Autism affects millions of individuals and families across the United States. As a member of Congress, I fought hard to secure the first new federal funding for autism treatment and services in over twelve years. The vehicle was the annual defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2009 and the focus was increasing funds for families who have a loved one with autism. At the time, I said, “A new case of an autism disorder is diagnosed every 20 minutes, affecting one in every 150 American children. In the decade since, the autism rate has risen to one in every 59 American children. Of course, it’s still quite unclear whether these numbers point to a steep increase in cases of autism or merely to better public education about the condition and increased diagnoses, but in either case it is a serious concern demanding far more attention from policymakers.
Autism is a complicated condition, which manifests itself differently in every person living with autism. Some people with autism live without assistance and many work in demanding professions. Some people with autism are non-verbal and may require assistance with daily life tasks. All people with autism are special and worthy of respect and love. It is incumbent on policymakers to do everything possible to work with them and their families to improve their lives.
There have been many advancements in recent years in treatment and therapies for people with autism, and research is still revealing new information about autism every day. Due to the brain’s plasticity, especially when children are very young, early efforts with the latest behavioral therapy techniques is showing great promise. We know that early diagnosis and action can improve quality of life for people with autism and their families, but only proven techniques should be utilized. It is important to remember that many people with autism are vulnerable to mistreatment and abuse, so we must always be vigilant in ensuring that people with autism are treated humanely and with dignity. I believe we must increase funding, as part of the transition to a universal healthcare system, for evidence-based, medically necessary therapies and services for people with autism. And we must also increase funding for expanded research into the efficacy of various therapies, because there still has not been nearly enough such research thus far. I believe we also must increase funding and supportive programs for people with autism who wish to enter the workforce or find other opportunities away from home. People with autism have so much to contribute to our society, but far too many of them never have their chance.