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Autism Speaks Urges Congress to Pass Vital Combating Autism Reauthorization Act

Bi-partisan Senate, House Bills Would Ensure Continued Federal Commitment to Address Nation’s Growing Autism Health Crisis
May 26, 2011

NEW YORK, N.Y. (May 26, 2011) – Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, today urged Congress to act swiftly on newly introduced legislation that would reauthorize the Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006. Key components in the original landmark legislation will expire on September 30, threatening further federal support for critical research, services and treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which affect a staggering 1 in 110 American children including 1 in 70 boys.

Reauthorization bills were introduced today with strong bi-partisan backing in the Senate by Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), and in the House by Autism Caucus Co-chairs Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA).  Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Scott Brown (R-MA) joined Menendez and Enzi as original co-sponsors of the Senate legislation. President Obama has pledged to sign a CAA reauthorization into law this year.

 The CAA reauthorization would extend the legislation – which includes funding for critical research, services and treatment, and contains measures to ensure cost-efficient planning and coordination of these efforts – for three years at current funding levels. In addition, two related bills that would establish a National Autism Spectrum Disorders Initiative and increase services for people with autism were also introduced.

 “The enactment of the original Combating Autism Act marked the beginning of the federal government’s commitment to addressing the autism health crisis in a significant and appropriate way,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. ”As the number of people diagnosed with autism in this country continues to rise, now is not the time for America to take a great leap backward.

 “Bi-partisan support for any legislation today is rare, and reflects our elected leaders’ understanding of the severity of the challenges we face,” continued Wright. “It is imperative that CAA is reauthorized, so that the vital work in research, treatment and services can continue.”

 The Combating Autism Act of 2006 was signed into law on December 19, 2006 by President George Bush following a nearly unanimous Congressional vote. The CAA made a clear statement by the U.S. government on the public health emergency posed by the growing prevalence of ASDs, and the lack of adequate research, effective treatments, and services to address this urgent and growing crisis.

 The CAA authorized nearly $1 billion of federal spending on biomedical and treatment research on autism and required the development of an overall strategic plan for the intensification, expansion and better coordination of federal efforts designed to help persons with autism and their families.

 Since the CAA became law in 2006, and because of the unprecedented profile it provided for autism as a public health priority as well as increasing funding, significant advances in the understanding of autism have been achieved. Some of these advances include:

o   Detailed surveillance by the CDC of the increasing prevalence of ASD

o   Identification of several autism susceptibility genes that are leading to drug discovery and earlier detection of infants at risk for ASD

o   Improved methods for autism screening and recommendation for universal autism screening at well baby check-ups

o   Development of effective early intervention methods for toddlers with autism

o   Development of standards of care for medical and behavioral health, clinician guidelines and training, and new treatments for commonly associated medical conditions, such as sleep and gastrointestinal disorders

 Important federal efforts would cease if the CAA is allowed to lapse. These include:

o   Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) – a mechanism for coordinating efforts on autism research across federal agencies which includes public members and private research funders

o   The mandate for an autism research strategic plan that is updated annually

o   A requirement for accountability by the federal government of its efforts in improving the lives of persons with ASD through research

o   Two intervention networks – physical health and behavioral health – that support the development of clinical care practice guidelines, clinician training and research on effective treatments

o   Augmented support for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program to promote training and dissemination of best practices in ASD screening, diagnosis and treatment

o   Specified levels of recommended research funding on autism’s causes, prevention, treatment and cure