Menendez pushes to reauthorize and expand funding for autism spectrum disorder

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Sen. Bob Menendez got a tour of Quest Autism Programs, an adult day program for those on the spectrum.

“They prep lunch here and they eat a few days a week. We’re teaching them daily living skills, life skills, really,” said Carrie Hennessy, clinical director of Quest Autism Programs.

Menendez came to announce he’s introducing a reauthorization of his Autism CARES Act of 2014, which is set to expire in September. The reauthorization bill would increase funding, research and programs for autism spectrum disorder.

“With this legislation, it’s our goal not only to preserve today’s programs for another five years, but to strengthen them to meet our growing needs,” said Menendez.

The senator and others say the CDC statistics show the national autism rate is increasing, and New Jersey has the highest rate in America with one in 34 children diagnosed with the disorder.

“This legislation allows for people with autism to be diagnosed at earlier age, and that we can treat through therapies and interventions to the best of our abilities so we can have more people living productful lives,” said Jonathan Kratchman, a senior at Rutgers University.

It’s a concern that kept one doctor and nonprofit founder up at night about her 18-year-old son Nicholas.

“I found myself completely overwhelmed by and ill-equipped to handle the needs that life after 21 brings,” said Dr. Genevieve Kumapley, founder and executive director of MyGOAL Autism.

Menendez’s 2019 reauthorization bill would do several crucial things, including ending aging out of receiving services for those on the autism spectrum.

“In this particular case, we are expanding the role of the federal government by recognizing a lifetime commitment versus an age limitation,” Menendez said.

“Autism is a lifelong disorder. We need to make sure that these kids do not fall through cracks once they turn the age of 21,” said Kerry Magro, founder and CEO of KFM Making a Difference.

“CARES [Act] reflects that adults with autism are full participants in those areas of life functioning and purpose that are the hallmarks for adulthood for all of us,” said Dr. Deborah Spitalnik, executive director of NJLEND.

The senator says his bill has bipartisan support in a Congress that’s more enlightened about autism than it was five years ago thanks to research. In other words, the need to reauthorize and expand services should be clear to lawmakers.