What is EARLI?
EARLI is short for the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation. EARLI is dedicated to studying families that already have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who are pregnant or who might become pregnant in the future. The EARLI Study focuses on the prenatal (the time between conception and birth) and early life periods in newborns who have brothers or sisters already diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. EARLI closely follows families from the start of the pregnancy to the time the baby reaches age three. The comprehensive data we collect will be analyzed to help us better understand the complex causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The study takes place at four locations across the country:
Southeast Pennsylvania: by researchers from Drexel University, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania
Northeast Maryland: by researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Kennedy Krieger Institute
Northern California, UC Davis: by researchers from University of California, Davis, and the M.I.N.D. Institute
Northern California, Kaiser Permanente: by researchers from Kaiser Permanente Division of Research
Information collected will be analyzed to examine:
How environmental exposures during pregnancy and early life might play a role in the development of an Autism Spectrum Disorder
How genetics may influence risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders – especially how genetic make-up might make certain children more vulnerable to environmental exposures
Whether there are biological markers (for example, things we can easily measure in blood or urine) that will predict whether a baby eventually develops an Autism Spectrum Disorder
How the behavior of newborn siblings of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder changes over time and what behaviors might be early signs of an Autism Spectrum Disorder
Why is the EARLI Study important?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 88 children in the United States have an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Autism is already the most common serious developmental disability as well as the fastest growing. Some of the increase reported in the numbers of individuals with autism is because we now better understand and can better diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders. Yet, some of this increase may very well be because there have been, and may continue to be, changes over time in factors that cause Autism Spectrum Disorders. The EARLI Study will try to discover just what these factors might be.
Although it has now been more than sixty years since scientists first indentified and described Autism Spectrum Disorders, the causes of autism are still largely a mystery. We do know that genetics play a part, but we don’t fully understand how genes increase someone’s chances of having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Some genes might lead directly to changes in the brain that contribute to Autism Spectrum Disorders while others might make the developing brain more vulnerable to hazards in the environment. Siblings have similar genetics and usually grow up in similar environments. Research shows that younger brothers or sisters of a child with ASD are more likely to have ASD as well. This is known as recurrence, and it is one of the reasons EARLI is studying families who already have a child with ASD. To learn more about recurrence risk, please read our Recurrence Fact Sheet
The EARLI Study collects important information prospectively, as it happens, during the critical times when the brain is developing – gestation and during very early life. Reporting information prospectively limits mistakes that can occur when collecting information from memory, after time has passed. Further, by studying families that have already been affected by an Autism Spectrum Disorder, EARLI has a better chance of shedding light on the way genes and environment may interact to cause autism. The EARLI Study collects a wide range of information on several family members. Data and biological samples are carefully chronicled and stored so that as the scientific community generates new clues about how Autism Spectrum Disorders develop, EARLI will be in the best position to follow-up on these leads.
The EARLI Study hopes to provide insight into the complex causes of autism and help to move science towards prevention of Autism Spectrum Disorders.