WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 30, 2011) – Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright today joined President Obama at a White House ceremony where the President signed crucial legislation renewing the landmark Combating Autism Act for another three years.
“Autism Speaks thanks President Obama and our Congressional leaders for telling the millions of families who deal with autism every day that America will not quit on them,” said Bob Wright. “We have come far since the historic Combating Autism Act was enacted in 2006, but we still have further to go to find answers. With autism rising at an alarming rate, America cannot afford to stand still.”
The Wrights were invited to the White House ceremony along with Autism Speaks Board Member Billy Mann and his wife Gena and son Jasper.
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) in the House of Representatives and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-WY) in the Senate, HR. 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011 continues the federal commitment for autism research, services and treatment at current levels, authorizing $693 million over the next three years. The original act provided $945 million over five years.
Since the 2006 act became law, the prevalence of autism has risen to 1 in 110, including 1 in 70 boys, prompting the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to call autism a public health emergency. Estimates of the annual cost of autism to the nation have ranged as high as $90 billion. Critical research now underway has made significant advances in determining potential causes for the developmental disorder as well as advancing promising new early intervention behavioral treatments.
The bill cleared the Senate Monday night after lawmakers agreed that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) will examine the use of federal funding for autism research. Autism Speaks has long supported such oversight to ensure that scarce federal resources are put to their best use in research.
“Our success in no small part was made possible by the tens of thousands of grassroots advocates who insisted that Congress hear their voices,” said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “Congress listened.”
Other national advocacy organizations that worked closely in winning passage of the bill included the Autism Society of America, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, Easter Seals, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities.
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.
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 $160 million to research 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 has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ 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, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $286 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 27 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 12 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 www.autismspeaks.org.
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 Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. Heserved as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the 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, Mission Product, LLC, EMI Group Global Ltd and the New York Presbyterian Hospital. Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, 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 Divisionand The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received numerous awards such as the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership, NYU Child Advocacy Award, Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In May of 2010 they received Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degrees from St. John’s University in Queens and delivered the commencement address as the first married couple to be bestowed such an honor.