President Signs Autism CARES Act into Law

August 9, 2014

On Friday, August 8 President Obama Signed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Supports Act into law.

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Kim Musheno, AUCD's Director of Public Policy wrote the following blog post the next day. 

Yesterday, President Obama signed into law the Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Supports or Autism CARES Act into law. This law reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act for another five years and makes some small improvements.

This law, originally enacted in 2006 and signed by President George W. Bush, dedicates additional federal resources to understanding autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and developing evidence-based interventions that are leading to better quality of lives for many individuals and their families.

Having been involved in the development of this law from the beginning, I have been amazed to witness the evolution of the positive changes resulting from the law. There is so much more public awareness and understanding about ASD. This awareness is leading to more public acceptance, which is ultimately leading to more opportunities for individuals, including employment. Individuals on the spectrum themselves are appreciating their own "neurodiversity" and advocating for themselves. This self-advocacy movement is wonderful to watch.

One of the complaints I used to hear most often from families with children with ASD is that they cannot find trained health professionals. Thanks to a provision of the law championed in 2006 by Senator Mike Enzi (Wyoming), the law has also led to many more health professionals trained to recognize, diagnose, and refer individuals and families to appropriate supports and interventions - not just doctors, but pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, physical, occupational, speech, and behavioral therapists. Children are being diagnosed much earlier, as early as six months. According to researchers, earlier diagnoses, especially while the infant brain is still developing and malleable, can lead to much better outcomes for many individuals. Some researchers are reporting that some children even lose the clinical diagnosis by the time they reach school age.

The law also makes some important improvements. Besides changing the title of the law to be less stigmatizing (who wants to be "combatted"?), the reauthorized law requires the Federal Department of Health and Human Services to report on the challenges of youth transitioning from school to postsecondary and/or employment opportunities or just adult life and developing new policies to address these challenges. Assisting transitioning youth should be a priority. While youth with disabilities fully expect to graduate from school and get a job, we are failing to help them make this transition. We need to end the silos and coordinate transition supports and services and tie the needs of employers with the abilities and desires of these youth.

Having lived with a family member with ASD, who is working but is non-verbal and dependent on others to meet many of his needs, I often think about what his life might have been like had he grown up now with better early interventions and educational supports as well as the more positive public understanding of ASD. The CARES Act provides promise for a brighter future for individuals on the spectrum. I look forward to witnessing this continuing evolution.


Kim Musheno directs public policy for the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, a national non-profit supporting approximately 120 university centers conducting research, training professionals, and providing technical assistance in the area of developmental and other life-long disabilities.