Autism spectrum disorder

Little boy with blonde hair sitting at a table smiling

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder – a lifelong condition that is present from birth and caused by disruption to early brain development.

Autism comes under the term ‘neurodiversity’ meaning the brain handles information differently. Autism affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts and experiences their environment.

The disorder is associated with behavioural, social and academic challenges. Autistic people have difficulties with social interaction and communication, including trouble understanding body language and social cues. They may have restricted interests and repetitive behaviours and can be under-sensitive or over-sensitive to taste, touch, sight and sound.

ASD reflects the range of challenges that people on the spectrum experience and the extent to which they may be affected. Nearly three-quarters also have one or more other conditions, commonly anxiety, depression or ADHD.

Autism can be hard to diagnose and while current treatments are limited, early diagnosis and intervention is important. There is a limited understanding of the causes of autism and how it develops but researching this could enable more effective treatments going forward.

 

Little boy with blonde hair sitting at a table smiling

Who does it affect?

Who does it affect?

Our autism spectrum disorder research

Our autism spectrum disorder research

Our world-class researchers and facilities aim to advance the understanding of autism and work towards improved care, services and support. We’re working on interventions to improve lives and provide evidence to drive policy change, improve diagnosis and personalise treatment.

We’re studying families to identify new genes that cause ASD and processes that underpin the disorder.

Therapies could also target nerve cells in the brain to help them function and talk to each other. We’re taking stem cells (‘seed cells’) from patients and turning them into brain cells and networks in the laboratory. This will help us understand why brain cells don’t work properly in autism which could lead to treatments to mitigate or prevent challenging behaviour.

Other research includes identifying new treatment pathways and investigating autism in children with genetic conditions including tuberous sclerosis and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

An estimated 40 to 80 per cent of children with autism have sleep difficulties. We’ve adapted a program that improved sleep in children with ADHD to see if it can improve sleep, behaviour and learning in children with autism.

We’re trialling the drug bumetanide to test if it improves symptoms in moderate-to-severe autism. Our world-first study is investigating why 30 per cent of children with autism lose language and social skills.

We’re studying the impacts of gender and mental health and tests that can predict autism in children with fragile X syndrome.

We’re studying the impacts of gender and mental health and tests that can predict autism in children with fragile X syndrome.

Our vision

Our vision

Our mission is to unite experts to better understand, diagnose and treat autism. Our vision is to develop personalised treatment strategies and better therapies to minimise disabilities and improve the lives of children with autism.

Where to next?

Where to next?

The development of improved treatments and therapies for ASD is critically dependent on understanding which changes in brain development and function are causing symptoms. Understanding the brain pathways that are altered in autism will enable us to move away from symptom-based treatments and instead identify medications and treatments that reverse the underlying mechanisms of autism. This research will enable the generation and translation of evidence into innovative targeted interventions and new clinical trials.