WASHINGTON, DC (July 24, 2014) -- A House subcommittee heard expert testimony yesterday on the global challenges and advances occurring with autism research and services, with a special focus on the needs of individuals transitioning into adulthood. Michael Rosanoff, Autism Speaks' associate director of public health research, briefed the members on the Global Autism Public Health Initiative launched by Autism Speaks in 2008.
The hearing was held by a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), who is sponsoring the Autism CARES Act to protect federal funding for autism research. Smith has long advocated for a global focus on autism.
“Autism is a growing health problem around the world,” said Smith. “With the ever-rising cost of care, it is imperative that people with autism have the opportunity to learn skills and earn a living so that they can control their own lives as much as possible."
Rosanoff said Autism Speaks launched its Global Initiative with the goal of developing sustainable, broad-reaching, and culturally sensitive programs to expand capacity abroad for autism research and service delivery. Since 2008, Autism Speaks' international team has logged more than one million miles and met with hundreds of affected individuals, parents, professionals, and government officials to advance the autism initiative.
"There is no single one-size-fits-all solution to improving lives of those touched by autism," Rosanoff told the committee in his written testimony. "Autism is not simply a health issue, but also an education issue, a social welfare issue, and a human rights issue. The most effective strategies are those that are comprehensive and multi-sectorial.
"Approaches do, however, need to be tailor fit to different country contexts," he added. "What may be an effective strategy in one country may simply not be feasible in another."
Autism Speaks and the World Health Organization (WHO) have been developing an intervention guide and training program for community health workers to deliver autism services. The model is now being used in Ethiopia through an Autism Speaks-funded project.
"As a result of the initial success of this program," Rosanoff said, "the Ministry of Health of Ethiopia has made autism and mental health in general, national priorities. They are currently organizing a conference on the scaling-up of mental health services in the country."
Rosanoff cited employment programs in Bangladesh and Peru that are serving adults with autism and intellectual disabilities. Programs developed in India, South Africa and other African nations are also showing a promising start, he said.
"Worldwide, governments are listening and the commitment is there," Rosanoff said. "However the knowhow and capacity are often not."
The enactment of legislation does not always result in action, he noted.
"Many of the autism laws passed in recent months around the world are well-intentioned, but lack the strategy and resources to implement properly," Rosanoff said. "In some cases, poor execution leads to unsuccessful programs that may actually hurt the chances for future support. More concerning is that hope can turn to helplessness for members of the autism community under these conditions."
Rosanoff concluded with a call for immediate action utilizing available models that are working to improve access to services and by promoting community inclusion. "By working together, and learning from one another, we can change the future for all who struggle with autism worldwide," he said.