NIH Awards Funding for Early Autism Screening

NIH Awards Funding for Early Autism Screening

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Funded projects will help develop and validate screening tools used to detect autism in the first year of life

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded more than four million dollars in FY 2019 to support seven research projects aimed at developing and validating screening tools to detect signs of autism spectrum disorder in the first year of life. Approximately 19 million dollars is projected to be awarded to these projects by NIH over the duration of the funded projects. 

“Early detection and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorder are two of the most important factors for optimizing children’s outcomes,” said Dr. Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  “It is critical that we develop screening tools that can pick up on early emerging signs of autism risk so that doctors can be vigilant in tracking children’s development and ensure they get intervention services as early as possible.”

It is estimated that autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—a developmental disorder that affects social communication and behavior—affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. Reliably detecting autism in young children is difficult, and the average age of diagnosis for ASD hovers around four years of age. Delays in diagnosis can have profound and long-lasting effects on children, since early intervention has been demonstrated to improve cognitive and behavioral outcomes for young children with ASD.

Because early treatment is so critical for children with ASD, efforts have been made to try to reduce the age of diagnosis by universally screening all children for signs of autism. Children who are found to be at high risk for developing autism can then be connected with intervention services as soon as possible. Although well-validated instruments exist to screen toddlers for ASD between 18 and 24 months of age, there is evidence that many infants at risk for ASD show differences in the way social attention and early forms of communication develop over the first year of life.

The seven projects—supported jointly by the NIH’s NIMH, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders—seek to translate findings related to early-emerging signs of autism into practical ASD screening tools that can be implemented in the general population and in community settings.

The grants awarded include:

About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

NINDS is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the  Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD leads research and training to understand human development, improve reproductive health, enhance the lives of children and adolescents, and optimize abilities for all. For more information, visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit