Helping Americans on the Autism Spectrum Reach Their Full Potential

Today marks World Autism Awareness Day, and it was filled with events, meetings, and information campaigns here at the White House, across the Obama Administration, and across the country.

It was fitting that President Obama unveiled a bold new research initiative designed to revolutionize our understanding of the human brain.  The BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will be essential to advancing what we know about the complexities of autism. Originally referenced during the State of the Union, this ambitious new project was launched with approximately $100 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, and ultimately aims to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure, and even prevent brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, and autism.

As President Obama said today: “We’re still unable to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s or autism, or fully reverse the effects of a stroke. And the most powerful computer in the world isn’t nearly as intuitive as the one we’re born with. So there is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked, and the BRAIN Initiative will change that by giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action and better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember. And that knowledge could be -- will be -- transformative.”

This initiative builds on President Obama’s renewal of commitments to research, development of support services, and increased collaboration with advocates and family members in the autism community  so that individuals across the autism spectrum can reach their full potential.

In 2011, President Obama issued the first-ever Presidential Proclamation to mark April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day, and has issued similar proclamations every year since. Recognizing that more than 1 in 100 American children are on the autism spectrum, President Obama today called for increased support from educators, researchers, employers and healthcare providers.

He noted the importance of the Affordable Care Act in preventing insurers from denying coverage to children on the autism spectrum, and the assistance ACA will provide families through free screenings and development assessments. 

Like many other members across the Administration, I have a personal connection to those on the autism spectrum. My first job in college was helping to teach a class of young students with autism. I will never forget them nor their parents. It also was a reminder that autism doesn’t affect just the child, but the whole family as well.

President Obama knows that the best way to help my former students and the thousands of American children and adults on the autism spectrum is to make progress in research and health care, but also to raise greater awareness, so that everyone, including children and adults with autism, can live to the fullest.

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama
Related Topics: Education, Health Care
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