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Autism Speaks and South Africa Listens

The World's Largest Autism Science and Advocacy Organization Launches the GAPH Partnership with South Africa

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA (November 16, 2010)–Autism Speaks is proud to partner with the College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal to present “Autism & Developmental Disabilities: the South Africa Context.” This conference brings together scientists, academics, and multi-disciplinary healthcare professionals from around the world, particularly Africa, to discuss the challenges of autism and pathways to care and cure.

During the meeting, Autism Speaks introduced the concept of a South African chapter of the Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative. The goals of GAPH South Africa are to increase public and professional awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to enhance research expertise and international collaboration, and to improve services to families. Autism Speaks' role is to act as a consultant to guide and facilitate these activities within South Africa by partnering with all interested stakeholders including the College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, other professionals, families and individuals with autism.

This conference brought together more than 200 national and international researchers, advocacy groups as well as government representatives from the Ministries of Health, Education, Women, Children and People with Disabilities. The intended initial outcome of the meeting is the formulation of a White Paper on autism and developmental disabilities to enable the launch of GAPH South Africa.

“South Africa has made major strides over the past few years,” said Andy Shih, Ph.D., vice president of scientific affairs at Autism Speaks. “South Africans have worked diligently to advance the rights of people with autism nationwide, and have supported diagnosis and education. GAPH-South Africa will assist in a new focus on autism research and training.”

The University of KwaZulu Natal played a key role in the conference. “We are pleased to partner with Autism Speaks to host the ‘Autism and Developmental Disabilities: the South Africa Context,' said Professor Sabiha Essack, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “The conference presents an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with Autism Speaks and we see this as a defining moment in implementing policy changes in South Africa in relation to autism and developmental disabilities services in a country which to date has focused largely on the survival aspect of the millennium development goals. It is imperative to refocus our efforts to ensure the holistic care and development of our children.”

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, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism increased 57 percent from 2002 to 2006. 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 North America's largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $142.5 million to research through 2014 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. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks also supports the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council which has received over $249 million in donated media. Autism Speaks' family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 23 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 14 states. 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

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, Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association 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 boards of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, RAND Corporation and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. 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. Suzanne has received numerous awards such as 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 Division and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world for their commitment to global autism advocacy.

Autism Speaks' Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative is an ambitious international advocacy effort whose goals are to increase public and professional awareness of autism spectrum disorders worldwide, to enhance research expertise and international collaboration through training of autism researchers – with a focus on epidemiology, screening and early diagnosis, and treatment – and to improve service delivery in all nations by providing training to providers in early diagnosis and intervention. Autism Speaks launched GAPH in 2008 during the World Focus on Autism forum, attended by first spouses and dignitaries from around the world. Since then, Autism Speaks hassucceeded in securing partners in Albania, Qatar, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Canada, and more.

University of Kwazulu-Natal is a South African university that is academically excellent, innovative in research, critically engaged with society and demographically representative, redressing the disadvantages, inequities and imbalances of the past. In translating the University's vision and mission, the College of Health Sciences subscribes to an underpinning and overarching research ethos in all its academic activities, specifically research-led teaching and evidence-based best practice. The College also subscribes to multi-disciplinarity recognizing that the burden of disease in the country necessitates multi-professional healthcare teams working towards shared goals related to health outcomes.
The conference themes of Autism and Developmental Disabilities epitomizes multidisciplinary, consolidated, comprehensive research to inform public awareness, teaching, clinical practice and health services.