For nearly 10 years, Autism Speaks has been building awareness of ASD, advocating for rights and access to services for individuals on the autism spectrum, and supporting research into the causes of and treatments for this unique condition. Founded in 2005 by the grandparents of a child with ASD, Autism Speaks is widely recognized today as the world’s leading organization for autism science and advocacy.
The scope of the activities, events, and programs operated by Autism Speaks is remarkable. The organization is involved in everything from funding cutting-edge genetic research to connecting individuals and families with community service programs, and from running fundraising initiatives to compiling and disseminating online resources and information. One of the activities Autism Speaks is best known for is its striking advocacy and awareness-building campaigns. Designed to educate the general public and policy makers alike about ASD facts and the needs of ASD individuals, these visible campaigns have done a great deal in the last decade to grow understanding of ASD and advance the cause of ASD advocacy. Some of the most prominent Autism Speaks campaigns include:
Learn the Signs & Maybe
In partnership with the Ad Council, the multi-year public service advertising campaign Learn the Signs was designed to draw attention to the importance of learning how to recognize the early signs of ASD. Primarily targeting parents and caregivers, the campaign highlighted some of the key red flags that are often early indicators of ASD, and emphasized the value of seeking intervention services early. Since the campaign’s launch in 2006, there has been a 60% increase (from 8% to 13%) in the percentage of parents who have discussed ASD with their child’s doctor, and 65% percent of all parents now say autism is somewhat or very common in young children, as opposed to 45% prior to the campaign. Learn the Signs has now been extended into the Maybe campaign, a new series of nationally distributed public service advertisements geared towards Hispanic and African American parents.
Launched in the fall of 2007, the Autism Votes initiative was a nationwide grassroots advocacy program designed to draw attention to ASD issues and coordinate activist efforts in the run-up to the 2008 elections. The campaign was instrumental in helping create an effective, unified voice in support of ASD-related legislative initiatives at both the federal and state levels.
Beyond the Beltway
Another politically oriented campaign, the newly launched Beyond the Beltway program seeks to encourage residents of the United States heartland to build and improve relationships with their local members of Congress as a way of advocating for national change. This campaign is a living embodiment of the “Think global, act local” principle, highlighting the fact that no advocacy effort is insignificant, and that support for a cause can come as easily from small communities as from the nation’s capital. In addition to encouraging connections with congressional representatives, Beyond the Beltway provides information to community members about particular initiatives in their state or area, and suggests simple actions to take and ways to get involved.