Obama Statement in Support of World Autism Awareness Day and Awareness Month

Obama Statement in Support of World Autism Awareness Day and Awareness Month

Chicago, IL (RUSHPRNEWS) 04/02/ 2008 -Senator Obama today released the following statement in support of World Autism Awareness Day and Awareness Month. “I am proud to add my voice in support of World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month, and to outline the steps that an Obama administration will take to address the problem of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) on every level.

Autism Spectrum Disorders have quietly become some of the most serious public health issues in the United States and the world today. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects 1 in 150 children; 1 in 94 boys, in the United States. It is estimated that tens of millions have autism world wide.

Autism not only jeopardizes the future of our children, but also has a devastating impact on all levels of government here at home and around the world. Today, autism costs our nation alone $90 billion dollars each year. In current dollars, the cost of simply caring for each person with autism will be over $3 million — a devastating burden for virtually every family who is affected by this disorder.

While the statistics are staggering, these numbers are compounded with autism’s impact on our families and communities. The divorce rate of parents of children with autism is far above the national average, as is the bankruptcy rate. Autism taxes our families in many ways – not just financially, but emotionally as well.

As an Illinois state senator, I sponsored comprehensive legislation that became law to create an Autism Spectrum Disorders diagnosis education program. The goal of that project is to offer educational opportunities at all levels of care, including physicians, early intervention (which we know is crucial in helping give our children a chance), psychologists, teachers, day care providers, parents, respite workers, and speech and language therapists. I have personally worked side-by-side with Illinois families affected by autism to support efforts to build the Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research.

While serving in the U.S. Senate, I’ve been fighting to make sure Congress fully funds the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). I have also cosponsored a measure that would expand federal funding for life-long services for Americans with Autism Spectrum Disorders, authorizing approximately $350 million in new federal funding for key programs related to treatments, interventions and services for both children and adults with autism. Because autism is a life-long condition, we must provide for individuals throughout their lifetime.

I also supported the Combating Autism Act which has become law. While this was a first step towards addressing the autism crisis, we can do much better for American families and communities struggling to get by. And while the causes of autism remain a mystery, the Bush administration has responded by approving the paltry sum of $108 million to support research.

The Bush Administration has not been alone in failing to even come close to an adequate response to this crisis. Many insurance companies have failed to assume their responsibilities as well. Individuals with autism are routinely denied insurance benefits for their treatments.

How can we allow our nation to deny children with special needs the support their health depends on? That is not the America we believe in. While some states have been successful in restoring basic insurance benefits, we as Americans have an obligation to our citizens with special needs and I intend to lead in that effort with the most comprehensive ASD policy of any candidate running for president. We need a policy that is commensurate with the crisis and that is what I will provide as President.

My administration will not only work to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Combating Autism Act, but will add to that a commitment of $1 billion dollars a year in autism-related funding by the end of my first term. And we will work with Congress, parents and experts in the field of autism to determine how to further improve federal and state programs.

As President, I will appoint a Federal ASD Coordinator, an “Autism Czar” to oversee and coordinate a nationwide effort to deal proactively with ASD. This effort will include diverse but credible research, treatment, personal care/assistance and family support and will work with existing national and state organizations and taskforces. We need to ensure that combating autism, once and for all, receives the recognition and priority it deserves at the highest level of government. This appointee will also have a mandate to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles that may be delaying implementation of important measures and will ensure that all federal funds are being spent in a manner that prioritizes results. We need to build effective communication and collaboration among federal, state and local agencies. Right now, our government is just trying to keep up and, as any family who faces autism will tell you, we are not even doing that. What we know and what we have seen is that America can and must do more.

Americans with special needs require and deserve meaningful resources to succeed in early and later life. While roughly 90 percent of infants in the U.S. are currently screened for various potentially disabling or life-threatening conditions, fewer than half the states screen all infants for the full recommended panel of 29 disorders. Many of these conditions, if caught early, can be treated before they result in permanent impairments or even death. This means we have to set a national standard to provide re-screening for all two-year olds, the age at which some conditions, including autism, have already begun to appear.

Our nation and our world deserve an immediate and focused four-prong approach: research, intervention, life-long support, and an end to discrimination. As a result of the crisis, there is much debate as to the cause of autism and how to address it. What we need to do is devote ourselves to a solution built from a comprehensive plan that is research-based, inclusive, and effective. And we have to do this right now.

Those who face autism – or whose loved ones are facing it – are some of our most courageous Americans. They face daily struggles, praying that their school district has the resources and personnel to help their child, hoping that their pediatricians know how help, fearful of what their child’s future will be, and knowing full well the very limited services available to adults with special needs. We must replace these uncertainties with hope – hope that we can and will bring about a brighter day.

While we commend the United Nations and those who are helping bring this epidemic to the forefront, World Autism Awareness Day is not a victory, it is a call to action, and the United States must once and for all act quickly and effectively. There is nothing more American than speaking for those in need who are without a voice. As I have said many times before, we must build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes and discrimination. Policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in their communities. I believe the World Autism Awareness Day is a first step. As President I will walk beside you the rest of the way.”


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