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DoD Bill Creates New Autism Research Program

Location: Washington, DC

DoD Bill Creates New Autism Research Program

Military families touched by autism spectrum disorders could for the first time benefit from a new $7.5 million autism research program created in the 2007 defense appropriations bill (HR 5631) expected to pass the House today.

"Even in an enormous bill like this that funds America's vital defense programs, we have to ensure that children—especially kids with autism—are not forgotten," said Rep. Chris Smith, founder of the congressional Coalition on Autism Research and Education (C.A.R.E.). "As many as 12,000 children in military families may have autism and their condition is made extremely difficult by the frequent changes of residences, schools and other variables that accompany military life."

"This new DoD (Department of Defense) program puts $7.5 million into an Army research account for the sole purpose of improving treatment and intervention for children with autism," said Smith who championed the provision with C.A.R.E. co-chair Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA). "The sudden increase in autism rates here in the US and around the world warrant a full court press by every federal department that deals with health and family matters."

"It is well known that children with autism, who receive timely treatment and early intervention services can dramatically improve their long-term functionality," said Smith who as the Vice Chairman of the International Relations Committee has also pushed for assistance for US foreign service and State Department personnel with autistic children.

"The research directed by the Army program will not only help DoD families currently affected by autism, but will also benefit the general population as well," he said. "The DoD program will add to research already underway by medical, educational, healthcare and service professionals who serve the needs of the autism community both within DoD and beyond."

The most recent prevalence data indicate that 1 in 166 children have an autism spectrum disorder with an estimated total of 1.77 million families nationwide affected by autism. All families are affected substantially by the financial and emotional costs of raising a child with autism and military families often face an added hardship inherent in travel and deployment.

"This is a watershed moment for the autism community as we continue to seek federal funding for autism research that is commensurate with the scope of this epidemic," said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. "We are grateful to the members of the House of Representatives whose leadership and appreciation of autism's particular toll on military families made this possible. This funding will help drive research that will eventually yield the answers about autism that we all seek so desperately."

"This new appropriation is the result of a concerted effort by the co-chairs of the Congressional Autism Research and Education Caucus, Representatives Chris Smith and Mike Doyle, the Members of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a group of determined volunteers," said Ann Gibbons, a member of the Autism Speaks board of directors who has led the organization's efforts to convince Congress that this funding was needed. "Dozens of our volunteers have met with their congressional representatives repeatedly over the last few years, urging inclusion of autism in the Department of Defense medical research budget.

The congressional Coalition on Autism Research and Education (C.A.R.E.) headed by Smith and Doyle now has 181 Members of Congress and has been credited with helping to significantly increase federal funding for autism initiatives. For instance, funding for autism programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has increased from about $287,000 in 1995 to $14.9 million in 2005. During that same period autism funding at the National Institutes of Health increased from $10.5 million in 1995 to $102 million in 2005.

Smith, who also authored the legislation creating autism Centers for Excellence (Title I, The Child Health Act PL 106-310) said the "increase in awareness and funding from the federal government for autism research would not be possible without the help, dedication and grassroots activities of parents and friends of children with autism."

"Today's legislative victory represents another concerted effort by the many grassroots organizations made up of parents and friends of children with autism," Smith said. "The Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, POAC, and the National Autism Association are just a few of the many groups that work hard every day to help children and families with autism and ensure that government resources are properly targeted to autism research, treatments, and a cure."

"The military life is particularly difficult for children with autism and their families. Deployment orders and prolonged absences of a parent make life much more difficult for the child with autism and his or her caretakers. When one parent is away, the spouse at home must bear the challenge of raising a child with autism facing extraordinary stresses on top of the normal burdens of having a deployed spouse," Smith said.

Smith who has worked successfully to increase federal funding for autism research for several years specifically thanked Rep. Bill Young Chairman of the DoD Appropriations Committee. "Chairman Young worked to ensure that among so many competing priorities children with autism were not overlooked. We thank him for his commitment and good work for military families and all families with autism."

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