NEW YORK — “It’s staggering that almost one child out of 250 is afflicted with autism,” stated Burt Tansky, president and chief executive of The Neiman Marcus Group, and the guest of honor, at the National Alliance for Autism Research fund-raiser Tuesday night at the Waldorf Astoria.
“Families must confront and cope with this baffling disorder,” Tansky said. “For them, it’s all-consuming and often overwhelming.”
Then the hard, cold facts turned to optimism, with Tansky saying, “Many people coming together can make great strides,” which is precisely what happened Tuesday, with the crowd of 450 raising $600,000 for NAAR.
“That’s good,” Tansky added. “But here’s the important piece: It’s 10 percent greater than last year.
“I got so excited about this evening, I went out and bought a new tuxedo, a new shirt, a new tie and a new pair of shoes,” Tansky said. “But they hurt my feet so much I had to go home and put on some old ones.”
Tansky, like many others at the event, acknowledged knowing little about autism for so long, before getting involved in supporting the research and talking to parents of autistic children. Tansky and NAAR officials said autism is becoming more prevalent in the population — decades ago only about one in 1,500 children were diagnosed — while funds to support gene research to learn what causes the disorder and help fight it are still insufficient.
“It’s underfunded — autism is out of control, and affects every one of us,” asserted Jeffrey Lurie, chairman and ceo of The Philadelphia Eagles, whose brother has been touched by autism. “My brother, [Peter], goes through life with an honesty and quiet dignity. He has lots of feelings and lots of ideas that he expresses through typing. But you better be right next to him when crossing the street. He will just cross, without looking left or right.”
“Today, the veil of mystery surrounding autism is slowly being lifted,” said Nancy Lurie Marks, chairman of the NLM Foundation, and the Lurie brothers’ mother. The foundation funds autism research and education programs, as well as civic, education and arts programs in the Boston metro area.
“Life is very easy to put into perspective when you are with a child with special needs,” said Richard Cohen, president and ceo, Ermenegildo Zegna, North America, whose son, Jason, is autistic.
NAAR defines autism as a complex brain disorder that inhibits the ability to communicate, form relationships and respond to surroundings. Typically, autism is identified at age two or three. Children “slip away” or withdraw into their own world, although they are normal in appearance. No two cases are the same.