OTTAWA - The federal government announced funding Tuesday to support research into autism spectrum disorder, a developmental neurological condition that affects thousands of Canadian children.

Federal Health Minister Leon Aglukkaq said $1 million will be allocated over five years to fund the Chair in Autism Spectrum Disorders Treatment and Care Research Program.

The program, funded by Ottawa and several partners, is aimed at helping a researcher bring innovative approaches to the treatment and care of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers working in Canada and those willing to relocate to a Canadian research institution are eligible for the chair. Investigators not currently conducting research in the field of autism must demonstrate how they would bring new approaches to the treatment or care of individuals with ASD.

"Significant gaps exist in applied research that focuses on autism diagnosis, treatment and care," said Dr. Dan Goldowitz, scientific director of NeuroDevNet, an organization dedicated to helping children overcome neurodevelopmental disorders.

"We hope that this chair opportunity will attract interest from the best science minds across the globe, who see the potential that this position will provide in making a real difference in the lives of children, youth, adults and their families who live with autism every day."

Children with ASD can be affected by a wide range of symptoms and levels of impairment, including difficulties with social interaction and communication. Some children with ASD display repetitive behaviours and are adversely affected by sensory stimuli such as certain sounds.

A study suggests about one in every 200 to 300 Canadians has ASD, and the rate of new cases appears to be on the rise, although reasons for that are unclear.

While there is no cure for ASD, children often respond well to highly structured, specialized programs, and experts say early intervention is important.

The research chair is being funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada, the Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance, Health Canada, NeuroDevNet and the Sinneave Family Foundation.