If anyone knows how hectic life can get – WE DO! That’s why we have created the Autism Speaks Weekly Whirl to fill you in on all of the highlights of the week! The last thing we want is for you to be left out of the loop! Please share with friends and family to spread the word about all of the exciting things going on in the autism community. Keep in mind, these updates aren’t limited to Autism Speaks — we will be featuring news from across the community.
A Funny Affair Honoring Tommy Hilfiger
On Monday December 5, 2011 Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne and Bob Wright and New York Center for Autism (NYCA) Co-founders Laura and Harry Slatkin honored iconic fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger for his commitment to increasing awareness and support of the autism community at A Funny Affair for Autism – a star-studded evening of fashion and comedy that helped raise over 1.3 million dollars for individuals with autism and their families.
Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball
On December 1, the Los Angeles Chapter held the inaugural Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball. Over 700 people packed the House of Blues on the world famous Sunset Strip to hear the incomparable, beloved and ever gracious Sarah McLachlan sing some of her biggest hits. She was introduced by autism mom and Grammy Award-winning singer Toni Braxton. The show was hosted by comedian Sinbad, who also handled the live auction with humor and zip. Other music performers were “American Idol” contestant Brooke White, Lucy Schwartz and Diane Birch. Attendees included Autism Speaks National Board Member Holly Robinson Peete with her husband Rodney Peete, Matt Dallas, J.K. Simmons, Mark Salling, Ed Asner, and “Parenthood” cast members Mae Whitman, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder and Miles Heizer.
Autism Speaks Headed to Albania
Hear from Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr as he shares about his trip to Albania for the opening of the Albanian Children Foundation’s Regional Centre for Autism. 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.
QBE $75,000 Gift to Autism Speaks
On December 7, 2011 Autism Speaks received a $75,000 QBE Foundation Grant from QBE Americas. The grant will fund the development of the Employment Tool Kit. We are thrilled and thankful for their generosity!
This post is by Phillip Hain, the West Region Director for Autism Speaks.
On December 1, the Los Angeles Chapter held the inaugural Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball. In looking back at what made the event so amazing, I attribute it to four key elements: vision, focus, determination, and teamwork.
The first was having a vision. In a city the size of Los Angeles, there is an abundance of fundraising dinners that do very well, but often people feel obligated to attend rather than having a true sense of wanting to be there. Years ago while volunteering for Cure Autism Now before it merged with Autism Speaks, I remember helping get ready for an art auction when a gentleman walked into the hotel and wanted to know where to go for an event he was attending with his wife which was taking place that night. I asked what it was for and he said, “I’m not sure. Something to do with kids.” Yes, it was nice to hear he was there to support us, but I also realized that he would not remember the organization the next day.
That took us to the element of determination. Our committee was looking for an event which people wanted to attend because it was fun—and they would look forward to being there again. After settling on a theme of music, we came up with the Blue Tie Blue Jean Ball name because it reflected the ideas of enjoyable, unpretentious, memorable and genuine. We also realized those are the adjectives often used to describe our children affected by autism, making the synergy and concept even more significant.
Because we were working on a shortened timeline, we had to operate as a team. The committee was just the right size to have enough people with contacts, but not too cumbersome to become unwieldy. We chose sub-chairs to handle the various major components. There was no task—big or small—that anyone would not take on. Whether it was getting things donated, pitching sponsors, creating a Facebook page, or stuffing envelopes, everyone pitched in where they could contribute. The group stayed on course and worked collaboratively. Bouncing ideas at a committee meeting where someone suggested it would be great if we could get a jean company as a sponsor resulted in another person saying, “We have a contact at Guess whom we can call.” The result was having the Guess Foundation as the presenting sponsor—for a first year event.
Needless to say we had to focus. One member had strong contacts in the music industry who worked on getting a major name to headline the show. Others started getting cool auction items to fit the music theme. We ended up with really interesting things, such as a bra signed by Fergie, an autographed guitar from Eddie Van Halen, passes to Lollapalooza, and tickets to an Elton John concert in Las Vegas plus an acrylic piece of his piano.
So it wasn’t an accident that over 700 people packed the House of Blues on the world famous Sunset Strip to hear the incomparable, beloved and ever gracious Sarah McLachlan sing some of her biggest hits. She was introduced by autism mom and Grammy Award-winning singer Toni Braxton. The show was hosted by comedian Sinbad, who also handled the live auction with humor and zip. Other music performers were “American Idol” contestant Brooke White, Lucy Schwartz and Diane Birch. Attendees included Autism Speaks National Board Member Holly Robinson Peete with her husband Rodney Peete, Matt Dallas, J.K. Simmons, Mark Salling, Ed Asner, and “Parenthood” cast members Mae Whitman, Sarah Ramos, Max Burkholder and Miles Heizer.
Many thanks to Peter Krause, Monica Potter, and Max Burkholder of NBC’s “Parenthood” who filmed this PSA to raise awareness about autism and Autism Speaks. This PSA, in the “The More You Know” series, aired after Tuesday night’s episode, Team Braverman, which featured members of the family participating in a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.
Tune in to NBC’s “Parenthood” next Tuesday, May 18 at 10 p.m./9 Central. The all-new episode, Team Braverman, features members of the family participating in a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event.
Peter Bell, Autism Speaks’ Executive Vice President, was on set in Los Angeles and penned a blog post about his experience. Earlier this season, we spoke with Jason Katims, the show’s writer and executive producer. He tells how having a 13-year-old son with Asperger Syndrome inspired one of the show’s main storylines.
Check your local listings for show information.
UPDATE: Watch the entire episode here on Hulu. Also, the episode is being re-broadcast on Saturday, May 22 at 8 p.m. EDT. Check your local listings for show information.
Watch “The More You Know” PSA starring the cast of “Parenthood,” which aired after the episode.
This guest post is by Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. Peter and his wife, Liz, reside in New Jersey with their three children. Their eldest son, Tyler, has autism.
On April 15, when most people were scrambling to file their tax returns, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will hopefully make a profound difference for Autism Speaks and the autism community.
As many people know, the new NBC hit series “Parenthood” has a story line that involves a family coming to grips with their son’s recent diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome. For any family that has gone through the experience of having a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, you quickly realize just how easy it is to relate to the Braverman family. The show has beautifully captured the range of emotions our families go through during this difficult time.
So, when the producers of “Parenthood” approached Autism Speaks recently and asked if we would be interested in helping to film a future episode that would include an Autism Speaks Walk, the answer was without reservation “yes, of course!” To add icing on the cake, they also invited us to provide a real person to play the role of the Autism Speaks representative on the stage of the walk – that’s when this became a personal journey for me.
With just a few days notice, I was off to Los Angeles. Lucky for me, my body was still on East Coast time for the 7 a.m. call time. After signing all the necessary paperwork (I think I’m now a member of SAG), I was taken to the make-up trailer. There were about five chairs with make-up artists doing their magic on various actors. My second stroke of luck came when they seated me next to Monica Potter who plays Kristina Braverman, mother of Max.
I was told by some other “autism moms” at Autism Speaks to tell Monica how much they love her performance as the take-no-prisoners mom of Max. I faithfully shared this sentiment as they were removing the curlers from her hair and another make-up person was dabbing my face with something that felt cakey. It was sort of a surreal moment for me but I think she realized that this was the highest form of a compliment one can get, besides an Emmy, of course.
After a quick change into my wardrobe (special walk t-shirt, khaki pants and my own running shoes), it was time to report to the set. The walk venue was set in a community park not far from Century City. Since the series takes place in Berkeley, California, they had to be careful not to have any palm trees in the background. They transported us from the trailers to the set in a van and this is where I met Max Burkholder, the incredible child actor who plays Max Braverman, the young boy with Asperger’s. Naturally he was with his real mom and we enjoyed a nice conversation about his role and how he gets into character. Although his character is only eight years old on the show, he is actually 12 years old.
Once we arrived on the set, I had a chance to meet Peter Krause who plays Adam Braverman, Max’s dad. Fortunately, we connected on many levels. In addition to sharing our common name, we are both dads. Although Peter K does not have a child with autism, it was obvious that he takes great pride in having an eight-year-old son. We talked a lot about autism, what is known scientifically (and not), what’s behind the large increase, how families cope, etc. He was genuinely interested in learning everything he could about the condition and what families go through. I complimented him on his ability to capture the feelings that many dads go through when their sons are first diagnosed. Peter K was remarkably kind and fun to be with for the rest of the day.
Next – rehearsal. Since they were recreating a walk, which often attracts thousands of participants, they brought in more than 200 extras to create the feeling of a Walk Now for Autism Speaks event. I was really impressed that they were able to replicate the look and feel of our walks – then again this is Hollywood. After a few run-throughs it was time to “roll film.” Our scene was only about a minute long but we ended up doing it about 15-20 times. They needed to film it from several angles. Each time was a little different which allowed for some creative interpretations in how we delivered our lines. Which take they will use in the final cut is anybody’s guess but the amiable director, Lawrence Trilling, seemed pleased.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of this experience was how wonderfully kind the cast and crew were. Each person was truly amazing. They were upbeat, deeply interested in autism, compassionate and energetic. Executive Producer/Writer Jason Katims, who has a teenage son with Asperger Syndrome, was on set for much of the day and really is the creative juice behind the Braverman family’s autism story line. He confers with autism experts who are always on hand to make sure everything is as authentic as possible.
The episode is expected to air in mid-May and is the 12th of 13 episodes this season. The show has not been renewed for the fall yet, so please be sure to watch and tell all your friends and family to tune in. Autism Speaks will provide more information as the air date nears.
As for this dad, I’m back on the East Coast living my own wonderful version of “Parenthood.” I’m thankful that the world is learning more and more about autism spectrum disorders and the joys and challenges it can bring to an entire family via this groundbreaking series.