By Jonathan D. Salant
Federal help for the 1.5 million children on the autistic spectrum received a boost Wednesday when the U.S. House voted to spend $1.8 billion on programs over the next three years.
The legislation, approved by voice vote, renews federal programs for a disease that affects 1 in 34 In New Jersey children, the highest rate in the country.
The bill “powerfully supports and pursues durable remedies and effective interventions” for children with autism, said Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., the legislation’s chief sponsor.
The funding would go to the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, where a similar bill is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
One in 59 children nationally has been diagnosed with autism. The measure also will help adults with autism, who Smith said are often “misdiagnosed, underdiagnosed and overlooked.”
Smith authored the original autism law in 2000 after meeting Bobbie and Billy Gallagher of Brick, two of his constituents, parents of two small autistic children who were looking for help.
A federal report released in April found that the autism rate for 4-year-olds in New Jersey rose by 43 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Smith said during House floor debate that research “suggests there is no single cause of autism or type. Genetic risk, coupled with environmental factors, including advanced parental age, low birth weight, and prematurity — among other factors — may be triggers.”
New Jersey residents seeking services can call Autism New Jersey’s helpline at 1-800-4AUTISM or can go online at AutismNJ.org .
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