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Calls to Action

United Nations World Focus on Autism

Forum Held in New York

NEW YORK, NY (September 26, 2008) – More than 150 First ladies and dignitaries, including Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, wife of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Sarah Brown, wife of the British Prime Minister, met today in New York to discuss the global epidemic of autism.

Organized and hosted by Mrs. Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, the largest non-profit autism organization in the world, the international coalition representing 55 countries was a striking endorsement of the UN efforts to raise autism awareness. The group, which also


View highlights from

United Nations World Focus on Autism Forum
YouTube video ~ 4 minutes


included Mrs. Elsie Christofias of Cyprus and Mrs. Vivian Fernández de Torrijos of Panama heard from a world-class panel of experts from the scientific community and discussed an international pathway to raise global awareness and promote research into this non-discriminative disorder.

In her opening remarks, event chair Mrs. Ban Soon-taek welcomed the international group on behalf of her husband UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and stated that, “it is still sadly a reality that in some parts of the world, those affected by autism-related disorders are set aside, placed in institutions or dismissed as untreatable lost causes.” Mrs. Ban continued to say that “it is crucial that professionals and society at large become more involved, compassionate and accepting of this complex condition.” Co-chair Mrs. Dorrit Moussaieff, First Lady of Iceland shared her personal reflections of Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright. “The energy and commitment of Bob and Suzanne to raising awareness of and funding research into autism has been an inspiration to me as to all who come in to contact with them.”

Calling for action, event host Suzanne Wright asked the international delegation convened, “not just as the co-founder of Autism Speaks, but as a grandmother of a little boy who has slipped into the silent world of autism to please lend your voices and stand united with us in our worldwide campaign. By recognizing World Autism Awareness Day every April 2nd until a cure is found, you will help to shine a global spotlight on autism.” Bob Wright, shared some of the staggering statistics with the room, "it is estimated that approximately 1% of the global population has autism – 67 million worldwide” Wright said in his remarks.

Bob and Suzanne Wright went on to honor Mr. Hassan Ali Bin Ali for his progressive efforts to raise awareness on behalf of Qatar's Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs. The Shafallah Center recently became an Autism Speaks Global Affiliate for the Middle East region. Speaking of the impact the global media can have in raising awareness for autism, Mr. Ali Bin Ali recounted his experiences at the recent Paralympic Games in Beijing, “for the first time in history, the Paralympic Games were broadcast live around the world and record numbers viewed.” He also recognized that if everyone present, representing their countries, "leave the event with a mission to raise awareness of the warning signs of autism, and encourage early diagnosis, we will have made a major step in meeting the challenges.”

Speakers at the UN World Focus on Autism included: Mrs. Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama, and Mrs. Dorrit Moussaieff, First Lady of Iceland. A panel discussion on the new Global Autism Public Health Initiative (read more here) was moderated by CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. Autism Speaks' Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Chief Science Officer; Dr. Andy Shih, Vice President of Scientific Affairs; and Ms. Alison Tepper Singer, Executive Vice President; as well as Mr. Hassan Ali Bin Ali, Chairman of the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs participated in the panel discussion.

Read coverage of the event from the Associated Press and CNN.

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