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a boy and a nurse doing an exam

Growing from a SEED

Identifying what factors create risks for autism, as well as protect against autism, is one of the most important goals in the field of autism research. The Thompson Center is helping to advance this goal through its participation in the Study to Explore Early Development (SEED) project.

Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this national study seeks to gather a wide sample of data from children and families across the country, including families with children with autism, typically developing children, and children with other developmental disabilities.

The Thompson Center is beginning its second year as a part of the SEED project, which is in its third phase. By forming a valuable partnership with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and Children’s Mercy a boy and a nurse doing an examKansas City, the three research groups have created MO SEED, the sixth SEED site in the U.S.

When MO SEED first began last year, the collaborative group had the lofty goal of recruiting more than 350 participants from 22 counties across Missouri, with Thompson Center staff responsible for identifying and recruiting 117 of those families. In their first year, Thompson Center staff have already successfully completed data collection for 45 families in the project. This current phase of SEED lasts until 2020, so Thompson Center staff are more than 35 percent of the way to their goal, with two more years work left.

Because recruitment efforts are still underway throughout the country, there haven’t been any specific research results from this phase of the SEED project yet, but experts are confident that collecting so much valuable information will lead to groundbreaking discoveries in the future.

“One of the biggest challenges in the autism research field is being able to understand what factors, such as genetics and environmental changes, make children more at risk for developing autism,” said Dr. Stephen Kanne, executive director of the Thompson Center and SEED site principal investigator. “If we can understand these factors, as well as what factors might protect against autism, we potentially can give parents strategies for helping to reduce autism risk for future children, as well as develop better treatments for people with autism. The SEED project will go a long way toward gaining that understanding.”

The participation process for SEED includes a phone interview, written questionnaires, and for some families, a developmental assessment. This assessment will include play-based tests for the child, questions for the parents, a brief physical examination to collect information such as height, head size and saliva collection from the parents and child.

While participation in the SEED project is by invitation only based on certain demographic information, Thompson Center researchers encourage those contacted for the study to please respond, as participation is easy and greatly helpful. For more information about the project, visit