The edited transcript below is of Autism Speaks Co-founder Suzanne Wright's appearance on a segment of the Jan. 18, 2006, telecast of the ABC daytime talk show, “The View.”
For our story on the show, click here.
BARBARA WALTERS, co-host:
I bet there's not anyone in our viewing audience who doesn't know someone who knows a child who is autistic. Well, Suzanne Wright, who's the wife of the vice chairman of GE and the chairman/CEO of NBC - we don't mind, do we?
SUZANNE WRIGHT: I'm an alumnus here.
WALTERS: That's right. Well Suzanne learned the devastating effects that autism can have on an entire family when her three-year-old grandson was diagnosed with autism and now she's on a mission to help find a cure for a disorder that is so shrouded in mystery.
I'm very glad you're on because I think, as I said, almost everybody knows somebody. Our own audience, everyone is shaking their head. Tell people, first of all, what autism is. Ten years ago we almost never heard of a child who was autistic; when we did they blamed the parents.
WRIGHT: That's right. Ten years ago it was one in 10,000. Autism is now a national epidemic. It's one in 166 children. My little guy, he had 800 words, he was potty trained and in a period of two months he lost everything. It was so devastating to our family and to my daughter Katie.
Autism manifests itself in many ways. Kids lose their speech or they have no speech. They have terrible, terrible temper tantru They are self-injurious, they have fitful night sleeps. Katie and Andreas have so little sleep. Christian's up all night wandering the apartment. (Visual of photo of Suzanne and Christian)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host:
Your grandson is Christian; I just want to give his name because he's a very important little boy. And he was two-years-old when he was diagnosed?
WRIGHT: He was two-years-old when he was diagnosed.
VIEIRA: Were their warning signs? Because as you said, this was a child that was speaking words.
WRIGHT: Yes. Now that I look at some signs - and that's all on my Website, autismspeaks.org - the early signs are something like, not connecting with the eyes; the baby looks away from you. Or the baby is not—there's not any social interaction with the mother; no joyous expression. This is all on my Website because if we get this early - the earlier we get it the better chances you have -
WALTERS: The earlier it's diagnosed.
WRIGHT: That's right, early detection.
STAR JONES REYNOLDS, co-host:
There have been reports that mercury found in vaccines, all vaccinations that all the children get early on, maybe are contributing factors of autism.
Now, of course, there's so much debate in the medical community a lot of people disagree. Do doctors know what causes autism?
WRIGHT: We don't know what causes autism and that's partly why we founded Autism Speaks because it's so - they don't have a voice out there. There's so many groups involved in autism. We want to be the national voice.
And as far as the vaccine issue is concerned, there is no scientific proof linking it and yet there's no scientific proof saying that it's not part of this problem.
REYNOLDS: So you're suggesting that there should be more research?
WRIGHT: And the awareness that we're going to bring, then we get the funds and then we give it to research and science.
ELISABETH HASSELBECK, co-host:
You speak of realizing this early and getting treatment early. Your daughter Katie, like you said, is in our audience and she thought something was going on with Christian.
WRIGHT: She did.
HASSELBECK: But her doctors told her to wait and she feels as though that was a mistake because early intervention is crucial.
WRIGHT: We lost six months because the doctors told us 'don't worry, he'll catch up.' A baby was born in between time, our little Mattias -
WALTERS: But how do you know? How do you know whether your child is just a little delayed -
WRIGHT: In the day of autism you don't take anything for granted. You -
VIEIRA: You assume.
WRIGHT: A parent knows if there's something wrong with their child, if you have a sense of it, then most likely it is. You go to your doctor, tell him the symptoms -
HASSELBECK: What if the doctor doesn't listen? Who else can you go to?
WRIGHT: You go to another doctor and you get another opinion.
WALTERS: I want to ask you something. You say in the day of autism and you describe the large number. What happened - two questions - what happened to all these generations, all these hundreds of thousands of years when kids had these symptoms? Were they were institutionalized?
WRIGHT: They were institutionalized. That's correct, because they never got therapies. They never got the speech therapy, the behavior therapy; they never learned to speak again or speak at all.
WALTERS: So all these years, all these people who had children and didn't know what to do and these children were sent away, what happens to the child now when he or she becomes an adult, if there is this intervention?
WRIGHT: Well, there's going to be hundreds of thousands of these children. In the last 10 years it's gone from one in 10,000 to one in 166.
WALTERS: And we don't know why?
WRIGHT: And we don't know why.
VIEIRA: And we're not allocating the funds to find out why.
WRIGHT: That is the most amazing thing. We get one tenth of one percent of the NIH budget for this.
WALTERS: But, Suzanne, if these children are treated can they have what we call normal lives?
WRIGHT: Yes, many can have normal lives.
WALTERS: Because there's all different degrees of autism.
WRIGHT: It's a spectrum. It's a spectrum. There are so many different degrees of this but the earlier you get to it, the better chance you have.
You need to go on my Website and find out these early signs because as soon as the child gets older, and older, it gets less and less chance.
WALTERS: Can the child go to a normal school?
WALTERS: Some of these children grow up, go to colleges, have jobs -
WALTERS: It's not a terrible, necessarily, a devastating sentence.
WRIGHT: It's devastating if you don't get help. Literally, our lives were turned upside down. Katie and Andreas had just bought a beautiful house, their first house, they had their second child born; we had this terrible diagnosis; they couldn't stay in the community they lived in because he needed 40 hours of intervention and he wasn't getting it.
VIEIRA: How old is Christian now?
WRIGHT: He's just turned four and we moved into the city, we rented an apartment, we rented furniture, we left everything and now we're hoping to get him back.
WALTERS: You know, one of the important things to be said, because this is a subject that we've talked about before, is the terrible guilt that parents used to have, 'it's your fault.' Parents should know it's not their fault.
WRIGHT: No, it's not their fault. They used to call them refrigerator moms because they didn't give enough love to their children. We give so much love to our little guy, we love him so much and that's why we formed Autism Speaks. And it's a puzzle and this is the mystery that we're going to hopefully solve with Autism Speaks.
VIEIRA: And how is Christian right now? What is life like for him right now?
WRIGHT: Life is very difficult for all of us right now because we live with every hour, every day, hoping that he speaks or gets to where he needs to be. We sometimes have one step forward and 10 steps back.
REYNOLDS: Suzanne, are there resources for people who are not of means because this is expensive?
WRIGHT: It's so hard. You know, by law, every child deserves an education, a special needs child but you have to fight to get that, for what you need for these children. You really have to fight for it and that's what we need, to make the awareness.
WALTERS: You have a foundation?
WRIGHT: Yes. It's called Autism Speaks.
WALTERS: And what do you want people to do?
WRIGHT: Well, they can go onto my Website, autismspeaks.org; they can donate and just be aware of where we are.
WALTERS: For research?
WRIGHT: Or education, advocacy, everything. We really are trying to take a community of such great heartbreak and sorrow and turn it into a community of hope. And what I'm hoping, more than anything, is that one day Christian will say to his mommy and daddy, like he used to say, 'I love you.'
WALTERS: Well one of the things that has held us back is that for so many years people were ashamed to speak publicly.
WALTERS: And for someone like you, you're going to make me cry - we're all crying, Katie - to just bring this to the public and hope that it helps.
WRIGHT: Get our children back. We have to be a voice for our children.
WALTERS: Thank you, Suzanne.
WRIGHT: Thank you all so much, thank you.
WALTERS: For more information, you can log onto our Website and we'll put you in touch.
Original transcript provided by Video Monitoring Services of America, Inc.