April 18, 2011

During Autism Awareness Month, Gillibrand Joins Senate Colleagues to Introduce Bill to Establish a National Autism Strategy

Legislation Would Enhance Employment, Education, and Health Resources for People Struggling With Autism

Washington, DC – During a month set aside to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Casey (D-PA), Bob Menendez (D-NM), and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in introducing legislation that would create a comprehensive strategy to address the needs of families affected by autism spectrum disorder.  The Autism Services and Workforce Acceleration Act authorizes federal funding for a wide range of service, treatment, support and research initiatives.

“The rate in which autism is increasing is alarming,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is vital that we make investments in new research that will benefit the lives of millions. We know that early intervention is one of the best ways to ensure a child’s long term success, but thousands of families simply cannot afford the cost of treatment and programs needed to help those with autism. This legislation will help provide essential services, treatment and support for families.”

The legislation – a version of which was first introduced in 2009 – builds on the Combating Autism Act, signed into law in December 2006.  That bill called on the federal government to increase research into the causes and treatment of autism, and to improve training and support for individuals with autism and their caretakers.   It demonstrated the commitment of Congress to begin to delve deeper into this critically important issue for millions of families. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 110 people in the United States has autism or autism spectrum disorder.  Individuals with autism often need assistance in the areas of comprehensive early intervention, health, recreation, job training, employment, housing, transportation, and early, primary, and secondary education.  Greater coordination within these service delivery systems will enable individuals with autism and their families to access the best and most current treatment, services and research for their individualized needs – and to do so throughout the lifespan of individuals. 

“Autism Speaks is proud to support this legislation, which represents a continued commitment by Senator Durbin and his colleagues to addressing the challenges faced by individuals with autism and their families,” said Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services.  “Services for individuals with autism is an area of desperate need.  This bill brings this important issue to the forefront for Congress.”

“Those of us who have children with autism worry about their futures, particularly the transition from school to adulthood, when families lose those valuable services and supports previously afforded through the school system,” said Jeff Sell, Autism Society Vice President and General Counsel, who has twin 16-year-old boys with autism.  “The ASWAA addresses the concerns of parents by providing valuable assistance in vital services for adults, including postsecondary education, employment and residential services, all of the pieces that need to fall into place for a person to live his best life.  The Autism Society thanks Senators Durbin, Casey, Menendez, Lautenberg and Gillibrand for their attention to the needs of the families we serve today.”

The Autism Services and Workforce Acceleration Act aims to meet the comprehensive needs of, and improve the quality of life for, individuals with autism and their families by:

  • Creating a demonstration project to provide a full array of services like post-secondary education, vocational skills training, employment, and residential services for adults with autism to improve their quality of life and enable them to live as independently as possible;
  • Creating a demonstration project to develop Autism Care Programs. These programs would provide a full array of medical, behavioral, mental health, educational and family care services to individuals and families in a single location.  These comprehensive treatment facilities would increase access to quality health care services and communication among health care providers, educator and other providers of services;
  • Developing a national multimedia campaign to increase public education and awareness about healthy developmental milestones and autism throughout the lifespan;
  • Creating a national training initiative on autism and a technical assistance center to develop and expand interdisciplinary training and continuing education on autism.

Children and adults with autism spectrum disorders can show difficulties in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interactions, and sensory processing.  Symptoms and behaviors may range from mild to significant, and require varying degrees of support from friends, families, service providers, and communities.  There is strong consensus within the research community that intensive treatment as soon as possible following diagnosis not only can reduce the cost of lifelong care by two-thirds, but also yields the most positive life outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorders.