Autism Speaks ATN receives federal grant to continue to serve as AIR-P

Funding supports continued research, development of best practices, tool kits for families

The Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN), has received a $12 million federal grant to continue to serve as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P). The AIR-P supports clinical research, development of best-practice guidelines, tool kits for families and physicians, and clinician training activities. "This agreement provides the ATN with a jump start in developing the kinds of research programs that will provide answers to questions that parents have about the health care for their children with autism," says lead AIR-P investigator James Perrin, M.D., director of Autism Speaks' Clinical Coordinating Center and of MassGeneral Hospital for Children's Division of General Pediatrics, and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. "It also gives us the opportunity to develop and disseminate best health care practices for children and their families."

Studies that will be conducted with this major grant include a clinical trial of interventions to reduce or avoid the excessive weight gain associated with some of the medications used to treat autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and a clinical trial of interventions to treat sleep problems in children with ASD and iron deficiency. The funding will also support the development of additional research within the ATN, in areas related to medical and physical health issues. AIR-P is also developing its Autism Collaborative. This empirical approach measures whether sites are actually implementing the model and determining whether it's working, and provides a level of rigor that is critical for the field. "Families are faced with many choices in creating a treatment plan for their child or loved one," explained ATN Medical Director Daniel Coury, M.D. "This Autism Collaborative shows that we're putting data behind what we say and do in creating best practices for comprehensive care of individuals with ASD."

The funding represents the ATN's second major AIR-P grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration Maternal and Child Health Bureau, for a total of $24 million since 2008. In those first three years, AIR-P funding supported 11 clinical research projects. In addition to research, the AIR-P and ATN support tool kit development and family outreach, as well as webinars, conference presentations, training and mentoring for medical professionals.

In 2011, ATN and AIR-P published the first of its Tool kits to provide guidance to families and providers. "Taking the Work Out of Blood Work: Helping Your Child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder - A Parent's Guide," and the companion provider's guide provides clear guidance for families and medical providers to help make necessary medical procedures less stressful. The ATN and AIR-P also produced the Medication Decision Aid Tool Kit to help families understand more of the choices and considerations involved in considering medications in collaboration with their child's doctor.

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