Thursday, December 07, 2006

Landmark bill passed for Autism Spectrum Disorder

WASHINGTON - The House passed a landmark bill Wednesday to fight autism with nearly $1 billion in federal research dollars, and the Senate is poised to approve it, giving activists hope that heightened federal attention is within reach.
"I am proud that we have seized this historic opportunity to enact legislation that could significantly affect the lives of the 1 in 166 individuals who are diagnosed with autism; and the parents, siblings, extended family and other caregivers who provide unwavering support," said Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., the bill's House sponsor.
Autism is a spectrum of disorders that impair social interaction and are diagnosed by the time a child is 3. The five-year $945 million bill passed on a voice vote.
"This bill is a federal declaration of war on the epidemic of autism," said Jon Shestack, co-founder of Cure Autism Now.
The emotional debate over the legislation centered in the last few months on House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Arlington, who wanted to modify the Senate-passed version of the bill. Barton encountered hostility from some in the autism community and became a household name after radio personality Don Imus, whose show is broadcast on MSNBC, began blasting him for holding up the bill.
Barton reached a compromise with autism activists on the bill's funding structure and removed the Senate version's stipulation that $45 million in funding be directed to research environmental causes of the disease. Instead, the compromise bill includes environmental factors in the list of research that federal agencies should pursue.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill before Congress adjourns Friday.