Ido Kedar, center, who has autism, works with Anna Page during a class at Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park, Calif. The NIMH is funding new studies to identify services to help those with autism transition from high school and during other stages of life. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Ido Kedar, center, who has autism, works with Anna Page during a class at Canoga Park High School in Canoga Park, Calif. The NIMH is funding new studies to identify services to help those with autism transition from high school and during other stages of life. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Federal officials say they’re embarking on a new effort to identify best practices┬áto meet the needs of individuals with autism from childhood to adulthood.

The National Institute of Mental Health is doling out $7.9 million in first-year funding for 12 research projects that will assess various models of service delivery for individuals with the developmental disorder at three key stages of life.

At the young end, grants will fund efforts to determine how best to identify kids with autism as early as possible and ensure that such children connect with intervention services, the NIMH said.

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Meanwhile, a separate set of projects will focus on individuals preparing to leave high school. Researchers plan to test methods to improve school-based service coordination for students during transition, enhance parent advocacy skills and teach self-regulation and self-determination to those on the spectrum.

A third group of studies will look at techniques to assist adults with autism obtain employment and learn social skills as well as other aspects of independent living.

“Despite the significant number of people of all ages identified with ASD, access to effective services remains inconsistent at best. Parents are often left to navigate what is available as best they can, and worry for the future as their affected children grow into adulthood,” said Thomas Insel, director of the NIMH. “This research is aimed at testing care strategies, adaptable across communities, in which identification of need and engagement in optimal interventions and services will be standard for all ages.”

Last year, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee cited access to services as a major concern among families of those with the developmental disorder. The new effort to study methods of service delivery came in response, the NIMH said.

Beyond identifying strategies for people with autism at various ages, officials said the studies are designed to highlight approaches that are effective for individuals no matter their ethnic or economic background.