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What will Autism Speaks look like now?

Posted Jun 20 2012 1:07am

Autism Speaks has a new president: Liz Feld. She was previously the Executive Vice President for Strategic Communications. The replaces Mark Roithmayr, the first full time president of Autism Speaks. Mr. Roithmayr resigned suddenly.

Ms. Feld has a great deal of experience in areas of communication and politics. But she appears to be an outsider to the autism communities.

While it is unclear why Mr. Roithmayr left, he was clearly a proponent of the concept of the autism epidemic . Also, under his tenure autism speaks has promoted a negative image of autistics which has drawn a great deal of criticism. The video “I am Autism” being a prime example. Autism Speaks has chosen a very nuanced approach to the question of vaccine causation .

As a relative newcomer to Autism Speaks and an apparent outsider to the autism communities, will Ms. Feld change direction for Autism Speaks? Autism Speaks seems more careful about the negative messages than in the past (one video has apparently been removed from the Autism Speaks website and YouTube channel for example).

The press release is quoted below.

NEW YORK, NY (June 19, 2012) — Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, today announced that Liz Feld, a respected executive with a strong track record of accomplishment in both the public and private sectors, has been named the organization’s new president. The appointment, which is effective immediately, was announced by Autism Speaks Co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright. Mark Roithmayr has resigned as president after serving in the position since 2005.

Liz Feld
“Liz’s history of strong, results-oriented leadership, together with her clear vision for the future of Autism Speaks, makes her the ideal person to move us forward in our work to improve life for people with autism and their families,” said Bob Wright. “Autism Speaks is poised to accomplish even greater things in our advocacy work, in the scientific research we fund and in services and resources we provide to families. Liz will ensure that we realize our goals and meet our responsibility to those we serve.”

“We are so grateful to Mark for having guided Autism Speaks over the last seven years,” said the Wrights. “His passionate leadership and tireless efforts helped us grow from an emerging charity to the leading autism science and advocacy organization in the world. Mark always displayed an undying commitment to our army of volunteers and the autism community around the globe. We thank him for his tenacity and his dedication to our families.”

Commenting on the appointment of Feld, who joined Autism Speaks in 2012 as executive vice president of strategic communications, Suzanne Wright stated, “I am thrilled that Liz has agreed to step into the role of president of Autism Speaks, and excited by the prospect of what we can accomplish working together under her leadership. Liz believes passionately in our mission and our community. Her proven ability to build consensus and get things done will be a tremendous asset to Autism Speaks and our cause.”

Before joining Autism Speaks, Feld served for four years as the mayor of the Village of Larchmont in Westchester County, NY. She was elected mayor on a fiscal reform platform in 2006, after having served as deputy mayor (2003-2006) and trustee (2002-2006). As mayor, Feld secured more than $4 million in federal, state and local grants to support local programs, and restored the village surplus to $2.3 million, resulting in the village’s first AAA credit rating from Moody’s Investor Services.

Feld has devoted much of her career to public policy and strategic communications. She served in the White House from 1984-1987, as public affairs specialist in the White House Office of Management and Budget and press officer for Vice President George H.W. Bush during the Reagan administration. She was director of news information at ABC News and senior vice president for communications for Nickelodeon. Prior to that, she worked at Robinson, Lake, Lerer & Montgomery, a strategic communications and public affairs firm.

In September 1999, Feld helped launch the Million Mom March, a national grass-roots organization established to promote sensible gun safety legislation. She is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Feld also serves as a board member of New Yorkers for Growth, a leading New York State fiscal reform group.

Feld holds a B.A. in Government and Political Theory from Georgetown University.

Any hope for a change is tempered by this section of the press release where we are again given the epidemic concept.

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 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum – a 1000 percent increase in the past 40 years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

Will there be change? It doesn’t make sense for Autism Speaks to change leadership, especially so suddenly, if not for some change in direction.

What that potential change may be we will have to wait to see. The press release gives little insight into such details.



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