Yoko Ono became Autism Speaks' first global ambassador last week.

“I have long believed that art is a great way to raise global awareness,” the Japanese artist and widow of John Lennon told a crowd of about 100 who gathered at the reception at a mid-town Manhattan hotel.

Last year at the United Nations, Ono presented a 2.1-meter-high jigsaw-like mural called PROMISE with 67 pieces to represent the estimated 67 million who are suffering from autism around the world. She raised more than $60,000 by auctioning off one piece at a time.

“As an artist the concept of distance means nothing to me, you can bring the whole world together with a song, a painting or a single word and that is what I have tried to achieve with ‘PROMISE’ and I hope it has been able to make a difference,” she said.

“I am really trying to work for world peace and for us to have world peace it is very important that we take care of each other and we are interested in each other’s problems,” said Ono before receiving her title and plaque. “Now that I know about it (autism) I really want to help.”

Prior to becoming involved in the project last year, she said she was not aware of how extensive the problem was. According to Autism Speaks, one in 110 children in the United States is diagnosed with autism, which inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships. It affects four times as many boys as girls.

“I am hoping that with her leadership, not only in Japan and in the United States, but around the world we will get more ambassadors to help us raise the awareness of autism and follow Yoko Ono’s footsteps,” explained Suzanne Wright, who co-founded the organization with her husband in February 2005. The couple are the grandparents of a child with the disorder.

Wright explained that they were first introduced to Ono through a mutual friend and that she “showed great interest immediately” in the global epidemic of autism.

After asking her to participate in the successful U.N. event last year the co-founders decided to approach her about becoming their first global ambassador.

Andy Shih, the organization’s vice president of scientific affairs, said he hopes Ono’s appointment will make it easier to provide help to autistic people in Japan, which has a similar rate of autism to the United States.

“We certainly welcome more collaboration (between Japan and the United States) and it has certainly been difficult to reach out to the community there (in Japan) but we are hoping that we could use her (Ono’s) help,” Shih said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon also offered a pre-recorded video message ahead of World Autism Awareness Day, which is recognized on April 2 each year.

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