Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition, and its causes are not fully understood. Since it was first described 75 years ago, its prevalence has skyrocketed throughout the world, across all socioeconomic, gender, and ethnic groups. Data suggests that 1 in 59 children (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls) are on the Autism Spectrum, 20 times more than in the preceding generation. Usually appearing in the first three years of life, symptoms range from mild to severe and vary from person to person. Historically, autism research and support has been underfunded and hence, under-researched and misunderstood.
Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with the world around them, and this can pose significant challenges as children grow through school age and adulthood. People with autism also have certain repetitive behaviors and very specialized and intense interests in a particular subject or hobby. While often an obstacle, some individuals may harness specific interests and develop extraordinary talents, often in math, music, and art.
Researchers are working hard to understand what causes autism and are using that information to develop more effective, individualized therapies for children and adults. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing autism researchers is the tremendous variation in autism among the population of individuals with the diagnosis. These differences have made it extremely difficult to identify the underlying causes of autism and to devise treatment strategies that will work well for everyone across the spectrum.
There is still a great deal to learn about autism, and this can only be achieved by providing financial support to the research centers that are already leading amazing work in this area. It is difficult for a single institution to address the complex medical and scientific issues presented by the condition of autism, so we’ve created a coalition that will bring fresh ways of thinking and the necessary resources to the field. By pooling the expertise of some of the world’s leading autism researchers, we can pursue a more comprehensive research agenda. We hope to uncover genetic and environmental influences on brain development which will have enormous implications for autism and other developmental disorders. Since the exact causes of autism are still unknown, yet it affects so many, both research and state of the art clinical care are paramount to improving the lives of those affected by autism.
This kind of work can only be done in a large and powerful medical community where thousands of families can be enrolled, information can be easily accessed by researchers, and scientists are not held back by traditional obstacles of infrastructure and funding. Philadelphia has one of the most expansive and most diverse patient populations in the United States and is home to internationally renowned institutions doing work in the field of autism research. Eagles Autism Challenge will create an integrated network composed of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health to help unlock the puzzle of autism.
This coalition is able to reach one of the largest communities of children and adults with autism in the world, thanks to the extensive patient networks of each individual Center. What we learn here will be shared nationally and globally, so that everyone affected by autism can benefit from these discoveries.