WASHINGTON, DC—During the national advocacy summit of the Autism Society of America, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) received the very first “Ignite 4 Autism, Congressional Champion Award,” given in recognition of his past and ongoing commitment to individuals with autism and their families.

I want to thank the Autism Society of America for its work to highlight the needs of individuals with autism and their families, and its tireless work to implement federal policies that address these needs,” said Smith, co-founder and co-Chair of the Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education and prime author of three major laws to provide federal funding for autism research and services. “I want to thank all present here today for your commitment to federal advocacy as we use this occasion to focus and redouble our efforts. Congress must continue to pass common-sense legislation to continue—and expand—the critical investments we have already made, and we cannot do it without our incredible advocates.”

In announcing the award, the Autism Society of America noted Smith’s commitment through his work as co-Chair of the bicameral, bipartisan Autism Caucus and introduction of legislation such as Kevin and Avonte’s Law. Additionally, in June of last year, Smith helped ensure that the Rutger’s Boggs Center received a federal designation and a funding boost of $441,000 annually over the next five years to study identification, assessment and treatment of youth with a wide range of developmental disabilities, including autism.

Smith, who authored the landmark Autism Cares Act (signed into public law in 2014), plans to reintroduce Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which passed the U.S. House last year by an overwhelming 346-66. The legislation will provide targeted support to communities for locally-based, proactive programs to prevent wandering and locate missing children or seniors who have wandered from safe environments.

This is an issue that hits home for me. It is estimated that 49 percent of the 1 in 68 children with autism have wandered,” said Smith. “This legislation is named in honor of two boys with autism, Kevin Curtis Wills and Avonte Oquendo, who both wandered from safety and tragically drowned.”

Smith is currently awaiting the second in a series of GAO reports, requested in 2014. The reports will beef up the government’s commitment to help individuals with autism, making the transition from a school-based support system to adulthood by studying the demographics and needs and encouraging independent living, equal opportunity, full participation, and economic self-sufficiency. There are an estimated 50,000 young people on the autism spectrum matriculating to adulthood.

Founded in 1965 by 60 parents dedicated to improving outcomes for children living with autism, the Autism Society of America is a leading grassroots organization committed to creating a better world for each and every person on the autism spectrum.