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Autism Town Hall Meeting Held in Sacramento

By Eddy Ball
June 2008

Lawler was one of three IACC representatives at the Autism Town Hall Meeting in Sacramento.
Lawler was one of three IACC representatives at the Autism Town Hall Meeting in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On May 3, more than 150 people attended a day-long Town Hall Meeting on Autism at the University of California Davis Cancer Center in Sacramento, Calif. The event was organized by NIEHS Health Science Administrator Cindy Lawler, Ph.D., and the UC Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute( Exit NIEHS Website to provide an opportunity for parents and representatives of several different autism advocacy groups to interact with federal officials and researchers about the direction autism research should take.

The meeting was the first of its kind conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), which is charged with coordinating research into autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The input from the town hall meeting will inform the IACC strategic plan for autism research, scheduled for completion this summer. The IACC strategic plan will be presented to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt later this year.

Lawler, who is the administrator of extramural autism research grants, is one of the NIH representatives on the IACC. She was joined at the meeting by fellow IACC members Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society of America, and Lyn Redwood, co-founder of the Coalition for Safe Minds, which links mercury in vaccines to neurological disorders.

NIEHS Acting Director Sam Wilson, M.D., presented opening remarks on the role of autism research in the NIEHS mission before yielding the floor to speakers in the day's two panel sessions. The morning session included talks on conventional, alternative and complementary treatments for young children with autism. During the afternoon session, speakers brought up concerns about the needs of older people with autism, including teens and adults of all ages.

When the meeting was announced in April, Lawler said that UC Davis was chosen as the site because it is "a hotbed of environmental health sciences research" with a "critical mass of researchers" exploring autism therapies and sure to attract a variety of interested individuals. What she heard from speakers and participants at the meeting more than fulfilled those expectations as they offered insights and input from across the spectrum of disciplines, opinions and perspectives related to autism in its various forms.

The meeting followed a Request For Information (RFI) for public input issued in December 2007 as the IACC began to develop a strategic plan for ASD research. The IACC is composed of several different Department of Health and Human Services agencies including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Department of Education. Its members are charged with coordinating autism research under the Combating Autism Act of 2006.

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