Cutting Edge Autism Research at Yale Boosted by $2.6 M Grant from Simons Foundation

James and Marilyn Simons of The Simons Foundation awarded researchers of the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine $2.6 million to advance autism research and to establish a new laboratory for infants at risk for autism.

James and Marilyn Simons of The Simons Foundation awarded researchers of the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine $2.6 million to advance autism research and to establish a new laboratory for infants at risk for autism.

The principal investigators of the program are Ami Klin, Harris Associate Professor of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Fred R. Volkmar, M.D., Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Psychology.

Autism is a developmental disorder that has a profound effect on socialization, communication, learning and other behaviors. In most cases, onset is early in infancy. Information on the earliest development aspects of autism in children has been limited even though three to four of every thousand individuals are affected. In this new project, babies at increased risk for autism will be examined monthly from birth through the first two years of their lives.

Researchers will evaluate the progress, or lack of progress, in developing social competencies using novel eye-tracking techniques developed at the Yale Child Study Center. “By revealing the social world through the eyes of children with autism, our eye-tracking technology and methods have pointed to new ways of understanding how they navigate the challenges of everyday life,” said Klin. “We are now extending these methods to the study of the earliest manifestations of autism, so that we can identify babies with this condition as early as it is possible.”

Volkmar added, “As the recent National Research Council report on autism indicates, there is very strong evidence for the greater effectiveness of interventions at the earliest possible age. Originally, these eye-tracking methods were developed for the study of adolescents and adults with autism. The far-reaching implications of this grant are that it will enable us to study infants with autism at a time when there is the greatest potential for change of behavior and brain development. We hope this will lead to more effective interventions.”

“This work illustrates the uniqueness of Yale as a place where research and clinical science go hand in hand in serving individuals with autism and their families,” said Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern, M.D. “This grant has provided Yale School of Medicine with an extraordinary opportunity to realize the vision for a new page in autism research. We are profoundly grateful to Jim and Marilyn Simons for their visionary support of this program.”

The Simons Foundation is a private family foundation based in New York City. The primary mission is to fund advanced research in science and mathematics. A secondary mission is to help children with learning differences. Bridging these two areas, the Simons Foundation has recently embarked on a major initiative supporting research into autism and its treatment.

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Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-980-2222