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Raising Awareness About Autism

Location: Washington, DC

RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT AUTISM -- (House of Representatives - July 11, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Bilirakis) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. BILIRAKIS. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring attention to a disease that has a profound impact on those that it afflicts. Autism, Mr. Speaker, is a bioneurological developmental disability that generally appears before the age of 3. Autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function. Individuals with autism typically have difficulties communicating and interacting with others and often engage in repetitive behaviors.

I spoke on this floor recently about how people with autism are affected by this disease, and the early warning signs of autism that parents should watch for as their infants become toddlers. Today, I want to share with our colleagues the impact that autism has on the families of those that it affects and the struggles parents must endure to raise children with autism.

During a recent district work period, I met several of my constituents, including Howard and Jonica Chittum, and their wonderful son, Mac, who is autistic. They shared with me the emotional and financial challenges of having a child with autism.

The Chittums told me how Mac needs intensive speech and occupational therapy, services for which Medicaid partially pays, but that their health insurance does not. They talked of their excitement when Mac makes progress and of their disappointment when he struggles. The Chittums are fortunate in that they somehow have found time to work and care for Mac.

They also have managed to pay for more intensive therapy for Mac, which has helped him make significant progress in a relatively short time. I was pleased to learn that Mac's language skills are now on age level. His eye contact has improved, and he is showing more interest in other people.

Some people, however, Mr. Speaker, are not as fortunate as the Chittums. I also met with Monica Bice, whose daughter, Jade, has autism, over the district work period. Monica, who met Jonica through a support group for parents of children with autism, wants desperately to provide Jade with the intensive therapy she needs, but simply cannot afford. And Jonica said, ``It's just not fair.''

I think this is an unconscionable situation that we must remedy, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to have cosponsored legislation our colleague from California, Mrs. Bono, has introduced to encourage screening, early intervention and education about autism. This bill, the Combating Autism Act, would strengthen and coordinate all Federal activities related to autism research, diagnosis, screening and treatment.

I think it also is important for parents to know that they are not alone when trying to raise a child with autism. There are a multitude of national, State and local organizations such as Aware for Autism, a support group for parents of children with autism, which Monica started. I encourage anyone who has a child with autism to seek assistance from those who are facing the same challenges that they are.

Mr. Speaker, I believe we can and should do more to raise awareness about autism and encourage its prevention, treatment, and hopefully some day soon, its cure. I urge our colleagues to support the Combating Autism Act and give hope to people with autism and their families and friends.

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