According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is now being identified at a rate of one in 59 people under the age of 21 living in the United States. Two years ago, that ratio stood at one in 68. Autism is of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the country. Yet, it has historically been underfunded, misunderstood, and under-researched.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects the way the brain develops. It presents itself differently in each person, has no bias, and touches every socio-economic, racial, and gender grouping. The cost of treatment, in some cases, can present difficult financial challenges.
Like for many in our country and around the world, this is a close and personal cause to me. My family has been touched by autism, so I often think about the individuals who live with the daily challenges of this condition.
Last year, on a rainy Saturday in May at Lincoln Financial Field, I proudly stood next to many of those very people as we embarked on our first Eagles Autism Challenge. Thousands of families, fans, community members, corporate sponsors, our players, coaches, team legends, and countless others came together to raise money to turn awareness into action.
With the support of thousands of participants and roughly 25,000 donations across 20 countries, we raised $2.5 million for cutting-edge autism research. This was a remarkable start for a first-year fund-raising effort, and it could not have been done without our fans, participants, donors, and supporters.
This year on April 2, World Autism Day, we announced that the money raised in 2018 would go on to fund eight research projects at our founding beneficiary institutions — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Drexel University, and Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health.
To ensure we are being responsible stewards of the funds raised and that we are funding the best research, we established a process to ensure each of the proposals was fully evaluated. Led by Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom, an accomplished biomedical researcher from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, a peer review panel made up of nine internationally-recognized researchers vetted and approved the proposals to ensure that they were yielding measurable outcomes and making a transformational impact in the field of autism.
With this funding raised through this event, the world will now begin to better understand and identify biobehavioral markers of anxiety and ADHD in autism, the maternal dietary patterns during pregnancy in association with autism, sensory features and chromosome mediators of autism, and much more.
As we approach our second annual Eagles Autism Challenge on May 18, I am thrilled to share that we are well on our way to surpassing last year’s fund-raising numbers with more than $2 million already committed, and more coming in each day.
Yet we have the capacity to achieve so much more.
For Philadelphia to truly be known as the destination for groundbreaking autism research, we need everyone to pitch in — not just the recipients of grants, but fans, business and civic leaders, and elected officials.
That’s why I’m calling on all of those who have not yet registered for the Eagles Autism Challenge to make plans to walk, bike, or run and be a part of the movement to change the lives of millions of people connected to autism.
I hope you will join me, our players, coaches, front office staff, team legends, and more on May 18 for the second annual Eagles Autism Challenge. If you are unable to be with us in person on that day, we invite you to make a financial contribution for autism research and programming. Every dollar counts and all participant-raised funds support innovative autism research.
One organization or institution cannot achieve this success on its own, but together our impact can be transformational. Together, we are changing lives and establishing Philadelphia as a major global center for autism research and care.
Jeffrey Lurie is chairman and CEO of the Philadelphia Eagles.