Nantucket Today Winter 2012 : Page 61

Bob and Suzanne Wright are single-handedly making a difference in the fight to understand, diagnose and ultimately treat autism. The Nantucket summer res-idents in 2005 established Autism Speaks, the world’s largest autism-advo-cacy organization. Bob, the former head of NBC-Universal, has used his considerable influence and connections to raise hun-dreds of millions of dollars in autism-awareness advertising money, while Suzanne, seemingly through sheer force of will and dogged determination, has become the face – and the voice – of the rapidly-growing organization. Together, the Wrights – who launched the crusade after their grandson Christian was diag-nosed with the disorder, have lobbied for and helped raise over $1 billion for autism research, and freed up millions of autism-treatment dollars by successfully lobbying for landmark legislation that expanded private insurance coverage for the disorder. They’ve partnered with the United Nations to declare April 2 World Autism Day each year, bringing even more attention to their cause. Against all odds, Autism Speaks is prevailing. A sea change in scientific breakthroughs and legislation has occurred in the seven years since the Wrights threw down the gauntlet on behalf of families affected by autism, the genetically-linked developmental disor-der affecting 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys). After decades of minimal scientific progress, researchers believe that a cure – not just treatments, but a cure – for autism is within sight as the best minds from multiple disciplines have collabo-rated to map the constellation of autism-related genes and brain regions. While its mission is to raise awareness of and money to fight autism around the world, Autism Speaks has a strong island presence, thanks to the Wrights’ estab-lishment of the Autism Speaks Resource Center in 2007, headquartered in the Cyrus Peirce Middle School and overseen by Kim Horyn. The center serves as a clearinghouse of resources for families of children with any disability, not just autism, and organizes dozens of pro-grams a year from lectures and webinars for adults to outings, movies, plays and family days for children. Through the center, a mentoring program called Perfect Pals has been established at Nantucket High School that hosts events throughout the year for children with autism and other disabilities. The Wrights are also visible on Nantucket each August, leading the annual Walk Now for Autism Speaks from Jetties Beach, which draws hundreds of walkers and raises hundreds of thou-sands of dollars for autism research. WINTER 2012 ■ Nantucket Today 61 PHOTO BY NICOLE HARNISHFEGER BOB & SUZANNE WRIGHT

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