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Calls to Action

Autism Speaks and Ad Council Launch New PSAs Inspired by the Story of a Child with Autism

Award-winning campaign has helped increase awareness of signs of autism to nearly half of all parents with young children

NEW YORK, N.Y. (November 5, 2015) – Autism Speaks – the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization – today joined the Ad Council and BBDO New York, the long-time volunteer agency for Autism Speaks, to announce the launch of a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) designed to help parents recognize the early signs of autism and take immediate action. For the first time in the campaign’s history, the new PSAs feature an imaginative world, created using 3D and stop-motion animation, inspired by stories of real children with autism and told from the perspective of a child with autism. The PSAs are an extension of the award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign, created by BBDO, which has helped significantly increase the percentage of parents who recognize the early warning signs of autism.

Autism is one of the fastest-growing serious developmental disorders in the United States. Approximately 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum -- an increase in prevalence of more than 100 percent in one decade according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite its prevalence, research shows that many parents have very little knowledge about the signs of autism and are not seeking help early enough. While there is currently no cure for autism, early detection and intervention can result in critical improvements throughout life. The campaign aims to raise awareness, increase knowledge of the signs of autism and empower parents to take action if their child is not meeting developmental milestones.

“Our ongoing partnership with the Ad Council and BBDO New York has been highly instrumental in raising awareness,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks. “Parents now know more about autism than ever before, but we must continue to educate them about the vital importance of early identification, diagnosis and intervention. By telling a story from the perspective of a child who is on the spectrum, these new PSAs will not only further educate parents to recognize the early signs and take action, but will also lead to greater understanding of the disorder in the general public.”

The new creative campaign was inspired by a young boy named Jacob and his experiences living with autism, along with interviews conducted with other families affected by it. Jacob didn’t speak until he was 4 years old, which is how the story in the new TV spot begins. By the end, viewers hear Jacob’s voice to show how far he has come in his journey. The animated scenes communicate the signs of autism through metaphors, including lack of eye contact, sensitivity to light, repetitive behavior and delayed speech. The world featured in the campaign was built from scratch, in partnership with Lobo Production, and inspired by elements of the interviews with Jacob. Some of the creatures, for example, are reflections of Jacob’s real toys.

The new TV, radio, print, digital and outdoor ads encourage parents to learn the signs of autism early by visiting www.autismspeaks.org/signs.

“I’m so proud of the work we’ve done with Autism Speaks and BBDO New York over the last ten years to help raise awareness about the early warning signs of autism and encourage parents to take action when they recognize the signs,” said Lisa Sherman, President and CEO of the Ad Council. “This new poignant and compelling creative features an imaginative animated environment with very real experiences depicted in the story. The story featured in the spots is identifiable, and it will help parents see signs in their own children.”

According to the CDC, the average age of diagnosis is 4-5 years, but a reliable autism diagnosis can be made as early as 18-24 months. Research shows that early intervention services improve learning, communication and social skills in young children with autism.

Since the launch of the PSA campaign in 2006, according to the Ad Council’s research, awareness of all of the key signs has increased significantly. They include not socializing, not making eye contact, preoccupation or fixation with objects, no imitation of sounds or facial expressions by 9 months, and no big smiles by 6 months. Additionally, more parents can cite at least one sign of autism unaided (from 40 percent in 2006 vs. 49 percent today). Furthermore, the percentage of parents with young children who’ve spoken to their child’s pediatrician about autism has increased by more than 60 percent.

“Working with the Ad Council and Autism Speaks has been a passion project,” said Bianca Guimaraes, associate creative director at BBDO New York. “The saying ‘If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism’ says it all. So, we knew we had to convey the individual signs in a way that every parent could recognize and understand.”

Added Mark Anderson, creative director of BBDO New York, “That was one of the reasons why we decided to use animation – to create an open canvas that each parent could imagine their own child in.”

The Ad Council is distributing the new PSAs to more than 33,000 media outlets nationwide this week. The ads will air and run in advertising time and space entirely donated by the media. Since the launch of the campaign nine years ago, media outlets have donated nearly $500 million in time and space. The PSAs have earned numerous awards in the past, including an Effie Award for advertising effectiveness in 2008, a Silver Telly in 2009, a Silver Addy and Gold Ogilvy in 2011.

PSAs in English

15-second version

30-second version

60-second version

PSAs in Spanish

30-second version

60-second version

Behind the Scenes: The World of Autism PSA

To learn more about the campaign visit autismspeaks.org/signs