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2012 IACC Strategic Plan Update Focuses on Recent Advances and Emerging Opportunities in Autism Research

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) has released its Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Research – 2012 Update.  The 2012 Strategic Plan Update provides an update on recent developments in each of the seven critical research areas outlined in the 2011 IACC Strategic Plan for ASD Research, including screening and diagnosis, the underlying biology of ASD, risk factors, treatments and interventions, services, lifespan issues, and surveillance and infrastructure.  The IACC Strategic Plan, first issued in 2009 and updated in 2010 and 2011, provides a set of recommendations to guide Federal autism research efforts and serves as a basis for partnerships with other agencies and private organizations involved in ASD research and services.

The new Strategic Plan Update highlights a number of recent research advances and important opportunities that have emerged.  For example, the Update draws attention to the latest U.S. and international prevalence numbers; new research on co-occurring conditions; the first reports of brain activity change correlated with positive behavioral changes; an increase in data sharing among researchers with public and private funding; an advanced understanding of the neural circuitry underlying ASD; and new research highlighting services needs across the lifespan.

IACC Chairman and NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel said, "It is clear from the 2012 Strategic Plan Update that recent investments in ASD research and increasing coordination in the community are paying off—the volume of research is almost overwhelming, and new insights into areas such as brain circuitry, behavioral neuroscience, intervention approaches, genetics, immunology, environmental risk factors, and services needs are creating opportunities to really change outcomes."

In addition to research advances highlighted in the Strategic Plan, important research gaps are also noted, including the continuing need to improve monitoring to accurately measure ASD prevalence; the need to investigate the impact of anticipated changes to ASD diagnostic criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5); renewed focus on studying environmental risk factors for ASD as well as gene-environment interactions; the diagnosis and prevalence of ASD in adults; lack of interventions for adolescents and adults; and the need for brain tissue donations for research.

At its first meeting in July 2012, the new IACC created a plan for developing a 2012 update on progress made in research areas described in the IACC Strategic Plan.  IACC members convened approximately 40 external content experts for each of the research areas in the Strategic Plan to identify new advances, opportunities, and gaps in the field that emerged between January 2011 and December 2012.  In addition, the Committee received input from many members of the public who sent in ideas or provided written recommendations for consideration.

In the 2012 IACC Strategic Plan Update, the IACC has endeavored to summarize the key trends and groundbreaking new insights from the past 2 years that are likely to change and shape the direction of ASD research.  In order to gain a more complete picture of the autism research landscape over the past 2 years, this update should be paired with two other IACC publications, the 2010 Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Portfolio Analysis Report and the 2011 Summary of Advances in Autism Spectrum Disorder Research, which describe public and private U.S. ASD research funding in 2010 and specific ASD research publications from 2011 that the Committee deemed to have significantly advanced the field.  The IACC hopes that, together, these documents will provide a useful overview for the community of the state of autism research as of December 2012 and serve as a guide for future research efforts to understand ASD, develop effective interventions, and improve the quality of life for people with ASD and their families.


The IACC is a Federal advisory committee that was created by Congress in an effort to accelerate progress in ASD research and services. The IACC works to improve coordination and communication across the Federal government and work in partnership with the autism community. The Committee is composed of officials from many different Federal agencies involved in autism research and services, as well as people with ASD, parents, advocates, and other members of the autism community. The documents and recommendations produced by the IACC reflect the views of the Committee as an independent advisory body and the expertise of the members of the Committee, but do not represent the views, official statements, policies or positions of the Federal government.  For more information on the IACC, please visit:

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