Assistive communication, health issues and safety concerns for those with autism are just a few areas that will receive new attention in government-sponsored efforts to understand the developmental disorder under an updated plan released Monday.

The initiatives are part of a 2011 strategic plan from the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, or IACC, a government advisory panel established by the Combating Autism Act of 2006, which is comprised of federal officials and members of the autism community.

The annual plan serves as a blueprint for autism research efforts nationwide and sets priorities for the types of research that will likely receive federal funding.

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This year’s plan includes 16 new objectives in addition to several continued from last year. Specifically, the IACC set goals to better understand the causes of autism and what treatments and interventions will help people with the disorder.

What’s more, the plan includes a new emphasis on alternative and augmentative communication tools, or AAC, for those who are nonverbal and touches on secondary health concerns like obesity and mental health among those with autism as well as safety issues specific to those on the spectrum who may be prone to wandering or other dangers.

“The IACC has heard from the community about the growing need for research and the importance of new areas for rigorous scientific study,” said Thomas Insel, chair of the IACC and director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “This updated research strategic plan builds on recent discoveries and emerging opportunities to identify new areas where science can make a difference for individuals and families with ASD.”