Applying a public health approach to autism research: A framework for action

Diana Schendel, Anne M. Roux, Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick, Kristen Lyall, Lindsay Shea, Giacomo Vivanti, Andrea Trubanova Wieckowski, Craig Newschaffer, Diana L. Robins

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Most published autism research, and the funding that supports it, remains focused on basic and clinical science. However, the public health impact of autism drives a compelling argument for utilizing a public health approach to autism research. Fundamental to the public health perspective is a focus on health determinants to improve quality of life and to reduce the potential for adverse outcomes across the general population, including in vulnerable subgroups. While the public health research process can be conceptualized as a linear, 3-stage path consisting of discovery – testing – translation/dissemination/implementation, in this paper we propose an integrated, cyclical research framework to advance autism public health objectives in a more comprehensive manner. This involves discovery of primary, secondary and tertiary determinants of health in autism; and use of this evidence base to develop and test detection, intervention, and dissemination strategies and the means to implement them in ‘real world’ settings. The proposed framework serves to facilitate identification of knowledge gaps, translational barriers, and shortfalls in implementation; guides an iterative research cycle; facilitates purposeful integration of stakeholders and interdisciplinary researchers; and may yield more efficient achievement of improved health and well-being among persons on the autism spectrum at the population-level. Lay Summary: Scientists need better ways to identify and address gaps in autism research, conduct research with stakeholders, and use findings to improve the lives of autistic people. We recommend an approach, based in public health science, to guide research in ways that might impact lives more quickly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)592-601
Number of pages10
JournalAutism Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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