The federal government is handing out nearly $100 million with an eye toward better understanding autism and developing interventions for the condition.

The National Institutes of Health said this week that it will award nine grants over the next five years as part of the Autism Centers of Excellence program, an effort to support large-scale, multidisciplinary research on ASD.

“Autism spectrum disorder has myriad environmental, genetic, neurological and behavioral components,” said Diana Bianchi, director of the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, one of five institutes funding the program. “These awards will allow us to understand how autism differs in girls versus boys, to develop earlier methods of screening and to improve treatments based on specific symptoms.”

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Funding will go to projects aimed at evaluating universal autism screening in toddlers, testing parent coaching as an intervention for kids on the spectrum, looking for early signs of the developmental disorder in the brains of fetuses and newborns and addressing the transition to adulthood, among other issues.

The Autism Centers of Excellence program originated in 2007 and a new round of grants is awarded every five years.

This year’s grants will go to researchers at the University of California, Davis; the University of California, Los Angeles; Yale University; Duke University; Emory University; George Washington University; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Drexel University and Florida State University.

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