UK research into the causes and treatment of autism is seriously behind that of other countries, a report says.
Autism affects around 100,000 people in the UK
It says the row over a possible link with the MMR jab has over-shadowed the fact that little is known about the behavioural disorder.
And it calls for wider research into all aspects of the condition.
The study is published by the Institute of Child Health, the National Autistic Society and the Parents' Autism Campaign for Education.
'Mapping Autism Research' looks at global patterns of research and funding for autism.
Researchers Dr Tony Charman and Pippa Clare combined the opinions of 200 scientists and 130 parents with an autistic child.
They then compared the UK to Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia through a database at the Institute for Scientific Information, the largest and most up-to-date online database of scientific research.
It showed almost 60% of UK autism research only looks into the symptoms, while just 22% is dedicated to the causes, 8% to possible interventions and only 5% to the effect of family history.
When asked, 75% of families wanted more attention paid to environmental factors, while 62% of scientists gave preference to genetic research.
The report did not look into MMR as a cause for concern although some parents said they would like to see more research into the area.
It also found the UK holds 16% of the world's active autism researchers, compared to 53% in America, and 22% in Europe.
Bridging the gaps
Around 100,000 people in the UK suffer from autism.
Dr Charman says the report has helped reveal the gaps in research into the disorder and will enable the scientific community to reach an agreement on what further research is needed.
This is the first attempt to identify strengths and weaknesses in medical research in the UK.
Dr Charman told BBC News Online he hoped the paper would be used to guide government departments and funding agencies to identify useful areas of research into autism.
He said: "We haven't aimed the research at any single body. We feel there are a wide range of government agencies and charities to which we want to draw the report's conclusions.
"We want to rethink how people who are affected by autism are involved in research."
Richard Mills, director of research at the NAS, said: "While further research is needed in every area, it is clear that the UK is currently under-investing in interventions research.
"Government must take responsibility for co-ordinating and funding research
so that parents can be confident in knowing 'what works' for autism."
Virginia Bovell, founding trustee of Parents Autism Campaign for Education, told BBC News there needs to be more research into intervention.
"(Autism is) a desperately severe condition, with a devastating impact, and we all need to find out what interventions can make a difference to people with autism and their families."
The government allocated £2.5 million in 2002 towards autism research.
A Department of Health spokesperson said the money helped to take forward recommendations by a Medical Research Council (MRC) report on the epidemiology and causes of autism.
"The Scottish Executive has also contributed an additional £250,000 to the MRC for autism research. These funds will add to the MRC's current support for autism research."