Joined by Local Leaders and Advocates, Sen. Menendez Hosts Roundtable Discussion to Get Critical Input on Issues Facing the Autism Community in 2017

Joined by Local Leaders and Advocates, Sen. Menendez Hosts Roundtable Discussion to Get Critical Input on Issues Facing the Autism Community in 2017

Senator Will Use Valuable Input in Renewed Push under a Republican Congress and White House

NEWARK, N.J. – In recognition of Autism Awareness month, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today met with local New Jersey leaders, experts and advocates to discuss the most-pressing issues facing the autism community in 2017. They discussed the vital importance of Medicaid as a lifeline to the autism community, the need to protect the critical research and training initiatives made possible through the Autism CARES Act, the necessities of preserving funding for long term, evidence-based services and residential options, and the anxieties accompanied by a potential Repeal and Replace plan that could turn back the clock on important advances in the autism community. 

“Nobody knows more about autism than these New Jersey families and advocates,” said Senator Menendez. “It was great to regroup today to hear their concerns and heart-wrenching struggles, not only about their experiences with autism but with the complexities of today’s political reality that seeks to dismantle our health care system and leave them feeling lost. From Medicaid funding to training initiatives and ensuring people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are afforded every opportunity, I will continue to do all I can to address their needs, and to make living with autism and helping individuals and families get the services they require a national priority.”

According to the CDC’s Community Report on Autism 2016,  autism spectrum disorder (ASD) rates have continued to climb alarmingly – from a prevalence of 1 in 166 in 2005 to 1 in 68 of 8-year-old children in 2016, which is a nearly 250% increase in approximately 10 years. Boys are 4.2 times more likely to get an ASD diagnosis than girls, and Hispanic children are 1.5 times as likely to get a diagnosis as their white counterparts. In New Jersey alone, 1 in 41 (2.5%) of 8-year old children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, which is the nation’s highest rate.



As the leading advocate in Congress for individuals with autism and a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Menendez peppered multiple Trump cabinet members during their confirmation hearings about their support for gutting Medicaid, and whether they supported equal access to health services for children on the autism spectrum. Menendez has also authored numerous autism-focused legislative initiatives like the Autism Coordination, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act, also known as the Autism CARES Act, which was signed into law on August 8, 2014. Additionally, he secured the passage of the 2011 reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act, and also authored the Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act to address the needs of youth and young adults as they transition out of school-based support to independent adulthood.

“Federal autism champions like Senator Menendez are needed more now than ever before to protect the critical research and training initiatives made possible through the Autism CARES Act and to preserve funding for evidence-based services and residential options available through insurance and Medicaid. As the federal landscape changes, Autism New Jersey is grateful to have such a long-time and effective leader in Senator Menendez and looks forward to our continued collaboration and advocacy on behalf of children and adults with autism here in New Jersey and across the country,” said, Eric Eberman, M.S.Ed., Public Policy Director for Autism NJ.

“On behalf of the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network and NJ Families, we thank Senator Menendez for being our Champion in Advocacy looking to improve outcomes through direct planning, policy and actions to facilitate increased Family Engagement in research, innovative program development, health access, early screening and intervention services – especially for underserved communities – and increase quality of life through employment opportunities, housing and community integration for Children and Youth with ASD and their families,” said Mercedes Rosa, Director, NJ Family to Family Health Information Resource Center.

"With all the current uncertainty in Washington, we are grateful now, more than ever, for Senator Menendez’s steadfast support for people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. We thank him for hosting today’s roundtable event to discuss the challenges that lie ahead and for highlighting both the importance of community living and the long-term services and supports that make living in the community a reality. We know we can count on Senator Menendez to fight for these critical services, that are only possible because of Medicaid and other entitlement programs, and we implore his Congressional colleagues to support his efforts during Autism Awareness Month and throughout the year," added Sharon Levine, Director of Governmental Affairs at The Arc of New Jersey.

“The shortage of adult services and housing is a source of tremendous stress for families as they worry about who will care for their loved ones when they are gone. Countless families struggle for access to effective services and while they’re waiting, they suffer in unimaginable solitude, particularly if their loved one engages in challenging or dangerous behaviors,” concluded Lisa McCauley Parles, partner in the law firm of Parles Rekem, LLP, who represents individuals with disabilities and their families.

A full list of New Jersey leaders that participated in Senator Menendez’s roundtable today:

  • Eric Eberman – Public Policy Director, Autism New Jersey
  • Kerry Magro – Self Advocate
  • Mercedes Rosa – Director, SPAN Family to Family Health Information Center
  • Deepa Srinivasavaradan – CDC Act Early Ambassador for New Jersey
  • Lisa Parles - Attorney Advocate
  • Leslie Long – VP of Adult Services, Autism Speaks
  • Sharon Levine – Director of Governmental Affairs & Communication, ARC of NJ
  • Dr. Deborah Spitalnik – Executive Director, The Boggs Center on Developmental Disabilities
  • Michele Goodman – Executive Director, New Horizons Autism
  • Christopher Manente – Executive Director, Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services
  • Maureen Shea, Director, Government Affairs New Jersey Association of Community Providers