The Autism Society of America (ASA) was established in 1965 with the mission of improving the lives of people affected by autism. Among the many goals of this grassroots organization are increasing awareness of the issues faced by families who live with autism, advocating for greater availability of necessary services, and providing the most current information on research and treatment. Autism is an often misunderstood disorder, and the ASA seeks to continually educate and provide support as a leading source of information.
Autism Society of America's History
The ASA was founded by Bernard Rimland, PhD., Ruth Sullivan PhD, and a handful of other parents of children with autism. Since 1965 it has grown into the largest organization of its kind and the oldest. Today, with nearly 200 chapters within the United States and Puerto Rico and more than 120,000 members and supporters, the ASA is considered a leading source of information and research on autism spectrum disorders.
The Mission of ASA
The ASA, through its many local chapters and its website, offers a number of vital services to the autism community. Among these is Autism Source, a comprehensive online referral database for autism related support and services.
The ASA founded National Autism Awareness Month, helping to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorders in April of each year.
Local chapters are instrumental in providing and coordinating services like respite care, summer camps, and countless other programs for those with autism and their families. Autism-friendly community events, such as sensory friendly films and field trips are organized by the ASA.
The American Autism Association has been involved with advocacy on behalf of the autism community for more than 30 years. Among their numerous accomplishments are many pieces of legislation that advance the rights of people with autism, including the 2006 Combating Autism Act, which is the first federal autism-specific law. These include legislation that mandates education and other crucial services for children with autism, bills to raise awareness about autism, and legislation to appropriate funds for research on the causes of and treatments for the disorder.
The ASA also devotes time to educating members of Congress and other government officials on the facts of autism, advocating for increased attention and programs, as well as monitoring government activities that relate to autism spectrum disorders.
Research is a major focus of ASA. Among its ongoing projects, or guided initiatives, is the Environmental Health Initiative, which aims to investigate the possible environmental contributors to autism spectrum disorders and other health issues. Other initiatives include research into early diagnosis and intervention and treatment guided research, which works on the premise that autism is a whole body condition rather than a mental disability.
ASA organizes and sponsors a number of conferences on autism. The most prominent of these is the annual National Conference, held in July during each of the past 40 years. The National Conference is considered by many to be the most prominent national conference on autism. Attended by approximately 2000 people annually, this conference addresses a wide range of issues that affect the lives of individuals with autism and their families, bringing the experience of families and the expertise of autism professionals and researchers together to explore options and discoveries. Subjects explored at the National Conference include:
- Early intervention
- Social skills
- Other topics relevant to the lives of individuals with autism
Perhaps the most important goal of the ASA is to lend help and support to people with autism and the family members they interact with on a day-to-day basis. The first organization of its kind, the ASA has toiled tirelessly since its inception to build a tolerant and supportive autism community to serve as a safety net for the many people whose lives are touched by autism spectrum disorders.
At both the national and local levels, ASA has also made great strides in enhancing autism awareness and understanding, as well as in promoting and supporting the inclusion of individuals with autism in schools and communities. In addition, ASA has created the Autism Society's Advisory Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism, which is a groundbreaking advisory panel made up entirely of individuals with autism. This panel assists the Autism Society staff in developing programs and services that will advocate for the rights of all people with autism.
The common goal of the entire ASA organization is to help those who have autism live full, enriching, high functioning, and satisfying lives.