Yoko Ono with Autism Speaks co-founders Bob & Suzanne Wright.

To kick-off the eve of Autism Awareness Month and celebrate World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD), Autism Speaks hosted a reception on March 31, 2010 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Over 150 individuals representing more than 12 countries attended the reception to celebrate the third annual United Nations sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day, which takes place April 2 every year.

CNBC’s Sue Herera served as the emcee and opened the presentation by introducing Autism Speaks Co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright who spoke of the many accomplishments that have been made since the inception of Autism Speaks in 2005.

One of the big announcements of the evening was made by Shekhar Saxena, M.D.,  Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. Dr. Saxena announced a new collaboration that the WHO is undertaking with Autism Speaks in the area of child mental health including developmental disorders such as autism. “Our focus in this collaboration will be to assist low and middle income countries to enhance their capacity to help families and communities affected by these conditions,” said Dr. Saxena. This is our first step; there is a long way to go. We can make a difference in the lives of many people. Together, we can do it better.”

The exciting WHO announcement was followed by a PSA especially taped for WAAD by United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon and a special tribute presentation to Yoko Ono Lennon.  Ms. Ono accepted the designation as Autism Speaks’ first Global Autism Ambassador, and was presented with a plaque by Suzanne and Bob Wright.  Ono became involved in autism last year during World Autism Awareness Day. She unveiled an original piece of artwork entitled “Promise” that she created for the day and auctioned it off, raising thousands of dollars for Autism Speaks.

Ono graciously accepted the honor and cited her artwork. “As an artist the concept of distance means nothing to me, you can bring the whole world together with a song, a painting or a single word and that is what I have tried to achieve with ‘Promise’ and I hope it has been able to make a difference,” said Ono.

from Autism Speaks official blog.

NEW YORK – Yoko Ono accepted a plaque presented by Autism Speaks, a major autism advocacy group, on Wednesday, becoming its first global ambassador. ‘‘I have long believed that art is a great way to raise global awareness,’’ the Japanese artist and widow of John Lennon told a crowd of about 100 who gathered at the reception at a mid-town Manhattan hotel.

Last year at the United Nations Ono presented a 2.1-meter-high jigsaw-like mural called ‘‘PROMISE’’ with 67 pieces to represent the estimated 67 million who are suffering from autism around the world. She raised more than $60,000 by auctioning off one piece at a time.

‘‘As an artist the concept of distance means nothing to me, you can bring the whole world together with a song, a painting or a single word and that is what I have tried to achieve with ‘PROMISE’ and I hope it has been able to make a difference,’’ she said.

‘‘I am really trying to work for world peace and for us to have world peace it is very important that we take care of each other and we are interested in each other’s problems,’’ said Ono before receiving her title and plaque. ‘‘Now that I know about it (autism) I really want to help.’‘

Prior to becoming involved in the project last year, she said she was not aware of how extensive the problem was. According to Autism Speaks, one in 110 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism, which inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships. It affects four times as many boys as girls.

‘‘I am hoping that with her leadership, not only in Japan and in the United States, but around the world we will get more ambassadors to help us raise the awareness of autism and follow Yoko Ono’s footsteps,’’ explained Suzanne Wright, who co-founded the organization with her husband in February 2005. The couple are the grandparents of a child with the disorder.

Wright explained that they were first introduced to Ono through a mutual friend and that she ‘‘showed great interest immediately’’ in the global epidemic of autism.

After asking her to participate in the successful U.N. event last year the co-founders decided to approach her about becoming their first global ambassador.

Andy Shih, the organization’s vice president of scientific affairs, said he hopes Ono’s appointment will make it easier to provide help to autistic people in Japan, which has a similar rate of autism to the United States.

‘‘We certainly welcome more collaboration (between Japan and the United States) and it has certainly been difficult to reach out to the community there (in Japan) but we are hoping that we could use her (Ono’s) help,’’ Shih said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also offered a pre-recorded video message ahead of World Autism Awareness Day, which is recognized on April 2 each year.