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Calls to Action

2006 Highlights

In 2006, Autism Speaks and the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) merged, creating the world's largest autism advocacy organization. Autism Speaks and Cure Autism Now (CAN) announced in November 2006 their intent to merge.

Science

• Autism Speaks funded $20 million worth of autism research in 2006 in four categories: Pilot Study Awards, Fellowship Awards, Augmentation and Bridge Awards, and for the first time ever, awards were given for early treatment research. A grant also funded the development of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) Community Project which will launch in 2007.

• Less than a decade ago, autism was typically diagnosed at ages 3 or 4. Through the Autism Speaks-funded Baby Siblings project autism is now routinely diagnosed at 24 months with many diagnosed at 18 months. Early diagnosis leading to early intervention is critical to gain maximum benefit from existing therapies.

• The Autism Tissue Program (ATP) is one of the most important research endeavors undertaken by Autism Speaks and has made over 60 research projects possible using post-mortem tissue since its start in 1998. Recently, Dr. David Amaral published a ground-breaking study in the Journal of Neuroscience which reported a change in cell number in a region of the autistic brain that may contribute to deficits in behaviors, including processing of emotions and fear.

• Autism Speaks-funded scientists at Yale University found that children with autism, when observing a social interaction such as conversation or play, failed to focus on social cues, many of which are seen in facial expressions. Further funded research revealed that the part of the brain used for face recognition is not activated when an individual with autism sees a face.

• The Autism Speaks-funded Autism Genome Project brought together nearly 170 of the world's leading researchers for the largest study ever conducted to find the genes associated with autism. Phase 1 of the project identifying new regions of the genome that may harbor susceptibility gene was recently completed and preliminary results will be published in Nature Genetics, one of the world's most prestigious research publications.

• Through Autism Speaks-funded neuroscience research, scientists are learning how genetic susceptibility could translate into disorder. Studies on the ENGRAILED2 and neuroligin family of genes, for instance, are yielding possible disease mechanisms that could serve as targets for intervention and drug development.


Awareness

• Autism Speaks was selected by the Ad Council to participate in a 3 year public service announcement campaign to increase awareness of autism. The campaign was launched in April. After only six months, the campaign has already received $31.1 million worth of donated media placement (vs. the Ad Council average of $28 million/year).

• Autism Speaks launched the world's most comprehensive web site on autism. According to Yahoo and Google, Autism Speaks' website is the most visited website on the topic of autism. The site now averages 120,000 unique users each month – and the number of unique users has more than quadrupled since the beginning of 2006.

• Autism Speaks produced the documentary “Autism Every Day” to highlight the impact of autism on real families. A portion of the film has been shown on TIVO, Imus in the Morning, The Martha Stewart Show, and Good Morning America. The full-length film will debut at Sundance in January 2007 as a special screening.

• Autism Speaks has received media coverage in a range of major print publications and national and local broadcast outlets, from Good Housekeeping and Town and Country magazines to ABC's "Good Morning America," The "Martha Stewart Show" and "The View."

• Autism Speaks participated in the final two episodes of The Apprentice raising autism awareness with an audience of over 13 million viewers.

• Together with the CDC, gave presentations at dozens of medical conferences to improve physicians, nurses, Head Start day care providers, and others awareness of the early warning signs of autism.

Legislative Advocacy

• Autism Speaks has advocated effectively for the federal Combating Autism Act, which was signed by President Bush in December. The bill authorizes nearly $1 billion over the next five years to combat autism through research, screening, early detection and early intervention.

• Autism Speaks led the successful effort to secure $7.5 million targeted for research on autism spectrum disorders in the Fiscal 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill. Previously, Department of Defense funded research had applied to only to breast, prostate and ovarian cancers and a handful of others.

• Autism Speaks is working closely with federal, state and local governments, as well as with the U.S. military to increase access to autism treatment and education, and to improve insurance coverage policies with regard to autism treatments.


Walks

• Autism Speaks held 53 Walks for Autism Research this year, across the US, as well as in the United Kingdom and Canada. These events raised over $12 million for autism research and gave families struggling with autism an opportunity to gain knowledge and companionship. In 2006, approximately 100,000 people attended Autism Speaks walks.


Special Events

• Autism Speaks held several major fundraising events, including a benefit concert with Jay Leno, Natalie Cole, and Tom Brokaw as the Master of Ceremonies, an event with the NFL, and a gala featuring Tony Bennett. The next concert will feature Bill Cosby and special guest Toni Braxton. Other fundraisers included golf tournaments such as the Third Annual LA Celebrity Golf Challenge at Riviera Country Club, the First Annual Golf Classic at Deepdale Golf Club, and the Eighth Annual Celebrity Golf Challenge at Winged Foot Golf Club.

• Autism Speaks ran in-store promotional/fundraising events with TJ Maxx, Modell's, Bloomingdales, and Build-A-Bear Workshop.

• Autism Speaks was the beneficiary of several events hosted by other organizations including Comedy Central's Night of Too Many Stars, the American Century Golf Championship, and a concert with Dennis Miller.