In the U.S. we have a promise from our government to focus attention on autism and to include community participation in that effort. There is a law in fact (Public Law No: 113-157) although you may think of it as the Autism CARES Act or the previous bills (the Combating Autism Act and the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act).
That law stipulates that the Secretary of Health and Human Services shall appoint a committee:
Establishment.–The Secretary shall establish a committee, to be known as the `Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee’ (in this section referred to as the `Committee’), to coordinate all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning autism spectrum disorder.
This Committee, the IACC, has specific annual deliverables such as a Strategic Plan for autism research and an update of advances in autism research. The Committee is required to include non Federal Government members including autistics, parents and members of large non-government autism organizations. Regular meetings are to be held and public input solicited.
And none of this is happening.
With the new law required more from the government. For example, a report on autistics transitioning out of school. While the law doesn’t require direct IACC input in this, that would be the natural way to bring public input into that report (and to make sure that report is, indeed, being produced). Would you like to see that the report includes the needs of students transitioning to high support living placements? Or those who are in need of job support? Would you like to know that medical issues are being addressed? Would you like to have your voice heard at all in this process?
Well, as of now, it isn’t happening.
And there is no reason for that.
Let me repeat this: there is NO REASON that an IACC isn’t in place right now. And it was not Congress’ intent that there be a gap in IACC activity when they drafted this law. Consider this paragraph from the House report that was produced with the bill. The Congressional Committee that drafted the bill stated:
The Committee appreciates the diverse makeup of IACC, and would like the panel to continue to represent the diversity within the autism community and remain a place where all viewpoints can be heard. Current members include parents and legal guardians, individuals with an autism diagnosis, advocacy organizations, and medical researchers. The Committee believes that these groups should continue to be represented. After previous reauthorizations of the Combating Autism Act, IACC has been dissolved and reconstituted. The Committee believes that this is unproductive and disruptive, and would like IACC to remain active, as the changes in this bill are instituted to ensure continuity.
Let’s get a little into the details here. The previous IACC was dissolved at the end of September, 2014. This is the date stipulated in the law as enacted in the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA). All well and good except for one very important point: the provisions under CARA were superseded by Autism CARES Act before the sunset of the IACC.
In other words, the law as in place in September 2014 did not call for the IACC to be disbanded. I will state that I was the only member of the IACC to voice opposition to being disbanded. The intent and the wording of the law was clear to me: there was no reason for us to disband.
Even if I am completely wrong about that, there is no reason why a new Committee has not been formed. Consider the last time an IACC was dissolved and reformed.
Committee dissolved in September of 2011. The law in place at the time stipulated this. The reauthorization was signed into law the next day.
The new committee (of which I was a member) was announced at the end of March 2012. Yes, six months passed without a committee being in place.
The new committee did not meet until July of 2012. Yes, over eight months after the previous IACC was dissolved. Consider that the previous full meeting was in July of 2011 and you see that a year had passed without a meeting.
That was unacceptable.
And that was nothing compared to the situation we have today. The last IACC was dissolved at the end of September 2014. Over a year ago. And the last full committee meeting was in July of 2014. If a new IACC were announced today, given the time that it takes to organize meetings, we wouldn’t likely see a new Committee meet until February of 2016 at the earliest.
At best, we’ve lost about 2 years. At best.
The Strategic Plan that is in place today is outdated. The goals and strategies outlined in it have deadlines that have already passed. No annual autism research updates have been provided to Congress for 2014 or 2015. No advice has been provided to the Secretary.
Public input has not been heard by decision makers who are members of the IACC. And that is one of the greatest losses.
And now consider this: Autism CARES is an example of a “single disease” bill. Leaving aside the term disease, it’s worth noting that this sort of legislation is quite unpopular now in Congress. As a community we are lucky that we have this in place to focus federal attention and funding on autism. Congress promised funding and asked for some small things in return: a committee and annual reports from that committee.
I worry that by not seating a new committee we endanger the chances for a future re-authorization. If the Secretary (and we as a community) don’t seem to care about the existence of the Committee, what message is being sent to Congress?
In case you are wondering how valuable the IACC is–the IACC has acted as a model for other advocacy communities in terms of providing for public/federal partnership in crafting Federal strategies. There a many groups that would gladly take on an IACC type committee for themselves.
The IACC is a part of the framework that Congress promised to our communities. Promised and legislated. As I say above, it is beyond unacceptable that no Committee is currently in place.
By Matt Carey