My week: Hilary Gilfoy, Autism Speaks UK

The chief executive of Autism Speaks UK gets riled by a Radio 4 current affairs programme.

Hilary Gilfoy, chief executive, Autism Speaks UK
Hilary Gilfoy, chief executive, Autism Speaks UK

Monday The legendary American outlaw Willie Sutton once explained, allegedly, that he robbed banks "because that's where the money is". As chief executive of a major fundraising organisation, it's one of my major functions to know where the money is. I meet a potential new source of generosity - a husband and wife who have sold their business for a handsome sum. They want to do something to help those less lucky than themselves.

Tuesday Our Authors for Autism character auction closes on eBay tomorrow. I check with Philippa Stannard, our head of donor development, to find out how much it is raising. Seventeen well-known fiction writers are offering the top bidders the chance to have their names appear as characters in their next works. The heaviest money is going on Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher thrillers. Does this mean thriller readers are more generous or just keener to show their support for their man?

Wednesday Today was World Autism Awareness Day. On my way to a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, I catch Radio 4's You And Yours on the car radio. I grind my teeth at a lop-sided attack on national charities for expending too much energy on lobbying and too little on the needs of their beneficiaries, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Government can do a huge amount to make life better for people with autism, and the group has been effective in its efforts to remind ministers of this.

Thursday To London's Birkbeck College to meet the team from the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. We are funding research there to try to identify the earliest signs of autism by studying the behaviour of babies as young as six months. I marvel at the patience with which the lab staff manoeuvre the electronic 'hair nets' onto their tiny subjects to measure brain activity. Early diagnosis could allow more effective intervention. It could also tell us much about the causes of autism.

Friday Each week I set aside some time to confer with the chair of our trustees (and founder), Dame Stephanie Shirley. Steve is the mother of an autistic son and has an insight into the difficulties faced by other families. We discuss a recent meeting with senior civil servants about state services for the disabled. We ponder whether their polite attention means they have taken our advice on board.

Autism Speaks UK raises money to fund research into the causes of autism.

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