I received a reply to the letter to Senator Hatch I sent in July. Actually, it came a while ago and I just hadn't gotten to posting it here. Note that the HELP Committee meeting was postponed twice, so the meeting date isn't the same. The footnotes give my commentary on his response.
August 11, 2011
Mr. Robert Walker
Dear Mr. Walker:
Thank you for writing to express your support for legislation related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).1 I appreciate hearing from you and value your input as a father of children with ASD.
As you know, recent scientific revelations that the prevalence of autism could be as low as one in 150 individuals2, and that there may be a genetic link to autism, point out the need for continuing research.
Senator Robert Menendez introduced the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (S. 1089) on May 26, 2011, and it has been referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The original Combating Autism Act (P.L. 109-416), which was signed into law in December 2006, was passed to provide better integration of the health, education, and disability programs already available.3 S. 1089 would reauthorize CAA for another five years.
As you know, the HELP Committee is now expected to consider this legislation in September.4 As a member of the HELP Committee, and an original cosponsor of the 2006 autism law, I will bear in mind your insightful comments when CAA reauthorization legislation is considered by the Committee.5
Again, thank you for writing.
Orrin G. Hatch United States Senator
1 It really ought to say “autism spectrum disorders” (plural) here. He speaks about it as if it were a single disorder, despite the word “spectrum” in the name. Not a major point, but it is an indication that Sen. Hatch may not be very knowledgeable about autism spectrum disorders.
2 The numbers vary depending on who you talk to. It's difficult to get good numbers on autism prevalence because a lot of people go undiagnosed for years, different countries have different diagnostic criteria, and the diagnostic criteria have changed over time. The CDC reports that autism prevalence in children is estimated to be somewhere between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240. (The average, 1 in 110, is typically the number cited.) Prevalence is lower (meaning a smaller percentage of people affected) when you include adults because some adults are undiagnosed and because therapy helps some people with autism to eventually overcome the symptoms and no longer manifest as having an ASD (though technically they still do). Prevalence appears to be increasing dramatically, but it is undetermined whether that is due solely to increased awareness and broader diagnostic criteria or there is an actual increase in incidence of ASDs.
3 I feel this is something of an understatement. The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2006 that the original bill would result in a $300 million increase in autism spending, which included significant increases in amounts for biomedical research grants.
4 Specifically, after being delayed twice, they were slated to meet on it today.
5 The Senator avoids stating his intentions with regards to the bill. This is not surprising, as between the time he wrote it and today he might find new information that may change his position on the bill. Having sponsored the original bill, one might expect that he would support extending it, and the language indicates a positive inclination towards it. However, while he was a co-sponsor on the original bill, he is not co-sponsoring this one, which says to me that he is at least less favorable towards it than he was previously. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this bill.