Congress takes up autism bills

This is a photograph of the Capitol Dome in Washington DC.
Capitol Dome in Washington DC

Bills to reauthorize the Combating Autism Act, set to expire September 30, were introduced in the House and Senate on May 26, though opinions of the bills vary significantly among autism advocacy groups.

When passed in 2006, the  act authorized nearly $1 billion in autism research and training over five years and created the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to coordinate all autism-related activities in the Department of Health and Human Services. The act must be reauthorized every three years.

Autism Speaks urged reauthorization  saying that the increased funding for autism research had led to new medical breakthroughs, such as discoveries of autism-susceptible genes and early detection methods, and treatment improvements, such as for early intervention methods for children.

“The enactment of the original Combating Autism Act marked the beginning of the federal government’s commitment to addressing the autism health crisis in a significant and appropriate way,” Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright said in a news release. ”As the number of people diagnosed with autism in this country continues to rise, now is not the time for America to take a great leap backward.”

In contrast, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network announced its opposition to the bill until it focuses more on services and treatment for adults, as opposed to just children. In a  news release, the network cited recent statistics from IACC showing that less than one percent of autism research dollars in 2009 was spent on adults and that just three percent was spent on improving “services, supports and education.”

“Another three years of bad autism policy is not a good idea,” the network stated in the release.

The Autism Society has also previously called for reauthorization, saying that the law “has made significant gains in understanding this complex growing disability.”

However, it also called for services for people with autism, as did the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities in a letter in April, whom also pushed for the act’s reauthorization.

“On this Autism Awareness day, the Autism Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities strongly urges you to take action to introduce and pass a bill to reauthorize this important legislation quickly before it expires this September,” the consortium sttaed in the letter. “Otherwise, the growing number of individuals with autism will go without needed services and important research will come to an end.”

Disability Rights Washington is a part of the National Disability Rights Network , one of more than 100 disability rights organizations that is part of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.