Legislative Action

Autism Spectrum Disorders

Katherine Beh Neas
Vice President, Government Relations

Nearly 1.5 million Americans have a condition along the autism spectrum, with more individuals being diagnosed every day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as one in every 150 children is diagnosed with autism. Autism is four times more prevalent in males than females and knows no racial boundaries. The diagnosis of autism has been growing at an estimated rate of 100-200% every 5 years.

Most people with autism have limited social and communication skills that become apparent during early childhood. Families, schools, health care providers and communities are ill-equipped to meet the needs of children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. As a nation, we do not have enough information to know what treatments and interventions are most appropriate and will help people with autism to live with equality, dignity and independence.

Easter Seals and Autism

For nearly 90 years, Easter Seals has advocated for programs and services that help children and adults with disabilities, including autism, live, learn, work and play in their communities. Over the past decade, Congress has invested in research designed to understand the cause of autism spectrum disorders and to monitor their prevalence. Until recently, there has been no concerted effort around services to children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. In 2006, Congress approved the Combating Autism Act, now Public Law 109-416. Easter Seals strongly supported this law that calls for additional biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and for research to improve screening, diagnostic and intervention tools for children and adults with autism spectrum disorders. While a very modest first step, the Combating Autism Act (CAA) strives to create a foundation for advances in services and supports to individuals with autism. Congress fully funded teh CAA in 2008.

The CAA also restructed the National Institutes of Health's Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). Easter Seals testified at the IAC's meeting in December 2007.

Last year, the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act was introduced in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This bill calls provides resources to states to address service needs of adults with autism, to decrease the time between when a child is diagnosed with autism and when the child receives services, to increase the supply of professionals who have the expertise to identity and treat individuals with autism and to establish a national clearinghouse on information about services for people with autism. Easter Seals urges Congress to adopt this important legislation.

Easter Seals' Legislative Priorities

  • Fully fund the Combating Autism Act; and 

  • Enact the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act and other legislation that will increase the availability of appropriate services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.