Advocates for children and adults with autism met today to discuss newly released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing rocketing autism prevalence rates--1-in-68 across the United States and 1-in-45 in New Jersey--on the eve of World Autism Day at a press conference at the SEARCH Day Program school, the first specialized autism school in New Jersey and one of the first in the nation.
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chair of the House autism caucus (the Coalition on Autism Research and Education, or CARE), andAutism New Jersey organized the event, which included speakers: Autism N.J. Executive Director Suzanne Buchanan; Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, Executive Director, Prevention First and member of the Monmouth County Human Services Advisory Commission; SEARCH Day Program school Executive Director Kathy Solana; longtime autism advocates Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Brick Township, parents of two children with autism; POAC (Parents of Autistic Children, based in Brick NJ) Director of Program Development Simone Tellini; Jim Paone, Board Member of Autism NJ, and parent of a child with autism; Gino Valiant, Board President of Autism NJ, parent of child with autism. The speakers spoke of their appreciation of Smith's role in the fight against autism, and the need to address the issue of thousands of children with autism becoming adults who are no longer for support services in the educational system. Gerald Theirs, Executive Director of ASAH, also participated.
"The continued increase in children affected by autism--a deeply disturbing 30 percent rise from the previous figures of 1-88 children--shows the magnitude of the problem. When the number was 1 in 88, we were devastated. Now the new surveillance data suggests this crisis has worsened," said Smith, who with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) co-founded and co-chairs the bipartisan Coalition on Autism Research and Education (C.A.R.E.). "More children, more families are struggling with autism and the federal government must do more to help."
The study was published Friday in CDC's weekly publication, the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"When you have an autistic child you learn quickly to see the inner light in them," said Paone, who noted that families who deal with autism's great challenges develop "a reaction of the human spirit in the struggle to overcome."
Smith is the author of the 2011 law,The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA)-- (now Public Law 112-32) enacted on September 30, 2011. CARA authorized autism-related programs for fiscal years 2012, 2013 and 2014 and included: $22 million for the Developmental Disabilities Surveillance and Research Program; $48 million for Autism Education, Early Detection, and Intervention, and; $161 million for hundreds of Research Grants at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and for the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee.
Smith said it was almost 17 years ago, on September 13, 1997, Bobbie and Billy Gallagher, of Brick, N.J. residents with two small children with autism, walked into his office looking for help.
"The Gallaghers brought a focus to the issue of autism and the needs of autistic children that was missing at the federal level. Armed with data and their own research, they helped win approval of a landmark federal study and the enactment of legislation in 2000," Smith said, referring to his Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology Act (Title I, P.L. 106-310)--which created the first comprehensive federal program to combat autism.
Smith noted that he will continue to push for new autism legislation.
"We have to continue the work to determine the cause of ASD, identify autistic children as early as possible to begin treatment, and press ahead with research, new therapies and effective services," Smith said. "The quality of life of many children is at stake, as it is with young adults who age out of the support services in educational systems."