Combating Autism Act of 2005 (S. 843)
December 6, 2006
MR. SMITH of New Jersey: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of S. 843, with an amendment, the Combating Autism Act. This bill is great news for the 1.5 million individuals suffering from autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their families, the many ASD advocacy groups who have been working hard for so long, and also the very many Members of Congress who have championed the cause of autism with the goal of providing meaningful relief to those autistic individuals and their families.
From my first session in Congress in 1981, I have been a consistent advocate for individuals with developmental disorders, including autism. More recently, in 1998, I successfully requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct an investigation in Brick Township, New Jersey after learning and listening to the community's concerns about high numbers of autism cases--a study that showed that cases of both classic autism and autism spectrum disorders were significantly higher nationwide than expected.
The Combating Autism Act, that was introduced in the Senate by my good friend Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and was unanimously passed by the Senate, reauthorizes major components of Title I of the Children's Health Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-310), and also adds significant new provisions to broaden and strengthen activities related to autism.
Specifically, within its provisions, this legislation: requires the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to expand, intensify, and coordinate ASD-related research and to conduct an NIH-wide study of research centers of excellence, and reauthorizes provisions, which I had authored in the Children's Health Act, to grant HHS the authority to award grants for the collection, analysis, and reporting of state-level epidemiological data on ASDs and other developmental disabilities, as well as the authority to award grants for the establishment of regional centers of excellence in autism spectrum disorders epidemiology.
Importantly, the bill directs that NIH-funded research include investigation of possible environmental causes of ASDs and that CDC-funded epidemiological centers develop expertise in specialty areas, including environmental exposures. I applaud this recognition of the need to pursue research into environmental factors and epigenetics to further advance and clarify the science. While not specifically addressed in this bill and although some are fearful to even mention the issue, I believe that we do not yet have the answers we need regarding the biological effects of thimerosal, and I am hopeful that research on environmental factors will include further study to find those important answers.
The bill does much more, such as, facilitates the creation of state-level agencies to serve as clearinghouses for public information; reauthorizes the proven successful Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee; and also includes a very robust section ``Autism Education, Early Detection, and Intervention,'' to improve the early screening, diagnosis, interventions, and treatments for ASDs.
As many as 1.5 million Americans today have some form of autism and the number is on the rise. Each and every day across America, 66 children are diagnosed with autism and as many as 1 in 166 children born today will eventually be diagnosed with autism. Just 10 years ago, the estimate was 1 in 500.
A complex neurobiological disorder that generally appears in the first 3 years of life, autism impairs a person's ability to communicate and to relate to others; the condition is often associated with rigid routines or repetitive behaviors. About 40 percent of children with autism do not talk, and others only repeat what is said to them. Children with autism may experience a range of medical problems which can be very debilitating. Because these patients have such extreme communication problems, behavioral symptoms such as agitation, sleep difficulties, and other behavioral problems may be attributed to the disability rather than to the pain and discomfort of a medical condition. Adolescents with autism may develop a strong sense of isolation, socially and emotionally, and show signs of depression or increased challenging behaviors.
Autism generally is a life-long disability; it also is a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently and at varying degrees. Autism can overwhelm families, as their lives become consumed with the considerable challenges of identifying appropriate biomedical and psychosocial treatments, schooling and other needed support systems for their autistic child and eventually for an autistic adult.
Our Nation is in the midst of an autism crisis that becomes more severe each passing month, a crisis that costs our nation tens of billions of dollars annually in medical care, behavioral therapy, special child care, and a range of child and adult services needed to care for these individuals. While we have significantly increased our government's commitment to surveillance and biomedical research in the last decade in an effort to find a cause or cure, it is incumbent upon us to act now to reauthorize, intensify, and expand those and other efforts to identify individuals with autism and to provide them with more effective care and treatments.
Thanks to the incredible work of Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton and his staff in finalizing this bill and getting it here today to the floor of the House of Representatives, we have a tremendous opportunity to join together in carrying it over the finish line. I strongly encourage every one of my colleagues to vote for this bill.
Perhaps the greatest thanks should go to the very many individuals and organizations in the ASD community who coalesced and advocated so effectively for this bill. Some, but certainly not all, of those organizations are: Autism One, Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, Cure Autism Now, Dan Marino Foundation, First Signs, Organization for Autism Research, Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center, TalkAutism, Unlocking Autism, and the US Autism and Asperger Association. I know that there are numerous other organizations and individuals who also deserve thanks and recognition.
I know that all of us here share the commitment to dramatically improve the lives for the well over a million American children and adults who have an autism spectrum disorder and improve the outlook for their families and other loved ones. I humbly encourage you not to let this opportunity pass without casting your vote in support of this much needed and much desired legislation.