Autism Speaks—a national advocacy group that promotes research and solutions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—presented Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) with their Congressional Leadership Award for his “leadership on behalf of individuals with autism and their families.”
“The dedicated leaders at Autism Speaks work tirelessly to help raise awareness and advocate for those with autism,” said Rep. Smith, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus. “I thank them for their steadfast commitment to this important cause, and I am honored to receive this award.”
Autism Speaks—founded sixteen years ago by grandparents of an autistic child—has made extraordinary advancements for those with autism, building upon the legacy of three leading autism groups that have merged with the organization. Their Congressional Leadership Award recognizes Smith’s longstanding service to the autism community and his extensive work on the issue. This marks the second time Smith has received the award, in addition to receiving the group’s Award of Thanks.
“Autism affects 1 out of every 54 children—including 1 in 34 boys—nationwide and 1 in 32 children—including 1 in 20 boys—in New Jersey according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Smith, who has consistently advocated for effective interventions and durable remedies for children with autism.
“We must do better to ensure children affected by autism have access to the education and support services they need to live healthy, independent lives, especially and including as they continue to grow and become adults,” Smith continued. “The additional challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to the autism community underscore that the current health system is not properly designed to meet their needs and demand further research and support programs.”
Smith has authored four major laws on autism, including the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, or simply the Autism CARES Act—the comprehensive, bipartisan legislation that provides more than $1.8 billion through 2024 across multiple agencies to fund research, early detection and treatment for children with autism. Smith’s law also expands government programs to include older persons with autism who often are misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed and overlooked.
Smith’s other comprehensive laws on autism include the Autism CARES Act of 2014, the Combatting Autism Reauthorization Act, and the Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology (ASSURE) Act. He also authored Kevin and Avonte’s Law—named after two boys with autism—which was signed into law as part of an omnibus bill to provide funding for critical wandering-prevention education programs and non-invasive locative tracking technology to assist autistic children and their caregivers.
Wandering, which can result in serious injury or even death, is very common among children with autism—about half of whom have wandered at some point according to a study by Pediatrics.
Smith’s involvement on autism issues stepped up in 1997 when two constituents, Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Brick, NJ—dedicated parents of two young autistic children—walked into his Ocean County office asking for help. The Gallagher’s continue to work with Smith on autism advocacy issues to this day.