NEW YORK, NY (September 22, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism research and advocacy organization gathered more than 150 First Spouses and dignitaries today for the Second Annual World Focus on Autism. Suzanne Wright, Autism Speaks Co-founder and event host, announced the $100 million “Decade for Autism” initiative challenging nations around the world to fund autism research, awareness campaigns and support services for families in their countries.
World Focus on Autism Highlights
YouTube Video ~ 3 minutes The international coalition in attendance was one of the largest gatherings ever of First Spouses, a striking endorsement of global efforts to raise autism awareness. The group, which included Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, Wife of the United Nations Secretary General, Ms. Thérèse Rein, Wife of the Prime Minister of Australia and Ms. Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady of Poland, among many others, heard from a world-class panel of experts from the scientific community and discussed an international pathway to raise global awareness and promote research into this non-discriminative disorder.
In her opening remarks, event chair Mrs. Ban Soon-taek welcomed the international group on behalf of her husband UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stating, “We meet here not as officials but as parents, grandparents and supporters of families. Our mission is to spread the word about autism's warning signs and to promote treatment options and research.”
Announcing the “Decade for Autism,” Mrs. Wright stated that it “is the proposed timeframe in which we, the members of global autism community, come together to solve the mysteries of this heartbreaking disorder.” Calling for action, she challenged the international delegation convened, “to commit to raising 100 million dollars to fund autism. Working together, all of us who care about this issue can reach this goal by 2020. All we need is your commitment to start funding autism-related research and services in your country.”
Bob Wright, Autism Speaks Co-founder, shared some of the major accomplishments of the past year's Global Autism Public Health Initiative and stated that “Autism Speaks has already made a one million dollar commitment to speed our international collaboration efforts, in the areas of science, research and epidemiology. As part of this, we are supporting screening and diagnostic instrument translations in at least eight foreign languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Korean. Combined, the eight languages are spoken by an estimated 1.75 billion people worldwide.”
Academy Award-nominated director Alfonso Cuarón and Grammy-nominated songwriter/producer Billy Mann unveiled a video they created especially for this event, called “I Am Autism.” The powerful short film combines footage of individuals with autism and their families from around the world with a poem written by Mr. Mann read by a multitude of voices to show the global face of autism.
“Autism impacts all countries, no matter their size or resources,” said Hassan Ali bin Ali, Chairman of the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs in the State of Qatar. “Through the vision of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah, the Patron of Shafallah, we are doing our best to address the stigma of autism in our region and push the envelope of scientific research to benefit children the world over. The Shafallah Center's efforts over the next 10 years will result in an investment pledge of approximately $9.8 million dedicated to the ‘Decade for Autism.'”
Other speakers at the World Focus on Autism included: Atty. Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, First Gentleman of the Philippines; and Dr. Helia Molina Milman, Chief of Public Health Policy and promotion, Ministry of Health, Republic of Chile. Additionally, a panel of autism experts that spoke included Dr. Andy Shih, Autism Speaks' Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Dr. Liri Berisha, President of the Albanian Children's Foundation and wife of the Albanian Prime Minister, Dr. Young Shin Kim of the Yale Child Study Center, Dr. Hatem El Shanti of the Shafallah Genetics Medical Center, and Dr. Ezra Susser of Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.
Autism is a complex brain 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 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. 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, 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 funds more than $30 million each year in new autism research, in addition to supporting the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, Autism Clinical Trials Network, Autism Tissue Program and a range of other scientific and medical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning, multi-year national public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council. Autism Speaks' family services efforts include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and the distribution of community grants to local service providers. Its government relations department, through its Autism Votes initiative, has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the federal government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to require insurers to cover medically-necessary autism therapies. Each year, Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraising events are held in more than 70 cities across the country, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.
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 board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, RAND Corporation and the New York Presbyterian Medical Center. 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. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.