous glitches.

NIMH Twitter Chat
NIMH Twitter Chat on Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis

NIMH Twitter Chat on Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis

Disorganized cortical patch
Disorganized Cortical Patches Suggest Prenatal Origin of Autism

The architecture of the autistic brain is speckled with patches of abnormal neurons, according to research partially funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 27, 2014.

highlighted CA2 region of hippocampus in mouse brain
Brain Region Singled Out for Social Memory, Possible Therapeutic Target for Select Brain Disorders

The hippocampus houses learning and memory—specifically the storage of knowledge of who, what, where, and when. Using a special transgenic mouse, researchers have now pinpointed a hippocampal region called CA2 that is important for social memory, the ability of animal to recognize another of the same species. Understanding this region could be useful in understanding and treating disorders characterized by altered social behaviors such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism.