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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 25, 2011

Administration acts on autism, but not on a single federal coordinator

Fourteen months ago, we gave a Stalled rating to a promise by Barack Obama to appoint a federal coordinator to oversee federal autism efforts.

Autism is a developmental condition that usually appears before age three. Though the severity of symptoms vary, autism-related disorders decrease a person's ability to communicate with and interact with others. According to the Mayo Clinic, an estimated three to six out of every 1,000 children in the United States have autism, with the number of diagnosed cases rising in recent years, for reasons that are a matter of dispute.

As we recounted in a previous update, the administration has advanced a portion of its autism agenda through enhanced funding for research initiatives.

In addition, the administration says it worked to re-energize the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, a federal advisory committee that coordinates efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services. On April 30, 2010, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced several new appointments to the panel.

But the promise to appoint a "top-level point person" on autism was quite specific, and it hasn't been kept during the past two years -- a period we consider generous for a personnel appointment. If an appointment is eventually made, we'll move it to Promise Kept, but for now, we're shifting it to a Promise Broken.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 5, 2009

No sign of progress on naming autism czar

President Barack Obama has promised to name a federal coordinator to oversee federal autism efforts, but there is no sign of progress yet.

Autism is a developmental condition that usually appears before age 3. Though the severity of symptoms vary, autism-related disorders decrease a person's ability to communicate with and interact with others. According to the Mayo Clinic, an estimated three to six out of every 1,000 children in the United States have autism, with the number of diagnosed cases rising in recent years, for reasons that are a matter of dispute.

Obama is making progress on another front. He has directed funding toward autism research, advancing Promise No. 82, which is to fully fund the Combating Autism Act and federal autism research initiatives. His fiscal year 2010 budget fully funds the Combating Autism Act in 2006, which authorized expanded research, prevention, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders through fiscal year 2011. And House and Senate appropriations bills currently adhere to his request on autism, though those bills are several steps away from reaching the president's desk.

Meanwhile, the president on Sept. 30, 2009, announced that NIH will "provide the largest-ever infusion of funding into autism research" using a portion of $5 billion allocated to research under the economic stimulus package.

But so far there is no sign of action on naming a federal coordinator for autism spectrum disorders. Some people familiar with autism policy said that, given the sometimes wide philosophical differences among advocates, choosing a single individual acceptable to all sides could prove controversial. But there is also no evidence of internal administration dissension over the choice. Ten months into the Obama presidency, the fact that there is no appointee yet leads us to label this promise Stalled.

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