This column was submitted by Luke Messer.
We once lived in a world where polio was an epidemic that killed kids and left others with debilitating paralysis. Thankfully, for most of today’s world, medical and scientific advances have virtually eliminated this threat and many other once dreaded diseases.
Sadly, our nation is in the midst of another epidemic. Our understanding of autism remains an unsolved puzzle. This month is National Autism Awareness Month, and in recognition of this important cause, I am joining the Coalition for Autism Research and Education.
This congressional member organization is dedicated to raising awareness about autism and highlighting the many issues facing the autism community. This disease desperately needs better treatments. And, families that deal with the challenges of autism need better community understanding about the disease and the profound impact it has on their lives.
I know firsthand the impact on the parents and siblings of those with autism because my nephew, Trey, is autistic. He is a wonderful young man, but I have seen the challenges he faces and the struggles my brother’s entire family endures on a daily basis as a result of this illness. Simple things are difficult. Family outings can be unpredictable. It is unquestionably a challenge for all of them. Yet, their family sticks together, and they are heroes in my book for all they do to give Trey a high quality life while balancing the schedule of a typical young family.
Autism is a spectrum of complex neurological disorders marked by social impairments, communication difficulties and repetitive behaviors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 88 children has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Boys are four times more likely than girls to have such a disorder.
No one knows for sure what causes autism. Scientists believe that both genetics and environmental factors play key roles in its manifestation. There is no cure for autism, at least not yet, though early intervention, therapy, medicine, and behavioral treatments may lessen or remedy some symptoms. Those with autism usually need supportive services their entire lives, especially to help them live and work independently.
Congress enacted landmark legislation to combat autism in 2006. The law, which has since been extended, expanded and intensified autism research. But more must be done. Barriers to data sharing between agencies need to be broken down. Surveillance and research needs to be better coordinated. Funding should be properly targeted to do the most good.
What we do know is that autism affects too many children, strains too many families, and puts those it afflicts at an educational, professional, and social disadvantage compared to their peers. It is time to commit ourselves to solving this modern epidemic so autism can be prevented, treated, and cured tomorrow like polio is today.
Luke Messer is the Congressman for Indiana’s 6th Congressional District, a 19 county region of east-central and southeastern Indiana comprised of manufacturing and agricultural communities.