There is widespread concern about the apparently growing prevalence of autism, although this increase may be due, in large part, to factors such as changes in diagnostic criteria and ascertainment practices. Public and scientific interest in the causes and fundamental nature of autism has never been stronger. Research in this field has grown exponentially in the last twenty years, with significant financial support in this area provided by Governments, Research Councils and private charities. Studies spanning a whole range of disciplines share the goals of elucidating the core phenomena and underlying aetiology, thereby informing therapeutic interventions, as well as offering valuable insights into normal functioning. Research by individuals and groups in the UK has played a leading role in addressing key unanswered questions about autism, including its causes and psychological substrates, the underlying brain mechanisms, and the most effective ways to work with and support people with autism and their families.
A major conference which we were privileged to organise in 2007, entitled: ‘Autism Research UK: from diagnosis to intervention’ hosted by the Open University and sponsored by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Autism Speaks and a number of other organisations, provided an effective backdrop to this book. At this first national meeting of this scope, internationally renowned speakers and chairpersons convened with representatives from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, National Autistic Society and Autism Speaks for two days of discussion and debate aimed at elucidating ways forward in understanding the autism spectrum and helping affected individuals and their families.