Autism Trailblazers Bob and Suzanne Wright Receive 2018 Pardes Honorary Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

Posted: September 20, 2018

Founders of Autism Speaks Recognized for Unparalleled Leadership in Advocacy and Advancing Research for People with Autism

New York (September 20, 2018) —The 2018 Pardes Honorary Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health is being awarded to Bob Wright and the late Suzanne Wright, the founders of Autism Speaks, for their unparalleled leadership in advancing autism research and increasing understanding and acceptance of people with autism spectrum disorder. The award was announced today by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and will be presented at a ceremony in New York City on October 26.

Suzanne and Bob Wright co-founded Autism Speaks in 2005, inspired by their grandson, Christian, who was diagnosed with autism. Guided by the Wrights’ leadership and vision, Autism Speaks has grown into the world’s largest autism science and advocacy organization. The Wrights helped raise $3 billion in funding for groundbreaking science, effective advocacy and extensive family services, which improve lives of people and families affected by autism both now and into the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence is 1 in 59 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls.

A Legacy of Public Initiatives

The Wrights spearheaded such signature initiatives as new federal laws ensuring financial security for people with disabilities and insurance reform for autism care; a public service campaign credited with educating countless families about the early signs of autism; World Autism Awareness Day, sanctioned by the United Nations; and the Light It Up Blue awareness campaign, now involving more than 150 countries.

The co-founders’ efforts earned international recognition, including a spot in the 2008 Time 100 “Heroes and Pioneers” for their commitment to global autism advocacy. Prior to Suzanne’s death in 2016 of pancreatic cancer, the Wrights had been married for 48 years.

“Thanks to the extraordinary vision of Bob and Suzanne Wright, scientists have been able to develop a better understanding of the structures of autism, which are leading to helpful interventions. There are evolving trends in research that point to the interconnectivity between autism and other medical conditions,” said Dr. Herbert Pardes, President of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation’s Scientific Council and Executive Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

“These and other research findings, as well as the growing public awareness of what autism is, and isn’t, are directly attributable to their pioneering leadership as philanthropists, catalysts for change, and humanitarians,” Dr. Pardes added.

Advancing Research from an Autism Genome Database

To advance research further, Autism Speaks has established one of the world’s largest autism genome sequencing databases, which has improved understanding of the various forms of autism and revealed hidden structural DNA changes associated with the condition. The database, available to registered scientists around the world, currently has more than 8,000 genomes from individuals affected by autism and their family members.

Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, President and CEO, The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (BBRF), said, “Through their unwavering dedication, the Wrights raised awareness and inspired research efforts around the world. At BBRF, we are proud to have awarded over 175 grants totaling more than $12 million to autism researchers. All of this important research, including the genome database, which will spur even more discoveries, is underway because of the Wrights’ leadership.”

Angela Geiger, President and CEO of Autism Speaks, said,

“Many people had never heard of autism before Bob and Suzanne Wright, through their singular focus and tremendous support, catapulted it into the public discourse. Today we have chapters across the country and partners around the world through our Global Autism Public Health initiative. The Wrights’ vision and commitment continues to enhance the lives of children, adults and families. We are grateful for the Wrights’ generosity and foresight.”

Overcoming Challenges

“The challenge has been to balance the need for research and the need to increase public awareness and understanding,” said Bob Wright. “Educating people about the impact of autism and the importance of research has been a fundamental goal, and I greatly appreciate the recognition and support of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.”

“Suzanne devoted a huge part of her life to raising awareness of autism,” he continued. “Her enthusiasm and abilities were astounding. For her, no challenge was too daunting. Getting insurance coverage for autism was an enormous undertaking, for example, but we now have insurance coverage for autism in 48 states.”

In addition to his work with Autism Speaks, Bob Wright is a Life Trustee at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and founder of the Suzanne Wright Foundation, which focuses on the early detection of pancreatic cancer. He is also a former Vice Chairman of General Electric, the former Chairman and CEO of NBC and an honorary director of the Ad Council.

About The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health was established in 2014, and is awarded annually to recognize individuals or organizations that are making a profound and lasting impact in advancing the understanding of mental health and improving the lives of people with mental illness. It focuses public attention on the burden mental illness places on individuals and society, and the urgent need to expand mental health services globally. Nominations are solicited worldwide. The recipient is chosen by an international distinguished committee of eleven members. The Prize is named in honor of Herbert Pardes, M.D., a noted psychiatrist, outspoken advocate for the mentally ill, and the award’s first recipient. The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health is sponsored in part by Janssen Research & Development, LLC, one of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.

For more information:

The Pardes Humanitarian Prize in Mental Health

About the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation awards research grants to develop improved treatments, cures, and methods of prevention for mental illness. These illnesses include addiction, ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, and schizophrenia. Since 1987, the Foundation has awarded more than $394 million to fund more than 4,700 leading scientists around the world, which has led to over $3.9 billion in additional funding. 100% of every dollar donated for research is invested in our research grants. Our operating expenses are covered by separate foundation grants.

For more information:

The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Source: The Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Contact: Myrna Manners, Manners Dotson Group,