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It’s Time to Change the Conversation

February 17, 2011 143 comments

Autism Speaks recently declined an invitation to participate in a Dr. Oz show. In reviewing the pre-taping materials, it was clear that the program’s major focus was again on the vaccine debate, a debate that has been addressed multiple times, without resolution, and more importantly, a debate that prevents other equally important topics surrounding autism from being discussed. Last month, in a letter to the editor published by The New York Times, Autism Speaks’ Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., said it is time now to focus our attention on the future and on the real problem: We still need answers to too many questions regarding causes and treatments for autism and we need to address the generation of a half million adolescents with autism who are about to enter adulthood without adequate supports.

Autism Speaks has consistently stated that children should be vaccinated to protect public health and the health of the individual child, and has urged families to develop a trusting and collaborative relationship with their pediatrician on all health matters including vaccination. While the Dr Oz show certainly makes for “Good TV,” this was not the televised conversation in which Autism Speaks believed it could make its most valued contribution on the science of autism. When “Good TV” presents “Good Science,” it makes an incredible difference for the families who struggle with autism and this is where we hope to be involved in the future.

In the short five years since Autism Speaks was formed, we have committed over $160 million in research on causes and treatments. In 2010, we analyzed the outcomes of the first 107 separate research grants funded by Autism Speaks and found that 82% of those completed studies resulted in 146 novel findings. We’ve “home grown” over 150 new scientists who are now committing their careers to the field of autism research. And even more impressive, for every dollar Autism Speaks committed to seed these innovative research projects, 10 dollars of additional research funding was leveraged in new grants from the federal government and other funding agencies.

Far beyond the research directly funded by Autism Speaks, there is new information and hope to share with parents. Effective diagnostics can identify infants at risk for autism as young as one-year old. We have learned that validated behavioral therapies can offer the best possible outcomes, particularly when started early, with such significantly increased cognitive, language and social skills, that in some cases, it may be possible for the child to no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. The study of a wide range of treatments, including complementary and alternative therapies, will help parents find those that are truly effective to help them deal with medical conditions that so often are found in people with autism, from gastrointestinal to sleep disorders. Through Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, doctors are currently developing the gold-standard best practices for the treatment of the whole child with autism, which can be shared with practitioners in every town.

Autism Speaks sent a statement to Dr. Oz letting him know that we are eager to participate in a future program that focuses on how science offers hope for families. We encourage Dr. Oz and others in the media to feature the broader range of important issues facing families struggling with autism. These issues include:

·     The role of a multiple environmental factors that are potentially contributing to the increase in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) prevalence

·     New insights into the underlying biology of ASD that are leading to novel treatments

·     Ways we can address the medical conditions that impact the everyday lives of people with ASD, and

·     Programs that are being developed to help adolescents with ASD successfully transition to becoming happy and fulfilled adults.

Autism Speaks will always welcome the opportunity to talk about the scientific breakthroughs that are within our reach, and how by pulling together, we can advocate to increase research funding, end insurance discrimination, and create better services and support for people with ASD of all ages.

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