Research Spotlight: Autism Speaks

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Autism Speaks is the largest autism research organization in the United States. Founded in 2005 by General Electric vice chairman Bob Wright and his wife Suzanne, Autism Speaks works in five mission areas:

  • Increasing global awareness and acceptance of people with autism spectrum disorders
  • Funding life-enhancing research breakthroughs
  • Increasing early childhood screening and timely interventions
  • Improving the transition to adulthood
  • Ensuring access to reliable information and services throughout the lifetime of people with autism spectrum disorders

Like many health-oriented research organizations, for the past year Autism Speaks has been very focused on COVID and has coordinated their whole organization around the topic. Their science and public health team has been looking at how COVID is impacting members of the autism community, the advocacy team has examined what the big asks should be at the national and state level, and the services and support teams have coordinated tools and resources to help the individuals and families that they serve. 

On the research side, last April the Autism Speaks public health staff surveyed how autistic households thought they might be affected by COVID in areas like health, education, physical activity, employment, and housing. Respondents anticipated impacts in all areas, but one finding that surprised them the most was that food insecurity was one of the biggest concerns. Last December they did a follow-up survey and found that half of respondents said that they had been food insecure in the past month.  Autism Speaks published a report on their findings and their responses to it. These include advocating for more funding to cover distance learning support, developing resources to help teach individuals with autism about hygiene routines and COVID prevention, and developing food access resources specific to the autism community.

As the pandemic lingers into 2021, Autism Speaks continues its research into how topics like vaccination and health impacts of COVID-19 will affect those with autism spectrum disorders. In a situation that changes week by week and month by month, their research is a vital resource to members of their community.