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U.S. Senate passes legislation to reauthorize federal autism funding

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The United States Senate passed a bill Thursday authorizing the Autism CARES Act, dedicating federal funding for autism services and related research through 2019. The bipartisan bill was previously passed by the House of Representatives in June and reauthorizes the Combating Autism Act of 2006 which was set to expire at the end of September.

Some in the autism community felt that the term "Combating Autism" conveyed the wrong message. The bill was therefore renamed the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, or Autism CARES, in an effort to convey the appropriate message of supporting those with autism rather than combating them.

The bill would continue to provide millions of dollars towards federal funding for research, prevalence tracking, training for medical professionals and service providers, early identification, adult services and other related autism efforts. It would also appoint a task force known as the the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) which would enact a plan for addressing each of the domains of the bill.

In addition, the Congressional Autism Caucus grew to 150 congressional members. The caucus is in the process of enacting the Autism Spectrum Disorders Services Act, which would provide grants for children and adults and create a training program for teachers and service providers.

Since the initial 2006 bill passed, numerous research studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health have led to breakthroughs in the origins, treatment and prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Research has pointed to prenatal and genetic factors in the onset of autism, while ruling out other factors such as vaccines. The funding also supports research for other medical conditions such as ADHD, anxiety disorders and sleep disorders.

The Autism CARES Act would authorize $1.3 billion in federal funding, or $260 million per year. The bill now moves to President Obama for his signature.