A statement by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Every day, the millions of Americans living with autism and their families face unique and daunting challenges that many of us will never fully appreciate. During National Autism Awareness Month, we renew our commitment to better understand autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and improve the lives of individuals living with it.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 68 children in the United States has been identified with ASD. This latest estimate makes it clear that autism affects the lives of millions of Americans – our friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members.
ASD is a developmental disability characterized, in varying degrees, by persistent difficulties in social communication and restrictive and repetitive behaviors, interests, or activities. We know that early screening and intervention at younger ages helps children get the most effective treatments earlier in life. Yet the CDC found that most children with autism are diagnosed after age 4, even though autism can be diagnosed as early as age 2.
Catching potential developmental delays like ASD early can make a big difference in the lives of those children. Parents can track their child’s development with milestone checklists (find them at www.cdc.gov/Milestones), and health care providers now have easy-to-use resources for screening children through the new Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! initiative (www.hhs.gov/WatchMeThrive). Uncovering developmental concerns and acting early is the best way for families to access the services and supports they and their children need.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans must now cover autism screening for children at 18 and 24 months – with no out-of-pocket costs.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act includes many important benefits and protections that address the health care needs of those with autism. Insurers are no longer allowed to exclude anyone with autism or charge more based on this pre-existing condition. Also, children are now able to remain on their parents’ health plan until the age of 26. And millions more families now have access to affordable quality health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
For people with autism and their families, greater access to health care and the new benefits and rights under the Affordable Care Act mean more options and greater peace of mind.
The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, with both federal and public members, coordinates efforts within HHS concerning autism. Research sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, CDC, and the Health Resources and Services Administration is advancing our understanding of autism risk factors and supporting the development of new tools for early detection and intervention.
There is also a growing understanding of the significant needs that individuals with autism have across their lifespan, including education, employment, housing, and other supports that would allow them to fully participate in community life. The Administration for Community Living has bolstered our commitment to promoting the health, well-being, and independence for those with autism and their families and caregivers.
This April, let us recommit ourselves to making advances through research and effective services and supports that will enhance the lives of the individuals and families—our children, friends, and neighbors—who live every day with autism.
For more information on resources available for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, their families, and caregivers, see:
- Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ecd/watch-me-thrive
- More on CDC resources and data at http://www.cdc.gov/autism