July 12, 2008
Mr. Robert C. Wright
Co-Founder, Autism Speaks
2 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016
We have a collective mission to create a world in which persons with autism have every opportunity to participate fully in society, to live meaningful and independent lives, to receive the respect they deserve and to have the supports necessary for them to reach the innate potential we know them to have. It's never been an easy mission, and it doesn't often permit us the luxury of a pause in the action to reflect on success.
I think last week's signing ceremony for Pennsylvania's Act 62 of 2008 compels us to pause, ever so briefly, to consider the statute and some of its history.
First, Act 62 is good, solid legislation that meets several critical goals for our community. We can all agree with that conclusion and, in many respects, it is the only conclusion that matters.
Second, people rarely accomplish important things without struggle, and Act 62 is no exception. When we first announced introduction of HB 1150 in our Capitol's rotunda 15 months ago, we understood that its passage was never assured and that the path would be replete with hurdles. It surely was. But we jumped the hurdles (and, when I refer to "we," I mean the broad coalition that included Pennsylvania families and advocacy groups, Pennsylvania's Public Welfare Secretary Estelle B. Richman, her staff, my staff, our allies in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and national advocacy groups like Autism Speaks).
Finally, and most painfully, "we" had some disagreements in the final days of this battle. It would serve no purpose to enumerate or detail those divergent positions here. However, while I had hoped that Governor Rendell's signature on Act 62 would end not only the legislative fight but also the internecine friction, that seems not to be the case.
In recent days, I have seen what appears to be an escalating war of words between and among members of Pennsylvania's advocacy community and the staff and volunteers of Autism Speaks. Most recently, Autism Speaks posted on its web site a revisionist account of the history of Act 62 with a comparison of versions of the bill that implicitly suggests that the amendments on which I insisted were immaterial. The posting is offensive, and I could readily point to its inaccuracies and misinterpretations. However, that is not the purpose of this letter. Bob, our collective mission is in no sense complete. We have many more goals to meet, and our efforts will be far more effective if we work together. Our time, resources and energy are not infinite.
At every step, we must ask if our efforts are helping children and adults with autism, and we must reject every distraction to that mission. We must not waste time and energy on unproductive and wholly retrospective debates. Therefore, with this letter, I am asking that you instruct the staff of Autism Speaks to refrain from further public discussion about the disagreements of the last several weeks and to remove from the Autism Speaks web site the materials I addressed above. And, by copy of this letter, I am asking that the Pennsylvania autism community similarly refrain from additional public recrimination.
It is time for us again to direct all of our passion, energy and love for persons with autism to our shared goals for their well-being. To do otherwise would be to let them down.
Very truly yours,
Dennis M. O'Brien The Speaker
cc: Pennsylvania Autism Community (via e-mail)