Archived | Autism Speaks™ Announces New Staff Structure for its Science Program | Circa April 16, 2007 #NotAnAutisticAlly

Autism Speaks™ Announces New Staff Structure for its Science Program 

Organization Restructures Science Program, Announces New Staff Appointments

(NEW YORK, NY – April 16, 2007) – Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of autism and raising money to fund autism research, today announced the re-structuring of its science department. Sophia Colamarino, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Research; Andy Shih, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Scientific Affairs; Clara Lajonchere, Ph.D. is named Vice President of Clinical Programs, and Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. is named Associate Director of Research for Environmental Sciences. 

Organizationally the Autism Speaks science program will be divided into 4 primary workgroups. The Etiology Workgroup will focus on the areas of genetics, environmental sciences and epidemiology to gain a better understanding of the causes and susceptibilities involved with autism.

The Biology Workgroup will focus on the areas of neuroscience, physiology and molecular biology to gain a better understanding of the pathology and underlying biological mechanisms that generate autism.

The Diagnosis Workgroup will focus in the areas of behavioral and biological methods that will lead to better diagnosis and characterization of the autism phenotypes.

The Treatment Workgroup will focus on the areas of behavioral, biomedical and technological methods of treatment and intervention services.

Autism Speaks will offer a variety of resources and funding mechanisms to support these scientific initiatives and research projects. Funding mechanisms will include Investigator Initiated Grants, High-Risk/High-Impact Awards, and proactive initiatives.

In addition, Autism Speaks provides a wealth of research resources, tools, and databanks that help accelerate research within the autism field including AGRE, ATP, ATN, CTN and ISAAC

As Vice President of Research, Sophia Colamarino‘s responsibilities will include management and oversight of the Autism Speaks’ Biology Workgroup and High Risk/High Impact program to be announced later this year. 

After sixteen years of laboratory research experience, Sophia joined Cure Autism Now in November 2004 as Science Director to oversee the science program in association with the CAN Scientific Review Council. Sophia graduated with dual degrees in Biological Sciences and Psychology from Stanford University. She received her Ph.D. in Neurosciences from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where she studied brain development with distinguished neuroscientist Marc Tessier-Lavigne,Ph.D. 

After receiving her Ph.D., Sophia conducted research on the genetic disorder Kallmann Syndrome at the Telethon Institute for Genetics and Medicine in Milan, Italy, led by human geneticist Andrea Ballabio, M.D. She then returned to the US to work at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, studying adult neural stem cells and brain regeneration in the laboratory of well-known stem cell pioneer Fred H. Gage, Ph.D. Sophia’s extensive research career has included publications in such prestigious journals as Cell, Nature and Nature Medicine.

During her tenure at CAN, Sophia oversaw a large growth in the science program and developed several important initiatives including the Neuropathology Workgroup, a collaborative effort to understand the cellular and molecular basis of brain enlargement, the first Environmental Innovator Award, and research summit meetings on Immunology and Neuroimaging. She has also become well-known for her ability to communicate science to lay audiences. 

As Vice President of Scientific Affairs, Andy Shih’s responsibilities will include management and oversight of the Autism Speaks’ Etiology Workgroup including efforts that involve genetics, environmental sciences and epidemiology as well as oversight of our European research efforts.

Andy joined the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) in 2002 as Director of Research and Programs. In 2004, Andy was promoted to Chief Science Officer of NAAR in recognition of his leadership in forming several important international collaborations including the High Risk Infant Siblings Research Consortium and Autism Language and Communication Consortium. More recently, Andy played important roles in forming public-private partnerships including the Autism Genome Project (AGP) and International Autism Epidemiology Research Network.

Prior to joining NAAR/Autism Speaks, Andy served as an industry consultant and was a member of the faculty at Yeshiva University and New York University Medical Center. He attended the University of California at Berkeley where he earned a B.S. in Biochemistry. He received his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from New York University Medical Center. 

Andy’s research background includes published studies in gene identification and characterization, virus-cell interaction, and cell-cycle regulation. He was instrumental in the cloning of a family of small GTPases involved in cell-cycle control and nuclear transport, and holds three patents on nucleic acids-based diagnostics and therapeutics. 

As Vice President of Clinical Programs, Clara Lajonchere’s responsibilities will include management and oversight of Autism Speaks’ research resource programs including the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange (AGRE), Autism Tissue Program (ATP), Autism Treatment Network (ATN) and Clinical Trials Network (CTN).

Clara joined Cure Autism Now in June 2003 as AGRE Program Director. Under Clara’s leadership, AGRE has reached several landmarks including the acquisition of over 1600 family pedigrees and facilitating research in 15 countries. In September, 2006, Clara was promoted to Director of Clinical Research with responsibility for managing CAN’s ATN and CTN programs. She has worked in the field of psychiatric genetics for the last 15 years and has a broad background in basic science and applied clinical research with both child and adult populations.

Over the last two years, Clara has worked closely with program staff at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop bioinformatics tools for the autism field and currently serves as a national advisor for NIH’s National Database for Autism Research (NDAR). Clara also has dual appointments at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering where she is Research Assistant Professor and USC’s Keck School of Medicine where she is Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. 

Clara attended Tufts University in Boston where she received a B.S. in Psychology with a minor in the History of Medicine. She received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis with concentrations in neuroscience and psychopathology. Clara was introduced to genetic research in 1989 when she worked on the Biological Program Project for Schizophrenia at McLean Hospital/Harvard University. 

Alycia Halladay, Ph.D. is named Associate Director of Research for Environmental Sciences. Her responsibilities will include the development and management Autism Speaks’ environmental sciences portfolio. She will continue to report to Andy Shih, VP of Scientific Affairs.

Alycia joined NAAR in 2005 as Associate Director of Research. Prior to joining NAAR/Autism Speaks, she worked as a research assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at Rutgers University, where she also completed a Ph.D. in psychology and a post-doctoral fellowship studying the effects of toxicant exposure on neurobehavioral development. As Associate Director of Research, she has worked to help manage and organize the research portfolio of Autism Speaks. This includes the grants program and several programmatic initiatives such as the Autism Tissue Program, the High Risk Baby Siblings Research Consortium, and the international epidemiology initiative. 


Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Autism Spectrum Disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.


Autism Speaks is dedicated to increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders, to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for autism, and to advocating for the needs of affected families. It was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Vice Chairman and Executive Officer, General Electric, and Chairman, NBC Universal. Autism Speaks has merged with both the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) and Cure Autism Now (CAN), bringing together the nation’s three leading autism advocacy organizations. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit


Autistic people have fought the inclusion of ABA in therapy for us since before Autism Speaks, and other non-Autistic-led autism organizations, started lobbying legislation to get it covered by insurances and Medicaid. 

ABA is a myth originally sold to parents that it would keep their Autistic child out of an institution. Today, parents are told that with early intervention therapy their child will either be less Autistic or no longer Autistic by elementary school, and can be mainstreamed in typical education classes. ABA is very expensive to pay out of pocket. Essentially, Autism Speaks has justified the big price tag up front will offset the overall burden on resources for an Autistic’s lifetime. The recommendation for this therapy is 40 hours a week for children and toddlers.

The original study that showed the success rate of ABA to be at 50% has never been replicated. In fact, the study of ABA by United States Department of Defense was denounced as a failure. Not just once, but multiple times. Simply stated: ABA doesn’t workIn study after repeated study: ABA (conversion therapy) doesn’t work. 

What more recent studies do show: Autistics who experienced ABA therapy are at high risk to develop PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions. Historically, the autism organizations promoting ABA as a cure or solution have silenced Autistic advocates’ opposition. ABA is also known as gay conversion therapy.

The ‘cure’ for Autistics not born yet is the prevention of birth. 

The ‘cure’ is a choice to terminate a pregnancy based on ‘autism risk.’ The cure is abortion. This is the same ‘cure’ society has for Down Syndrome. 

This is eugenics 2021. Instead of killing Autistics and disabled children in gas chambers or ‘mercy killings’ like in Aktion T4, it’ll happen at the doctor’s office, quietly, one Autistic baby at a time. Different approaches yes, but still eugenics and the extinction of an entire minority group of people.

Fact: You can’t cure Autistics from being Autistic.

Fact: You can’t recover an Autistic from being Autistic.

Fact: You can groom an Autistic to mask and hide their traits. Somewhat. … however, this comes at the expense of the Autistic child, promotes Autistic Burnout (this should not be confused with typical burnout, Autistic Burnout can kill Autistics), and places the Autistic child at high risk for PTSD and other lifelong trauma-related conditions.

[Note: Autism is NOT a disease, but a neurodevelopmental difference and disability.]

Fact: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.

Explore Autistic History

Explore Autistic History

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