In 2005, Autism Speaks was founded by former NBC CEO Bob Wright and his wife Suzanne after their grandson was diagnosed with the illness. Shortly after formation it received a major start-up grant of $25 million from the co-founding CEO of Home Depot Bernie Marcus. It quickly merged the efforts of the Autism Coalition for Research and Education, the National Alliance for Autism Research and Cure Autism Now under one roof. Not only has the organization served as the number one private funder of autism research donating over $350 million to date, its lobbying and advocacy efforts were a major factor in over $1.7 billion of federal money being allocated to autism research by the Bush and Obama administrations.
The organization has come under fire from some in the autistic community for a number of reasons. While it does spend 44% of its annual budget funding research, the research it funds is targeted towards exploring causation and prevention. Very little of this funding is put towards research that improves the lives of those living with autism. And while administrative costs is considered somewhat low, many of the organization’s employees enjoy high salaries for the non-profit sector. Autism Speaks also spends around the same amount it pumps into research programs into fundraising and awareness advertising. The biggest complaint against the group seems to be that its programs that support families are only 4% of the organization’s budget. But it is unclear that the non-profit was founded with this as a priority.
Grant support does make up almost half of Autism Speak’s overall efforts. Grants are offered through several programs. Those looking to apply for research grants can do so through the Science Grants Program. Research grants are offered year round with various deadlines. Although the funding is much lower, grants are provided through the Family Services Program that support education, recreation and community programs. One program sends children with ASD to summer camps. Another offers financial support to families experiencing financial hardships.