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Senate Passes Smith Autism Bill


Location: Washington, DC

Comprehensive legislation authored by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) reauthorizing federal autism research programs for the next three years was approved by the Senate late last night.

The bill-- H.R. 2005, "The Combating Autism Reauthorization Act"--authorizes $693 million through 2014 to fund research into causes and treatment of autism and other developmental disabilities.

According to Smith, the legislation will authorize for each fiscal year:

* $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.

The CDC estimates that one out of every 110 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Although Smith's bill was passed unanimously by the House of Representatives on Sept. 20, and then "hotlined" by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell in the Senate, Smith needed to spend the last seven days working the phones to overcome some resistance by some Senators who were at first reluctant to release the bill.

"When one takes the time to read the federal Report to Congress recently released, and the Strategic Plans for Autism Research published by the federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, the progress made and the sense of urgency for more work to be done to help children and families with autism is undeniable," said Smith, long-time advocate for autism as founding and current co-chair of the House autism caucus who authored the original law adopted in 2000 to create a comprehensive federal response to combat autism. "I was confident that our colleagues in the Senate would be persuaded and now families throughout the United States can be confident that the federal effort to combat autism and help them with treatments and early interventions will continue at a robust level."

Smith noted the strong grassroots work of autism advocacy groups, including the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autism Society of America and Autism Speaks, all of which he thanked for their untiring efforts to support the bill.

"These groups have done an amazing job advocating for individuals and families who suffer from autism," Smith said.

Smith and Rep. Mike Doyle (PA-14), an original cosponsor of the measure, co-chair the bipartisan Coalition on Autism Research and Education (CARE). The new legislation reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act (CAA) of 2006. The reauthorization of CAA would be for an additional three years, through September 30, 2014.

Smith said the bill, now headed to the White House, will continue the success of the CAA of 2006 by authorizing funding for programs at NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for three additional years. Click here to read Smith's floor remarks during House debate.

CARE has consistently worked to fight for federal support for autism initiatives, including autism programs at NIH, CDC and HRSA.

Smith's Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology Act (Title I, P.L. 106-310) recently marked its own 10th anniversary. The law authorized grants and contracts for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data on autism and pervasive developmental disabilities, and established regional centers of excellence in autism surveillance and epidemiology.

A recent report required by the CAA described federal action undertaken since enactment of the CAA-- mostly in the areas of research and services. The report describes autism-related research and service activities carried out by the federal government since enactment of the Combating Autism Act four years ago. It was released by the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the NIH.

Today about 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The range and severity of symptoms of autism vary from case to case, but symptoms often include difficulties in communicating and interacting with other individuals and exhibiting repetitive behaviors and intense interests in specific subjects.

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