Autistica appoints first openly autistic head of a major charity

James Cusack, director of science at the organisation since 2015, will succeed Jon Spiers in August

James Cusack
James Cusack

Autistica has promoted James Cusack to chief executive in a move that will make him the first openly autistic head of a major national charity, the autism research organisation said. 

Cusack, who has been its director of science since 2015, will succeed Jon Spiers, who is stepping down after five years as the charity’s chief executive. 

A statement from the charity said Cusack had been “at the heart of Autistica’s growth and impact, including devising and overseeing the national autism research network Discover; identifying, supporting and funding high-impact scientific studies; making the charity a global leader in authentic community involvement; and making premature mortality in autism a priority for governments around the world”. 

He worked as a post-doctoral autism researcher at the University of Aberdeen and campaigned successfully for Scotland’s first autism strategy before joining the charity.

Cusack said: “The reality is that we’ve never been more urgently needed as a charity. This pandemic has shown, once again, that autistic people don’t get the same access to rights that most people take for granted. 

“To overcome the unacceptable inequalities that autistic people face, we must ensure we listen to the experiences of all autistic people and deliver transformative change based on the best evidence. I also hope we can raise the visibility of autistic people as leaders and changemakers. 

“Harnessing the power of different ways of thinking and seeing the world is critical for the charity sector and wider society.”

Spiers does not have a role lined up to move on to, but said he wanted to make sure his successor was in post before he stepped down. 

He said: “Having worked alongside James for five fantastic years, I’m thrilled that he will be leading Autistica so we can do even more to ensure autistic people live longer, happier, healthier lives.”

Cusack will take up the new role on 7 August, the day after Spiers leaves.

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