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Pediatrics. 2008 Jun;121(6):1225-9. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-3000.

Autism and the environment: challenges and opportunities for research.

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Institute of Medicine, Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders, 500 Fifth St, NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA.


Autism spectrum disorder is a complex developmental disorder that dramatically affects the lives of patients and their families and the broader community. The causes of autism are unknown; however, evidence increasingly suggests that a complex interplay among environmental stressors, genetic mutations, and other biological factors likely plays a significant role in the development and/or progression of autism spectrum disorder. On April 18 and 19, 2007, the Institute of Medicine's Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders hosted a workshop to provide a venue to bring together scientists; major sponsors of autism-related research; and members of the autism patient, family, and advocacy community to discuss the most promising and urgent scientific questions and opportunities. Broad participation by the autism community enriched the meeting significantly by contributing a valuable and personal perspective that is often missing from scientific meetings. It also began a much improved public-private partnership in which all stakeholders are represented. On the basis of the presentations and the discussions that followed, an array of important scientific opportunities were identified in 5 general categories: (1) opportunities to advance clinical research; (2) opportunities to enhance epidemiologic studies; (3) opportunities to improve the understanding of autism's pathology and etiology; (4) tools and infrastructure needs; and (5) opportunities for public-private partnerships. This workshop demonstrated that full public engagement can greatly enhance activities such as this workshop and its outcomes. Furthermore, we expect that this listing of scientific challenges, needs, and opportunities will help to frame a more comprehensive research agenda.

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