Autism Spectrum Disorder

March 4, 2007

According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), approximately 1 in every 150 American children has a potential diagnosis of ASD, a higher rate than reported last year. Continued research is needed to document trends in the growth of ASD, as well as research into the causes, early identification and determination of effective interventions.

Greater commitments are clearly needed to expand access to services such as early identification, diagnosis, early intervention, education, family support, and long-term services and supports to better meet the needs of individuals with ASD and related developmental disabilities. Individuals with ASD and their families need access to accurate information about scientifically-based interventions. The training of a wide range of interdisciplinary professionals also needs to be a top priority. The findings from our research institutions must be translated and made available to parents and providers across the country as quickly as possible.

Action Taken by Congress and the Administration
Late last year, President Bush signed into law the Combating Autism Act of 2006 (PL 109-416). The Act authorizes $168 million for ASD related activities in FY 2008, an increase of $25 million over FY 2007. This funding increase would benefit research on ASD through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and CDC. The Act also provides the first step to expand the interdisciplinary training of professionals to identify and support children with ASD and their families. Unfortunately, no new money was proposed in the President's FY 2008 budget request to implement the provisions of the Act. Specifically, Congress should provide:

  • $114.5 million to expand, intensify, and coordinate the activities of the National Institutes of Health with respect to research on autism spectrum disorder. This includes funding for research into the causes of autism, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, services, supports, intervention, and treatment of autism spectrum disorder.
  • $16.5 million for the CDC's Disabilities Surveillance and Research Program. This program supports data collection, analysis, and reporting, so that we can better understand the scope of the autism epidemic. It also supports the establishment of regional centers of excellence to collect and analyze information on the number, incidence, correlates, and causes of autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.
  • $37 million to increase awareness, reduce barriers to screening and diagnosis, promote evidence-based interventions for individuals with autism, and train professionals to utilize valid and reliable screening tools to diagnose autism and provide evidence-based interventions for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) plans to introduce a bill early in this Congress to improve services to individuals with ASD and their families. Specifically, the bill authorizes funding for demonstration projects to expand coverage for services for children and adults, interdisciplinary training of professionals who diagnose and treat individuals throughout their lifespan, and contains other provisions to improve access to services for individuals with ASD and their families.

The 110th Congress should:

  • Provide the necessary funds to focus our country's researchers on explaining the apparent increase in prevalence, on finding the causes, and on determining the most effective ways of supporting children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders by fully funding the Combating Autism Act.
  • Support legislation that addresses the direct service and training needs associated with this increasing number of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Relevant Committees

  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
  • House Energy and Commerce Committee (Subcommittee on Health)
  • House and Senate Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittees