NEW YORK, N.Y. (June 5, 2014) – Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, convened its second annual Advocacy Leadership Network (ALN) in New York City last month. The ALN is a two-day meeting of autism advocates from families, professional communities and international governments, who are united in their efforts to improve the lives of those affected by the disorder around the world.
ALN participants also include representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO), country government representatives, and organizations. As they met in New York, health ministers from around the globe gathered in Geneva for the opening of the World Health Assembly’s (WHA) 67th annual meeting. On Friday, May 23, the WHA, the governing body of the WHO, adopted a major resolution—comprehensive and coordinated efforts for the management of autism spectrum disorders—to establish autism, among other developmental disabilities, as a global health priority.
In support of the resolution, Autism Speaks, in conjunction with the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), issued a call for researcher volunteers to join global autism outreach efforts through a new initiative titled ‘Autism Researchers Without Borders.’
INSAR President Dr. Francesca Happé and Autism Speaks’ Dr. Andy Shih first introduced the program in an announcement at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) in May. ‘Autism Researchers Without Borders’ grants volunteer researchers the opportunity to make an immediate difference to those affected by autism around the world via Autism Speaks’ Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative and will be essential in helping government ministries address the pressing needs of the international autism community.
“It is a key mission for INSAR to extend the global reach of autism research, and so we are delighted to partner with Autism Speaks in this vital new initiative. Our members, who come from across the globe, are passionate about autism and keen to listen to the needs of the global community,” said Dr. Francesca Happé, president of INSAR. “For too many years, autism research and services have been concentrated in high-income countries; it is time to recognize and respond to autism around the world”
Over the last six years, Autism Speaks Global Autism Public Health Initiative (GAPH) has forged partnerships in more than 50 countries around the globe, from Albania to Vietnam. “With these expanding partnerships and the WHA’s recognition of autism as a global health priority, Autism Speaks is committed to broadening autism research, advocacy and awareness efforts around the world,” said Dr. Shih, Autism Speaks senior vice president for scientific affairs. “As researchers, government officials, health experts and stakeholders come together, we’re creating a global task force of leading experts, who will simultaneously advance our understanding of autism risk factors, diagnostic methods and treatments.”
“The World Health Assembly resolution on Autism Spectrum Disorders has set ambitious goals for countries and for the WHO secretariat. These goals can be achieved only if a substantial increase is made in the human and financial resources dedicated to this area,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO, Geneva.
The Bangladesh mission in Geneva along with representatives from Brazil, India, Italy, Malaysia, Korea, Romania, the United States and the WHO secretariat, organized an event last Wednesday, May 21, in an effort to generate global support for the resolution, as it was pending final approval in the assembly. As autism continues to affect an estimated 70 million individuals worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in countries with limited economic resources, the need for new resources and resolutions is dire. Through GAPH and the newly established ‘Autism Researchers Without Borders’ project, efforts will continue to consolidate global resources and reach governments and families around the world to help them identify the needs of their autism communities and develop practical and culturally appropriate services.
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 communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 68 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum.
About ‘Autism Researchers Without Borders’
Autism Speaks and INSAR invite both senior researchers and graduate students beginning their research careers to learn more about the program and provide information on the types of autism programs and world regions that interest them. Duration of term and level of commitment are variable depending on the specific country and projects. Potential volunteers are invited to learn more and to answer a few questions about their interests at www.autismspeaks.org/global.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization. It 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. Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Mr. Wright is the former vice chairman of General Electric and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal. Since its inception, Autism Speaks has committed more than $500 million dollars to its mission, the majority in science and medical research. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 100 cities across North America. On the global front, Autism Speaks has established partnerships in more than 40 countries on five continents to foster international research, services and awareness. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit AutismSpeaks.org.