While continued research on interventions and services for young children with ASD is crucial, research on the needs of transition-age youth and adults with ASD is equally important. Despite this clear need, we know relatively little about how best to support individuals with ASD as they transition to adulthood. Postsecondary education and vocational training, supported employment, appropriate residential opportunities, continued development of social skills, and access to services and supports, including psychosocial interventions and technological supports, are all thought to be helpful to transition-age youth and adults. Nonetheless, the evidence base in support of these approaches is lacking, and precisely how best to meet the needs of transition-age youth and adults this need is unclear.
The NIMH is investing in research to remedy this lack of information. The ServASD initiative is funding efforts to develop and test the effectiveness of community-based interventions that can be delivered across a variety of service systems to improve functional and health outcomes of individuals with ASD throughout the lifespan, including the transition from youth to adulthood. These strategies take into account the structure and staffing of the service setting, such as educational, vocational, healthcare, and independent living programs, to ensure that, should the interventions prove effective, they can be delivered consistently and sustainably. Projects funded are aimed at developing and testing models for the delivery of needed services, including screening services, early intervention, transition services, and services for adults that target employment, social relationships, housing, and independent living.
Following up on the first successful round of ServASD grants, the NIMH issued two new funding announcements aimed at services for transition-age youth (RFA-MH-17-200 ) and adults (RFA-MH-17-205 ) with ASD. These announcements specifically target innovative models to help youth transition to adult supports and optimize the independence and functioning of adults with ASD.
The NIMH of course does not stand alone in the effort to improve the health and well being of individuals on the autism spectrum. As noted above, most of our research investments are complemented by significant investments made by our sister NIH institutes. Moreover, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), of which I serve as chair, is tasked with ensuring that all government agencies that are involved in autism research and service efforts work together towards common goals. The IACC is responsible for creating and updating a government-wide strategic plan for ASD which addresses both research and services issues. The committee is in the midst of revising this plan, which should be completed within the next few months. Implementation of evidence-based practices for ASD interventions and services for all people on the autism spectrum is a recurring theme throughout the upcoming IACC Strategic Plan.
Efforts to develop and make appopriate interventions, supports and services available to individuals with ASD and their families are every bit as crucial as the efforts to understand the underlying biology I highlighted in my last message. For while increased understanding promises the possibility of transformative treatments in the future, we must also work to help those struggling now. NIMH and our partner institutes at NIH are committed to ensuring progress towards both short term and long term goals focused on addressing the needs and improving the lives of those living with ASD.