IACC Unanimously Approves 2010 Strategic Plan for Autism Research

Autism Science Foundation President and Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) member Alison Singer joined all her colleagues on the IACC this week in voting to approve the 2010 Strategic Plan for Autism Research.

The plan calls for upwards of $217 million to be devoted to autism research in 2010. It includes new objectives for identification of behavioral & biological markers, and calls for new studies to improve understanding of the biological pathways of genetic conditions related to autism; studies that target the underlying biological mechanisms that co-occur with autism; and studies that investigate what causes phenotypic variation across individuals who share an identified genetic variant. The new plan cites the need for more research on services and supports, as well as a greater focus on lifespan issues. The committee also added a new chapter to the plan calling for infrastructure investments that will support data sharing among researchers, encourage and enable individuals with ASD and their families to participate in research, and improve the speed with which research findings are disseminated.  The new chapter also calls for enhancing and expanding autism surveillance efforts.

The plan does not include any references or objectives that imply that vaccines cause autism, and it does not call for additional vaccine research.  “Draft materials submitted to the IACC suggesting vaccines and/or vaccine components were implicated in autism were rejected by the committee because the IACC determined that they were not based on good science,” said Singer.

8 Replies to “IACC Unanimously Approves 2010 Strategic Plan for Autism Research”

  1. Given that cutting-edge neuroscience research is showing how wonderfully sensitive Baby’s developing social- and related brain functions are to caregiver attachment behaviors and attunement; and given that there has been an explosive increase in recent years in intrusive mobile media use — like cell-phoning, and now, texting; has anyone seriously investigated how such increased unintentional media-induced caregiver distractibility could possibly be one contributor to the tragic current rise in autism and related disorders?

    Even if not contributory, don’t we need to know more about the impact of interactive media on young families’ functioning? (www.mydigitalfamily.org)

  2. So mothers are making their babies autistic by texting on their cell phones? Back to the “refrigerator mother,” I guess. Ho-hum.

    Interestingly, “traditional parenting expert” John Rosemond claims that the problem with today’s kids is that they get too MUCH attention! According to him, parents in the old days (you know, back when kids were all “normal” and perfect) more or less ignored their kids, left them to their own devices, told them to play by themselves, didn’t check their homework, etc. And in the old days, parents put their babies in their own cribs in another room from the day they were born–no “co-sleeping” or “family bed” like we see today. Some of them even hired wet nurses. Considering your theory, those kids should have been turning autistic at an alarming rate. Just think of dad with his pipe and his face behind the newspaper. Caregiver distractibility indeed!

    There’s pretty much no way for a mother of an autistic child to sit on the phone talking and texting all day. Sounds like a nice party, but not the reality of being a mother of an autistic child–or any child, for that matter.

    1. Bunny — To discard this — even remote — possibility might mean to miss an opportunity that might shed important light on a worsening situation. Do we really know the subtleties of brain development so well that we can afford to dismiss this as casually as you seem to? Would you object to someone seriously investigating — maybe disproving — this possibility?

      1. Sorry, I just think it’s far-fetched, to say the least. The number of autism diagnoses started to rise as soon as Asperger’s Syndrome and the rest of the “spectrum” was added to the DSM, 1994 (so think Occam’s razor). I didn’t know anybody with a cell phone in 1994, and texting didn’t become a fad until the last couple of years (and it’s especially popular with teenagers and college kids, i.e., people with time on their hands, not mothers caring for babies). Telephones, of course, are not new. Hard to believe that a smaller phone with no cord is causing social problems the old corded kind didn’t.

        If you think mothers are ignoring their babies and this is causing those babies to turn autistic, I encourage you to start the research. I suggest you begin by actually spending time with mothers of babies seemingly at risk for autism (children of older, educated parents, for example). If you see those mothers chatting on the phone and texting while their babies cry alone in another room, I’ll give you $1,000 to kickstart your research.

  3. Bunny — I am sure you know that scientific progress cannot happen without running into blind alleys or without asking initially far-fetched questions. I certainly do not think this to be a silly question or mean it in any way to seem blaming or irresponsible, or to take a political position. If my statements were interpreted as hurtful, I do apologize for not phrasing them more carefully.

    The fact is, however, that we have unexplained rises in autistic-spectrum disorders prevalences, and, while phones and other potentially distracting media have been around for decades, there has been emerging a qualitative and quantitative change in intrusiveness of mobile interactive media that are having enormous impacts on our culture and on our youth (just see the recent Kaiser Family Foundation study (http://www.kff.org/entmedia/mh012010pkg.cfm), and we really do not know the long-term outcomes of these trends.

    IMHO, it would be an interesting pilot project for a student in pediatrics, child psychiatry, developmental psychology, epidemiology, public health, or another related discipline to look for a possible link, at least as a contributing factor, by roughing out an answer in the traditional step-wise process: starting with naturalistic in vivo in situ observations (e.g. in a pediatric clinic waiting room — I have already heard colleagues describe seeing caregivers speak on cell phones or texting while breast feeding); and then looking for statistical associations among the rising prevalence(s) of autistic-spectrum or other developmental disorders and concomitant use(s) of mobile interactive devices, first generally and then within specific subgroups or clusters of families; and then a double-blind controlled study. Then, although a stretch from where we are right now, it might not be so far-fetched in retrospect at that point, if results emerge that suggest associations, to do controlled prospective studies to determine causality. IMHO this would be doable and not an exorbitantly expensive.
    Although I can raise the question (and feel compelled to do so as a doctor,) I personally am not in a position to answer it in the way its seriousness deserves. As a practicing psychiatrist and author (www.mydigitalfamily.org) not now located inside academia, but I can ask around, or you might too, especially if your generous $1000 offer still stands (and maybe others would kick in more.)

    1. My $1,000 offer was sarcasm. Sorry. I’m just laughing about this debunked “refrigerator mother” thing rearing its head again. I think it’s absurd to assume that a mother who texts on her phone turns her child autistic, especially since texting is a very recent phenomenon and could not have contributed at all to the vast majority of autism cases.

      I guess you believe that kids are “turned autistic” and not born autistic. We don’t know exactly what causes autism, but just like the vaccine thing, the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis has been thrown out. Mothers do not turn their kids autistic, period.

      And what in God’s name would be wrong with sending a text while breastfeeding? You views are anti-woman, to say the least. I mean, really. What about reading books? Are breastfeeding mothers allowed to do that, or will they be too distracted and therefore turn their child autistic?

      As I said, the rise in autism diagnoses came right after the diagnostic criteria expanded, and this happened way before texting even existed. If you really are concerned, rather than spend a ton of money to research this latest “refrigerator mother” hypothesis, I’d suggest simply having pediatricians remind young mothers how to properly tend to their babies.

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