This diversity of research agendas is partially a result of uncertainty. Amid the darkness, it might make sense to shine searchlights in all directions. Some of it may also stem from the availability of autism research money at a time of tight science budgets. To put it bluntly, publication-hungry scientists may have an incentive to rebrand marginally-relevant work as autism-related. Describing her study of how experts on sex differences have landed on the “biomedical platform” of autism, science historian Sarah Richardson says they “have begun to link their very basic research -- even if it’s on nematodes [roundworms] -- to frame it as a contribution to autism.”
Paige E. Cervantes and colleagues have an article at the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders titled "Trends Over a Decade in NIH Funding for Autism Spectrum Disorder Services Research." The abstract:
Investments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research, guided by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), have focused disproportionately on etiology over a well-established stakeholder priority area: research to improve accessibility and quality of community-based services. This study analyzed National Institutes of Health ASD services research funding from 2008 to 2018 to examine funding patterns, evaluate the impact of IACC objectives, and identify future directions. Approximately 9% of total funds were allocated to services research. This investment remained relatively stable across time and lacked diversity across domains (e.g., area of focus, ages sampled, implementation strategies used). While advancements were observed, including increased prevalence of projects focused on adult samples and on dissemination/implementation and prevention areas, greater investment in service research is critically needed.