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Introduction On April 18 and 19, 2007, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) Fo- rum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders (the Forum), in re- sponse to a request from the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, hosted a workshop called “Autism and the Environment: Chal- lenges and Opportunities for Research.” The goal of the workshop was to provide a venue to bring together scientists, members of the autism community, and the major sponsors of autism-related research to discuss the most promising scientific opportunities (Box I-1). The focus was on improving the understanding of the ways in which environmental factors such as chemicals, infectious agents, or physiological or psychological stress can affect the development of the brain. In addition, discussions addressed the infrastructure needs for pursuing the identified research opportunities—tools, technologies, and partnerships. Chaired by Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of Science, the workshop represented a partnership among members of the autism advocacy community, scientists, and policy makers. The autism community was involved in the early discussions that led to the Secre- tary’s request for this workshop and subsequent sponsorship by the Fo- rum and supplemental sponsorship by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the Centers for Disease Con- trol and Prevention. Four of the thirteen members of the workshop plan- ning committee⎯which was solely responsible for organizing the workshop, identifying topics, and choosing speakers⎯were members of 1
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2 AUTISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT BOX I-1 Statement of Task The Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders was estab- lished by the IOM to provide an opportunity for continuing dialogue and dis- cussion among representatives of all relevant sectors about scientific and policy issues related to neuroscience and nervous system disorders. In response to a request from the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, the IOM Forum on Neuroscience and Nervous System Disorders, in collaboration with the IOM Roundtable on Environmental Health Sciences, Research, and Medicine, will host a workshop on Autism and the Environ- ment: Challenges and Opportunities for Research. The workshop will feature presentations and discussions on strategies for research focusing on the potential relationship between autism and an array of environmental expo- sures. An ad hoc planning committee will organize a public workshop that will focus on the following three questions: • What are the most promising scientific opportunities for improving the understanding of potential environmental factors in autism? • What scientific tools and technologies are available, what interdisci- plinary research approaches are needed, and what further infrastructure in- vestments will be necessary in the short and long term to be able to explore potential relationships between autism and environmental factors? • What opportunities exist for public–private partnerships in the sup- port and conduct of the research? the autism community. Furthermore, a number of members of the autism community were speakers, discussants, and workshop attendees, who reminded workshop participants about their sense of urgency in address- ing this serious health issue. The publication of the workshop proceedings provides the Forum with a broader mechanism to inform not only the membership of the Fo- rum, but also other interested parties about what transpired at the work- shop. The workshop proceedings should not be confused with a National Academies consensus report. The proceedings do not contain findings or recommendations endorsed by the National Academies or the IOM, the Neuroscience Forum, or the Planning Committee. Opinions and state- ments included in the proceedings are solely those of the individual per- sons or participants at the workshop, and are not necessarily adopted, endorsed, or verified as accurate by the National Academies. What fol- lows in Chapter 2 are the proceedings of the meeting. Embedded in this are important lessons for the reader. Proceedings have been edited to eliminate redundancy and grammatical errors. In addition, workshop
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3 INTRODUCTION speakers were provided an opportunity to edit their remarks to ensure clarity and accuracy of statements. Corresponding PowerPoint presenta- tions may be downloaded from the Forum’s website (http://www.iom. edu/?id=42481). To assist in the response to the Statement of Task an index of the scientific opportunities that were identified throughout the workshop has been compiled in Appendix A. Subsequent appendixes include a copy of the workshop agenda (Appendix B), a list of the workshop registrants (Appendix C), and biographies of the Forum’s membership, workshop planning committee, and workshop speakers (Appendix D).
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