NEW YORK, NY (March 12, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization, today announced a series of national and international events to mark the second annual celebration of World Autism Awareness Day, a global effort to heighten awareness about a disorder affecting millions of individuals and families around the world. WAAD is a result of a resolution passed unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, making autism one of only three health issues to be recognized by the UN with its own “day.” The April 2 events will take place on multiple continents and in venues ranging from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to the United Nations and the Worldwide Web.
Autism Speaks Co-Founders Bob and Suzanne Wright, together with Autism Speaks Board Member Alison Niederauer – who has a son on the autism spectrum and is the wife of NYSE Euronext CEO Duncan Niederauer – will join other families affected by autism to kick off World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) at the New York Stock Exchange, where they will ring the opening bell for the second consecutive year.
“Last year's WAAD events were a remarkable success, and we are confident that the scope of this year's activities will help elevate autism as a topic of international discussion and exploration,” said Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “On this day, we will highlight the tremendous contributions of individuals with autism, as well as the strength and dedication of their families. Together, we are inspiring compassion, inclusion and hope by building a global autism community whose voice is finally being heard.”
Later that morning at the United Nations, artist Yoko Ono Lennon will unveil an original work called “Promise Piece” that she created for, and was inspired by, WAAD. “Promise Piece” is a unique work of art, done in a style Ms. Ono has been working in for more than two decades, in which a larger work is broken apart into smaller pieces. The 58 signed puzzle pieces will be auctioned throughout the month of April, with the caveat that they are to be “re-united” and re-assembled when the cure for autism is found. The event will be sponsored by the Chilean Mission.
"I am proud to partner with Autism Speaks in promoting awareness and advocacy for children with autism," said Yoko Ono. "World Autism Awareness Day is not only a day to raise awareness about the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, but also to celebrate another big step towards healing our world."
To raise awareness about autism in various nations, several first ladies and dignitaries have recorded WAAD public service announcements. They include: Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; Dr. Liri Berisha, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Albania; Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, First Lady of Egypt; Mrs. Sarah Brown, wife of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Mrs. Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama; Ms. Dalia Rabin, daughter of former Prime Minister of Israel; Mrs. Touré Lobbo Traoré, First Lady of Mali; and Señora Margarita Zavala Calderón, First Lady of Mexico. The ads will air on CNN on April 2 as well as in countries around the world, raising awareness about World Autism Awareness Day's events and advocacy and services available around the globe.
In New York City's Central Park, Autism Speaks and the Ad Council will sponsor a unique awareness event to highlight the 1 in 150 prevalence rate for autism.
The World Health Organization and the Qatar Mission will host a panel luncheon on the subject of autism at the United Nations on April 2. Bob Wright will be a participant in the panel discussion, which will be attended by permanent representatives and other UN officials.
The day will conclude with the premiere of the contemporary dance piece “beyond.words” by dre.dance, a New York-based contemporary dance company at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. The special performance combines dre.dance's propulsive choreography with interpretive actions gleaned from typical autism spectrum behavior. Artistic Directors Taye Diggs and Andrew Palermo created the piece to shed light on the beauty and spirit of individuals with autism. This fundraising event supports the work of both organizations and includes admission to the performance, a post-performance reception and a post-performance question and answer period with Diggs, Palermo, the dre.dance company and representatives from Autism Speaks. For tickets, contact Eileen McDonough at email@example.com or call 917-475-5060.
This year, Autism Speaks has teamed up with Wubbzy – star of Nick Jr.'s whimsical animated preschool television series “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!” – to promote WAAD. Autism Speaks and the Ad Council produced television and web banner public service announcements (PSAs) featuring Wubbzy. A special web site, Walk with Wubbzy on the Web, is a “virtual walk” that is an extension of Autism Speaks' Walk Now for Autism, which takes place in more than 75 communities across the United States, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. The Walk with Wubbzy on the Web site provides ideas about how people can celebrate World Autism Awareness Day in their local community, and also accepts donations to fund autism awareness and research efforts. Last year's Walk Now on the Web raised more than $40,000.
The WAAD web site, www.worldautismawarenessday.org features links to autism organizations, autism information that can be printed in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, Russian and Spanish, and a list of worldwide WAAD events. To date, there are events planned in more than a dozen countries, including Aruba, Bahrain, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Romania, the U.K. and the U.S.
On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 62/139 declaring April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in perpetuity. This UN resolution established WAAD as one of only three official disease-specific United Nations Days, with the goal of bringing the world's attention to autism, a pervasive disorder that affects tens of millions.
World Autism Awareness Day shines a bright light on autism as a growing global health crisis. WAAD activities help to increase and develop world knowledge of the autism epidemic and impart information regarding the importance of early diagnosis and early intervention. Additionally, WAAD celebrates the unique talents and skills of people with autism, and features community events around the world where individuals with autism are warmly welcomed and embraced.
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 nation'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 division 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 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 and RAND Corporation. 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.