Today the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights of the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing titled "Global Perspectives on Autism—A Growing Public Health Crisis"
Activists and experts pressed the US Congress on Tuesday to do more to help promote worldwide awareness of autism, which they said is becoming an escalating health crisis.
"Autism is a 'developmental disability pandemic.' It is largely under recognized, under appreciated in its impact and under resourced," argued Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, who leads a House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.
"I think the (South Korean) study has set the stage for more investigation," Andy Shih, scientific affairs chief at Autism Speaks, told the panel.
Shih called the findings in South Korea "startling," and said they "raised important questions about if we are underestimating" ASD prevalence in the United States.
Around the world, recent years have seen many Western countries put in place screening programs. But developing countries lag far behind in screening and in some cases, particularly in Africa, in overcoming cultural stigma enough to make progress on diagnosis and care fronts, Smith and others noted.
"Communication is the key," said Brigitte Kobenan, an Ivory Coast native who has a son with autism and founded Autism Community of Africa. She said many government officials in Africa were not aware of the condition. And people in some African nations treat a child with ASD as a bad omen, hiding them for fear they will get no support and only be ostracized.
But media campaigns and social workers can get the word out as a first step, Kobenan added.
Arlene Cassidy, of Autism Northern Ireland, said on a remote connection that boosting autism's profile for research and as a public health issue was critical.
"The status quo is against us... The funding priority overall is still very low," Cassidy said. "When there's no data, there's no problem," she said. "The key is finding the budget... and quantifying the need."