Through my wife Sheryl’s involvement in starting a non-profit that uses horses in therapy for children with autism, as well as my law firm representing a leading autism service provider based in my hometown of Carbondale, I have witnessed first-hand the challenges that arise when families are faced with raising a child with autism and other developmental disabilities. For unknown reasons, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has become the fastest growing developmental disability over the last two decades. Every two years, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) releases new prevalence data on autism. The latest CDC study was published on April 26th and it is cause for alarm: 1 in 59 children have been diagnosed with autism. This represents a +15% increase from the prior study (2016) and a +150% increase from the time this surveillance methodology began (2000).
It is clear to me that autism has become one of the most pressing public health issues of our time. As the rate of autism continues to soar (autism was considered rare until the 1990’s even though it was discovered over 75 years ago), we still don’t understand what causes it (current consensus is that both genetics and environmental factors are involved), how best to treat it (evidence suggests both early identification and a combination of behavioral and biomedical interventions can significantly improve outcomes), or how to provide meaningful supports when individuals with autism become adults (most states have long waiting lists for community-based services, inadequate housing options, and high unemployment rates).
Based on the latest statistics, CD-3 has approximately 10-12,000 residents living with autism (1.5% of total population). The cost of caring for this population is about $20-24 million, most of which is born by the family. As our district’s representative in Congress, I would seek to become a champion for the autism and developmental disability community. I will advocate for more research to better understand the condition, seek to understand the underlying cause(s) of autism and why the prevalence rate continues to rise, improve access to treatments and services, and work with my colleagues to develop a better and more urgent response by the federal government.