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.

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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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