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Autism Speaks Attends the Fourth Annual Shafallah Center International Forum in Qatar

April 29, 2009

Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright ,along with Vice President of Scientific Affairs Andy Shih, Ph.D., traveled to Doha, Qatar to attend the Fourth Annual Shafallah Center International Forum on Achieving Independence. (Prior to their arrival in Doha, the three spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia meeting with scientists and government officials. Click here to read more).

Their first stop in Doha was the Toyota building which proudly displays one the many billboards from the Shafallah Center's “Learn the Signs” awareness campaign. This awareness collaboration was born out of the 2008 partnership between Autism Speaks and Shafallah Center. The goal of the partnership is to increase global awareness and speed the pace of autism research by paving the way for

From left, Dr. Khalid Bin Jabor Al-Thani, Board Member of the Shafallah Center, Bob and Suzanne Wright, Co-Founders, Autism Speaks; Mr. Hassan Ali bin Ali, Chairman of the Shafallah Center.

the Shafallah Center to become an international leader in research and services for autism spectrum disorders.

On Monday, April 20, the opening day of the Forum, Bob Wright moderated a panel called “Growing up to Achieve Independence.” Autism Speaks recently launched a new website ( to support Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA), a national consortium of autism advocates seeking to create meaningful futures for adults with autism that include homes, jobs, recreation, friends and supportive communities. The Forum panelists included Craig Blackburn, Tulane University Louisiana Chapter, Best Buddies; Louise Robertson, M.Ed. MBA, The Pathway School, U.S.; and Carie Gall, Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation, Canada.

On Tuesday, April 21, Autism Speaks and the Shafallah Center held a press conference to announce the successful launch of the Shafallah's awareness campaign. In addition, they discussed the partnership with Qatar Airways, the country's national carrier, which has been airing public service announcements on all of its flights, as well as distributing pins and informational autism pamphlets on all flights to the U.S. Joining them on the panel at the press conference was Dr. Andy Shih, Vice President of Scientific Affairs, who plays an integral role in the Shafallah partnership through both research and awareness. The Shafallah Center was represented by Dr. Hatem El-Shanti and Sameera Al-Qassimi.

On Wednesday, April 22, the third and final day of the forum, Suzanne Wright was a featured panelist for “Preparing Students with Disabilities to Transition into Post-Secondary Activities,” discussing Autism Speaks' latest initiative Autism in the Workplace. She recapped recent World Autism Awareness Day activities, and encouraged all the members of the global community to join Autism Speaks for the 2010 WAAD celebration. She was joined by moderator Mary Ellen Lewis, Ed.D. Director of Educational Projects, Kennedy Krieger Institute; and co-panelists Aaron Parsons, Career and Technology Center, Kennedy Krieger Institute; Linda Brandenburg, School of Autism Services, Kennedy Krieger Institute; and Maha K. Helali, ADVANCE Society, Egypt.

As part of their visit to Qatar, the Wrights and Dr. Shih also reaffirmed Autism Speaks' commitment to serving the young adult and adult population with autism. It is currently estimated that nearly 80% of people on the autism spectrum are under the age of 22. Autism Speaks recognizes the immense challenges facing adults living with autism, not only today, but in the future and our hope is to see everyone on the spectrum given equal opportunities to use their unique talents in order to realize their full potential.

With a global commitment to support our community, we can achieve this goal.

Autism Speaks and the World IS listening.