The government is spending $100 million to study a condition that affects nearly one in 10 Australians.
The condition, joint attention autism spectrum disorder (JASD), affects children who have a difficulty with two separate but related tasks at once.
The researchers behind the study say it will help identify new treatments and help parents learn how to cope with their children.
Joint attention autism is a complex condition and is likely to become more prevalent as more Australians are diagnosed with it, said Dr Steven O’Connor, from the Australian Research Council-funded Autism Research Centre at Macquarie University.
Dr O’ Connor said the study was designed to provide parents with information about their children’s autism and help them cope with the disorder.
“I think that parents are really struggling to make sense of this,” he said.
“They’re looking for a reason to do something, and we have this study to help them understand why.”
The study, to be conducted by the Autism Research Group, is part of the Government’s ongoing National Autism Strategy.
The strategy aims to help people with autism to live a life of full engagement with the world and with each other.
Parents with joint attention syndrome have a high degree of difficulty with reading, writing, maths and communication.
Dr James O’Neill, the chief executive of the Autism Australia, said joint attention was a common condition that was often overlooked in families and was a major cause of autism.
He said parents of joint attention were often told they didn’t have the autism to cope and needed to get professional help.
“The common denominator in these families is a lack of communication and social skills,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
“So I think this study really is going to help provide a good understanding of what parents need to do to manage this.”
He said there was also evidence that the condition was linked to higher levels of stress and anxiety in children and a lower likelihood of developing social skills.
Dr Andrew Ritchie, a neuroscientist at the University of Sydney, said the government’s focus on joint attention could help to understand the disorder more accurately.
He also said the research could help parents in particular who struggled with it.
“A lot of times parents will just say to their child, ‘I don’t have time for that’ and the child says, ‘Well, what do you want to do?'”
Dr Ritchie said.
Dr Rigg said the joint attention study would be a key step in improving the autism research community.
“We’re doing a lot of research that’s looking at this in the context of autism, so this will be the first step in helping to sort out what exactly is the relationship between the autism spectrum, the autism, and joint attention,” he explained.
“It will be important to understand this relationship and how it is affected in the brain.”
He explained the research would also help parents understand the impact of a condition they had to deal with on their children and how they might cope.
Dr Ian Campbell from the National Autistic Society said the Joint Autism Spectrum Disorder Association was excited about the study and hoped more research was done to understand how it affected children.
“This is a really important piece of research for us because it is going directly to the brain,” he added.
“In the future we hope that the research we do with children will lead to therapies that can treat the condition.”