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On Parenting
Posted at 04:34 PM ET, 09/22/2011

U.S. House votes to reauthorize federal autism funding; bill awaits Senate action

Mari-Jane Williams is a news design editor at The Washington Post and a regular guest contributor to On Parenting. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two children, one of whom has special needs.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 110 children are born with an autism spectrum disorder. CDC estimates 1 in 110 children have an autism spectrum disorder.

Money is tight in federal Washington these days, to say the least. But autism funding will remain at its current levels for the next three years if the Senate approves a bill that passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

The $693 million in the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act will fund research into the causes and treatment of autism and other developmental disabilities, said Scott Badesch, president and COO of the Autism Society in Bethesda. It will also help pay to train medical professionals to recognize and properly diagnose autism early, and teach them how to work with these children and their families, he said.

“I think it’s a good investment,” said Badesch, who has four children, including a son with autism. “We know that with autism, as with many disabilities, the earlier we properly diagnose and treat a child, the better the results.”

The bill is a continuation of the Combating Autism Act that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006. Autism advocates had initially pushed for an increase in funding for research and treatment when the reauthorization bill was introduced last December, but ultimately were grateful that their program was spared cuts.

“We realized, given the current conditions with the budget and the economy, that we had to settle for a continuation of the program as it currently stands,” said Peter Bell, executive vice president of programs and services at Autism Speaks. “We simply are asking for an extension of what currently exists. There was not one person in the House who stood in opposition to the bill. We are hoping that the Senate will get to that point.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 110 children have an autism spectrum disorder; in boys, that number is 1 in 70.

Badesch says the government funds cannot cover all of the services needed in the growing autism community. He hopes that private donors can help meet those needs.

“We feel that to have services drop off after they turn 21 and leave public schools makes no sense,” Badesch said. “Adults with autism have an unemployment rate between 80 and 90 percent. A high majority of those individuals not only can work, but could be great workers and taxpayers with the right training and support.”

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