Autism Speaks Retooling Scientific Agenda
Less than a year after dropping references to finding a cure from its mission statement, Autism Speaks is looking for input amid a revamp of its scientific priorities.
The national nonprofit is developing a new three-year strategic plan for science, which will guide the organization’s efforts to fund studies and shape what’s known about autism.
The contents of the new plan — which is expected to be unveiled by the end of the year — stand to have a profound impact. A federal report found that Autism Speaks doled out $18.6 million in grants in 2013 alone, making it one of the largest funders of autism research behind only the U.S. government and the Simons Foundation.
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As part of the strategic plan update, Autism Speaks is collecting feedback on what type of research the group should be emphasizing or avoiding as it distributes funds going forward.
Already, more than 5,000 people have responded to a survey asking if the group’s scientific mission should focus on identifying the causes of autism, understanding the disorder’s biology, improving screening and tracking of those with autism across the life span, developing new interventions or something different altogether.
The update follows a move last fall to overhaul Autism Speaks’ organizational mission statement, choosing to remove words like “struggle,” “hardship” and “crisis” as well as any reference to curing autism. Similar changes are likely for the strategic plan for science.
The existing scientific plan, released in 2013, was intended to run through 2017. However, it was crafted to align with Autism Speaks’ now-outdated mission statement.
A spokeswoman for the group said that they do not presently have a “public-facing version of the current strategic plan.”
Officials with Autism Speaks indicated that developing a new plan for science is both a routine update and a response to an evolving need from those affected by autism.
“We see our role as changing slightly,” Tom Frazier, the group’s chief science officer, told members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee last month.
“Our new role is going to be to seed novel projects. We still want to cover the full space from discovery to solutions but we know that we need to be more targeted and we also know that we might have a unique role in funding very practical and immediate projects that can bring relief and help and increase quality of life to individuals and families,” Frazier said.