Children’s Health: Autism

Current estimates suggest that around 1 in 100 U.S. children appears to be affected by an autism spectrum disorder, and new diagnoses are on the rise. These children and teens have trouble socially, have a range of language-related problems, and may exhibit repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. Although we don’t know what causes autism, NIH research has shown that both genetics and environment appear to contribute. There is no known cure for autism, but medications and behavioral interventions may ease symptoms.

In the past decade, NIH-funded science has taught us much more about autism and related conditions, as well as how parents can help their children manage it. NIH works with other government agencies, professional organizations, and patient advocacy groups to enhance research efforts and to increase awareness. This team effort is changing the way children, teens, and young adults with autism view the world, and helps parents, teachers, and friends understand that these individuals are part of “the spectrum.”

Despite intense efforts, much of the biology of autism spectrum disorder remains a mystery. Recent studies funded by NIH have linked autism risk with several genes involved in the formation and maintenance of brain cells. Following up on these important clues, researchers plan to decode the complete genomes of people with autism. Other studies will look at the effect of a mother’s exposures during pregnancy, including medication, infection, and other environmental triggers.

Imagine the Future…

  • Environmental and genetic risk factors accurately identify children for subtypes of autism spectrum disorder, enabling prevention or personalized, effective treatments as early as possible.
  • New molecular therapies based on detailed understanding of the brain circuits affected by autism help reduce or prevent the onset of symptoms.
  • Behavioral therapies allow people on the autism spectrum to reach their full potential and productivity.

Next: Aging: Alzheimer’s Disease

This page last reviewed on January 27, 2016