On Friday August 8th, 2014, President Obama signed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support Act of 2014. Better known as the Autism CARES Act. The act was recently voted on unanimously by the Senate after passing through the House of Representatives. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-04) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa) authored the bill as bipartisan legislature in the House. Smith stated, “This is a critical investment that is working to determine the cause of ASD, identify autistic children as early as possible to begin treatment, and producing better awareness, new therapies and effective services. The quality of life of many children is at stake, as it is with young adults who age out of the support services in educational systems.”
The Autism CARES Act
The Autism CARES Act renews previous legislation and funding (CARA 2011) through 2019. It also includes several new provisions to address the growing needs and concerns affecting individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families.
Research has made a lot of gains over the years and there is still a long road ahead. The funding to examine causes of ASD, as well as to research the best interventions is critical in order to continue. The fact that the bipartisan Autism CARES Act received overwhelming support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives speaks to the severity of the situation. 1 in 68 individuals are now diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder according to the CDC. This is an increase up from 1 in 150 in 2002. Why the increase? and What can we do about it? are two questions that this act serves to address.
It is noteworthy that the legislators have listened to families and have addressed respite care, young adults, and the transition to adulthood in the Autism CARES Act. These are areas that have been overlooked for far too long. Is it a small step, yes, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. Parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder, and with any high needs child, experience intense levels of stress. The recognition that families need respite care is long overdue. Hopefully, the agencies that are now given the flexibility to embrace this will take full advantage and expand training in local areas in order to give parents and families additional support.
A Focus on Transition
A huge step forward with the Autism CARES Act is the new focus on meeting the challenge of helping individuals with an Autism Spectrum Disorder transition to adulthood. The transition to adulthood is terrifying to families of a child with significant special needs. The school provides a safety net for families up to age 22. After that, services can be slim to none in many areas. It is estimated that 50,000 children age out of the educational system every year. Many of these children want to be a part of society, working and contributing. Many want to go on to continue their education. The Autism CARES Act seeks to get the federal government to start recognizing and studying this transition. This is the first time in history that the government is beginning to discuss this issue. It’s certainly a positive start. Smith stated, “In light of the severity of the aging out crisis, we must do more and fast and ensure we are providing a comprehensive and thorough review of available services and those we need to create.”
Fiscal responsibility is also included in the Autism CARES Act. There are procedures in place to avoid duplication and increase coordination between agencies. According to news articles $1.3 billion over the next five years is allocated. $950 million for research grants, $110 million to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue researching the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders, and $340 million will go to detection, education, and intervention. I know many of us, including myself, find it hard to fathom that it takes $110 million to study the prevalence of autism. However, the data we obtain is important in order to properly study ASD. It is encouraging that efforts are in place to avoid overspending.
The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES) applauds the efforts of U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-04) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa) and congratulate them, as well as all of the supporters, in the Autism CARES Act officially being signed into law by president Obama. The more we learn, the better services we will be able to provide to individuals. Our goal at IBCCES is to ensure high quality care to individuals with ASD, and as my own father often says, and many others have also quoted, “Knowledge is Power.”