Autism Speaks Top 10 Autism Research Achievements of 2011

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Leading Autism Advocacy Organization Documents Progress to Discover Causes and Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism Speaks, the world's largest autism science and advocacy organization, has released its annual list of the 10 most significant science achievements to have impacted autism during the previous year. Every year, Autism Speaks documents the progress made toward its mission to discover the causes and treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and identifies the Top 10 Autism Research Achievements of the year. For 2011, Autism Speaks’ Top Ten list includes discoveries on how frequently autism recurs in families and the extent to which “environmental,” or non-genetic, influences, increase the risk of autism in those who are genetically predisposed to this developmental disorder. These important results continue to shape the future of autism research for 2012 and beyond.

“Not only has the research community continued to make significant progress towards effective treatments, 2011 offered some game-changing discoveries which help us understand underlying causes of ASD,” explained Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “Some of these discoveries will have direct and immediate impact on quality of life of people with autism.”

The 2011 list reflects the exponential rate of discovery in autism research, supported by the joint commitment of government health agencies and private organizations such as Autism Speaks in supporting this vital work.

“The recent reauthorization of the Combating Autism Act was critical to ensuring a continued federal commitment to supporting autism research and services that will improve our understanding of autism and help people with autism lead productive and fulfilling lives,” stated Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr. “I applaud the thousands of families nationwide who joined Autism Speaks Walks as well as our many corporate sponsors whose support and funding are enabling us to move forward,” Roithmayr added. “Working together – families, scientists, professionals, government officials – we are making progress through science and advocacy.”

With input from Autism Speaks' Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), Autism Speaks science staff culled through thousands of publications to arrive at these choices. “These outstanding scientific advances are changing the way we think about autism and its causes,” said SAC member Gary Goldstein, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “From the game-changing twin study to the emerging clues on environmental risk factors, these studies highlight the important role of gene-environmental interactions in autism.”

This year’s highlights also reflect discoveries which advance translational research – the science of designing drugs to address core symptoms of autism. Research in 2011 also delivered evidence that may yield immediate benefits, that adequate folic acid around the time of conception may lower autism risk, and the validation of a method for screening at one year that may enable earlier intervention to improve children’s outcomes. An international study from South Korea not only found a much higher prevalence of ASD in schoolchildren by using a community screening method – 1 in 38 – – but provides evidence that community screening elsewhere may yield much higher prevalence rates than would be found in standard surveys of medical records.

Read about the Top 10 Autism Research Achievements of 2011 here.

About Autism
Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated 1 in 110 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in the past two decades that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. Since its inception in 2005, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $160 million to research and developing innovative resources for families. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. In addition to funding research, Autism Speaks has created resources and programs including the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, Autism Speaks’ Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and several other scientific and clinical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, which Autism Speaks celebrates through its Light it Up Blue initiative. Also, Autism Speaks award-winning “Learn the Signs” campaign with the Ad Council has received over $300 million in donated media. Autism Speaks’ family resources include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit, a Grandparent’s Guide to Autism, and a community grant program. Autism Speaks has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the government’s response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to cover behavioral treatments in 29 states thus far, with bills pending in an additional 10 states. Each year Walk Now for Autism Speaks events are held in more than 80 cities across North America. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit

About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and Chairman and CEO of the Palm Beach Civic Association. He served as Vice Chairman of General Electric; and as the Chief Executive Officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, Mission Product, EMI Group Global Ltd., and AMC Networks Inc., and is a Trustee of the New York Presbyterian hospital. Suzanne Wright is a Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. Suzanne has received numerous awards, the Women of Distinction Award from Palm Beach Atlantic University, the CHILD Magazine Children’s Champions Award, Luella Bennack Volunteer Award, Spirit of Achievement award by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's National Women’s Division and The Women of Vision Award from the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 2008, the Wrights were named to the Time 100 Heroes and Pioneers category, a list of the most influential people in the world, for their commitment to global autism advocacy. They have also received the first ever Double Helix Award for Corporate Leadership from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the NYU Child Advocacy Award, the Castle Connolly National Health Leadership Award and the American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. In the past couple of years the Wrights have received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, St. Joseph’s University and UMass Medical School.


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Adam Pockriss
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