Help Group Gives Award to Autism Speaks

On September 30, The Help Group honored Autism Speaks with its Champion for Children Award. Autism Speaks Senior Vice President Alison Singer accepted the award. Read her remarks below:

Thank you, Barbara. I have to tell you how truly inspired I am to be here with all of you today. In this distinguished company, it is a privilege to accept the Champion for Children Award on behalf of Autism Speaks.

Just seven short months ago, Autism Speaks was launched by Bob Wright, the chairman and CEO

Gary Cole, Barbara Firestone, Dr. Bruce Hensel and Alison Singer


Autism Speaks Senior Vice President Alison Singer (far right), shown with (l-r) West Wing's Gary Cole, Barbara Firestone, president/CEO of The Help Group, and Dr. Bruce Hensel, medical editor/reporter for KNBC TV in Los Angeles.

of NBC Universal, and his wife, Suzanne, after their 2 ½ year old grandson was diagnosed with autism.

Like every family in this situation, the Wright family responded with a frantic scramble for information. Like every other family, they discovered a bewildering array of theories and guesses. Like everyone else, they realized there were no good answers, and they wanted to know why.

But unlike most other families, Suzanne and Bob Wright were in a position to put their considerable influence and resources to work to make a difference. Since February, Autism Speaks has already raised $33 million for autism research and awareness.

I was in Los Angeles last weekend, for an amazing benefit concert at the Kodak Theater, which featured Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Simon. I hope some of you were able to be there. The event not only brought in an incredible $1.8 million, but also through some high-profile media coverage, raised public awareness of autism. And this is only the beginning.

Just this week, we have launched our beautifully redesigned website, AutismSpeaks.org, to make it easier for both parents and donors to find the information they need. Please be sure to check it out---there are so many wonderful features that you will not find anywhere else, and we are committed to adding new content on a regular basis. We would love to have your feedback.

I am also proud to announce that Autism Speaks has been chosen by the Ad Council as one of its public service campaigns. We are going to use this high-profile, 3-year campaign to focus on the importance of early intervention, and to help educate the public about recognizing the early signs of autism. Look for the first spots to begin running in January.

Suzanne Wright likes to say that “Autism knocked on the wrong door.” If her own family were not so sadly affected, I would have to say that it knocked on exactly the right door. The autism community will not find more passionate, more determined, more energetic advocates for autistic children and their families than Suzanne and Bob.

As a mother of two daughters, one of whom is autistic, I am proud to be part of the Autism Speaks team.

We have committed, forceful advocates like Bob and Suzanne … and we also are associated with some of the best scientific researchers in the field, like Dr. Gary Goldstein from the Kennedy Krieger Institute, who serves as our chief scientific advisor.

Gary's dream is one that I'm sure all of us can share: for the autism community to have the funding and resources needed in order to perform the large, long-range clinical trials that will enable us to really move the ball forward in autism research.

As Gary often points out, thirty years ago, childhood leukemia was almost always fatal. Today, 80% of kids are cured. The difference? All children diagnosed with leukemia were entered into clinical trails. This gave the research community the understanding they needed to develop successful therapies.

We need to do the same thing with autism. It's an expensive proposition … costing hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But it's an essential step in the race toward a cure.

Of course, funding follows awareness. That's why we're so committed to raising awareness … and why we're so lucky to have advocates with the resources and connections of a Bob and Suzanne Wright. Through what they are doing … what Autism Speaks is doing … autism will get the attention it deserves, and researchers will get the support they need.

When autism knocked on Bob and Suzanne's door, they opened it wide. Working together with all of you here today, and all of the amazing people doing such wonderful work, I know that we are going to bring autism out of the darkness and into the sunshine.

Thank you again. I am truly honored to receive the Champion for Children Award on behalf of everyone at Autism Speaks.