Autism awareness rising as world ‘lights it up blue’

(L-R) Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne Wright and Bob Wright and Autism Speaks board member Holly Robinson Peete help kick off the organization's Light it...
(L-R) Autism Speaks Co-founders Suzanne Wright and Bob Wright and Autism Speaks board member Holly Robinson Peete help kick off the organization's Light it...
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Autism Speaks

New York City’s Empire State Building will shine blue Tuesday night in honor of the sixth annual World Autism Awareness Day, a syndrome which, according to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, could affect at least one million children in the U.S.

Bob and Suzanne Wright,  founders of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, joined msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell Tuesday to talk about the event that has landmarks including the International Space Station and Rockefeller Center “lighting it up blue,” to shine a light on autism awareness.

“We have 93 countries. I’m hoping for every country next year,” Suzanne Wright said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Tuesday. “We have over 7,000 buildings now around the world. Just a few years ago, we had 200. So this is a community of hope and action. Here we have churches, front porches, schools, auditoriums, playgrounds all lighting up blue….So we’re very hopeful that with this awareness campaign that no longer will it be shameful to say the word autism.”

According to a CDC report released two weeks ago, autism awareness is rising fast: a record number of parents, one in 50, reported having a child who exhibited behavior along the autism spectrum. That is a significant increase from the CDC’s 2012 report, which reported one in 88 American children affected by the syndrome.

The two figures may not be as far apart as they appear: the 2012 report was based on medical and school records, whereas the latest report relied on parents’ assessments. So while the rate of diagnosis may not have increased as steeply, the numbers do point to greater awareness among parents.

That higher profile may help draw funding. Earlier Tuesday, President Obama announced a new brain-mapping initiative in hopes of finding cures to diseases like autism, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s. Obama asked Congress to allocate $100 million of next year’s budget on the project.

Obama also issued a Presidential Proclamation in honor of World Autism Awareness Day, citing efforts his administration has made in “leveling the playing field for Americans on the autism spectrum.” Obama pointed to the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover autism screenings and prevents insurers from denying coverage to autistic children.

But according to Autism Speaks, just over half of states so far have planned to include behavioral health coverage in their new health care exchanges.

“We need insurance companies as part of this,” Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright said on Andrea Mitchell Reports. ”We need to get insurance for these  families. We need to have doctors and hospitals on our side trying to get that insurance so that they can treat these children the way they can for any other serious disease.  And we need to do it quickly.

“We have insurance bills in 32 states, but it isn’t enough. We need the federal government to act because they control the insurance requirements for all the large corporations,” Wright said.


Autism awareness rising as world 'lights it up blue'