Congressman Chris Smith received the Congressional Leadership Award on Wednesday on Capitol Hill from the group Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group that promotes awareness of and research and solutions for autism spectrum disorder. Smith was awarded at the 2018 World Autism Month Champions Luncheon, capping off a month of significant activity on behalf of children with autism and their caregivers.
“I want to thank the leaders at Autism Speaks for their incredible work raising awareness on this invisible crisis,” said Smith, co-founder and co-chair of the Congressional Autism Caucus, at the Hill Day event held during World Autism Month. The luncheon was attended by autism advocates from all over the U.S., many of who have children with autism.
“Autism affects 1 in 68 children—and 1 in 42 boys—nationwide, according to the CDC, and 1 out of every 41 children—and 1 in 26 boys—in New Jersey,” Smith said. “More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined. With tens of thousands of children on the autism spectrum transitioning into adulthood each year, we must do better at ensuring that they have the education and therapeutic and other services they need to live healthy, independent lives, as the current health care system is not designed to meet their needs.”
Smith has authored four major laws on autism: the Autism CARES Act, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act, the Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research and Epidemiology (ASSURE) Act, and Kevin and Avonte’s Law, provisions of which were signed into law in March as part of the omnibus bill. The law is named after two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis and Avonte Oquendo, who tragically drowned while wandering from safety.
Kevin and Avonte’s Law set up funding for critical wandering-prevention education programs and non-invasive locative tracking technology to assist children with autism—at risk of serious injuries that can result from wandering—and their caregivers. The spending package authorized $10 million over five years for the Missing Americans Alert Program, and will greatly support local law enforcement, hospitals, and caregivers in their work to prevent wandering deaths and injuries.
Almost half of children with Autism have wandered at some point, according to a 2012 Pediatrics study. Wandering can and has resulted in serious injury or death.