Video: Autism research gets a federal boost

By Chief Medical Editor
NBC News
updated 12/7/2006 7:30:47 PM ET 2006-12-08T00:30:47

Autism is as disturbing and distressing as it is mystifying. It's a diagnosis with no known cause, no known cure.

“The day that 11-year-old Jodie was diagnosed with autism was the worst day of my life,” says mother Alison Singer. “There's no roadmap, there's no place to turn.”

And until now, families couldn’t even turn to the federal government, which has been slow to respond with attention and research dollars. A new bill seeks to change that.

The $945 million dollar "Combating Autism Act" is the first bill to address autism, and could provide research funding over the next five years. The focus? Everything from early diagnosis, to breakthrough treatments, to possible environmental factors that may cause autism.

It's a long awaited step that could someday help children like Jodie.

“Today the Congress declared war on autism,” says Alison Singer. “This is the single most important thing that could happen for families of children with autism short of finding a cure.”

But winning federal funding for autism research hasn't been easy, pitting lawmakers fighting for more research money against others who believe the government shouldn't focus funding on a single disease. And it’s not over yet.

“Anybody who's got an interest in this is going to have to keep pressure on Washington,” says Stan Collender, a federal budget expert with public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard. “Otherwise, the money's just not going to be provided.”

While the politicians debate, the parents of autistic children regard this legislation as a milestone.

“Today, I came home, I hugged my daughter, I felt like the work that we have done as autism advocates all came to a fruition,” says Alison Singer.

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