Autism Spectrum Disorder encompasses a range of complex developmental disorders characterized by mild to severe challenges to social, emotional, cognitive, and communication abilities. Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, showed an alarming increase in the number of children diagnosed with ASD. In the United States, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed yearly while as many as 1 in 54 boys are on the spectrum. Boys are four times more likely than girls to have a diagnosis of ASD. The associated national cost of ASD is estimated to be $35-$90 billion annually. It is important to realize children do not grow out of autism, but through specialized behavioral interventions and medications, they can progress and compensate for their specific challenges. Adolescents and adults with ASD face impediments in society today because of the lack of measures to assist them in daily living activities and the lack of pathways to help them become independent, productive members of society.

To better the lives of those individuals living with ASD, the U.S. Congress answered the needs of the ASD community through an appropriation in fiscal year 2007 that was the genesis of the Autism Research Program. The ARP is managed on Congress' behalf by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command through the office of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. The mission of the ARP is to find and fund the best research in ASD to promote innovation that advances the understanding of ASD and leads to improved outcomes. From its inception in FY07 through FY12, a total of $41.4 million has been designated for the ARP through the congressional appropriations, and this has led to 85 scientific awards, selected through a rigorous two-tiered peer reviewed and programmatically reviewed process.

Responsiveness to the needs of the ASD community has been at the forefront of the ARP mission through different awards to researchers. In one such award, to enhance the ability of adolescents with high functioning autism to gain independence, Drs. Daniel Cox and Ronald Reeves of the University of Virginia have designed and built a virtual reality system to evaluate and augment the driving skills of individuals with ASD. Based on preliminary results from a previous ARP seed grant, Cox and Reeve are further developing this system. The results of this study may lead to long-term advancements for people living with autism and may help them to gain confidence and independence in society.

In addition, the ARP is funding a clinical study to look at technology-enhanced early intensive behavior intervention services for children with ASD in military families. Led by principal investigator Dr. Wayne Fisher at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the study facilitates behavioral intervention care for military families where geography or deployments cause difficulties in attaining care, or consistent care, for their children with ASD. By providing long-distance training of paraprofessionals and family members in intervention services for children, Fisher's research team hopes to provide a lasting benefit for military families.

Through innovation and ingenuity, and through dedication and commitment, the ARP is focused on the mission to serve the scientific community to research ASD for the benefit of people and families living with ASD, every day.

For more information on the Autism Research Program, please visit the CDMRP website at http://cdmrp.army.mil/arp/default.shtml.

Page last updated Wed March 27th, 2013 at 00:00