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Autism Called ‘An Epidemic’

With one in 88 children, and one in 54 boys affected by autism, the world’s leading science and advocacy organization for the condition is calling upon the nation’s leaders to address what it calls a public health emergency.

“We have an epidemic on our hands,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, referring to new statistics issued by the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “The costs [of dealing with autism] are staggering and will continue to rise,” he said, adding, “We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the US government step up its commitment to help people living with autism today.”

Autism Speaks calls for the development of a national action plan that includes:

  • Increased funding for science to uncover the genetic underpinnings of autism
  • Increased funding for research to detect the causes of the disease
  • Accelerated funding and development of effective medicines and treatments
  • A strategy where all kids with autism are diagnosed by 18 months, at the latest
  • A National Training Corps to recruit therapists, service providers and specially trained teachers and teacher assistants
  • A strategy to address the growing needs of adults with autism, including continuing education, employment, housing and community integration
“We need the president, public health agencies and representatives from both sides of the aisle to come together,” Wright said, and then added: “A national emergency needs a national strategy. Anything less won't be enough.”

The CDC report, published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), states that more than 1 percent—or 1 in every 88 children—is diagnosed with autism today, including 1 in 54 boys. This is a 78 percent increase in six years (2002-2008) and a 10-fold (1000 percent) increase in reported prevalence over the last 40 years. The report uses the same methodology that produced the CDC’s 2009 prevalence findings of 1 in 110 children with autism.

“We know early diagnosis matters, but early diagnosis without access to treatment means nothing,” said Geraldine Dawson, PhD, who is Autism Speaks’ chief science officer. “A majority of children don't get the treatment and services they need and deserve. We have to address all of this as we move forward,” she added.

While the numbers are startling, they fall short of telling the story of the struggle people face from day to day, said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “From fighting to get a diagnosis and secure appropriate educational services and therapies, to trying to manage tremendous financial and emotional burdens or find a satisfying job...”

The total 2011 National Institutes of Health budget was $30.5 billion. Of this, approximately $169 million—or 0.6 percent—was directly focused on autism research.

Earlier this week, Autism Speaks announced preliminary results of new research that estimates autism costs the US $126 billion per year—a number that has more than tripled since 2006.

The cost of providing care for each person with autism affected by intellectual disability in the US is $2.3 million through his or her lifespan. The lifetime cost of caring for individuals who are not impacted by an intellectual disability, by comparison, is $1.4 million.

About Autism
Autism is a term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders— autism spectrum disorders—caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 88 children in the US is on the autism spectrum—a 1000 percent increase in the past 40 years that may only partly be explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks funds research into the causes, prevention, treatments and possible cures for autism; increasing awareness of its spectrum of disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism, founded the organization in February 2005. He is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal.


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