About Autism Spectrum Disorders
Autism spectrum disorders (or ASDs) are a set of serious neurodevelopmental disabilities that fundamentally alter individuals’ abilities to interact and communicate. The toll of autism spectrum disorders reverberates from the individual to the family, through the education system, and deep into both the social service and healthcare sectors. Now believed to affect nearly 1 in 68 children and perhaps as many as 5 million adults in the U.S., the prevalence of diagnosed autism spectrum disorders has been rising dramatically until very recently. The direct care and associated indirect costs of autism spectrum disorders in the U.S. are now estimated to exceed $236 billion annually.
Research on autism spectrum disorders has gained considerable recent momentum especially in the areas of genetics and neurobiology. While it is hoped that fundamental biomedical research will reveal the elusive molecular mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorders, it is also increasingly acknowledged that diverse scientific perspectives are needed to help society effectively address this life-altering condition. The sciences of public health bring population-focused strategies to the autism spectrum disorder research landscape and the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute is the first autism spectrum disorder research center focused on public health science.
Five of the ten critical themes for autism spectrum disorder research highlighted in the US federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee's 2011 Strategic Plan for Autism Research, "prevention," "earlier detection," "lifespan perspective," "community engagement," and “ethical, legal and social implications,” are embodied in a public health, as opposed to a strictly biomedical, approach to autism spectrum disorder research. The same federal council selected several publications from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute as some of the top 20 influential advances in autism research of 2015.