Since 2002, the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) has provided more than $3 million toward research into the developmental spectrum disorder. Autism, which affects about one in 68 children in the United States and their families, consists of a spectrum of conditions that impairs communication, development of social skills, and growth of interpersonal relationships. OAR is a leading provider of research-based information for families and caregivers. Established in 2001 by a group of seven parents and grandparents of children with autism, it focuses on bringing the insights of applied science to the tasks of living with autism spectrum disorders and fostering the development of children with the condition.
With its headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, the Organization for Autism Research provides funding for pilot programs that promise to result in long-term positive educational, social, vocational, or treatment-related gains for people with autism spectrum disorders. The group’s focus team of parents, educational and health care professionals, and autism authorities determines the direction of future research based on these criteria. Each year, OAR conducts open grant competitions for researchers and graduate students beginning autism-related research projects. These competitions look for research focused on modalities for assessment and treatment, and for those concentrating on early intervention or long-term life skills and employment opportunities for adults with autism.
OAR additionally convenes a Scientific Council that is made up of more than one dozen professionals in the field of autism and medical research. This council works closely with the group’s board of directors to provide guidance in vetting research grant proposals and other avenues of funding. Council members, who represent prestigious institutions across the United States, are among the leading figures in their respective disciplines, and include professors, child development experts, and working researchers.
OAR’s website includes extensive links to resources for educators, including overviews of autism, suggestions for individualized educational plans, and worksheets designed to assist in everyday activities such as parent-teacher communication. Its newsletters provide updates on research funding projects and everyday tips for living with autism. The OAR store offers information on autism and the related Asperger syndrome in English and Spanish for parents and educators, as well as audio CD recordings of conference proceedings.
In addition, the Organization for Autism Research encourages numerous Runs for Autism each year, some held in conjunction with regular international marathons, such as the New York City Marathon and the Virgin London Marathon. The group promotes local athletic events, such as swims, hikes, and cycling events, to benefit the cause as well.
Among the professional or parent-focused conferences hosted or supported by OAR are the Accessibility Summit in Washington, D.C., Virginia’s Commonwealth Autism Service Annual Conference, and the Milestones Annual Autism Spectrum Disorder Conference.
And through its Schwallie Family Scholarship Program, OAR provides the chance for qualified individuals with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum to access undergraduate education programs. By 2013, the organization had contributed more than $300,000 to fund education for more than 100 students. The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship Program assists students with more severe autism diagnoses so they may attend post-secondary programs.