Raising Public Awareness
Autism Speaks created a media blitz on behalf of autism awareness in its first year through regular appearances in a variety of media venues, including The Apprentice, The View, Access Hollywood, The Don Imus Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, and more. Our launch in February 2005 coincided with a weeklong series devoted to autism on the NBC News networks, including segments on The Today Show, MSNBC, CNBC, and NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. All told, these segments reached 40 million viewers. As a result, more Americans than ever are aware of autism and its many challenges.
In addition, Autism Speaks began work on on its high-profile public service campaigns with the Advertising Council. The campaign, which was created pro bono by BBDO, focused on raising awareness of autism and on the importance of early intervention.
In its first year, Autism Speaks raised an unprecedented $40 million through donations and fundraising events. These events included the L.A. Celebrity Golf Challenge at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA, in March; the N.Y. Celebrity Golf Challenge at the prestigious Winged Foot Club in Mamaroneck, NY, in July; and "One Night Only: Concert for Autism Speaks," which featured Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Simon in concert at the Kodak Theater in L.A. in September. We were also honored that the American Century Golf Championship chose Autism Speaks to be the recipient of its fundraising efforts at last year's tournament in Lake Tahoe in July.
Advancing Autism Science
Autism Speaks made an important first step in its efforts to advance innovative autism research by funding the development of a national autism database/ Autism Speaks made an initial three-year commitment to the project, beginning with an award of $2,266,000 for the first year. Kennedy Krieger Institute, one of the nation's leading treatment centers for autism and other developmental disorders, will develop the open, interactive database.
The national online autism database will serve as a shared resource to centralize registration of families and individuals with autism spectrum disorders and connect them with researchers, parents, and other individuals with autism throughout the country and the world.
Autism Speaks also initiated its first grant program, which is targeted at established scientists new to the field of autism at leading medical and research institutions. The Dana Foundation assisted in administering this first round of grants. The objective of this grant program is to encourage established scientists in a variety of disciplines to take on the challenge of autism and begin to answer questions that will lead to better diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of this disorder.
Advocacy on Behalf of Families
While Autism Speaks worked on a number of issues important to the autism community, our main focus was on lobbying Congress to enact the Combating Autism Act, which was passed last year. This landmark legislation authorizes significant federal funds annually over the next five years to combat autism through epidemiological research, screening, intervention, and education efforts. On behalf of all the families and individuals struggling with autism spectrum disorders, Autism Speaks worked together with many other autism advocacy groups to get this legislation enacted.
Merging with ACRE, NAAR
Autism Speaks completed two mergers in its first year, creating a powerful national organization devoted to autism with chapters across the United States, Canada, and the U.K. The first merger, with the Autism Coalition for Research and Education (ACRE), was finalized on August 1, 2005. ACRE was founded in 1998 by a group of parents with a primary focus on raising funds to accelerate biomedical and applied research on autism and on raising awareness. ACRE's co-founder, Kevin Murray, is now a member of Autism Speaks' board of directors.
On January 31, 2006, Autism Speaks and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) completed their merger, bringing together two of the leading organizations engaged in the battle against autism.
NAAR was founded in 1994 by Karen and Eric London to encourage, fund, support, and facilitate biomedical research related to autism (click here to read a history of NAAR). Autism Speaks will adopt NAAR's distinguished scientific advisory board and also its scientific advisory committee. It will also maintain and expand NAAR's international Walk for Autism Research grassroots fundraising program and its international affiliates. Autism Speaks will continue to place a high priority on raising awareness of autism, as well as on raising funds and supporting research, including NAAR's Autism Tissue Program and all previously announced research programs. For more about NAAR-initiated research, click here. And for NAAR's final annual report, click here.