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Mom of Reinvention: Alison Singer

Recalls Alison Singer, "You don't know fear until the doctors tell you your child is autistic and then they say goodbye and good luck."
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Before she became a mother, Alison Singer was quickly racing up the corporate ladder. After carving a successful path in the television industry, Alison was at the top of her game as a vice president of business news programming in NBC's cable and business development division. But when her daughter Jodie was born, her life took a dramatic turn.

After giving birth to what seemed like a healthy baby, Alison soon learned that Jodie suffered from autism, a disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others.

Without any instructions on how she and her family would be able to combat or cure this disorder, Alison and her husband were sent home to care for their daughter without knowing where to turn or what to do. "You don't know fear until they tell you your child is autistic and then they say goodbye and good luck," Alison recalls.

After investigating their options, Alison discovered that Jodie's treatment would take at least 40 hours a week, and so she decided to ask her employer if there was any way for her to take on a reduced work schedule. Unfortunately, at the time, she was told that the job of a vice president is not a part time position. And so, she had to quit.

Alison took some time off to care for Jodie and also gave birth to her second child, Lauren, a healthy baby girl. When Lauren was four, Alison began freelancing as a producer for CNBC. As she continued to hone her knowledge and expertise with issues relating to autism, Alison produced a series on the disorder that opened the door to a new opportunity.

Following the CNBC broadcast of the award-winning series, "Autism: Paying the Price," Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, tapped Alison to become Acting CEO of Autism Speaks, a foundation which he was creating along with his wife Suzanne, after being touched by the disease on a personal level. Mr. Wright's grandson was diagnosed with autism at an early age and as a result, he and his family have become determined to raise awareness, funds, and find a cure for this illness that affects nearly 1 in 166 individuals, making autism more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

Autism Speaks opened its doors in February 2005 and in less than two years, has made unbelievable strides in the fight to raise awareness while helping families battling the disorder. Alison says one of the biggest awareness breakthroughs for their organization took place when NBC's "The Apprentice" selected Autism Speaks to be part of Season Four's final episode, where Alison made her primetime television debut on "The Apprentice" on behalf of Autism Speaks.

Since its founding, the foundation has raised over 50 million dollars in support of the cause. These donations, Alison says, have even come in as quarters and dollar bills -- from individuals across the country who are committed to finding a cure for autism. Autism Speaks now spearheads over 50 walks nationwide including a walk in Westchester that Alison was proud to be chair for the last two years. "I felt so strengthened to be in a crowd of 7500 people whose lives have been touched by autism and who were there to stand up and make a difference," she says. The Westchester Fairfield Walk for Autism Research was also attended by Senator Hillary Clinton, who addressed the crowd and promised to do all she could to support families struggling with autism.

Autism Speaks is also poised to receive major exposure after being selected this year by the Ad Council for a three year multi-million dollar ad campaign designed to build awareness of the fact that autism is more common than most people think. In the coming months, Autism Speaks will also be hosting several fundraisers, including a star-studded event in Las Vegas on October 20, with Jay Leno and Natalie Cole performing, as well as concerts for autism in Spring 2007 with Bill Cosby and The Who.

While Alison was initially brought on board temporarily to launch Autism Speaks, she decided to remain at the foundation after a full-time CEO was hired. She continues to be a driving force at the foundation as Senior Vice President, where she oversees communication strategy and legislative initiatives. On the homefront, daughter Jodie is a 9-year-old fourth grader who continues to make tremendous strides in her battle against autism. Alison's younger daughter Lauren is a bright seven-year-old who is an energetic second grader and an avid dancer and gymnast. Alison continues to work a flexible schedule in order to accommodate the needs of both of her children and when asked if she'd ever consider eventually moving back into the corporate world, she says her answer is simple. "I am planning to stay at Autism Speaks until the day we find a cure."

For more information about Autism Speaks, click here. To read more profiles of inspiring women, visit the Moms of Reinvention blog.

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