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President Out At Autism Speaks

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In an abrupt shift, the nation’s largest autism advocacy organization said it has a new head.

Autism Speaks’ president, Mark Roithmayr, who led the group since 2005, resigned this week. A relative newcomer to the organization, Liz Feld, has been tapped to replace him effective immediately.

“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,” the organization’s co-founder Bob Wright said in a statement announcing the leadership change.

Before issuing a press release dated Tuesday, there had been no apparent signs of an imminent restructuring at Autism Speaks. When pressed, officials at the organization said Roithmayr would be staying on for another month or so during the “transition period,” but refused to talk further about the shake-up. Roithmayr did not return calls seeking comment.

Feld joined Autism Speaks earlier this year as executive vice president of strategic communications. Before that she served as the Republican mayor of Larchmont, N.Y. from 2006 to 2010. Feld also did stints as a communications executive at ABC News and Nickelodeon and she worked at the White House during the Reagan administration.

Like her predecessor, Feld does not appear to have any personal ties to the autism community.

Long-time Autism Speaks critic Ari Ne’eman said he doesn’t believe the personnel swap is likely to bring about significant change at the organization.

“I think we all know that the power at Autism Speaks lies with (co-founders) Bob and Suzanne Wright,” said Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. Nonetheless, he said, “the sudden nature of this shift is interesting.”

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. Sonja L says:

    I posted this comment on lbrb the Autism News, Science and Opinion Blog regarding the 6-20 entry “What will Autism Speaks look like now?

    “Another opportunity to actually include people within the autism community wasted. What experience or understanding of autism does this person have? It seems that her appointment is all about money and the ability to access funds. They’ve yet to appoint someone on the spectrum who is intelligent and well-spoken to truly “speak” for autism.

    I’m also sick and tired of this organization coming into towns, sucking needed funds away with their various fund-raising “walks” that leave NOT ONE PENNY for the neighborhood or the people with autism who live there.

    This org has created a “face” that has a political component (Autism Votes) as well and I see so much of the fundraising going towards things that aren’t helping our population of people diagnosed with autism now. We need services, supports and job opportunities, not cures.

    This organization is a monster that feeds on the smaller, less well-funded or staffed autism support agencies and groups who do real, actual help in the community. It’s a shame that they’ve managed to become the national “face” for autism when they have no one who is actually diagnosed with autism in decision-making capacities in their organization.”

  2. Genesis says:

    Why the sudden change? If they were even considering revamping their organization they could always go to the root of their causes and ask what they need to change… the one aspect that I agree with Sonja is that they need to hire a person on the spectrum that has the voice of the community, and that voice telling them that a cure isn’t realistic. There are people on the spectrum that are unemployed and have much to offer in the job market… I mean look at Copenhagen for example!

  3. Carmen Allen says:

    This is interesting, what is shows IMO is that they have added someone from the Republican party to strengthen their position and power legislatively. What will be more interesting is if he from the Republican party or actually a Libertarian claiming to be a Republican. I’ve been wondering why FOX News has been reporting so much about the disability community. Very interesting

  4. Carmen Allen says:

    We don’t need one person on the board of Autism Speaks we need a majority of individuals with autism on the board. One person on the spectrum can’t represent the entire spectrum. We are divided, even amongst ourselves about what we need. We should be the majority because we should be the main decision makers over our lifes, not others who want to peddle their services or treatments. IMHO :)

  5. John Eddy says:

    I’m always concerned when a Republican politician gets involved with disabilities. Nationally and locally they’re trying to cut off funding. Let’s hope she breaks the mold.

  6. Susan Ford Keller says:

    Could this sudden change in command have anything to do with the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center lab where frozen brain tissues slated for autism research just happened to thaw out after a “perfect storm” of a failed freezer and 2 failed alarms?

  7. Gretchen Wilson says:

    Please keep me updated on Autism Speak’s financials & brain donations/studies

  8. autismUXB says:

    Just as a note about political parties and disabilities, the ADA was initiated under the Reagan administration with Justin Dart’s contribution and supported by subsequent administrations. Disability issues can not be simply divided into partisan politics. I see members of both parties supporting people and families with disabilities. You have to look at your leaders’ personal agendas and actions. As a second note – I agree with Susan Ford Keller that the destruction of the brain tissue slated for research is very questionable.

  9. Lesley says:

    Lets hope a new broom sweeps clean and that there will be some real discussions about what works for autistic people, and that this appointment is not just a political or a fund-raiser move. GcMAF is one such therapy that has been kept under wraps and dismissed by many (it is a naturally occuring protein in a healthy body and as such is not patentable and is therefore of no worth to the large pharmaceutical companies). However, clinical trials are now taking place around the world with a success rate of over 80% and has been described as the most important discover in the treatment of autism to date. Dr Bradstreet in the US discovered the benefits of GcMAF in treating autism and has been the pioneer of this research.

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