Autism is the fastest growing disorder of neural development in the United States. On March 20th 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a remarkable increase in the prevalence of autism: as of 2012, one in every 50 children between the ages of 6 and 17 exhibit some type of autism. In 2007, the number was one in every 88 kids.
Uncertainty remains about whether this growth is due to heightened awareness or to an actual increase in incidence of the disorder. However, fact is that autism affects a considerable group of children nationwide.
Knowledge of what causes Autism Spectrum
Disorders (ASDs) remains deficient. More importantly, there is
no known medical detection or cure for ASDs. Important R&D
tax credits are available to support eligible autism
Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13 percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
Eligible costs include employee wages, cost
of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses, and
costs associated with developing a patent. On January 2, 2013, President Obama signed
the bill extending the R&D Tax Credit for 2012 and 2013
ASDs are a group of disabilities that affect social, communication, and behavioral skills with varying intensity (ranging from mild to severe). There are three types of ASDs :
Not all causes of ASDs have been identified. Environmental, genetic, and biologic aspects can favor the incidence of disorders. Studies have shown that boys are about five times more likely to develop autism than girls.
ASDs are developed before the age of three and endure through a person's life. Although there are cases of symptoms improving with time, only 3% of adults with autism live independently. There are no medical tests to diagnose ASDs, which are only identified through the monitoring of a child's behavior. In many cases, disorders are not diagnosed until later in the child's life, reason why many children do not receive the help they need.
There is no cure for ASDs. Treatments usually consist of behavioral and educational interventions, medications and therapies, aimed at improving specific symptoms. Early interventions, made between a child's birth and the age of three, have been successful in fostering the development of skills, such as social interaction and communication.
According to the organization Autism
Speaks, on average, autism costs a family about $60,000 per
Novel research efforts, new technology, and innovative methods have the potential to change the face of autism. The following domains stand out as promising areas for advances. Companies investing in any of these fields constitute strong candidates for federal R&D tax credits.
Major U.S. research universities are engaged in a wide range of autism R&D activities, as briefly summarized below:
Stanford University Autism and Developmental Disorders Research Program: The program has the objectives of clarifying the neurobiological underpinnings of ASDs and understanding how genetic and environmental aspects contribute to the onset and evolution of symptoms. Clinical trials and studies are conducted with the goal of identifying effective treatment strategies. Ongoing studies include themes such as emotional reactivity and regulation, intranasal oxytocin treatment for social deficits, pregnenolone treatment, among others.
Yale Autism Program: Recently recognized as a National Institutes of Health Autism Center of Excellence, Yale's Autism Research Center is among the best in the world. The program presents an interdisciplinary and synergistic approach. Current efforts focus on neuroscience and genetics of social engagement. R&D activities include: studies of learning styles and remedial treatments capitalizing on identified strengths; early detection of autism in infants; functional neuroimaging studies involving several neuroimaging technologies to measure in vivo brain responses to human faces, gaze, voice, emotional expressions and human action; etc.
Harvard University: Researchers at Harvard Medical School have created algorithms and associated deployment mechanisms that can significantly reduce the time needed to accurately detect autism. The project includes a web-based assessment tool consisting of a small set of questions and a short home video. The time for autism diagnosis could be reduced by nearly 95%, from hours to minutes.
University of California, San Diego: The UC San Diego Autism Center of Excellence has been at the forefront of autism research. The Eye Gaze Research, for instance, uses eye-tracking technology as a tool to detect early features of ASDs. Recent research has focused on discovering the causes of autism. Advances include the identification of a concentration of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of children with autism and the finding of a possible early hallmark of the disorder, namely, challenges in the brain's ability to establish communication between its right and left hemispheres.
University of Illinois at Chicago: Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Autism Center of Excellence at the UIC develops interdisciplinary and translational research. The Center's main projects focus on the genetics of serotonin and the insistence of sameness (IS) in ASDs.
University of Pittsburgh: The Center for Excellence in Autism Research at the University of Pittsburgh was established with the objective of conducting "exceptional research on the cognitive, brain, and genetic basis of autism." Researchers believe that innovative treatments can contribute community services and government policies and improve the lives of people with ASDs. Current studies include 1) Development of Categorization and Facial Knowledge in Low and High Functioning Autism, 2) Disturbances of Affective Contact: Development of Brain Mechanisms for Emotions, and 3) Systems Connectivity and Brain Activation: Imaging Studies of Language and Perception.
Cornell & Columbia Universities:
A partnership between New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill
Cornell Medical College, and Columbia University Medical
Center has led to the establishment of the Center for Autism
and the Developing Brain. The 214-acre mental-health campus in
Westchester County will offer state-of-the-art diagnoses and
treatments, gathering a wide-range of professionals from
psychiatrists to speech, behavioral, and occupational
therapists. During its first year, the Center is expected to
treat about 200 patients, which will also have access to
innovative research from the participating universities. The
initiative will facilitate access to comprehensive care, both
by concentrating a variety of services in one place and by
making it easier for families to receive insurance coverage.
The considerable amount of ongoing university autism research will drive an ensuing wave of commercial autism R&D aimed at turning theoretical discoveries into commercially scalable technologies. Businesses engaged in autism-related R&D efforts, particularly the application of novel information into marketable alternatives to autism management, are likely to qualify for significant Federal R&D tax credits.
A telling example is the search for an autism drug. Currently, there are no approved drugs to treat the core symptoms of ASDs, such as impaired communication and social skills. Despite difficulties in developing medications for neurological disorders, companies have been engaged in this quest. This is the case of Seaside Therapeutics, a private company in Cambridge, Mass., which is working in partnership with Roche to develop a treatment focused on the underlying molecular abnormalities of autism.
A growing number of companies are also
engaged in the development of innovative methods to hire
people on the autistic spectrum. It has been found that these
people frequently present highly analytical and focused
behavior, which can be of great use in IT-related work, such
as software testing and programming. Texas-based CRM firm
Alliance Data pioneered this practice and has recently been
followed by the multinational business software firm, SAP.
Developing methods that efficiently incorporate people with
ASDs is very challenging, especially due to impaired social
skills. Companies investing in novel and improved systems to
do so, may be eligible to Federal R&D tax credits.
There are still many challenges surrounding ASDs, ranging from its causes to an eventual cure. R&D activities can greatly contribute to improve the lives of a growing number of children and families that must cope with neurodevelopment disorders. University autism efforts have set the basis for innovation and opened the way to an emerging commercial autism R&D wave. Federal tax credits are available to support eligible autism R&D activities.
Charles R Goulding Attorney/CPA, is the President of R&D Tax Savers.
Andressa Bonafé is a Tax Analyst with R&D Tax Savers.
Charles G Goulding is a practicing attorney with experience in R&D tax credit projects for a host of industries.
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