President George W. Bush signed the Combating Autism Act in 2006, which authorized expanded research, prevention, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders through fiscal year 2011. As president, Barack Obama has promised to fully fund it.
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.
The administration took the first step toward full funding when it included $211 million for autism-related activities in its fiscal year 2010 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services. That sum includes $141 million for the National Institutes of Health, $48 million for the Health Resources and Services Administration and $22 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the relevant House and Senate appropriations bills are expected to either fully fund his request or come close.
The White House says that both chambers' bills fully fund the president"s request for autism-related activities at HRSA and CDC, but neither bill specifies a funding level for autism research at NIH. That's because both bills include language objecting to earmarking funding for research on particular diseases or disorders. Still, the White House said that NIH expects to be able to fund autism activities at the president"s requested level given the amount of funding that NIH would get in total.
The House has passed its version of the appropriations bill, while the Senate version has cleared committee and is awaiting action by the full chamber. Once the Senate passes the bill, members of the House and Senate would produce a single bill that then has to be passed by both chambers and signed by the president. Congressional appropriators are aiming to have the remaining bills passed by Thanksgiving, but that deadline could slip.
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.
"Across the country, grant recipients will have the opportunity to study genetic and environmental factors of a disease that now touches more than one in every 150 children," Obama said during a visit to NIH. "What we learn will hopefully lead to greater understanding, early interventions, more effective treatments and therapies to help these children live their lives and achieve their fullest potential, which is extraordinary."
On Nov. 4, 2009, NIH announced the awarding of more than 50 autism-related grants for autism research, totaling $65 million.
Until the appropriations process is complete, we'll call this promise In the Works.