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IMFAR Update on Adolescents and Adults with Autism


Posted by Anita Miller Sostek, Ph.D., Autism Speaks vice president of scientific review and operations. 

In the past few years, Autism Speaks has responded in several ways to the challenge of addressing the transition to adulthood. These efforts include maintaining quality of life across in all of our research emphasis areas.  Taking advantage of the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) — where leading researchers gathered — we held a preliminary networking lunch on May 17. There we discussed a variety of issues concerning adults with autism. This event was a natural follow-up to the Adult Summit that took place in North Carolina four months ago. 

Immediately following a presentation by Marsha Mailick Seltzer and Leann Smith on forging friendships with adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I was joined by eight Autism Speaks-funded researchers for an off-site lunchtime mini-retreat. They updated one another on the status of their projects and discussed ways to join forces and increase the yield of their individual studies. 

“The opportunity to get together with other researchers to discuss projects and share ideas is essential,” said Paul Shattuck, Ph.D., a professor at Washington University, in St. Louis who studies services, interventions and accommodations for adults and adolescents on the spectrum. “Fostering knowledge exchange and collaboration is especially important for an underdeveloped area like research on adulthood issues,” he added. 

Many Autism Speaks-funded researchers participated in the lively lunch discussion. 

“Hearing about the exciting research that is being done by leaders in the field to enhance our understanding of adults with ASD is truly inspiring and has helped me to further develop my own research interests and ideas,” said Vanessa Hus Bal, a Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellow from the University of Michigan, who attended the lunch. Our funding allowed Vanessa and all our current Weatherstone fellows to attend IMAR. Doing so, she said, provided a great opportunity to interact with experts in similar research areas, as well as with parents and persons with ASD.  IMFAR “allowed me to form collaborations that will support my current study and hopefully facilitate future projects as well,” she said.  

It was extremely gratifying to see the range of research topics and the researchers’ excitement. The geographic spread of these studies – across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom – will allow for comparisons between the locations. Multiple studies with parallel results will add additional confidence the researchers’ findings. The range of topics includes quality of life, diagnostic assessment, treatments, sleep, services and employment in adolescents and adults. Grantees include Emily SimonoffSuzanne GoldmanLeann SmithMarsha SeltzerDavid NicholasLindee Morgan and Brooke Ingersoll. (Follow the links to learn more about their research grants.) These research and other adult research projects are currently being supported by a variety of Autism Speaks treatment grants, basic & clinical grants and a Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship. (Explore them here.)

Looking forward to the future, we hope to expand the network by including researchers funded by other sources. In additional, we plan to provide meeting opportunities and other means of support for the group as the network continues to grow.  We certainly hope that our individual and group efforts rapidly advance our knowledge of these important topics that affect steadily increasing numbers of individuals and their families.

Editor’s note: Thanks to your support, Autism Speaks is funding a number of studies on improving post-high school opportunities for persons with autism. You can explore these and other donor-supported research programs using our Grant Search engine.


The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.