From the President: An Eye-opening Visit to Albania
This post is by Mark Roithmayr, President of Autism Speaks.
It is before dawn and I am about to depart Albania. What we have learned about autism, Autism Speaks, Albania, and our role in the world is almost too overwhelming and humbling to put into words.
I was there to celebrate the opening of the Albanian Children Foundation’s Regional Centre for Autism, dedicated to helping children with developmental disabilities to receive a diagnosis, appropriate treatment and services.
Liri Berisha, M.D., and her husband the Prime Minister, Mr. Sali Berisha, took every opportunity to note that without Autism Speaks and Suzanne and Bob Wright, none of this would be possible. What a statement! As I looked at the new Centre I was in awe of all they had accomplished in a country the size of Albania. What an amazing accomplishment – and the hope they are now providing to the autism community in Albania was palpable.
In between attending events and dinners, my wife and I visited Albania’s first autism center that has been seeing families the past two years. We witnessed the wonders of the first children receiving ABA therapy in Albania and the success they have had. We met with the therapists, administrators, and Ministers who are now developing the nation’s first National Autism Strategy. And then, in the new Centre, we presented to parents who literally had tears in their eyes because of the hope that is now becoming reality for their children.
The day Suzanne got the UN to unanimously approve the creation of a World Autism Awareness Day made all of this possible. One of our many achievements is making autism a global initiative. Our Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative is moving this forward at an amazingly rapid pace. We are moving nations and bettering the lives of children and families around the globe – and not by ourselves, but by helping other countries to learn from our experiences and providing guidance to create their own programs.
We are one organization among many. We are largely supported by families – those who walk and fundraise, one dollar at a time, to change the world. It’s working.