Here's how Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, characterized the new law:
This bill will increase public awareness about autism and provide enhanced federal support for autism research and treatment by creating a national education program for doctors and the public about autism. The legislation will help more people recognize the symptoms of autism. This will lead to early identification and intervention, which is critical for children who struggle with the disorder. The President is confident that the legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's efforts to find a cure for autism.The Washington press corps had a bunch of stuff to cover in today's briefing (read a transcript here), with issues that included a big debate about U.S. troop levels in Iraq, questions about a lack of movement in talks to get North Korea to stop building nuclear weapons and First Lady Laura Bush's skin cancer treatment. (It's not serious, the White House insists.) When it came to the Combating Autism Act, questions centered on whether the Bush Administration would fight for the nearly $1 billion in funding for research, diagnostic and support services for an estimated 1.5 million Americans with autism spectrum disorders. The answer? Well, it appears that it's going to be something autism advocates will need to keep fighting for.
Q: Is the President going to put specific autism funding for this new legislation in the FY 2008 budget?
MR. SNOW: Well, we're in the same position I've been in much of this week, Bret. We will wait to see a budget submission. There are two players in this, not only those who do the budget, but also members of Congress.
I'm not trying to be flip here, but I just simply do not want to be disclosing what we will be including and not including in the budget until the proper time, and that will begin in a few weeks.
Q But the fact that he signed this legislation means that perhaps he's going to be looking for making autism funding a priority?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: The President is confident that this legislation will serve as an important foundation for our nation's effort to find a cure for autism. And you can read into that what you will.CBS News Highlights Autism Law and One Special School
In other coverage, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric visited The New England Center for Children, a 30-year-old day and residential school in Southborough, Mass., which specializes in educating kids on the autism spectrum. You can see a CBS News web page of autism coverage, including online video of tonight's broadcast piece by clicking here. (Disclosure: I have a child attending this school.)
One point the piece makes is that there aren't enough of these kinds of schools across the nation, and not enough trained teachers to handle the rising number of kids diagnosed with autism. Parents, here's a metaphor worth noting: it's easier to get into Harvard than into NECC, which turns away hundreds of families every year.
On the website, there's an extra piece of video interview with Vincent Strully, NECC's executive director, who makes the case that early intervention with young children diagnosed by trained teachers "saves society a fortune" and leads to productive futures. The Combating Autism Act is good, he says, a first step, then adds: "But we have a long way to go to help hundreds of thousands of families with no where to turn, no help."