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Autism Speaks Withdraws Support for Strategic Plan for Autism Research, Decries Unexpected Change in Final Approval Process

Calls for New Administration to Restore the Intent of Combating Autism Act to Respect and Value Community Input

NEW YORK, NY (January 15, 2009) – Autism Speaks today decried a vote by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to reverse a previously voted-on decision to approve objectives relating to vaccine safety research as part of its deliberations for the Strategic Plan for Autism Research. The decision to debate removing these objectives was not posted on the meeting's agenda, nor were the public members given any forewarning that this section of the plan – which was resolved at the previous IACC meeting in December -- would be revisited. As a result, Autism Speaks is withdrawing its support for the Strategic Plan.

IACC met yesterday at the NIMH in Bethesda, MD, to finalize the Strategic Plan. As mandated by the Combating Autism Act of 2006, IACC must develop and annually update a strategic plan for the conduct of, and support for, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research, including proposed budgetary requirements.

“We are angered and disappointed by this last-minute deviation in the painstaking process of approving the Strategic Plan. Members of the autism community have worked tirelessly during the last two years to develop a plan that would set the stage for significant progress and discoveries for autism research over the next five years,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “In a matter of minutes, the Federal Members of the IACC destroyed much of the good will that had been established during the course of this process. Because of this surprise tactic, we now have a plan that is tainted and cannot be supported by the autism community.”

Five of the six public members voted against this revision. Autism Speaks Executive Vice President Alison Tepper Singer was the sole public member to cast a vote in support. The evening prior to the vote, Singer submitted her resignation to Autism Speaks – which was accepted – based on her intention to vote on certain Strategic Plan vaccine safety matters in a way that diverged from Autism Speaks' position on this issue. Thus, in casting votes on January 14, she was acting as an individual public member of IACC and no longer as a representative of Autism Speaks.

“We are hopeful that the new administration will fulfill the intent of the Combating Autism Act and truly value and respect the input of the autism community,” added Wright. “It is imperative that we move forward and ensure that there is a Strategic Plan that meets the needs of the autism community. Autism Speaks is committed to being part of that process.”

About Autism
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 dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism, and to advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. It 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. Autism Speaks merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation's three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.