NEW YORK, N.Y. (February 25, 2010) – Autism Speaks today marks the beginning of its fifth anniversary year. The organization was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism, and has grown into the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
During the past five years, autism has emerged as a real and growing global public health crisis as the prevalence of the disorder has skyrocketed. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), autism is now diagnosed in 1 in every 110 American children, including 1 in 70 boys.
“We are extremely proud of what this organization has accomplished in a relatively short amount of time,” said Autism Speaks Co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright. “Significant progress is being made on every front of the battle against autism, from awareness and services to advocacy and scientific research. Working together, our dedicated volunteers, staff, and other tireless advocates have brought about major change and created hope for millions of people with autism and their families.”
“Autism Speaks stands on the shoulders of many pioneers in autism advocacy who started the movement to focus attention and resources on this disorder,” said Mark Roithmayr. “Our mission is to fight every day to bring us closer to the answers we all seek about autism and how to make life better for those it affects. Above all else, we understand that these answers cannot come a moment too soon.”
To date, Autism Speaks has committed more than $131 million to research the causes, better diagnosis and more effective treatments for autism spectrum disorders. The Autism Treatment Network (ATN) has tripled in size, becoming the first network devoted to addressing the medical conditions associated with ASD and providing comprehensive care. With the help of $12 million in federal funding, the ATN is developing national standards for the treatment of ASD. The Autism Genome Project – a collaboration of 120 scientists from 19 countries – used the Autism Speaks genetic database (AGRE) and brain bank (Autism Tissue Program) to identify new genes that contribute to autism risk, leading to multiple discoveries that impact our understanding of the biology and treatment of autism. Toddler Treatment Network and the Baby Siblings Research Consortium are a collaboration of 23 scientists from 19 universities who have developed guidelines for early recognition of infants at risk and early intervention approaches for young toddlers with autism. Autism Speaks funded the launch of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), the first national online autism registry, which is accelerating autism research by linking more than 10,000 registered families to researchers nationwide. Internationally, Autism Speaks launched the Global Autism Public Health Initiative, an international advocacy effort whose goals are to increase awareness of ASD, enhance research expertise and international collaboration, and improve service delivery worldwide. Through this effort, Autism Speaks supported the translation and adaptation of diagnostic instruments in languages used by 1.75 billion people across the globe.
In the area of awareness, Autism Speaks' award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received more than $210 million in donated media and helped raise awareness of autism to unprecedented levels. So, too, have numerous innovative awareness initiatives – including five million boxes of Rice Krispies featuring the early signs of autism, five million Starbucks cups featuring a message from Autism Speaks and an Autism Speaks-branded NASCAR race. Through collaboration between the State of Qatar and Autism Speaks, the U.N. created a World Autism Awareness Day to be celebrated in perpetuity on April 2, one of only three disease-specific awareness days of its kind. Autism Speaks' web site, www.autismspeaks.org, is the most comprehensive website on autism.
Autism Speaks has played a leading role at the federal and state levels to advocate for legislation that benefits people with autism and their families. The Combating Autism Act of 2006 authorized nearly $1 billion in autism research and support. Fifteen states now require insurance companies to cover medically-necessary autism treatments, with legislation pending in some two dozen additional states. Both the Senate and House versions of the Health Care Reform Bill contain a provision for autism insurance reform.
The organization has also focused on providing badly-needed tools and resources for the autism community. The 100 Day Kit – available in English and Spanish – provides a roadmap for newly-diagnosed families. The Autism Video Glossary is a free web-based tool to help parents and professionals learn more about the early warning signs of autism. Autism Speaks' online Resource Guide provides families with almost 30,000 resources on everything from diagnosis and treatment centers to autism-friendly barbers
Autism Speaks' community grants program has thus far funded nearly $2 million to expand community services around the country for people with autism of all ages. The organization is a primary organizer of Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism, which is working to prioritize the needs for adults with autism in order to develop a national policy agenda.
Among the organization's key goals for the next five years is to fight for passage of autism insurance reform laws in all 50 states, as well as at the federal level. It plans to work with the federal government to set a national policy agenda for services and support of adults with autism. Autism Speaks-funded research will further identify environmental risk factors and biomarkers implicated in autism and use these findings to inform better treatments and discern the causes of autism. Through global outreach, Autism Speaks will continue to generate worldwide autism awareness to increase early detection and intervention. Its Decade for Autism challenges countries around the world to invest $100 million in autism research, diagnosis and service delivery over the next ten years.
“We continue to be amazed by the courage and conviction of the families we meet every day, and we are energized by them,” said the Wrights. “We have many miles still to go, but we are being heard. Autism Speaks and the world is listening.”
Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 110 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism increased 57 percent from 2002 to 2006. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is North America's largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception only five short years ago, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $131 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families through 2014. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks also supports the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council which has received over $200 million in donated media. Autism Speaks' family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit, a community grant program and much more. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the boards of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, RAND Corporation and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and is also Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, including the CHILD Magazine Children's Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, and Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women's Division. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world for their commitment to global autism advocacy.