Suzanne Wright, autism advocate, dies at 69

Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-31 12:00:02-04

Suzanne Wright, the co-founder of one of the largest autism advocacy organizations, Autism Speaks, has died, the nonprofit said Saturday. She was 69.

Wright was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer nine months ago and died Friday at her home in Fairfield, Connecticut, Autism Speaks said.

Wright and her husband, former NBC chief executive Bob Wright, founded the charity in 2005 after their grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with autism.

The organization has lobbied for laws that help families caring for children with autism, worked with the United Nations to establish World Autism Awareness Day and raised money to invest in new research. Autism Speaks raised $27 million in 2014 alone, according to its annual report from 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder, often evident in children at age 3 or earlier, that impairs communication and social skills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Diagnosing autism early can significantly improve a child’s development and progress. As part of their work with Autism Speaks, Wright and her husband launched a 10-year public service announcement campaign to help families know what early signs of autism to look for in their children.

As a guest on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in March 2007, Wright said she and her husband founded the charity to help families that don’t have resources to deal with an autism diagnosis.

“It was unconscionable that millions of families across the country were not being accepted into the community that needed help,” Wright said. “They were just ignored, and that’s why we fought so hard.”

Among those remembering Wright on Saturday was actress Holly Robinson Peete, who has a son with autism. She called Wright “a force of nature.”

Actor Ed Asner, who has a son and grandson with autism and hosts an annual poker tournament to benefit Autism Speaks, said Wright “started something that will live on forever.”

Autism Speaks Chairman Brian Kelly and President Angela Geiger called Wright’s accomplishments in raising autism awareness “immeasurable.”

“Suzanne sparked a global conversation with one question: How can we help people with autism live their best possible lives?” they said in a statement. “Persuading the world to see the potential in each child and adult on the vast autism spectrum is her greatest legacy.”