New York, NY (January 11, 2011) A Report to Congress issued by the Department of Health and Human Services confirms that the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (CAA) resulted in significant advances in the understanding of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as progress in identifying both best practices and the need for more supports and services.
Citing the report, officials from Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, again called on Congress to pass the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) swiftly at the beginning of 2011 to avoid a disruption of important autism research, intervention and surveillance programs that will sunset with the original CAA on September 30. The reauthorization, S. 404, was introduced at the end of the 2010 Congressional session by Senators Christopher Dodd (CT) and Robert Menendez (NJ) and currently has the support of more than 35 autism, academic and other advocacy organizations.
Federal efforts authorized by the CAA have led to improved understanding of the causes and treatment of ASD, reliable prevalence estimates, and large-scale data collection and sharing efforts that are empowering researchers and health practitioners with knowledge not available only a few years ago. The Report states that a continued rigorous focus on identifying genetic and environmental risk factors for ASD will yield innovative treatment and prevention strategies. Services and supports programs across several Federal agencies are actively identifying best practices and implementing programs to increase quality of life for people with ASD across their lifespan.
"The Combating Autism Act of 2006 (CAA) was a clear statement by the U.S. government on the scope of the public health emergency posed by the growing prevalence of autism and the lack of adequate research, effective treatments, and services to address this crisis," said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. "As the Report to Congress states, significant advances have been made, but continued intensive focus is essential to solving the puzzle of autism. We must build upon this important progress until we have found the answers we need."
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 governments medical research agency. This single, unified entity would bring all federally-funded autism research activities under one roof and foster strategic coordination and improved efficiency -- across the many lines of scientific inquiry required to find the answers needed about autism.
Autism Speaks is seeking to include unprecedented statutory language for transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayer funds to pursue an intensified effort to address the urgent health crisis that autism has become, added Bell. We believe that these measures are a model for fiscal responsibility and will receive bipartisan support.
Reauthorization through enactment of CARA would also 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 autisms causes, prevention, treatment and cure.
"The Combating Autism Act has made possible important research that has greatly improved our understanding of autism, including the study of its potential causes, enhanced diagnostic methods and additional treatment options, stated Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., who is also an IACC member. Additional funding through the reauthorization of CAA is essential to further our understanding of the causes of autism, how multiple risk factors may be at play, and to translate that knowledge into effective treatments to alleviate the symptoms that limit an individual's potential for a productive and independent life."
The CAA was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 19, 2006 following unanimous votes in the House and Senate. It 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.
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.