Autism Center

Research and Clinical Trials

Autism is a spectrum of disorders with different causes and pathways. So, kids with autism need treatment custom-made for them. To help every child with autism thrive, Seattle Children’s Autism Center researches:

  • How autism develops
  • How the brain is involved
  • How children and teens with autism respond to therapies and services
  • How we can improve the quality of life for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families

Some studies collect information to help us learn about the causes and effects of autism. Others are called clinical trials. They test new ways to diagnose or treat autism in people. For example, a clinical trial might test a medicine, device or therapy. The goal is to see how well it works and make sure it is safe. We have many studies going on now.

To learn more about how to get involved, call 206-987-7917 or email us. We can let you know of studies that might apply to your child. Your family may be able to take part in research even if you are waiting for an appointment in our clinic.

Our Autism Blog often reports on our research. These projects show some of the many ways we learn about autism and how to better care for children.

  • SPARK: Understanding autism

    SPARK is an autism research study and a growing community of autistic individuals, their families and researchers working together to advance the understanding of autism. Its mission is to improve the lives of people with autism by identifying the causes. This can help inform more effective therapies, treatments, services and supports. The study involves giving a saliva sample for DNA analysis. It is open to people with an autism diagnosis and the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder. SPARK can also connect participants with other autism research studies.

    To learn more, see:

  • Autism registry to give families access to research studies and clinical trials

    A registry is a place where researchers keep information about people who have a condition so they can learn more about it. If you’d like, we can add you to our autism research registry, overseen by Dr. Soo-Jeong Kim. Then, when we begin a new study that may fit your family, we can reach out to tell you about it and you can decide if you want to join.

    To find out about joining the registry, call 206-987-7917 or email us.

  • Biomarkers to improve autism diagnosis and therapy

    Biomarkers are ways to measure how the body is working. Dr. Sara Webb works to develop biomarkers that tell how the brain and body work in children with autism and other conditions that affect the nervous system. She uses many ways to get information. These include measuring electrical activity in the brain and heart. She also tests where the eyes look (eye tracking) as a screening tool for toddlers who might have autism.

    Webb aims to better understand why some children develop autism. She also wants to improve services for children with social challenges. She directs the Psychophysiology and Behavioral Systems Lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

    Seattle Children’s and the University of Washington are part of the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials.

  • Why are fewer girls diagnosed with autism than boys?

    Four times more boys than girls are diagnosed with autism. Dr. Sara Webb wants to know why. It might be that signs of autism are different in females than in males. Or doctors may miss clues because girls are better at hiding their social struggles. Webb directed the Seattle site for the GENDAAR study. The study’s goal was to understand more about sex differences in brain structure, function, connections and genetics in youth with autism.

  • Brain signaling and what it means for behavior

    Dr. Sara Webb is working with others at the Research in Autism and the Brain Lab at the University of Washington on autism research. They want to learn more about brain signals in people with autism as well as people. They use brain imaging, like , to look for differences in brain signals between the 2 groups. Behavioral assessments help them look for links between the signals and behavior.

  • Can medicine help kids with 16p11.2 deletion?

    Most children with 16p11.2 deletion syndrome have symptoms of autism. The syndrome happens when a small piece of chromosome 16 is missing. Seattle Children’s is part of a study to test the medicine arbaclofen in children who have this syndrome. It’s called the L16HTHOUSE study. Researchers are checking whether the medicine helps with development, such as speech, learning and social function.

  • Everyday technologies for kids with autism

    Dr. Frederick Shic’s team at Seattle Children’s Innovative Technologies Lab makes and studies tools to understand and help children with autism. The tools include robots, video games and technologies that track where kids look and how they process information. These methods:

    • Help engage children in learning
    • Can help children look at problems in new ways
    • Tell us about a child’s strengths and choices
  • How autism-linked genes affect signals between nerve cells

    More than 100 genetic changes are linked to autism. Dr. Stephen Smith’s lab works to find out:

    • How these changes affect the way the brain works
    • If different changes affect the brain in similar ways

    Current research focuses on the connections between the brain’s nerve cells. These are called synapses. They control how the brain processes information. The lab’s long-term goal is to group children with autism based on how their genetic changes affect their brains. This would open the door to new treatments for different types of autism. His lab is part of our Center for Integrative Brain Research.

  • Research continues to disprove link between vaccines and autism

    Study after study finds no link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Seattle Children’s doctors work to dispel fears so parents get the lifesaving MMR vaccine for their children. Our former Autism Center director wrote an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association about this issue.

How to Take Part in Research Studies

Ways to Help

Donations from people like you help researchers explore ideas that could lead to life-changing treatments for kids with autism. Give today.

Contact Us

If you would like an appointment, ask your child’s primary care provider to refer you. Learn more about how to get services at the Autism Center.

Providers, see how to refer a patient.