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Friday, September 30, 2011

Parent Activism and the Origins of the Combating Autism Act

The Asbury Park Press spotlights Bobbie and Bill Gallagher, parent activists from Brick, NJ, who persuaded policymakers to put more money into autism research. Yesterday, they had a meeting with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NY) to celebrate the passage of CARA.
The Gallaghers have been leading advocates for increased autism research. Two of their three children – Austin, 20, and Alanna, 19 – were diagnosed with autism.

“The prevalence in 1991 was more like 5 in 10,000,” said Bobbie Gallagher, a Brick resident for 23 years. “Now in New Jersey, we’re looking at 1 in 94. So, we’ve come a long way since Alanna was diagnosed.”

The seeds of the autism bill were planted more than 14 years ago, in the same office in which Thursday’s meeting took place.
It stemmed from a letter mailed by the Gallaghers to Smith regarding the disproportionate number of autistic children in the Brick region. That letter sparked Smith’s interest in the topic.
"Really, Billy and Bobbie Gallagher had already done the research when they came in to see me,” recalled Smith. “We sat around the table right here for three hours.”

Their research sparked Smith’s interest and he began investigating.

In 2001, Smith organized and formed CARE, and efforts to increase autism research and awareness intensified.

That began a three-year quest to get the Combating Autism Act passed. Smith and CARE enlisted the help of legislators on both sides of the aisle, scientific researchers and even B.J. Surhoff, a prominent Major League Baseball player who had a son with autism.