Good afternoon. Ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies, Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. President of the General Assembly, Ambassador Momen, Suzanne and Bob Wright, it’s my real pleasure to be here today to mark the importance of autism awareness.
Just over a year ago, President Obama signed the first-ever presidential proclamation recognizing World Autism Awareness Day. This was part of a long-standing commitment to combat autism. Last September, the president signed into law the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act, which renewed the legislation first passed in 2006 that has launched many important programs to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder and to fund research.
Perhaps the administration’s biggest step to support those affected by autism and their families came with the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. It required new insurance plans to cover autism screening and developmental assessments for children at no cost to their parents. Insurers in the United States would no longer be allowed to deny children coverage for pre-existing conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder, or to set arbitrary lifetime or annual limits on benefits. And because young adults are able to stay on their family health insurance until they have turned 26, a young person with autism now has a much greater chance of fulfilling his or her own potential.
Today, there is more support for Americans with autism than ever before. Autism is no longer hidden; and now that we can begin to see the true nature and extent of the problem, we can focus our efforts. The Affordable Care Act and the Combating Autism Act allow us to continue important research and to develop and refine vital treatments.
As recently as the 1990s, scientists believed autism was a rare disorder affecting only 1 in every 2000 children. As we all know now, the truth is much different.
A study last year in South Korea represented the first effort to directly screen and evaluate all children in a particular community for autism. The study estimated a prevalence of 1 in 38 children. Other population-based studies have shown ASD prevalence at 1% or greater in Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States and the United Kingdom. Autism Speaks is funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s South Carolina tracking network site to conduct direct screening of the children in their study area, using a design similar to that of the South Korea study. Meanwhile, the CDCP’s Autism and Development Disabilities Monitoring Network has just found an ASD prevalence of one in 88 among 8-year-olds whose records were examined in 13 states.
This is a very dramatic change. We understand so much better now the scale of what we are facing. But we have much, much more to learn. We need to understand fully how biological and environmental factors contribute to ASD and identify the most effective interventions to improve the quality of life for people with ASDs and their families.
At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee oversees funding for research and services in autism and updates each year the federal strategic plan for combating autism. At one agency of the Department -- the Health Resources and Services Administration -- we have created two national networks to gather data from different sites in order to identify the most promising treatments and create channels for best practices to flow back to parents and providers around the country. The HRSA focuses on professional training, the development of guidelines, and research.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monitoring and research programs closely track autism in communities across the nation, allowing us to better understand who is affected by this disorder and what the risk factors are – and to promote early detection.
At our National Institutes of Health, research is expanding to address every aspect of autism, from testing innovative treatments to searching for the genes and environmental factors that contribute to the disorder. Early diagnosis and intervention enable families, doctors, and child care providers to seek and receive invaluable assistance.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are working with states to shape their Medicaid programs to help children and adults with ASDs get the assistance they need to take control of their own lives. They also provide assistance with home-care models that enable people with autism to get the unique kind of quality care that helps them thrive.
While there is a great deal going on in the United States, we have also established international collaborations with many countries across the world. Puzzles can often best be solved by partnerships – and so it will be with autism and deepening the understanding of what puts our children at risk.
As President Obama said last year, and I quote, “let us recommit to improving the lives of individuals and families impacted by ASDs and creating a world free from discrimination where all can achieve their fullest potential.”
Through the commitment of President Obama and the innovative programs of the U.S. government, the United States is working to address key questions and provide quality support and services to all families affected by autism.
Thank you very much.
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