What the Autism Science Foundation Cares about Supporting Right Now

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) supports a range of autism-related research endeavors, from undergraduate student programs to travel awards and treatment grants. It’s passionate about supporting young investigators in the stages of pre- and post-doctoral training and early career researchers. But there are some advancements in the field that ASF has really gotten behind.

Based on public statements and recent shows of support, here is a brief overview of what ASF has been interested in lately.

The Female Protective Effect

ASF’s chief science officer, Alycia Halladay, recently wrote an op-ed titled “Do Girls Have ‘Protection’ from Autism?” This article poses some interesting questions about whether females, who consistently have lower autism rates than males, hold the key to autism research breakthroughs. Comprehensive studies on this topic have already been conducted, but there’s always room for expansion and application based on this research.

The Autism Sisters Initiative is in the process of building up a large database with genetic and symptom information in family members. There are likely opportunities here for researchers to use this database to pursue treatments and early intervention programs.

Autism Risk of Antidepressant Use during Pregnancy

Studies have suggested that women who take SSRI antidepressants during pregnancy, especially during the third trimester, are putting their unborn babies at a higher risk of autism. Halladay has spoken publicly about this issue, urging women on these medications to talk with their doctors before discontinuing use and saying that more research is needed to connect the dots between autism and SSRI medications.

So there are potentially some good opportunities for doctoral-level and early-career researchers to pick up where these studies left off, who might look to ASF for support.

Brain Chemicals and Autism

Harvard researchers recently made headlines when they discovered that autism is connected to a major inhibitory neurotransmitter (GABA) breaking down in the signaling pathway.

"The authors make extraordinary claims about the role of GABA in autism," said Alycia Halladay. "However, if this theory holds true in other independent studies, it might lead to new ways to help some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders."

There are obviously many other possible pathways in the brain that may play a part in the development of autism, but this promising study provides researchers with a bit of direction. Accordingly, funding opportunities could follow.

Art Therapy Research Takes a Backseat

Using art therapy with autistic children and adults is nothing new, and research is mixed regarding its benefits. However, many people feel that art therapy has helped autistic people express their emotions and to mature emotionally.

But the general consensus is that further research in this field shouldn’t be a priority. Halladay has said that because art therapy is used as an accompaniment to other types of autism therapies, there really isn’t a big reason to study art therapy more at this time.

To learn more about this funder and what it supports, read IP’s full profile, Autism Science Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment.