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The Autism Society of America (ASA) was founded in 1965 by Bernard Rimland, PhD, together with Ruth C. Sullivan and a small group of other parents of children with autism. Its original name was the National Society for Autistic Children; the name was changed to emphasize that children with autism grow up. It is the oldest and one of the largest grassroots organization in the autism community with over 50,000 members and supporters connected through a network of nearly 200 chapters in the United States. The ASA's goal is to increase public awareness about autism and the day-to-day issues faced by people with autism as well as their families and the professionals with whom they interact. The organization advocates for programs and services for the autism community, and is a leading source of information, research, and reference on the condition.
Since 1970, the ASA has held national conferences on autism spectrum disorders where families and professionals shared what they know and have learned through research and experience. It publishes The Autism Advocate, a print periodical offering information on research, legislation, and tips on living with autism as well as ASA-Net a free biweekly e-newsletter.
Successes in the political arena include the launch of a number of pieces of legislation aimed at protecting the rights of individuals with autism and mandating services for them, especially education. Autism was also included in the Developmental Disabilities Act of 1976. In addition congressional bills were passed to raise awareness of and appropriating funds for research into the causes of and treatments for autism. The ASA's work in Washington, D.C. has helped put autism on Congress' health care agenda resulting in millions of dollars devoted to autism research and services.
According to the organization's philosophy, no single program or treatment will benefit all people with autism. Instead, it believes decisions regarding what is most effective for any individual with autism should be determined by those directly involved; in particular the individual and the parents or family members of the affected person.