This section on autism research is designed to help you better understand autism research history, what is known today, and why the SPARK project was launched. We hope this information will help you decide if participation in SPARK is right for you and your family.
RESEARCH: THE BASICS
The study of autism originated in the 1940s with the work of Dr. Leo Kanner in the United States and Dr. Hans Asperger in Austria. At that time, and in the decades that followed, it was suspected that autism might be caused by “poor parenting,” which led to stigma associated with the disorder. However, thanks to years of focused research and scientific advances, autism is now known to be a neurodevelopmental disorder, and it is known that some of its symptoms can be treated.
There are still many theories about what causes autism, but most researchers now believe that both genetic and environmental factors play roles. Learn more about Genetic Analysis here.
Today, the central goals of autism research are to learn more about what causes autism and to develop treatments that can improve the quality of life for people living with the condition. As science continues to shed light on the molecular workings that underpin autism, we will see still more profound progress in our understanding of this condition and, we hope, treatments for those affected.
WHY SPARK IS THE NEXT STEP IN AUTISM RESEARCH
The prevalence of autism has increased significantly over the past two decades. While this increase may be largely attributed to broader diagnostic criteria and an increase in overall awareness of autism, it nonetheless means there has never been a greater need to gain a better understanding of this condition that affects so many.
While considerable advances have occurred in autism research, there is still much we don’t know. For example, recent research has shown that likely hundreds of genes play a role in autism, but not a lot is known about which environmental factors contribute to the development of the condition. The SPARK gene list can be found here. While many different types of treatments are available (e.g., behavioral therapy and medications for some behaviors), there are no approved medications to treat core symptoms of autism.
One of SPARK’s key goals is to enable a new level of research that was not possible previously, by dramatically increasing the number of people available to participate in autism research.
SPARK will enable advances in two major ways. Having genetic samples from 50,000 families for scientists to analyze will enable far deeper insight into the genetic changes that contribute to autism. SPARK families will be available to receive invitations from researchers to participate in other studies, enabling research of all types to get off the ground more quickly.
AUTISM RESEARCHERS NEED YOU!
SPARK works with research partners from all over the world to engage families and adults with autism in research studies. All of the studies are evaluated for scientific merit, and a SPARK scientific committee approves them.
SPARK matches participants with research studies based on characteristics such as age, diagnosis, medical history, location and more. Some of these studies are online, and some are in person.
SPARK does not share any information with researchers until participants give their permission. Participants in SPARK are always in control.