Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday pledged to help autistic families by boosting funding for research and education to $700 million a year.

"Driven by their love and devotion, mothers and fathers across the country have raised awareness, demanded funding, and opened our eyes to the needs of so many children," she told a crowd of hundreds gathered at the Jesse E. Marshall Boys Club of Sioux City. "It's up to us to reclaim the future for our children, and ensure that every child can live up to his or her God-given potential."

She said when it comes to autism, "we don't know how to cure it, and we don't even know the best ways to treat it."

"I think it's time we had a government and a president who recognized the seriousness of autism and addressed it head-on," Clinton said.

The number of autism diagnoses has risen from one in 10,000 in 1993, to one in 150 in 2007 -- or about 25,000 children diagnosed with autism each year, Clinton said. She called the disorder a national health crisis, saying it costs the nation at least $35 billion each year.

Clinton outlined her years helping children with autism, including co-sponsoring legislation called the Combating Autism Act in 2006, and earlier this year the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act. She criticized President Bush for refusing to fully fund such efforts.

If she's elected, Clinton said she would also take other autism initiatives including:

-- Expanding research to identify the causes of autism, including potential environmental reasons.

-- Improving education and early detection and intervention, including creating a task force to investigate autism treatments and services.

-- Training for teachers to instruct children with autism.

Lee Grossman, president and CEO of the Autism Society of America, said the investment America makes in early identification, services and support "will create opportunities for these individuals to contribute meaningfully in our society -- as is their right."

"Senator Clinton's plan is a very important step in that direction," Grossman said in a statement provided by Clinton's campaign.

Clinton used the opportunity to talk about health care. She said families dealing with conditions such as autism find that "often times insurance is so expensive you can't afford it, or the insurance doesn't cover the very thing you need it for."

The universal health care plan she's proposed would help all families, including those dealing with autism, to afford quality health care -- as good as what members of Congress are getting, she said.

"Parents will no longer be burdened by unmanageable premiums just because their children have autism," Clinton said.