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Calls to Action

International Conference Launches Revolutionary South Asia Autism Network

The Government of Bangladesh and Autism Speaks Brings Together World Renowned Partners to Discuss Autism Research and Awareness in South Asia

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (July 26, 2011) – Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, the Centre for Neurodevelopment & Autism in Children, and the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hosted the first regional conference titled “Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South East Asia.” The World Health Organization also participated and provided technical support. The two-day Conference brought together regional politicians, international organizations, and academics to discuss the current state of autism research and advocacy within the region as well as opportunities for future collaboration. The Conference served to launch the South Asia Autism Network; a multi-national network of governments, organizations, and private citizens committed to combating autism throughout South Asia.

The conference began on July 25, with opening statements by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Sheikh Hasina urged all to join the regional initiatives in facing autism, “I request you all to join me in friendship in taking up this tremendous challenge facing us today. Let us begin the process of working in cooperation and collaboration with one another, so that as a region we can develop scientifically sound practices, which are socially applicable and economically feasible.”H.E. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress; H.E. Shiranthi Rajapaksa, First Lady of Sri Lanka; Hon. Lyonpo Zangley Dukpa, Minister of Health for Bhutan; Hon. Dr. Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, Minister of Health for Indonesia; among others spoke at the commencement of the conference.

Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks addressed the conference participants through a video message, “We are committed to supporting the global autism community and know that rapid and sustainable progress is possible when key stakeholders work collaboratively to reach common goals.” 

While the conference dealt with many aspects of autism awareness within the region, a key component of the conference was the announcement and launch of the South Asia Autism Network. The purpose of the network is to identify common challenges each country faces when dealing with autism and to form partnerships to develop solutions to meet the needs of South Asian families and individuals. By bringing together health and education ministries, local networks, and private citizens throughout South Asia, the South Asia Autism Network will allow countries to provide better recognition and treatment for autistic individuals.

Shekhar Saxena, M.D., Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization, welcomed the network’s development stating, “Increased attention by policy-makers and health professionals towards developmental disabilities in low and middle income families is a very encouraging sign; the WHO will provide all possible technical assistance and support to achieve the objectives of the Network.”

Also discussed during the conference was the Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative, the innovative, international initiative created by Autism Speaks which employs an integrated approach to focus on three goals:

  • Increasing public and professional awareness of autism spectrum disorders (ASD);
  • Increasing research expertise and international collaboration through training of autism researchers, with a focus on epidemiology, screening and early diagnosis, and treatment; and
  • Enhancing service delivery by providing training and expertise to service providers in early diagnosis and intervention.

At the conclusion of the conference, Autism Speaks convened the first Advisory Board meeting of GAPH Bangladesh. Autism Speaks Vice President of Scientific Affairs Andy Shih, Ph.D. stated, “GAPH Bangladesh made significant inroads towards crafting a strategic plan to implement a national needs assessment and to pilot awareness efforts; important first steps towards defining the scope of autism in Bangladesh and needs of the community.” For more information please see www.autismspeaks.org/science/initiatives/global-autism-public-health

About Autism
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, and one in 70 boys. The prevalence of autism has increased 600 percent in the past two decades. 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 the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. The organization was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families. 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. Autism Speaks’ international research and collaborations involve over thirty countries and the World Health Organization. Autism Speaks is supporting the translation of gold-standard screening and diagnostic instruments into languages spoken by an estimated 1.75 billion people worldwide. Autism Speaks’ Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) Initiative provides support to countries throughout the world to move autism research and awareness forward. GAPH develops clinical and scientific expertise/capacity, and trains professionals in early detection and intervention.  Autism Speaks co-developed, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the International Autism Epidemiology Network (IAEN), and Autism Speaks funded an IAEN project to study autism prevalence and potential environmental and genetic risk factors using the International Collaboration for Autism Registry Epidemiology (iCARE) “registry of registries” comprising population-based information from six countries.  In addition, the Autism Speaks’ Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and Autism Tissue Program are significant international resources. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. 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 Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. He served as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the 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, Mission Product, LLC, EMI Group Global Ltd and the New YorkPresbyterianHospital. Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm BeachAtlanticUniversity, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women’s Divisionand The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received numerous awards such as the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership, NYU Child Advocacy Award, Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In May of 2010 they received Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degrees from St. John’s University in Queens and delivered the commencement address as the first married couple to be bestowed such an honor.