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Celebrating the Joy and Contributions of Americans with Autism

HHS recommits to supporting Americans living with autism and their families.
The White House is lit in blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day in Washington D.C., Sunday, April 2, 2017 (Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen).
The White House is lit in blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day in Washington D.C., Sunday, April 2, 2017 (Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen).

This month we celebrated Autism Awareness Month to honor our fellow Americans living with autism for the joy they bring to our lives and their incomparable contributions to our society. From coast to coast, we have seen homes, businesses, and national landmarks – including the White House – illuminated in the iconic blue light of the campaign to raise awareness of the opportunities and the challenges facing individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.

President Trump is the first president to participate in the “Light It Up Blue” campaign – a sign of his commitment to this cause.

Over the past 50 years, developments in medicine, occupational therapy, neurobiology and education have improved our ability to diagnosis and provide effective treatment and support for those living on the autism spectrum.

The heroes of this story are the countless moms and dads, sisters and brothers, teachers, physicians, behavioral therapists, and researchers who have dedicated their lives to supporting individuals with autism, helping them live with dignity and fulfill their God-given potential. Along the way, the Department of Health and Human Services has played a critical supporting role in this effort. 

The men and women of HHS understand that no government program can replace the work done by those directly responsible for the health and well-being of children with autism. There is no substitute for the energy, ingenuity, and compassion of family members, doctors, educators, and service providers who know best how to meet the unique needs of every individual. So, at HHS, we focus our work on helping remove any obstacles standing in their way.

That begins with identifying and breaking down the barriers between children with autism and their doctors.

Parents are willing to go to the ends of the earth to ensure their children receive the medical care and services they need. But this can be more than a full-time job for parents of kids with autism, who face the major challenge of trying to coordinate all of the various treatments from the host of doctors and therapists involved in their child’s care. The last thing these parents need is the added stress of not knowing whether their son or daughter’s medical care will be covered by insurance. That’s why HHS’s Medicaid program reimburses families for many healthcare services that help improve their child’s physical and mental development.

But, as far too many Americans know first-hand, it’s not enough simply to have a health insurance card – you also need to have access to high-quality, affordable medical care. HHS is working to improve the quality of healthcare in America, especially for autism-related health concerns, by supporting research initiatives that help us understand the causes and improve the treatments for autism.

For instance, HHS supports the Autism Centers of Excellence Program through the National Institutes of Health, which conducts research to better understand the biology of autism, develop improved screening and diagnostic tools, and provide innovative interventions to address the health needs of the autism community. 

But for all the progress that we’ve made in recent years, our work is far from complete. There is always the need for fresh thinking, cooperative action, and innovative solutions. We still have much to learn about autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. And we also need to look closely at how our health and social service systems can better assist young Americans with autism as they age into adulthood and try to start independent lives.

In recent years, as the number of children diagnosed with autism has steadily increased – more than doubling from about 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 in 2012 – most of the support services available to families have been provided through local school systems. But in the next 10 years, estimates suggest that more than half a million youth with autism will celebrate their 18th birthday, a key milestone in their transition to independent living.

Redefining models of service and healthcare delivery to accommodate the upcoming surge of young adults with autism is especially important considering the heightened health risks people living on the autism spectrum face. Recent research suggests that adults with autism are nine times more likely to die from suicide; they also face elevated risk for conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as other chronic conditions including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

That’s why, as a physician and as Secretary of HHS, I pledge to do everything we can to assist Americans with autism – and their families – to enhance their quality of life and maximize their health and social outcomes. I am proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the talented and hardworking men and women of HHS who share this goal. 

Whether it’s the research supported through the National Institute of Mental Health, the early intervention research programs within the Health Resources and Services Administration, or Medicaid support, we are committed to protecting the health and improving the quality of life for Americans with autism.

In the months and years ahead, we will work with President Trump, Congress, and the healthcare community to improve treatments and provide more comprehensive and better coordinated support for Americans living on the autism spectrum. 

.@HHSGov recommits to supporting Americans living with #autism and their families. https://go.usa.gov/x5N23


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