The Global Autism Assistance Program and Poverty Alleviation

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LOS ANGELES, California — In 2019, New Jersey Representative Christopher Smith authorized $1.8 billion to be distributed over five years to help children and adults with autism through the Autism CARES Act of 2019. This assistance would occur by funding research to make early detection and treatment more accessible. Now, Representative Smith seeks to address autism — globally.

On June 24, Representative Smith reviewed information about the increasing prevalence of autism. Seeking to establish a program that provides autism assistance globally, he sponsored a bill titled H.R. 4160: Global Autism Act to create a global assistance program as it enters its first stage of the legislation process.

Why is Global Autism Assistance Necessary?

Globally, about one in 160 children have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The abilities and needs of people with ASD vary among every individual and may change over time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), societal attitudes and support from local and national governments significantly impact the quality of life for people with autism.

Education systems throughout the world offer resources while children attend school. They also receive assistance from members of their community and families. In 2019–20, the number of students ages 3–21 who received special education services was 7.3 million. That number translates to 14% of students attending public schools in the U.S. However, when people with ASD leave education systems, they are met with difficulties in finding a job and support when entering adulthood. According to Autism Speaks, a leading organization in autism research, about 707,000 to 1,116,000 children “age out” into adulthood each year. This creates challenges for education, housing, employment and access to health care.

Global Autism and Poverty

Autism Speaks reported that ASD impacts about 1% of the world’s population — or 67 million people. Representative Smith, who sponsored H.R. 4160, stated while speaking on a global health panel called the “Global Challenge of Autism” in 2014 that autism is steadily increasing. He added that it impacts people of all socioeconomic, ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Additionally, Representative Smith stated that a study conducted in 2014 found that each case of autism costs $2.4 million over a lifetime. This cost includes the expense of special education and lost productivity for their parents. Meanwhile, 85% of adults with autism are jobless or underemployed. In the Global Challenge of Autism committee meeting, Theresa Hussman of Autism Society of America stated that adults living with autism are more likely to be unemployed or vastly underemployed. Additionally, they are also more likely to live below the poverty level and get denied access to affordable housing.

A Global Assistance Autism Program

With a greater cost for more resources, as well as increased difficulty in maintaining a job into adulthood, a global assistance program for autism potentially provides necessary education and resources to nearly 67 million people with ASD globally. In passing the CARES Act in 2019, Representative Smith stated concern that autism is a disability that impacts individuals’ entire lifetime. It requires lifetime education and support. A global assistance autism program provides resources globally for greater global research impacting earlier diagnosis worldwide. It also enhances the lives of those with autism by furthering support for those with ASD throughout the world. As the bill moves through the legislative process, Congress will release more details on the global assistance autism program information.

Providing global assistance for those experiencing ASD allows support for those with autism, as well as their communities and families. Through legislation supporting a global autism assistance program, those with autism now and for generations throughout the world can experience access to resources and research. This will significantly impact opportunities for themselves and their families.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Flickr

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