Steve Silberman’s Sept. 1 Other Views piece, Autism Speaks needs to listen more closely to the people it has failed, has painted a portrait of our mission that may reflect his point of view, but is a disservice to the millions of people who have both supported and relied on our organization.
In fairness to these people and the more than 25,000 supporters right here in Miami who participate in our annual walk, it is important to set the record straight.
There are now an estimated 3.5 million people in the United States living with autism. For many, autism is a whole-body disorder: One-third of people with autism also have a seizure disorder, half suffer digestive complications, 49 percent wander, and more than 30 percent are non-verbal.
We have invested more than $560 million in private funding into our mission, the majority of that in research. While research takes time, there are millions of people who need support now. We have successfully fought for insurance coverage for autism treatments in 42 states. And we led the effort for passage of the Combating Autism Act in 2006.
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This federal legislation, renewed twice, has provided more than $3 billion in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Its latest renewal tasks the federal government with analyzing the gaps in adult services. That is progress for every person on the spectrum.
Last year alone, specially trained staffers answered 47,500 emails and phone calls seeking information and resources. Our Autism Treatment Network is a collaboration of 14 centers across North America that provide multidisciplinary healthcare for children and teens.
Autism Speaks offers 40 free tool kits addressing needs across the entire lifespan, including adults. We provide grants for adult programming and services. We also fund post-secondary institutions serving young adults.
Each year, 50,000 young adults age out of school-based services. There are few job opportunities, transition supports or housing options for them. We are working to change that.
Autism Speaks has held 28 town halls across the country focused on housing and employment. We are also helping employers tap into the talents of adults on the spectrum with TheSpectrumCareers.com.
Wandering is a crisis for our community and often leads to drowning. Autism Speaks is funding water safety grants, and providing grants for first-responder training and wearable tracking devices.
The needs of people living with autism are diverse. There are hundreds of volunteers, staff, board committee members and advisors on the spectrum who contribute in these efforts. Awareness and acceptance work hand-in-hand; unity in our cause will only make us stronger.
And so we’ll continue to fight every single day to help all of our families live healthier, safer, more fulfilled lives.
Liz Feld, president, Autism Speaks, New York, NY