Every April during National Autism Awareness Month, we recognize the special challenges faced by those living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and refocus our efforts on the best ways to support them and their families.
Autism is a developmental disability characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) leave no doubt that autism is a critical public health issue that deeply affects the lives of millions of Americans.
Research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), CDC, and HRSA has advanced our understanding of risk factors underlying the development of ASD as well as supported the development and effective deployment of tools for early detection and intervention. Screening at younger ages is increasingly helping children to get the most effective treatments as soon as possible.
Today, NIH announced it has awarded $5.3 million in initial funding to two new recipients of the Autism Centers of Excellence (ACE) program. Eleven ACE centers around the country are now funded to support collaborative, multi-disciplinary science aimed at exploring the causes and identifying the most effective treatments for ASDs.
There is also a growing understanding of the significant needs people with ASD face, including support for education, employment and housing to allow them to fully participate in community life. Through the recent formation of the Administration for Community Living, the Department of Health and Human Services has strengthened its commitment to maximizing health, well-being, and independence for those with ASD and their families and caregivers.
The Affordable Care Act also is helping to meet the health care needs of those on the autism spectrum. Because of the health care law, insurers are not allowed to exclude children with autism based on their pre-existing condition. Beginning in 2014, it will be illegal for an insurer to discriminate against anyone because of a pre-existing condition or to charge more because of it. Also because of the health care law, children are now able to remain on their parents' health plan until the age of 26. For young adults with autism and their families, that means more options and greater peace of mind.
Among the preventive services that health insurance plans must now cover with no out-of-pocket cost is autism screening for children at 18 and 24 months.
This month, let us renew our efforts to make advances through research and effective services and supports that will enhance the lives of the people and families--our children, friends, and neighbors--who struggle every day with autism.
For more information about ASD, see www.hhs.gov/autism.
Learn more about HHS and interagency activities related to ASD at www.iacc.hhs.gov.
For more information about the Affordable Care Act, see www.HealthCare.gov.