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Press Release

Embargoed until
July 18, 2003, 12:30 p.m.
Contact: CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

CDC and Partners Launch Autism Awareness Initiative

Agency Seeks Input from Parents of Children with Autism

PITTSBURGH - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in partnership with the Autism Society of America (ASA) has announced a joint initiative aimed at boosting awareness of the importance of early screening and intervention for autism.

CDC and ASA will work to identify ways to encourage parents with a child showing signs of developmental delays - particularly in communication or social interaction - to seek help for their child, even before a clinical diagnosis of autism has been made. The effort will involve input from parents of children who have already been diagnosed with autism as well as from health care providers.

"The number of people diagnosed with autism is on the rise," said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "The impact on families as well as autism's profound effect on the nation's educational and health care systems points to the need for a better understanding of this troubling condition."

The announcement of the initiative was made today by Claude Allen, Deputy Secretary of HHS, during the 2003 National Conference on Autism being held in Pittsburgh.

The overall prevalence of autism in recent studies has been consistent in the United States and other countries (approximately 2 - 6 per 1,000 people), and is four times more common in boys than girls. Autism knows no racial, ethnic or social boundaries and the condition is not influenced by family income, educational levels or lifestyles.

"Thousands of families are affected by autism and may not know it," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "Parents who think their child may have autism because of delays in communication skills or social interaction should seek treatment even before an official diagnosis of autism is made. Early intervention for children with autism can greatly enhance their potential for a full, productive life."

Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during a child's first three years of life. However, half of all autism cases are not detected until a child is school-age. Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions and leisure or play activities. CDC has made an initial commitment of $350,000 to begin this campaign to educate parents, day care providers, teachers and others about their role in monitoring developmental progress.

"The Autism Society of America estimates that autism may affect up to 4 million Americans in the next 10 years," said Rob Beck, ASA executive director. "We have so many members who tell us that they knew for months - or even years - that something was wrong, and no one would listen to them. It is important that families affected by autism have a voice in shaping this initiative, and we encourage our members and other autism organizations to get involved."

For more information about CDC's autism activities visit our Web site at or e-mail questions to

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CDC protects people's health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national, and international organizations.


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This page last updated July 18, 2003

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