The Cure Autism Now Foundation has learned that its request for funds for a physician education and public awareness program, aimed at the early identification of children with autism, was approved for inclusion in the Federal Fiscal 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Act currently pending before Congress.
The bill, set to become law in January 2004, would provide $2.4 million to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to develop and execute a program -- in cooperation with autism advocacy organizations like Cure Autism Now -- to expand autism awareness and education.
Since its inception, Cure Autism Now has worked closely with politicians in Washington, D.C. to help raise awareness and increase federal funding for autism. In conjunction with the CDC, Cure Autism Now will seek out national partners such as sport franchises and retailers to help spread autism awareness and education.
In a national campaign that will roll out like the very successful "Back to Sleep"" campaign launched to fight Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), parents will be taught to look for early signs of autism, while physicians around the country will learn how to make a fast, reliable diagnosis, enabling them to give at minimum a referral to a specialist.
Although the Children's Health Act, which called for expanded research and services for a variety of childhood health problems including autism, passed in 2000, the key awareness and education component of the bill was never appropriated. Cure Autism Now families worked for several years with Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin to make sure that this was remedied as part of the government's efforts to deal with growing crisis of autism.
Senator Specter has gotten to know many families affected by autism both in Pennsylvania and around the nation. Parents of autistic children told him that they felt they lost valuable time with their children because of delayed diagnoses. The Senator heard their concerns and took it upon himself to make sure that in the future, families would not have to face such delays.
"We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Senator Specter, who, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee which funds the CDC, added these funds for this vital purpose in a very tight budget year,"" said Jonathan Shestack, Cure Autism Now's co-founder.
Shestack said the organization will work with the CDC in the development and execution of this program, in order to ensure that children affected by autism are diagnosed as early as possible.
"While we search for the ultimate cure for autism, the most effective means available to help autistic children and their families require early identification and early intervention," he continued. "The funds Senator Specter has provided are aimed directly at this most vital link in the chain."
Autism now affects at least one in every 166 children. A preliminary diagnosis now takes as little as ten minutes and autism can reliably be detected as early as 18 months, but many parents do not know to ask for a screening and most primary care providers have not been educated on how to make the diagnosis.
Currently, the average age for diagnosing autism is between three and four years of age. The National Institutes of Health's "road map" for autism is aimed at dropping this age to as early as 18 months. The national autism awareness and physician education program will be key to reaching that goal, so that autistic children are no longer missing out on the two most critical years of intervention.