Autism Speaks is an organization based in New York City that advocates for public awareness of autism. It also raises funds for research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism. It was founded in February 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright. The couple founded the organization a year after their grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with autism. The organization has become popular among the autism community and is a powerful lobbyist in Washington.
Autism Speaks arranges events that urge the government and the private sector to listen and take action on their concerns. They conduct annual autism walks in New York. For instance, thousands of participants joined a walk in October 2006 that helped raise $2 million to fund peer-reviewed autism research. The organization also funded research programs like the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and Autism Tissue Program.
Autism Speaks has merged with three other autism organizations and has raised millions of dollars. In 2006, it merged with the National Alliance for Autism Research, an organization that promoted high standards for peer-reviewed research into the genetics of the disorder. In 2007, Autism Speaks joined with Cure Autism Now, a research fundraising organization. Finally, Autism Speaks also merged with the Autism Coalition for Research and Education, another advocacy group.
Although popular among the autism community, Autism Speaks has also been criticized within its circle for a number of different reasons. Some people in the autism culture believe that autism is a unique way of experiencing the world and not a disorder. They criticize the organization’s goal of finding a cure for autism.
Many in the autism community also repudiated a video that was distributed by Autism Speaks entitled “Autism Every Day.” The video was criticized for presenting a false reality of parenting an autistic child. In the video, a mother of an autistic child contemplated killing herself and her autistic daughter with her daughter in the room.
There is currently an online petition condemning the film. Another controversy is that while Autism Speaks heavily funds research into the genetic causes of autism, Katie Wright, Bob and Suzanne’s daughter, believes in the theory that the organic mercury in childhood vaccines causes the disorder.
Autism Speaks continues to be one of the leaders in the autism community in addressing autism concerns; however, because of the great diversity in people’s beliefs and principles, it will most likely continue to receive criticism from the community it wants to serve.
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