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Calls to Action

Sixth Grade Science Report on Autism Gets Special Attention

Chief Science Officer says he'll share the paper with the White House and members of Congress
June 26, 2013


Nicholas, left, with his cousin who has autism

Autism Speaks recently received a letter from Nicholas Flanagan, who just completed the sixth grade at Memorial Middle School in Point Pleasant, N.J. Nicholas, who has a cousin with autism, sent us a report on autism that he wrote for school. Below are Nicholas's letter and report, along with letters to Nicholas from Rob Ring, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, and Liz Feld, President of Autism Speaks.

Letter from Nicholas 

June 6, 2013
To Whom It May Concern:
I recently researched Autism for a school project. Through my research, I learned what Autism is and how to help them. They have a disorder but they can still do everything that a person without Autism can do.
Solving this problem is important to me, and so I'm attaching my research paper for your review. I would like to thank you for all the work you do to find a cure. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sixth Grade Student


Is there a cure of Autism? Not yet but researchers are trying. Many people wonder what the common signs are and others might not know what autism. We can help autism by donating for research. Autism is a disorder that needs more research.

There are a few common signs of autism. The first sign in some people is that they do not give direct eye contact. If they don't give you eye contact, then they may not listen to you. Children with autism may be distracted when you talk to them with no eye contact. If they don't listen then they may walk away and go back to what they were doing (Autism Information Learning About Autism Understanding 1).

Another sign of autism is no fears. People with autism will walk all around the city. They may do unthinkable things that could cause them to hurt themselves. Autistic people may also hurt others. They could rob someone and not be afraid. (Autism Information Learning About Autism Understanding 1).

People with autism may also throw random tantrums. Some might cause problems when they do it in public areas. They will hold up lines and some might have to leave because they are too loud. People with autism could get very loud when they throw a tantrum. (Autism Information Learning About Autism Understanding 1).

Next, Autism has many disorders. If we research we can see the side affects. We can see how many Autistic people live with them. It's a bunch of disorders together. If scientists research then they may find a cure for some of the disorders in autism. (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 1).

If people can raise money for the Autism Spectrum Discover as a whole, this will do great things. Scientists can look at the disorder and all the different disorders that fall under this. People can focus on it and try to find a cure. (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 1).

Autistic people also have unusual behaviors. Some act differently than other people. Autistic people will fight then be nice. Some might be hard to deal with. Autism may scare people. (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 1.)

We should use more research. Give them medicine to sleep instead of them jumping around all over the room. The people can help find a way to help them find something to calm them down. And on the way, find a cure for autism. (Understanding Autism 1).

We can donate too many places like the IACC. We can buy equipment to help them. It will help donate and help find a cure. People will start to care more about autism more and people will realize the problem of autism. (Understanding Autism 1).

The IACC, NIG, and STAART will help. A lot will help research. Some will get a lot of money. We can see them working together. They help research illnesses. (Understanding Autism1).

In conclusion, Autism is a disorder that needs more research. So many people don't know the signs and what Autism is. We can help raise money by donating for a cure. That's why we need to keep on researching Autism.

Nicholas Flanagan
Mrs. Kays
June 5, 2013

Letter from Chief Science Officer Rob Ring

June 18, 2013

Dear Nicholas,

I hope this letter finds you well and that you are preparing for a relaxing summer off before you begin 7th grade. Thank you so much for your recent letter and research paper on autism, which I read with great interest. In fact, many on the science team here at Autism Speaks have also read your report, and we are all sincerely impressed by how well you have captured many of the complex realities and challenges that people with autism face in their daily lives.

Your report’s conclusions about the importance of funding research, in particular, really hit home with me. Here at Autism Speaks we completely agree with your assessment, and have been maximizing the resources that our donors provide us to make a difference in the lives of people with autism through scientific research. We can do more, but the field needs increased funding in order to deliver. This message (your message) is a simple one . . .  one we believe that needs to be heard more by those who can influence it.

In the coming weeks, I actually will be traveling to Washington, DC with Liz Feld, the president of Autism Speaks. With your permission, I would like to take your letter with me to the White House, where I would like to share it with President Obama’s staff and in separate meetings we have scheduled with congressman and women during that visit. They need to hear your message loud and clear.

In the spirit of scientific discourse, I would like to challenge you on one part of your report. Although I completely identify with how you arrived at speculating people with autism might hurt others because of the difficulties with understanding fear, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this is true, specifically that individuals with autism are inclined to ‘hurt’ or ‘rob’ others. Unfortunately, this is a topic frequently misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. That minor point aside, I strongly recommend that your teacher Ms. Kays give you an “A” on the report.

Thank you again Nicholas for your letter and report on autism. As you are just learning, the world of science can be an amazing and mysterious place of discovery. Tackling scientific mysteries, especially of the brain, can also be a way to improve lives. I hope that you continue to research and write scientific reports like the one you have sent us on autism. We could use more bright minds like yours. Please feel free to reach out to me for any advice and guidance anytime you need it.


Robert H. Ring, Ph.D.
Chief Science OfficerAutism Speaks

Letter from Autism Speaks President Liz Feld

Dear Nicholas:

Wow! Your letter arrived in my office in New York City and I am amazed at the research report you wrote on autism.  You should be very proud of the work you did to make this report so accurate and meaningful.

At Autism Speaks, we work every day to improve the lives and futures of people who struggle with autism. A very important part of our mission is raising awareness. Your letter is exactly the kind of information we want to spread as far and wide as possible so more people understand what autism is and what we need to do about it.

As you know from your research, autism is a developmental disorder that makes communication very difficult. Many people with autism have limited language skills, but that doesn't mean they can't learn or understand what they read or hear. In fact, the iPad has been a wonderful way for people on the autism spectrum to express themselves and to communicate the way you and I do.

You made some very good points about behavior that can be common with autistic individuals. Sometimes, people with autism get frustrated, anxious or angry that they can't communicate.  This can be one reason behind a tantrum or uncontrollable screaming or crying. Imagine if you couldn't tell your parents you had a stomach ache or were scared about something? How would you let them know you were uncomfortable or sad? It must be so hard for those who live with an autism spectrum disorder to share their feelings.

We are very pleased that President Obama has announced a plan to invest $100 million in brain research so we can understand more about how the brain works. It is true that we still don't know the causes of autism and there is no cure. This means we must do as much research as possible.

Even though Autism Speaks is only eight years old we have made a lot of progress in the areas of treatments and therapies. While we continue to search for answers to the tough scientific questions about autism,  we are also focused on finding ways to make life better for people today.  In many communities, we provide programs, camps, and other services so kids who need help can get it.  I suggest that you look at our website so you can see the range of work we do to support the autism community. One of the accomplishments we are very proud of is "World Autism Awareness Day" which is April 2nd every year! The United Nations has made autism an important priority for countries around the world and they designated April 2nd as the one day when we should all recognize the needs of the autism community. Autism Speaks asks everyone to "Light It Up Blue" that day as a way of raising awareness. You can read all about that on our website, too.

If you would ever like to visit our office in New York, we would love to have you! Or maybe someone from Autism Speaks could speak at your school after the summer vacation. I hope you continue your interest in autism. We need wonderful young people like you to help us solve the autism puzzle. As we learn more from our research I will be sure to keep in touch with you. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any more questions. Our science team is outstanding and they would love to share the work they're doing.

I hope you enjoy a nice summer without homework!

Warmest regards,

Liz Feld
Autism Speaks