For over a decade Elizabeth Emken has served as an advocate for developmentally disabled children, most recently as Vice President for Government Relations at Autism Speaks, the Nation’s largest science and advocacy organization devoted to the public health emergency of autism.
Before becoming active with the autism issue, Elizabeth served in management, financial analysis, and corporate operations at IBM. As an efficiency and cost cutting expert, Elizabeth utilized activity-based cost analyses to identify administrative savings across IBM U.S. – helping streamline operations, eliminate waste, and save the company millions of dollars.
Elizabeth graduated from UCLA in 1984 with degrees in Economics and Political Science. Her studies included course work at Cambridge University, where she focused on political and economic issues in China and the Middle East.
Elizabeth began helping families of children with autism, like her son Alex, more than a decade ago when she learned how little was being done to help individuals and families with disabilities. Elizabeth became a citizen-advocate, and as a Board Member, handled legislative advocacy for Cure Autism Now. She coordinated advocacy for the first major piece of federal legislation addressing autism, the Advancement in Pediatric Autism Research Act, ultimately becoming the lead title of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, which authorized programs totaling more than $200 million over 5 years at the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control, and Health and Resources and Services Administration.
A vital element of this accomplishment, Elizabeth led the charge to ensure transparency and accountability on how the NIH would spend autism research dollars. For the first time at the NIH, her efforts produced a portfolio analysis of autism spending that would have to withstand public scrutiny – a policy Elizabeth believes should apply throughout the entire government.
Elizabeth led autism community advocacy for the Combating Autism Act of 2006 on behalf of Cure Autism Now, Autism Speaks, and 17 other leading autism organizations. The Combating Autism Act of 2006, which passed in December, 2006, authorized nearly $1 billion over 5 years to combat autism through research, screening, early detection and early intervention.
Elizabeth joined Autism Speaks in March 2007 where she immediately launched a multi-state campaign to secure insurance coverage for autism-related services. Since then, 29 states have enacted autism insurance reform laws, saving participating states millions in taxpayer funds that would otherwise have been directed to state health care and special education services. This groundbreaking legislation, aimed at ending marketplace discrimination against individuals with autism, passed into law in California on October 9, 2011.
Elizabeth has worked extensively on behalf of military families, advocating for support totaling $24 million at the Department of Defense since 2007, and supporting health care coverage for autism related medical services in TRICARE, the health care program for active duty service members and retirees.
In 2008, Elizabeth secured, for the first time, placement of autism as a Presidential campaign issue with mentions at both party conventions and debates. This was followed by a first ever commitment for autism funding in a President’s full year budget proposal.
Elizabeth lives in Danville, California with her husband of 26 years, Craig, a Global Enterprise Solutions Architect at Dell Incorporated. They have two daughters, and a 19 year old son, Alex, who has autism spectrum disorder.