A self-advocate and Autism Speaks’ chief science officer are among the latest appointees to a federal committee tasked with guiding autism research priorities.

Geraldine Dawson of Autism Speaks and Ari Ne’eman, a self-advocate and the founder of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, will join the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, or IACC. The two are among five new appointments made to the committee by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Friday.

The IACC is an advisory committee established by the Combating Autism Act of 2006. The group is comprised of government officials and members of the autism community. Despite its advisory status, the priorities set in the group’s annual strategic plan have sway over an increasing portion of the federal government’s research budget, hovering around $200 million.

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“Today I am pleased to announce new members of the IACC, who will bring additional points of view and expertise to the committee,” Sebelius said in a statement announcing the appointments. “I look forward to hearing from the committee members on important matters that affect people with autism and their families as we continue our efforts to address this urgent public health challenge.”

Already some existing committee members are deeply divided, particularly on the issue of whether further research on a link between vaccines and autism is warranted. And, Dawson and Ne’eman are likely to add to the opinionated bunch.

Dawson, who helps oversee millions in research grants at Autism Speaks, has said that because vaccines may play a role in a small number of cases of autism, there is reason to conduct further research.

Meanwhile, Ne’eman is a vocal supporter of neurodiversity — the idea that autism is a difference that should be accepted rather than changed — and does not support efforts to cure the disorder.

Ne’eman is also a nominee to serve on the National Council on Disability, which makes recommendations to the president and Congress on disability issues, but his nomination is currently on hold in the Senate.

In addition to Dawson and Ne’eman, Sebelius also appointed neuroscientist Gerald D. Fischbach of the Simons Foundation, parent Denise D. Resnik who co-founded the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center and researcher Marjorie Solomon of the University of California, Davis.

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