In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, a group of autism advocates convened in the shadow of the Capitol on April 2 for a press conference to build support for critical legislation that would provide needed autism services in the U.S. and around the world.
In attendance were the Co-Chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education (C.A.R.E.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA); Lee Grossman, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America; Ann Gibbons, board member of Autism Speaks; and Randall Rutta, executive vice president of Easter Seals.
“Whether they live in a Pittsburgh suburb, the Chinese countryside or the inner city of New Delhi, individuals with autism and their families need access to early diagnosis, interventions and services,” Grossman said at the event. “Here at home an across the globe the United States must lead the way in the effort to serve individuals with autism and their families.”
The group was promoting two critical pieces of autism legislation: the Global Autism Assistance Act and the Expanding the Promise of Individuals with Autism Act.
In February 2008, a bi-partisan group of legislators joined Congressmen Smith and Doyle in introducing the Global Autism Assistance Act, (HR 5446). This landmark legislation will establish a global health and education grant program related to autism spectrum disorders and provide support to families, educational institutions, clinics and medical centers in developing nations.
The Global Autism Assistance Act authorizes $10 million over three years through a grant program for service providers and advocacy groups for children with autism specifically in countries with weak healthcare infrastructure to raise autism awareness, and creates new ways to share American expertise and advancements in the diagnoses and treatment of autism.
"My colleagues and I in the Congressional Autism Caucus are deeply committed to ensuring that the federal government does everything it can to address the challenges presented by autism around the world. Millions of families need and deserve our help," Doyle said.
The Members also plan to promote the Expanding the Promise of Individuals with Autism Act (HR 1881), announced last year by Reps. Doyle and Smith along with actor Bradley Whitford of West Wing fame. The bill would provide additional resources for those affected by autism in the U.S., increasing access to effective therapies and essential support services for people with autism, as well as providing critical funding for training, protection, and advocacy.
“It has been seven years since Mike Doyle and I started C.A.R.E. to facilitate education and advocacy within Congress on autism issues,” Smith said. “We have seen very significant successes in Congressional support for autism programs, but we have only scratched the surface and much more needs to be done.”