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Autism and the State of the Union

This guest post is from Autism Speaks' Senior Policy and Advisor Stuart Spielman. 

In a tradition as old as the republic, the president will tonight speak to the congress and the nation on the state of the union.  If previous presidential speeches and leaked excerpts are a guide, this year’s speech will both be backward-looking and forward-looking, a summary of the past and an outline for the future.

For the autism community, 2014 was one of many extremely bright moments. Just look at this list of accomplishments that Autism Speaks is so proud to have worked on...and in some cases, spent years advocating for:

• The Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014 (Autism CARES) became law.   Building on the Combating Autism Act, Autism CARES continues the federal investment in autism research, surveillance, and intervention through 2019.  

• The Stephen Beck, Jr., Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 (ABLE Act) became law. The ABLE Act allows individuals with autism and other disabilities to save on a tax-advantaged basis for disability expenses and still remain eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid, and other means-tested federal programs.

• Autism insurance coverage improved.  At year’s end, 38 states and the District of Columbia had enacted reform laws requiring coverage of applied behavior analysis and other treatments. Substantial numbers of large corporations followed the trend, voluntarily providing benefits to their employees. TRICARE, the health care plan for uniformed services members, launched an Autism Care Demonstration, which promises better services.

Yes these are wonderful gains, but despite these gains, many in the autism community remain in need. Parents struggle to provide children with a good education and quality healthcare.  Adults may have difficulty finding a job, securing housing, and living on their own.  For both children and adults, wandering poses life-threatening hazards, as the tragic deaths of Avonte Oquendo and others attest.  

In the months ahead, states will need to enact ABLE programs to ensure that the promise of the historic federal legislation is met.  Regulatory reform and incentives for medical research, such as those being discussed in the bipartisan 21st Century Cures initiative, are needed to facilitate the development of new and improved treatments.  The safety, welfare, and support of people with autism must be a priority for government at all levels.

The legislative victories of 2014 are proof that progress can be made. The bipartisan and overwhelming majorities that supported Autism CARES, the ABLE Act, and autism insurance reform remind us that the stories of our community can shape federal and state policies and bring needed change.  

The State of the Union is a time to reflect on the great accomplishments of 2014 while keeping in mind the continuing needs of our community and the work that we all need to continue--together-- in the year ahead.

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.