Autism is a developmental condition affecting social development and communication. Some form of autism affects up to 1 in 100 children in the UK. Currently, it is very rare that autism is diagnosed earlier than two years of age when symptoms are sufficiently clear. Over the past decades, scientific research has advanced our understanding of the neurobiological basis of autism in older children and adults. By contrast, very little is known about how the condition develops over the first few years.

The British Autism Study of Infant Siblings (BASIS) is a collaborative research network for the study of infants at-risk for autism in the UK. The primary aim of BASIS is to provide a platform for the study of infants at-risk for autism in the UK and to facilitate collaborative links between scientists working in the area. Using newly developed techniques for studying brain and behaviour in infants, BASIS scientists will investigate whether there are any differences in development between infants who have brothers or sisters with autism and those who do not. In the long term, this will help identify the early signs of the disorder, allowing for earlier and more effective intervention aimed at improving the quality of life of children with autism.

Currently, collaborating centres include Birkbeck, University of London, Institute of Education, Institute of Psychiatry, Cambridge University, Oxford University, University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, Cardiff University, Newcastle University, Goldsmiths and Swinburne University of Technlogy in Australia. Expansion into other sites is anticipated over the next few years. BASIS was formally launched in May 2008, following funding from a consortium of charities led by Autistica, (The Henry Smith Charity, The Baily Thomas Charitable Fund, Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, Mercers’ Charitable Foundation, The David and Elaine Potter Foundation, Kirby Laing Foundation, The Mason le Page Charitable Trust, The Garfield Weston Foundation and The Sylvia Waddilove Foundation UK), and with support from the Medical Research Council. Since the launch, BASIS-affiliated projects have attracted further funding from The British Academy, The Leverhulme Trust and the ESRC.