Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to autism advocacy and science, recently updated its mission statement for the first time since its founding in 2005.
They dropped the word “cure.”
This may seem odd for an organization founded on the goal of finding a cure for autism spectrum disorder. But “the organization grew to believe that autism is something to be worked with for promoting fulfilling and productive lives of people on the spectrum – rather than something that has to be done to,” board of directors member Stephen Shore told The Huffington Post.
The nonprofit’s mission statement now says it is dedicated to support and advocacy for individuals living with ASD, increasing awareness and acceptance of the disorder and working to advance research into its causes.
According to Shore, a clinical assistant professor at the Ammon School of Education at Adelphi University, the biggest change from the old mission statement is a new emphasis on supporting individuals with ASD throughout their lifetime.
The update underscores a purposeful advancement in how we perceive family members, friends and coworkers who live on the autism spectrum. It is not a mental illness meant to be “struggled” through, but rather a neurological difference that can be prepared for and ultimately appreciated.
“Autism is here to stay and may be considered a part of the diversity of the human gene pool,” Shore said. Through early intervention, people on the autism spectrum can be enabled to be the very best they can be –- with autism.
Through this lens, Shore says, people on the autism spectrum can be appreciated for who they are and for the contributions they make to society. This is evident in efforts by companies such as Microsoft and SAP, which actively recruit employees with autism for their skills in information technology.
Autism Speaks has also been trying to more fully involve individuals with ASD for years. Shore, who has autism and consults around the world for successfully transitioning those on the spectrum into adulthood, delivered the opening keynote address at Autism Speak’s international conference in 2013.
“Having a diverse group of workers and not being scared or put off by someone who has a diagnosis is the best way we learn about difference,” Connie Kasari, founder of UCLA’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment, told The Huffington Post earlier this year.
This is great news for American children: according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in every 68 kids is diagnosed with ASD. While most children are diagnosed after age four, it is possible to diagnose even before age two. And the earlier the better: Research shows that an early diagnosis significantly improves cognitive skills and functioning at a higher level later in life.