Money: $100 million a year, for about a decade. That's what's needed to crack the code of what causes autism spectrum disorders, and to begin the task of identifying new methods of treatment beyond what's available today. That's what Alison Singer, senior vice president at Autism Speaks, told the audience of On Point, a news and public affairs call-in show on WBUR, Boston's National Public Radio affiliate. (You can access an audio recording of the show by clicking here.) Singer's point is that government support for autism research is vital-- and that's an important component of the Combat Autism Act now before Congress. (Read background on the legislation here.)
The other message that came through on Monday's show devoted to "confronting the tide of autism" is that we've only just begun to confront the scale of the problem facing the country. That idea echoes the November 27 Newsweek cover story about the lack of services and supports for adults with autism spectrum disorders. (One of the authors of that article is on the show. Read the Newsweek piece by clicking here, or a summary of it here.)
Other highlights of the program included comments by Pat Levitt, a medical researcher in autism who is director of the Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development at Vanderbilt University. Levitt says autism research is difficult. It's challenging to understand human communication and how such skills develop in a typically developing person is tough; to understand how it works in a person with autism is tougher; and when you consider that there are more than one type of autism disorders on the spectrum, that makes it more complex. Still, he believes there's a combination of genetic and environmental triggers at work.
The show also includes questions and comments by several parents and grandparents. As a group, they keep their emotions in check. But you can hear the strain in some of their voices as these families affected by autism deal with a big disconnect: the need for help, now and in the future, and the lack of answers about what to do.