Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) causes developmental disabilities and numerous social, behavioral and physical challenges. Individuals with ASD often display unusual behaviors and interests, unusual ways of learning and paying attention, and impaired verbal and non-verbal communication skills. In addition to these behavioral symptoms, individuals with autism will often have physical ailments such as asthma, digestive disorders, persistent viral infections and epilepsy.
Signs and symptoms of ASD begin before age three and last throughout life. ASD occur in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and are almost five times more likely to occur in boys than girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in 68 children in the United States have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Currently there is no cure for autism, but early detection and treatment can greatly improve symptoms and development.
Significant debate exists over the causes of autism. Scientists believe that both genes and environment play a role in the development of ASD, noting that environmental factors may trigger the expression of certain genes. Research exploring a possible link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism has shown no causal connection between the two. As a precaution, in 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines for infants, and since 2001 thimerosal has not been used in routinely recommended vaccines, with the exception of small amounts in the influenza (flu) vaccines. For more information about mercury and immunizations, please click here.
According to the Autism Society more than 3.5 million Americans live with an ASD. This growing population often needs additional health, educational and caregiving services. The annual U.S. cost for treating adults and children with autism, including special education and residential care, is an estimated $236 billion - $262 billion annually, according to the 2014 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Several federal actions have been taken in the last decade in response to the rising rates, and costs, of autism. The Children's Health Act of 2000 established the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC and authorized the establishment of Centers of Excellence at both CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to promote research and monitoring efforts related to the causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatment of autism. The federal Combating Autism Act enacted in 2006 provided funding for autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities research, screening, treatment and education. The Act established a federal advisory committee, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to develop a plan for the conduct of, and support for, autism spectrum disorder research. The IACC releases annual strategic plans for autism research. In August 2014, the committee was reauthorized under the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (CARES) Act of 2014 (Public Law 113-157). This authorization will remain effective until September 30, 2019.
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