Infants at risk for autism: A European perspective on current status, challenges and opportunities
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Currently, autism cannot be reliably diagnosed before the age of 2 years, which is why longitudinal studies of high-risk populations provide the potential to generate unique knowledge about the development of autism during infancy and toddlerhood prior to symptom onset. Early autism research is an evolving field in child psychiatric science. Key objectives are fine mapping of neurodevelopmental trajectories and identifying biomarkers to improve risk assessment, diagnosis and treatment. ESSEA (Enhancing the Scientific Study of Early Autism) is a COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) Action striving to create a European collaboration to enhance the progress of the discovery and treatment of the earliest signs of autism, and to establish European practice guidelines on early identification and intervention by bringing together European expertise from cognitive neuroscience and clinical sciences. The objective of this article is to clarify the state of current European research on at-risk autism research, and to support the understanding of different contexts in which the research is being conducted. We present ESSEA survey data on ongoing European high-risk ASD studies, as well as perceived challenges and opportunities in this field of research. We conclude that although high-risk autism research in Europe faces several challenges, the existence of several key factors (e.g., new and/or large-scale autism grants, availability of new technologies, and involvement of experienced research groups) lead us to expect substantial scientific and clinical developments in Europe in this field during the next few years.
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