Groups Split On Plan To Extend Autism Act
Congress is moving forward with efforts to renew key autism legislation, but some advocates aren’t happy charging that a proposal this week does nothing more than maintain the status quo.
After months of talk, a bipartisan group introduced legislation Thursday to reauthorize the Combating Autism Act for another three years. The law, which dates back to 2006, allocates millions of federal dollars for autism research, training and infrastructure. Unless Congress acts, the law is set to expire at the end of September and all of the programs established and funded under it will cease at that time.
As recently as December, autism advocates hoped that reauthorization of the bill would mean expanding it. Legislation proposed at that time even called for creating a new wing within the National Institutes of Health specifically focused on autism, among other changes.
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Instead, the bill introduced this week is a near replica of the one approved five years ago. The reason: congressional aides say that it’s unlikely a modified bill could make it through Congress, especially ahead of the September deadline.
Mindful of the political climate, advocacy organizations including Autism Speaks and the Autism Society are backing the bill, acknowledging that maintaining the current level of support is probably the best that can be expected.
“It’s realistic,” says Alison Tepper-Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, which is also supporting the legislation. “There are a lot of things this community needs but this is a step forward in that it doesn’t allow the programs we’ve already made to lapse.”
But not everyone is on board. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is strongly opposing the legislation, arguing that the current bill focuses too little on services for individuals with autism and pays almost no attention to adults with the developmental disorder.
“It tells adults and all those families waiting for services that they’re just going to have to wait for three long years,” says Ari Ne’eman, president of the self-advocate group.
It’s not immediately clear when Congress will take up the legislation, but advocates say they expect lawmakers to act quickly.