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Autism Speaks™ Leadership Joins Pennsylvania House Speaker Dennis O'Brien in Announcing Introduction of Historic State Autism Legislation

HARRISBURG, PA (April 18, 2007) -- Autism Speaks Co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright, along with Executive Committee Member and Cure Autism Now founder Jon Shestack and actor and advocate Joe Pantoliano, today joined with leaders of the Pennsylvania legislature as they announced the introduction of landmark autism legislation. The bill, introduced by House Speaker Dennis O'Brien and co-sponsored by Senator Jane Orie, would create a new “Autism Spectrum Disorders Coverage” provision of the Pennsylvania insurance law.

This provision would require private insurers to provide coverage of up to $3,000 per month for essential early intervention services and therapies for individuals with autism, including “behavioral interventions based on the principles of applied behavioral analysis and related structured behavioral programs for up to 40 hours a week.”

Most states do not require private insurance companies to cover even essential autism treatments and services. In the absence of coverage, families often pay as much as they can out-of-pocket for services that can cost upwards of $50,000 per year, often risking their homes and the educations of their unaffected children – essentially mortgaging their entire futures.

“Speaker O'Brien has shown remarkable leadership on the issue of autism and a real understanding of the unique challenges faced by these families,” said Bob Wright. “Without some share of the financial cost of caring for a child with autism being absorbed into the private health insurance system, this financial burden would continue to break the backs of Pennsylvania families.”

“This legislation will go a long way towards ensuring that kids get the early intervention services they need to give them the best possible quality of life,” added Shestack. “Our goal is to make what's happening here in Pennsylvania a blueprint for action in every state in America.”

“Autism can wreak financial and emotional havoc and test the limits of even the most loving families,” said Suzanne Wright. “It's time that insurance companies begin to provide coverage for the services our children deserve so these families can focus on creating a better future.”

“I have learned a lot about autism over the past year” said actor/advocate Joe Pantoliano, who played mobster Ralph Cifaretto on the hit HBO series “The Sopranos”. “After seeing the documentary Autism Every Day at the Sundance Film Festival this year, I told Bob Wright I would do all I could to support his efforts to bring hope to families struggling to raise children with autism. First I was shocked to learn how prevalent autism had become and that 1 in 150 children were being diagnosed. Then I was even more shocked to hear that the therapies these children need are not covered by insurance”.

ABOUT AUTISM
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

ABOUT AUTISM SPEAKS
Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, General Electric, and Chairman, NBC Universal. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.