Home > Science > Autism Speaks Testifies at Congressional Hearing

Autism Speaks Testifies at Congressional Hearing

This guest post is by Andy Shih, Ph.D., the Vice President of Scientific Affairs at Autism Speaks.

When Peter Bell, our EVP of programs and services, first told me about the possibility of testifying at a hearing Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) was holding on a global perspective on autism, I did a double take. It was not surprising that Congressman Smith, a long time friend of the community who with Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) had just introduced the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 in the House last week, is interested in autism. But the fact that he wanted to learn more about the international autism community, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, had me wondering what could have led the congressman from Brick Township, N.J., to the Townships of South Africa.

It turned out that like many others in our community, Congressman Smith and his colleagues on the House Foreign Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, understand that autism does not discriminate based on ethnicity or socioeconomic status, and that the only way to speed answers to all individuals and families struggling with this disorder around the world, including those in the U.S., is through international collaboration.

“The benefits of international collaborations and cooperation are multidirectional,” said Congressman Smith in his opening statement at the hearing yesterday afternoon.

In addition to Stuart Spielman and Kevin Roy from our crack government relations team, I was joined at the hearing by Dr. Tom McCool, CEO of Eden Autism Services in New Jersey, Ms. Brigitte Kobenan, founder of Autism Community of Africa, and via teleconference, Ms. Arlene Cassidy, CEO of Autism Northern Ireland. We spent a few hours with members of the subcommittee discussing barriers to progress, such as lack of awareness, capacity and expertise, especially in low and middle income countries.

We also touched on the unique scientific opportunities available and the lessons we can learn from them. For example, we explored the implications of the recently published, surprisingly high prevalence estimate from South Korea; an epidemiology study Autism Speaks funded in a region of South Africa endemic for AIDS to explore the potential risk of a compromised immune system on brain development (link to KZNU study); and the promise of eHealth and distance-learning technologies in the global dissemination of best practices.

Importantly, Congressman Smith credited a trip he took to Lagos, Nigeria, in 2007, where he learned firsthand from parent advocates the enormous daily challenges they face with little or no government support, as the impetus for the Global Autism Assistance Act that he first introduced in 2008 (HR 5446). He is planning to reintroduce the legislation later this week and wants to encourage the “Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish and administer a health and education grant program to support activities by nongovernmental organizations and other service providers focused on autism in developing countries…”

“Concerted actions are required to overcome the global challenges to effectively address autism and other developmental disabilities,” Congressman Smith concluded. “We need to continue to help increase awareness of autism at all levels and in all countries, to advocate for the inclusion of developmental disabilities in national and state health policies, to increase the availability of quality services across a continuum of care and across the lifespan, and to continue to support scientific research that will lead to more effective treatments, and one day, to effective strategies for prevention.”

For more information on the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2011 please visit Autism Votes.

To view the Congressional Hearing on the C-SPAN Video Library click here.

  1. Katie Wright
    June 1, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Congressman Smith is indeed a wonderful supporter of our community. Families everywhere are appreciative of his leadership on behalf of CAA.

    I would prefer to see Congress focus on getting to the bottom of the factors behind the autism explosion Brick Township, NJ before holding hearings on autism in SubSaharan Africa. What hope is there for African children with autism if Americans struggle mightily to access and pay for services?
    Yes, it is always a good thing to help other nations learn about ASD but how much can we do for them until we find the causes behind our own autism epidemic?

  2. June 1, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Great work! With autism prevalence on the rise, more needs to be done.

    Brain Balance Centers
    Where Every Kid Connects With Success

  3. Katherine
    June 2, 2011 at 3:12 am

    If you want to make an impact, then take parents of autistic children to speak.

  4. elise baucum
    June 7, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    we need to help my child and
    and americas chidren before
    africas with autisim parent of 10
    year old who needs health care

  5. Missi
    June 12, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I am having problems with getting ssi for my autistic son. He has been approved before, but we had to move to Illinois to get him approved. Indiana is awful about denying people automatically. Does anyone have any ideas on what I should do next. They are making him go to another doctor. I explained to them that Autisim cannot be cured. I am not sure what direction to go in next, Please help. Thanks. Missi

    • Carolyn
      June 16, 2011 at 12:07 am

      Contact Family Benefit Solutions, Sherri Schneider, at 847-279-8506, benefithelp@aol.com

  6. June 21, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I strongly agree that Autism knows no racial or economic boundaries. Addressing this epdiemic globally is one that should be collaborated and partnered with by all countries around the world. Autism Hearts Foundation (www.autismhearts.com) congratulates Congressmen Smith and Doyle for bringing Autism to Congress for a global impact on awareness and supporting families challenged by this disorder. Congratulations as well to Dr. Andy Shih, Vice President, Scientific Research, Autism Speaks for the Congressional Hearing posting. News like this one keep our families well informed of latest developments, advocacies and interests on Autism.

  7. kimberly O'Berry
    July 7, 2011 at 7:09 am

    My 27 year old son is severly autistic. To get him to a dentist he has to be under general anthesthea . I am told by every dentist i see that it will cost $3500 just to have his teeth looked at. We live in Florida. He has medicaid, but I have been told he does not rate medicaid dental because of the tier the State of Florida has placed him on. I make decent income but I cant afford this every time I need his teeth looked at. Does anyone have any suggestions?

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