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Calls to Action

Autism Speaks Calls For Swift Passage and Enactment Of The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act

December 20, 2010

NEW YORK, NY (December 20, 2010) – Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, today applauded United States Senator Christopher Dodd (CT) for introducing S.4044, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) and for his continued advocacy on behalf of individuals and families affected by autism. The organization also praised Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) for his leadership on autism and for joining Senator Dodd in introducing this legislation. The organization called on Congress to pass this reauthorization swiftly at the beginning of 2011 to avoid a disruption of important autism research, intervention and surveillance programs that will sunset on September 30, 2011.

It was the detailed surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention under the CAA that identified the increasing prevalence of autism – a staggering 1 in every 110 American children, including 1 in 70 boys, is now diagnosed with an ASD, making it the nation’s fastest-growing, serious developmental disorder.

Among the key provisions of the CARA is the creation of a National Institute of Autism Spectrum Disorders Research (NIASD) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal government’s medical research agency. This single, unified entity would bring all federally-funded autism research activities under one roof and foster strategic coordination across the many lines of scientific inquiry required to find the answers needed about autism. Further, CARA would address the needs of people with autism throughout their lifetime, beyond childhood.

“Autism can have a devastating effect on children and their families,” said Senator Dodd. “Families struggling to raise a child with autism deserve our support, and they deserve answers. This legislation will help move us toward a better understanding of autism and help better support those living with this difficult disability. These efforts must carry on in the years to come, and I thank Senator Menendez for continuing to champion this important legislation in the next Congress.”

Senator Menendez said: “Families in New Jersey, more than anywhere else, understand that we need to address autism on multiple fronts – with research, with early treatment and with a support structure and services for affected individuals and families. I am proud to join with Senator Dodd in introducing the kind of comprehensive initiative that is needed, and I thank him not only for his work on this legislation, but for his tireless advocacy for those affected by autism over the years. I intend to carry on Senator Dodd’s legacy by sponsoring and re-introducing this bill early in the next session of Congress.”

The CAA was signed into law by President George Bush following unanimous votes in the House and Senate. The CAA made autism a public health priority by authorizing nearly $1 billion of federal spending over five years on biomedical and treatment research on autism and requiring 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.

In addition to the latest prevalence data developed by the CDC, significant advances under the CAA included: identification of several autism susceptibility genes, leading to increased drug discovery efforts and earlier detection methods; improved autism screening methods and universal screening recommendations; development of effective early intervention methods for toddlers with autism; and best practice standards of care for medical and behavioral health clinicians as well as new treatments for commonly associated medical conditions, such as sleep and gastrointestinal disorders.

Reauthorization through enactment of CARA would continue the work of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a mechanism for coordinating efforts on autism research across federal agencies, as well as the mandate for a strategic plan for autism research that is updated annually. In addition, CARA would continue to hold the federal government accountable in its efforts to improve the lives of persons with ASD through research. Through CARA, physical and behavioral health intervention networks would continue the development of clinical care practice guidelines, clinician training and research on effective treatments. CARA funding would augment support for the University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disability (UCEDD) to promote training and dissemination of best practices in ASD screening, diagnosis and treatment, and would support research on autism’s causes, prevention, treatment and cure.

“Autism is a growing public health crisis in America today, it affects nearly 1% of our children and it demands an appropriate level of response from the federal government through the reauthorization and expansion of the Combating Autism Act,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “Thanks to the 2006 Combating Autism Act, we have made tremendous strides in federally-funded and directed research. However, the need for investment is greater than ever if we are to meaningfully address the scope of this enormous problem and the social and economic burdens it places on our nation."

“The Combating Autism Act of 2006 finally put us in the right direction toward formulating and implementing an effective research strategy to investigate the causes, both genetic and environmental, and effective treatments for autism,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer of Autism Speaks and an IACC member. “It is imperative that we not only stay the course, but refine and intensify research into the potential causes of autism and ways we can improve the lives of people living with autism today, as well as their families.”