Elise and Phil Orlando and the late Feda Almaliti to Receive the 2021 Autism Science Foundation Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award

Published March 18, 2021

The Orlandos co-founded the Foundation for Empowering Citizens with Autism (FECA) and Extraordinary Ventures New York (EVNY), which provide employment for people with autism. Almaliti was a nationally recognized autism advocate and founding board member of the National Council on Severe Autism

NEW YORK — March 18, 2021 — The Autism Science Foundation (ASF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding innovative autism research, has announced that Elise and Phil Orlando will receive this year’s Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award. Feda Almaliti will also receive the award
posthumously. The award, which recognizes excellence in autism advocacy by parents, will be presented at the eighth annual “Day of Learning” event on Thursday, April 22. This year’s event will be held virtually and tickets are free.

Feda was a fearless autism advocate who tragically died last September in a house fire while attempting to save her 15-year-old son, Muhammed, who had severe autism. Feda first began her autism journey when Mu was 15 months old, later spending two years fighting her insurance company for needed treatments. She then moved her efforts to the Autism Mental Health Insurance Project, where she pushed for insurance reform in California to expand access to behavioral health treatments to all affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). She was also a founding board member of the National Council on Severe Autism, appointed to the State Council on Developmental Disabilities as the Area Board V Representative and Vice President of the Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area. Feda co-hosted a podcast called the Scoop and openly discussed her challenges in multiple outlets—including STAT News and NPR’s “All Things Considered” podcast—in the hopes of helping other families affected by ASD. Feda was a nationally recognized source of inspiration and support in the autism community and was just 43 when she died. Two of Feda’s sisters will accept the Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award on her behalf.

“Feda was a force of nature who inspired so many people with her tenacity, intelligence and big bright smile,” said Alison Singer, ASF President and Co Founder. “She left an incredible legacy in a life cut tragically short. I have been moved to see how her courageous advocacy continues to guide the efforts of so many people in the autism community. We are incredibly proud to honor her with this award.”

Elise and Phil Orlando will also be honored for their dedication to improving the lives of people with autism. The couple co-founded the Foundation for Educating Children with Autism over 25 years ago, which opened the Devereaux Millwood School in Westchester County. As the students in that school grew up, FECA changed its name to the Foundation for Empowering Citizens with Autism (still FECA) and launched Extraordinary Ventures New York in 2014, whose mission is to create and operate businesses that provide meaningful employment for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Phil also works as Senior Vice President and Chief Equity Strategist at Federated Investors. Elise previously worked as a Senior Vice President in the investment-banking division at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. The Orlandos have three children, including a son with autism.

“I have wanted to present this award to Elise and Phil Orlando for years. No one has been more dedicated to the autism community than the Orlandos, who have demonstrated a unique ability to support the dignity and well-being of people with autism and their families,” said Singer. “We are grateful for all they have done for ASF and the autism community at large.”

The Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award is presented annually to parent advocates whose energy and commitment to enhancing the lives of individuals with autism best emulate Caryn’s. Caryn was a loving and dedicated mom and a tireless advocate who worked with the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR), Autism Speaks and the Autism Science Foundation to raise money, advance autism research and improve the lives of children around the country.

The Caryn Schwartzman Spirit Award will be presented at the Autism Science Foundation’s “Day of Learning” event on Thursday, April 22, which will feature TED-style talks by the nation’s top autism scientists. Presenters will discuss the latest developments in autism research, treatment and services to an audience including parents, students, scientists, individuals with autism and other autism community stakeholders. Specific topics include The Impact of COVID-19 on Autism Families; Improving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Autism Research; and The Latest on Cannabidiol Research in ASD.

Tickets for the virtual “Day of Learning” are free and participants can register here.

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