Skip Navigation


November 14, 2014

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Researchers Awarded $1.5 Million Grant for Large-Scale Prospective Birth Cohort Study on Autism Spectrum Disorders

Researchers Aim to Identify Early Life Determinants of ASD and Patterns of Diagnosis and Clinical Services Use Among Urban Low-Income Children With ASD


Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration / Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Xiaobin Wang, MD, MPH, ScD, director of the Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease, and M. Daniele Fallin, PhD, director of the Wendy Klag Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities, will lead a multidisciplinary team to carry out the study. Both centers are part of the Bloomberg School.

The three-year project will draw from a long-standing NIH-funded cohort, the Boston Birth Cohort (BBC), which consists of approximately 8,500 mother-baby pairs of predominantly low-income, urban-minority families. In the new project, researchers will study children in the cohort who have completed at least three years of postnatal follow-up to identify children with ASD based on electronic medical records, questionnaire interviews and clinical assessment. Researchers then will analyze ASD status in relation to a broad spectrum of risk and protective factors during the window before and after birth already ascertained by the cohort. Researchers will also analyze patterns of diagnosis and service utilization of children with ASD.

“By far, this is the largest U.S. prospective birth cohort study on Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental disabilities,” Wang says. “This is made possible by leveraging the rich data already collected on the early life environments of these children.”

The Boston Birth Cohort has already yielded more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, which examined the effects on children of a variety of early life factors such as maternal smoking, psychosocial stressors, obesity, diabetes, preeclampsia, intrauterine infection/inflammation, fetal growth restriction and preterm birth. This new project represents the first time it will be used to explore the link between early life factors and ASD. Previous studies have suggested that ASD may be under-diagnosed in populations with low socioeconomic status. This new project will explore this issue, as well as the medical, psychosocial stressors, and home and neighborhood characteristics that affect these families. 

“The window before and after birth is critical for understanding and intervening on ASD,” Fallin says. “This study provides critical prospectively collected data from birth and early life to inform these risks, as well as helps us understand how these families use services for very young children with developmental disabilities, and how this may impact these children as they grow.”

In addition to a team of Bloomberg School investigators, the study team will include Rebecca Landa, PhD, director of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders, and Boston Medical Center-based investigators.

The Ludwig Family Foundation provided support for the pilot study.

# # #

Media contacts:

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:
 Barbara Benham
 at 410-614-6029 or

The Wendy Klag Center: Michelle Landrum at 443-287-2769 or

The Center on the Early Life Origins of Disease: Deanna Caruso 410-502-8916 or