PARAMUS, NJ - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) returned today to ECLC of New Jersey - Bergen P.R.I.D.E. Center to celebrate the passage and signing into law of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support (Autism CARES) Act. The legislation he authored ensures continuation of critical federal programs addressing autism spectrum disorders and includes first-ever dedicated federal efforts into the needs of young adults with autism as they age-out of school-based supports and services.

"The Autism CARES Act not only provides for the continuation of vital federal efforts, but ensures they provide better outcomes," Sen. Menendez said. "The law now ensures that we continue research into potential causes, new early diagnostic and intervention techniques, and more effective supports and services for those with autism and their families, and it pays attention to the unique needs facing those transitioning to adulthood and to independent lives."

Last summer, the Senator visited the Paramus-based facility specializing in transitional services for autistic youth entering adulthood to announce independent legislation specifically aimed at filling the gap in vital research aimed at adult services and supports. Key elements of the Senator's Assistance in Gaining Experience, Independence and Navigation (AGE-IN) Act were incorporated in the final Autism CARES bill, which passed Congress with unanimous, bipartisan support last month and was signed into law by the President on August 8, 2014.

"We have to be vigilant and united in our support-to put a focus on transitioning youth and adult services-so that children with autism are able to fulfill their God-given potential and become successful, independent adults," the Senator said before a crowd of individuals with autism, their families, advocates and service providers.

According to a recent report by the CDC, autism rates climbed nearly 30% between 2008 and 2010, to one-in-68 children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, from one-in-88 children. In New Jersey, that prevalence is one-in-45 children.

What people are saying about the Senator's Autism CARES Act:

"We are excited about today's announcement because at ECLC of New Jersey, we know firsthand the need to support people with special needs, as they age out of school, and grow into adulthood. ECLC has created a path for young people to successfully transition into adulthood, find meaning in their lives and grow through our employment and day programs. We are hopeful that this piece of legislation will enable many others across the country to do the same," said ECLC of New Jersey Executive Director Bruce Litinger. "I have been working in the special needs field for decades, and it's so gratifying to see the increased attention, funding and opportunities for people with disabilities. It's wonderful to see the Autism CARES Bill pass through the red tape of Washington and gain bipartisan support from both sides-Republicans and Democrats. We are extremely grateful for the work Sen. Menendez has done on behalf of people with disabilities."

"Autism New Jersey commends Senator Menendez for his steadfast leadership in shepherding this critical legislation through the Senate," noted Suzanne Buchanan, Autism New Jersey's executive director. "This renewed federal commitment maintains and expands critical services and research on behalf of individuals with autism here in New Jersey and around the globe."

"We are grateful for the work that Senator Menendez is doing to create opportunities for individuals with autism to develop their gifts and talents and engage more actively with their communities," Janet Mino, president of The Valentine Center said. "For many years, Senator Menendez has been an effective advocate for individuals and families whose life journeys include challenges that few of us can fully appreciate. His support has never wavered. The passage of this legislation is another milestone in his legacy of support for those who need a voice."

"Senator Bob Menendez has been a reliable and effective champion for the nation's autism community, delivering once again with the enactment of the Autism CARES Act," said Stuart Spielman, Autism Speaks' senior policy advisor and counsel. "The unanimous Senate vote for the bill masks the hard work by Senator Menendez and our other Congressional champions in overcoming challenges that could have derailed continued federal funding for autism research. Autism CARES is a thoughtfully crafted piece of legislation that protects federal investment in autism for years to come while creating a role for the federal government in addressing the needs of our rapidly growing population of Americans with autism."

"The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation applauds the continuous leadership of Senator Menendez and his instrumental role in the passage of the Autism CARES Act of 2014," said Linda J. Walder, founder and executive director of The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation. "One of the key aspects of this legislation is to provide much needed funding that addresses the needs of the growing population of adults living with Autism, which has been the focal point of our mission since our inception in 2002. Autism CARES will ensure that vital research, supports and services will be enhanced to create the best lives possible for all people living with Autism."

"Eden Autism Services commends Senator Menendez for championing yet another important milestone for the national autism community," said Peter Bell, president and CEO of Eden Autism Services. "With the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders continuing to soar nationally, particularly here in New Jersey, the passage of the Autism CARES Act deserves to be headline news. We are especially pleased to see a strong focus on transition issues faced by adolescents and young adults living with autism. We applaud Senator Menendez and his Congressional colleagues for shining a bright light on this important issue facing our families."

"I am very pleased to support the Autism CARES Act," Noah's Ark Institute Executive Director B. Madeline Goldfarb said. "I think this Act recognizes the challenges placed upon families raising a child with autism into adulthood and beyond. I am very excited about the provision for training in and inclusion of respite for caregivers. I am also looking forward to the creation of regional centers of excellence in Autism Spectrum Disorders, which will give the country a more coordinated effort to understand autism."

"We are grateful to Senator Menendez for once again being a champion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities," said the Arc of New Jersey Executive Director Tom Baffuto. "As the number of individuals impacted by autism continues to rise, it is critical that we increase our efforts surrounding education, research and support so that these children and adults can lead fulfilling lives in the community. The Autism CARES Act is an integral part of that mission."

Dr. Manny DiCicco-Bloom, Rutgers University professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience & Cell Biology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School stated: "The Autism CARES Act, introduced by Senator Robert Menendez, is excellent legislation to address the growing recognition that children affected by autism grow up to be adults in need of continuing support, education and services. While we are just beginning to understand the size of the challenge, we still need to establish evidence-based practices to ensure that the adult services successfully address the needs of individuals and families, across the many communities. The Act fosters collaboration and coordination among autism programs, and promotes outcomes research so we better know what works. We have come a long way since the original Combating Autism Act of 2006, and the Autism CARES Act advances our policies to the next stage."

"We are encouraged that the Autism CARES Act expands the scope to include the needs of transitioning youth and adults," stated Cecilia Feeley of the Rutgers University Transportation Autism Project. "The inclusion of community based services, such as transportation and other residential support services, into the Autism CARES Act illustrates the foreseen importance of high quality of life outcomes for individuals on the Autism Spectrum."

"We in New Jersey are especially grateful for the passage of the Autism CARES ACT, with its emphasis on training health professionals and supporting youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families in making a meaningful transition from school to adult life," said Executive Director Deborah M. Spitalnik, PhD, professor of Pediatrics at The Boggs Center, New Jersey's University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Bridget A. Taylor, co-founder and executive director of Alpine Learning Group added: "I would like to commend Senator Menendez for his commitment to improving the lives of children and adults with autism, and their families. The challenges of transitioning from existing school-based services to adult programming are particularly difficult and currently underfunded-as evidenced by the lack of options available in New Jersey. With 1-in-68 children currently diagnosed with ASD, the system must change in order to accommodate the volume of adults with ASD that require lifelong services. The Autism CARES Act of 2014 is a critical step in the right direction."