Skip navigation

Calls to Action

Progress in All Areas of Autism Research on Display at IMFAR 2009

May 14, 2009

The eighth annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) recently concluded in Chicago, after three days of more than 900 presentations. More than 1,500 researchers from all over the world attended the meeting, including those from Australia, Hong Kong, UK and more. This diversity shows that autism is drawing the attention of the entire world.

"IMFAR is a remarkable meeting not only because of the science, but because it was originally conceived of by parents of people with autism," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer of Autism Speaks. Many of the scientific presentations were funded by Autism Speaks. The first IMFAR was held in 2001 in San Diego as a satellite meeting to the Society of Neuroscience conference. The idea for a scientific meeting specific to autism research was conceived by Portia Iversen, co-founder of Cure Autism Now. The original meeting sponsors were Cure Autism Now, the National Alliance for Autism Research and the MIND Institute at UC Davis. Both Cure Autism Now and the National Alliance for Autism Research have since merged with Autism Speaks to form the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization.

From demonstrations of innovative technologies to a special sleep symposium to a keynote address about crucial neural pathways that may be disrupted, and potentially fixed, in autism, this meeting gave scientists from all areas of autism research a chance to discuss their findings – some of which have been recently published, others of which were extremely preliminary. Getting this kind of input while research is in progress is crucial to producing the most reliable and relevant science about autism. The following summarizes meeting highlights in the etiology, diagnosis, biology and treatment of autism. The presentations this year were not only directed at understanding and remediating the core deficits of autism, but also at finding ways to improve the quality of life for people with autism and their families.


Throughout the meeting scientists took care to mention that there are likely multiple forms of "autisms." Therefore, there are likely multiple etiologies, or causes, to be found, and researchers continue to probe the genome, the environment, and the interactions between them, to identify risk factors for autism.

Scientists reported several new advances in autism genetics, largely built around the advances in technology over just the past two years. Saturday's keynote speaker Steven Scherer, M.D., Ph.D. (The Hospital for Sick Children), described emerging evidence for a link between autism and a previously underappreciated type of genetic abnormality called copy number variations (CNVs). CNVs are gains or losses of segments of DNA that alter the number of copies of a gene a person has; having too much or too little of a gene can have dramatic repercussions in the brain. Like the subtler mutations already associated with autism, these CNVs disrupt several different kinds of genes, and further emphasize that there will be no one autism gene. Thankfully new evidence was presented at the conference about how scientists are starting to make sense of this diversity: Mark Bear, Ph.D. (MIT), and Pat Levitt, Ph.D. (Vanderbilt Univ.), both pointed out how different autism-related genes act on common biochemical pathways inside neurons that are important for regulating the connections between cells. In addition, Dr. Levitt, using the Autism Speaks funded Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE) set of families, showed how a variant of the MET gene he has reported associated with autism is also important for gastrointestinal development, potentially beginning to directly tie in specific genetic risk factors to specific medical symptoms related to autism.

New evidence also emerged in support of the idea that genetic risk factors for autism need not be always inherited from parents. A subset of cases may result from new mutations that spontaneously occur in an egg or sperm cell before conception, also known as de novo mutations. One theory is that these spontaneous and non-inherited genetic variations may underlie genetic risk in families with only one person with autism ("simplex"), which may differentiate them from families that have more than one affected individual ("multiplex"). John Constantino, M.D. (Washington Univ.), found evidence that might support this theory by showing that simplex families have a different pattern of autism traits than do multiplex families. Many other scientists presented preliminary findings based on a new DNA repository called the Simons Simplex Collection that focuses on simplex families; this collection powerfully complements databases like the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), which focuses on multiplex families.

A large number of genetics researchers at this year's IMFAR used biological samples or genetic data made available by the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), a program of Autism Speaks. The contribution of this program was highlighted by the near ubiquitous acknowledgement of AGRE in entire sessions focused on genetics and biological mechanisms. For example, Deqiong Ma, M.D., Ph.D. (The Miami Institute for Human Genomics) highlighted recent findings of a genetic association on 5q31 which were confirmed in the AGRE sample. Furthermore, Dr. Lea Davis (In the lab of Tom Wassink, M.D., at the University of Iowa) discussed a method of identifying potential forms of syndromic autism by examination of medical histories and scanning DNA for copy number variations.

April Young (Univ. of Kentucky), presented a small survey of parents of children with autism that found that almost three quarters of them suspected vaccines were somehow involved in their child's development of autism, demonstrating the concern parents have about vaccines. In a more structured study, the Canadian Autism Group, led by Wendy Roberts, M.D. (Univ. of Toronto), reported that parents of an "infant sib," that is a younger child in a family affected with autism, either refused or delayed vaccination at a rate of almost 50%. These important findings elucidate parents' opinions about vaccinations and where they are obtaining information about vaccine risk.

Besides vaccination as an exposure, a variety of presentations during the meeting addressed different environmental factors – ranging from immune stimuli to environmental pollutants. For example, one study by Keely Cheslack-Postava, Ph.D. (Columbia Univ.), found that high exposures of chlorinated solvents in the air or pesticides may interact with the body's own immune system , altering the expression of certain autoantibodies, with the combination leading to an altered risk for autism. The relationship was not simple or linear, low levels of environmental exposures coupled with high autoantibody levels was associated with a lower autism risk, while those infants with the highest level of immunotoxicants, pollutants and chlorinated solvents, also had high antibody levels and a significant increased risk of ASD. This complex relationship suggests that a mix of environmental exposures may modify the immune response and serve as a possible risk factor for ASD.

Two presentations used the power of bioinformatics to constrain the almost limitless number of potential gene-environment interactions to the ones most relevant to autism. Mark Corrales, M.A. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), searched the literature for evidence of chemical modifications on each of 142 genes implicated in autism. Indeed, he found that most genes could be influenced by certain chemicals. Similarly, Chindo Hicks, Ph.D. (Loyola Univ. Medical Center), analyzed the biochemical pathways that are activated either by genes implicated in autism or by environmental factors, and found significant overlap. These sorts of studies will help scientists prioritize which gene-environment interactions to focus on.

Finally, researchers are also beginning to factor in a third variable regarding autism etiology – the timing of risk factor exposure. For example, two preliminary studies found that the time around conception may be particularly sensitive to environmental risk factors for autism. Rebecca Schmidt, Ph.D. (UC Davis), using the CHARGE dataset, reported women taking folic acid supplements via vitamin supplementation or folic acid enrichment of cereals during preconception or the earliest days of pregnancy, could reduce her risk of having a child with autism, whereas Lisa Croen, Ph.D. (Kaiser Permanente), reported that exposure to Beta Adrenergic agonists before and during pregnancy may increase a mother's risk of giving birth to a child with autism. However, as these drugs are indicated for both asthma and preterm labor, the relationship between this class of drugs and autism remains unknown.


Conference keynote speaker Catherine Lord, Ph.D. (Univ of Michigan), an expert in developing diagnostic instruments for autism, scrutinized the ways in which autism is currently diagnosed, and asked whether we can do better. Current methods are open to a surprising range of interpretation, meaning one center might diagnose an individual with autism, whereas another would not. Dr. Lord explained the need for revamping these diagnostic tools so they more precisely pick up autism symptoms independent of a person's age or verbal abilities.

Because it is so difficult to precisely pin down the symptoms of autism, scientists would like to move from the current behavioral description of autism to a more biological one. Such biological indicators are known as "biomarkers," and several presentations at the meeting explored how different biomarkers may be related to autism. For example, Valerie Hu, Ph.D. (George Washington Univ.), using biological samples from the AGRE set of families, described the patterns of chemical marks on DNA known as methyl groups and how they may correlate with autism symptom severity. Dayan Goodenowe, Ph.D. (Phenomenome Discoveries), identified several products of metabolic pathways that are elevated in individuals in autism, but not in their unaffected siblings, and Astrid Vicente, Ph.D., (Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência) and colleagues showed that a protein important for brain development is elevated in a subset of people with autism. Discovery of such biomarkers may eventually lead to something like a blood test for autism, which not only would allow earlier and potentially more reliable diagnoses of autism, but would also help researchers achieve an understanding of the biological basis of the disorder.

Biomarkers can be used not only to diagnose whether an individual has autism, but can also be related to particular characteristics or endophenotypes of autism. For instance, in previous years much focus has been given to the social and language impairments in autism, and much less research has been devoted to characterizing the repetitive and restricted behaviors that are also diagnostic of autism. Fortunately this year many presentations keyed in on this autism domain and examined whether it could be related to any distinct biomarkers. One presentation by Stephen Guter, M.A. (Univ. of Illinois), looked for a relation between the brain chemical serotonin and the degree to which an individual with autism insists on sameness. Another study presented by Antonio Persico, M.D. (Universite Campus Bio-Medico), found a variant of the PRKCB1 gene correlated with a person's stereotyped behaviors. Finally, several studies presented attempted to identify autism biomarkers by correlating behaviors to specific structures of the brain. A presentation from the lab of Stewart Mostofsky, M.D. (Kennedy Krieger Inst.), focused on the shape of the basal ganglia, a part of the brain involved in generating complex movements. Their data suggested that altered shapes of the basal ganglia were associated with autism, and varied with both motor and social deficits.

Culture and Diagnosis
Even with good diagnostic tools – behavioral or biological – cultural factors can also influence the diagnosis of autism. For example, boys are diagnosed more frequently than girls, and some scientists suspect that this may be partly due to the failure to diagnose girls who are mildly affected, perhaps because of different cultural expectations for girls. Indeed, several presentations documented similarities and differences between boys and girls with autism, including one by Alicia Hall, Ph.D. (Univ. of South Carolina), that showed that males and females receive a diagnosis of autism through different sets of symptoms, and another by Harry Wright, M.D. (Univ. of South Carolina), that showed no difference in the amount or type of problem behaviors displayed by boys and girls with autism. Other work explored the role of ethnicity in diagnosis. Diana Robins, Ph.D. (Georgia State), and colleagues found that African-American parents reported fewer autism-related concerns about their children than other ethnicities, and this may contribute to their later age of diagnosis. Finally, presentations by Catherine Hambly, Ph.D. (McGill Univ.), and by Kathy Leadbitter, Ph.D. (Univ. of Manchester), both found that coming from a bilingual home can contribute to a later age of diagnosis. This was due to the fact that concerns about a child's delayed language development is often attributed to the prevailing but inaccurate belief that children raised bilingually acquire language more slowly. However, even if the diagnoses were delayed, the researchers could show no difference in language abilities between children with autism from bilingual homes and those from homes where only one language is spoken.

Psychiatric Disorders in Autism
Another emerging theme at this meeting was the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in people with autism. Tony Charman, Ph.D. (Univ. of London), reported that a majority of children with autism had a least one psychiatric disorder that impairs their function above and beyond that due to autism. Several other presentations supported this, finding that obsessive compulsive disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and ADHD are often diagnosed in people with autism. Disentangling psychiatric disorders from the core symptoms of autism is important because current treatments for these conditions can potentially improve function and quality of life for people with autism.


A Role for the Immune System?
Spurred by a growing interest in a role for the immune system, several sessions were devoted to characterization of immune abnormalities in autism. For instance, the laboratory of Judy Van de Water, Ph.D. (UC Davis) has found that antibodies that target fetal brain tissue are present in some mothers of children with autism. They hypothesize that, during pregnancy, the presence of these antibodies in the mother may disrupt brain development in a way that leads to autism. This idea was tested by colleague David Amaral, Ph.D. (MIND Inst.) who found that injecting these antibodies into pregnant rhesus monkeys led to offspring with hyperactivity and stereotyped movements.

The immune systems of individuals with autism may also react inappropriately to pathogens, which could lead to abnormal inflammation in the brain. One presentation by Amanda Enstrom, Ph.D. (UC Davis), found that, when probed with a simulated infection, white blood cells from people with autism made higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine molecules than those taken from individuals without the disorder. Similarly, the laboratory of Mazhar Malik, Ph.D. (New York State Inst. for Basic Research (IBR)), looked directly at brain samples from people with autism, and found evidence for elevated levels of cytokines and a potentially damaging inflammatory response. The laboratories of Eric Courchesne, Ph.D. (UC San Diego), and Carlos Pardo, M.D. (Johns Hopkins Univ.), both reported work on human brain tissue (donated through Autism Speaks' Autism Tissue Program) showing activation of specific immune cell types and molecules in the cortex of individuals with autism.

Perhaps related to immune dysfunction, several presentations also explored the possibility that the brains and bodies of people with autism experience abnormally high levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a physiological condition in which reactive oxygen molecules, called free radicals, overwhelm the proteins that normally quench them, leading to cell damage and even death. One study from the laboratory of Ved Chauhan, Ph.D. (IBR), found both higher levels of free radical generation and lower levels of the proteins that scavenge them in cells from people with autism. Cell lines from the AGRE set of families were used in this study. These conditions may alter brain development, as suggested by a study presented by IBR colleague Bozena Mazur-Kolecka, Ph.D., when grown in a dish, the neural precursor cells that give rise to neurons proliferated less when they were put through a mild oxidative stress in the presence of as yet unknown factors from blood cells of individuals with autism.

Connectivity in the Brain
More and more autism is emerging as a disorder of connections in the brain. Nancy Minshew, M.D. (Univ. of Pittsburgh), described several lines of recent evidence supporting the existence of abnormal connections between brain regions. Generally speaking, regions far apart in the brain seem to be under-connected, whereas regions in closer proximity may be over-connected. Several presentations at the conference made use of a new technology called diffusion tensor imaging to visualize the neuronal connectivity in individuals with autism. The studies found a number of abnormalities, including impaired long range connections that correlate with scores on a measure of social abilities, as presented by Andrew Alexander, Ph.D. (Univ. of Wisconsin).

Although there appears to be changes in long-range brain connectivity that may underlie the core deficits of autism, Dr. Minshew also hypothesized that local over-connectivity may be responsible for some of the special talents of individuals with autism. Exploration of the cognitive strengths of autism may be just as informative as the current focus on deficits. Autism self-advocate Michelle Dawson combed through the literature to identify 71 publications that describe a total of 52 distinct types of cognitive strengths in which people with autism outperformed their neurotypical controls, including on a visual perception test called the embedded figure task. Similarly, Isabelle Soulieres, Ph.D. (Mass General Hospital), showed enhanced mental rotation abilities in people with autism, and Michelle O'Riordan, Ph.D. (Autism Research Centre, Univ. of Cambridge), found that individuals with autism display a superior ability to locate a visual target among distractors as early as three years old. A better understanding of these strengths will provide a more complete picture of how the brain functions in autism, and may lead to innovative treatment strategies.

Developing Systems to Model Autism Biology and Test Proposed Treatments
As more and more of the underlying biology – like impaired brain connectivity – is understood, researchers are building better model systems to test hypotheses about the causes of autism and to design treatment strategies. Many presentations at this year's conference described development of animal models that recreate features of autism. Craig Powell, M.D., Ph.D. (Univ. of Texas-Southwestern), described new studies of mice missing Neurexin-1, a gene which is important for regulating brain connectivity and which in the last year has been found mutated in a few cases of autism. Their preliminary data suggests these animals have increased stereotyped behaviors (such as self-grooming) and increased startle behavior. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, M.D. (UMDNJ-RWJ), and colleagues are studying the impact of losing the autism-associated gene Engrailed-2 (En-2). Their studies have shown that manipulating levels of En-2 leads to profound changes in the levels of neurochemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, in specific brain circuits that are also abnormal in autism. Laura Herzing, Ph.D. (Northwestern Univ.), used mouse models to find that even small changes in the expression of genes lying in the chromosome 15q11-13 region, an area prone to large genetic glitches associated with autism, results in social and behavioral changes.

Although no test will ever allow us to define an animal as "autistic" in the exact way a human is, research has shown us that humans and other animals share common biological mechanisms that underlie behavioral abnormalities, making it possible to define specific molecular targets for treatment design. Mark Lewis, Ph.D. (Univ. of Florida), has used deer mice to study the brain circuitry responsible for generating repetitive behaviors. A novel observation about the specific molecules involved in regulating this circuitry has led his team to propose a novel therapeutic approach for suppressing stereotypies in autism. Mark Bear, Ph.D. (MIT), Luis Parada, Ph.D. (UT-Southwestern), and Richard Paylor, Ph.D. (Baylor), each described how gene discovery has allowed creation of mouse models of human neurodevelopmental disorders (such as Fragile X Syndrome and Tuberous Sclerosis) that are currently being used to screen new therapeutic compounds with potential applications for autism.

Finally, Jacqueline Crawley, Ph.D. (NIMH), described behavioral tasks she has developed to model each of the three diagnostic criteria for autism for mice. Using such tasks, her laboratory has found that a particular strain of mice, called BTBR, show several behavioral characteristics of autism. While also trying a variety of molecular therapies in these animals, her team has attempted to recreate a psychosocial intervention by testing whether living in an enriched environment filled with juvenile peers will impact their behavior. In preliminary experiments they found that housing the BTBR mice for forty days with a more social strain of mice increased the sociability of the BTBR as adults. This research demonstrates how animal models inform our thinking about autism as much as autism inspires the animal models, and an intensive back and forth between them will result in a better understanding of the biology and pave the way for new treatments.


The importance of peers in mediating successful outcomes was a theme throughout the many presentations on autism treatment. Navigating the complex social world of school-age children can be tough for anyone, but it is especially challenging for individuals with autism. To help them overcome this, Connie Kasari, Ph.D. (UCLA), has developed a classroom-centered intervention to help learners with autism build their social networks in grade school. Her presentation showed that not only was it important to coach the child with autism on social skills, but that there was an extra benefit to coaching their peers as well. After 12 weeks of the intervention, the social position and number of reciprocated friendships increased for the children with autism. These and similar results show that involving peers is important for developing social skills, which are ultimately learned through practice.

Including adolescents with autism in the classroom with typically developing peers can also benefit their academic achievement. In a preliminary study Jennifer Kurth, M.Ed. (Northern Arizona Univ.), reviewed the records of 12-16 year olds, some of whom were included in a general education classroom and others who were not. Inclusion promoted greater academic achievement, including participation in the core curriculum, exposure to higher grade level materials, and development of higher-order thinking skills. Such educational research shows that a classroom environment can contribute not only to the academic skills of adolescents with autism but to their social skills development as well.

Treatments for Core Symptoms as well as Medical Issues
As clinicians learn to diagnose autism at younger ages, researchers are working to fill the gap by developing new intervention techniques adapted to toddlers, ones that may even be able to reverse or prevent autism. This year's meeting presented preliminary data on these and many other interventions designed for older children and adults – ranging from naturalistic imitation approaches to psychosocial techniques – all aimed at improving the core deficits of autism. While researchers are examining whether these treatments can sustain improvements in the core features of autism, there was an additional emphasis at the conference on the development of treatments that can address the special medical needs of individuals with autism.

Recognizing that sleep difficulties affect many individuals, scientists gathered in a special session organized by Beth Malow, M.D. (Vanderbilt Univ.), and Amanda Richdale, Ph.D. (La Trobe Univ.), to identify the key issues in understanding and improving sleep disturbances. A presentation by Suzanne Goldman, Ph.D. from (Vanderbilt Univ.), showed that quality of sleep impacted behavior during the day: children with autism who were poor sleepers had more repetitive behaviors and hyperactivity than good sleepers with autism. Karen Adkins, R.N. (Vanderbilt Univ.), presented a pilot study of use of melatonin as a sleep aid in autism. When given at bedtime, melatonin shortened the delay between going to bed and actually falling asleep, and increased sleep duration. Although sleep disturbances are not a core feature of autism, resolving them will have very positive impacts for people with autism and their families.

People with autism often experience debilitating levels of anxiety, and several presentations investigated the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them manage their anxiety. CBT is a talk therapy approach that promotes awareness of the items or situations that make a person anxious, encourages a person to think through alternative responses, and coaches him or her on coping strategies. Judy Reaven, Ph.D. (Univ. of Colorado-Denver), presented promising results of a group CBT intervention she adapted for autism. After twelve weeks of meeting with a group of four youths with autism and their parents, 78% of the participants had reduced anxiety, almost twice that found when following standard treatments. Jonathan Weiss, Ph.D. (Haifa Univ.), also presented data showing reductions in anxiety using a group CBT approach specifically designed for adults.

Beyond sleep and anxiety, research into other medical issues of autism was prevalent. For example, Jeffrey Lewine, Ph.D. (Alexian Brothers Medical Center), showed that a subset of children with autism show abnormal epilepsy-like patterns of activity during sleep even though they had no history of seizures. In the cases where the researchers found these abnormal patterns restricted to a specific part of the brain involved in language, the children made language gains when treated with steroids. Although long-term treatment with steroids is not viable, this insight will be able to guide researchers into finding an alternative strategy that may improve language. In other unusual findings, Michael Chez, M.D. (Sutter Neuroscience Inst.), presented a small study of six individuals with autism who had also developed catatonia, a movement disorder. In these cases specific neurochemical abnormalities were found and treated successfully with folinic acid or dopamine supplementation. Carol Curtin, M.S.W. (Univ. of Massachusetts), showed that children and adolescents with autism were 20% more likely to be obese than their typically developing peers. Further research into why this exists will be essential because public health campaigns to prevent obesity will likely not meet the needs of these children. In sum, although traditionally medical conditions such as these may have been considered to be part of the autism syndrome, this type of research shows that these conditions can be treated separately to make meaningful improvements in quality of life.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine
The growing interest in complementary and alternative medical treatments (CAMs) for autism was reflected in several presentations, ranging from research on therapeutic horseback riding to hyperbaric oxygenation treatment to music therapy to sensory integration. Information on which ones effectively treat autism is crucial because it will help families decide how best to allocate their money. Of note, Robin Gabriels, Psy.D. (Children's Hospital, Denver), presented preliminary results of a 10 week program of therapeutic horseback riding that showed some gains in motor skills and adaptive behaviors in individuals with autism. In contrast, Dennis Dixon, Ph.D. (Center for Autism and Related Disorders), Jeffrey Bradstreet, M.D. (ICDRC), and colleagues presented a rigorous examination of a course of 80 hours of hyperbaric oxygenation therapy (HBOT) and found that it was not an effective treatment for autism. Both those who received the higher pressure oxygen, and those who did not, made similar gains across the time of the study. Roseann Schaff, Ph.D. (Thomas Jefferson Univ.), described an intervention designed to use occupational therapy to ease the sensory dysfunctions of people with autism. Because self-stimulating and avoidance behaviors in individuals with autism can restrict their full participation in daily activities, this study was designed to target the underlying reasons for sensory dysfunction, rather than simply focusing on shaping the behaviors themselves.

New Innovative Technology Demonstration Session
In a first for IMFAR, a special session organized by Autism Speaks' Innovative Technologies in Autism program provided live demonstrations throughout the day of 30 different innovative technologies designed to help people with autism, their families and their caregivers. Scientists and product designers showed how recent advancements in video and audio capture technology, web-based data collection methods, robotics and virtual reality can be readily adapted to provide useful tools for studying and treating autism.

Several demonstrations were designed to teach social skills using interactive games. These tools allowed individuals with autism to plan, engage in, observe and revise their social interactions. Because there is a fear that such tools would increase social withdrawal, many showed generalization of social skills learned to situations beyond the computer. Other technologies sought to help people with autism communicate. For example, Gianluca De Leo, Ph.D. (Old Dominion Univ.), presented a PECS-like software application for touch screen smartphones. With a huge image database and the ability to quickly combine images, this application outpaces the traditional laminated paper and velcro set-ups. Similar icon-based software applications were developed to help people with autism create visual schedules to help them know what activities to expect each day. Still other applications were designed with clinicians in mind, including a video upload system presented by Christopher Smith, Ph.D. (SARRC), that enables parents to send videos of their children made in the more naturalistic setting of their own homes rather than relying solely on assessments done in the clinic.

Autism Research Funding Receives a Boost
A special lunch time talk by Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) provided researchers with the exciting news that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are currently seeking to fund over $60 million in autism research through a variety of grant types, including Challenge Grants and Grand Opportunity Grant initiatives, all provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Dr. Insel offered that NIMH is “enormously grateful” to the many members of the autism community who have offered to help review the hundreds of autism grant applications coming in.

In additional good news, while Dr. Insel was speaking at the meeting, the Obama administration sent its 2010 budget request to Congress, which includes a boost for autism research spending. Overall, the budget calls for a 16% increase for autism research while the proposed increase for the NIH is only 1.4%. "This is a remarkable signal of the priority for autism research," says Dr. Insel.

"Autism Speaks is proud to be a sponsor of this unique gathering of autism science," said Dawson.

View a recap of day one, Thursday, May 7 here.
View a recap of day two, Friday, May 8 here.
View a recap of day three, Saturday, May 9 here.
Read a press release about the conference here.
View press coverage of the conference here.

To read individual abstracts, please visit:

Data presented at the annual International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) is the sole responsibility of the authors. The sponsor of the annual Meeting, the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), and Autism Speaks take no responsibility for its accuracy. Submitted IMFAR abstracts are reviewed only to ensure that the authors will be presenting empirical data and that aims and conduct of the study, as far as can be ascertained, are consistent with international ethical guidelines for scientific research (Declaration of Helsinki). Acceptance of an abstract for presentation at the Meeting does not represent an endorsement by the Society of the quality or accuracy of the data and their interpretation, which judgment must await publication in a peer review journal. Readers should recognize that study data presented at meetings is often preliminary and in some cases speculative, and that findings and conclusions have not undergone the rigors of a true peer review process.