Federal Autism Panel Approves New Strategic Plan

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Members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee meet in 2014 in Bethesda, Md. More recently, meetings have been held virtually. (Isaac Kohane/Flickr)

For the first time in years, a federal panel tasked with guiding the nation’s priorities on autism is moving to update the government’s agenda for addressing the developmental disability.

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee voted Wednesday to approve a new strategic plan. The nearly 200-page document provides recommendations to the secretary of health and human services on autism research, services, supports and more. There were 39 members of the committee who voted to approve the plan and just one who voted against it.

The strategic plan is the primary responsibility of the IACC, a panel comprised of government officials and members of the autism community, and is often relied on by both federal agencies and private organizations. Under the Autism CARES Act, the IACC is supposed to update its strategic plan each year, but the last update came in 2019. Since then, the committee did not meet for two years after the terms of all of its members expired and there was a delay in appointing new members.

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The new plan, which is dated 2021-2023, includes recommendations on seven general topics including diagnosis, biology, interventions, services and lifespan issues. It also calls for a “substantial increase in funding” from the government for autism research and services to reach $685 million by 2025.

In addition, the update includes a shift in the language that’s used around autism despite concerns from some advocates that doing so would minimize the challenges faced by many families.

Susan Daniels, executive secretary of IACC, previously described the change as “moving away from deficits-based language and towards more neutral, strengths-based, inclusive language while also balancing the importance of maintaining accuracy when referring to issues that may be scientific, medical or clinical in nature.”

Now that the IACC has voted to approve the new plan, committee staff are working to make minor edits requested by members of the panel. Daniels said she hopes a final version will be ready for release in April or May.

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