Remarks by Frederick D. Barton, Representative to ECOSOC, at Panel Discussion on "Solving the Autism Public Health Puzzle" on the occasion of the fourth annual World Autism Awareness Day

Susan E. Rice
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 
New York, NY
April 6, 2011


Secretary-General, Mrs. Ban Ki Moon, Under-Secretary-General Akasaka, Bob and Suzanne, dear friends, the United States is thrilled to co-sponsor, with the Mission of Bangladesh, Autism Speaks, and the excellent panelists this discussion. America is eager to address the public health puzzle of autism and we welcome the growing international collaboration.

As recently as the 1990s, scientists believed autism was a rare disorder affecting only 1 in every 2000 kids. But recent data, and the experience of countless families, paints a different picture. Almost one percent of children in the United States are affected by an autism spectrum disorder. Nearly every American I have spoken with in the past few days knows at least one family that is affected by autism. Autism has emerged as an urgent public health challenge that our government is working to address.

In 2006 the U.S. Congress passed the Combating Autism Act which raised awareness and now supports important autism related research. In January 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the first-ever strategic plan for autism research reaching across a number of government agencies to increase research funding and expand activities to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by autism.

A series of initiatives are now under way. 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 is enabling families, doctors, and child care providers to seek and receive assistance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monitoring and research programs closely track the prevalence of autism in communities across the nation, allowing us to better understand who is affected by this disorder and what causes it.

At our Health Resources and Services Administration, we have created two national research networks to gather data from different sites in order to identify the most promising treatments and create channels for these best practices to flow back to parents and providers around the country.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are working with states to help shape their Medicaid programs to help kids and adults get the assistance they need to lead self-determined lives. They also provide assistance with medical and health home models that can help people with autism get the kind of coordinated, person-centered care that helps them thrive.

There is a lot going on in the United States and we have also established international collaborations with Norway, Iceland, and Denmark. Puzzles are solved by partnerships – and so it will be with autism and deepening the understanding of what puts our kids at risk.

Autism has created new realities for families, schools, health care providers, and communities across the world and in America. When parents discover that their child has autism today, they’re left with many questions, but few answers. What causes autism? How can it be prevented? Which treatments can help? How do children with autism best learn? Where can I get needed services and supports?

I am proud that through the commitment of President Obama and the innovative programs of our government, the United States is working to address these questions and provide support and services to all families who are affected by autism.

Thank you all for your dedication to this important matter and for your good work.


PRN: 2011/072