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Student Group Recognizes Autism Awareness Month

The Daily Athenaeum
Carlee Lammers

West Virginia University students are shining light and speaking out throughout the month of April in hopes to "unlock" autism.

Members of the WVU Autism Speaks U organization kicked off Autism Awareness Month this April by sponsoring the "Light It Up Blue" campaign in an effort to raise awareness.

"It’s our way to shine a light on autism," said Autism Speaks U coordinator Kasia Bryant. "Autism is a bigger issue than people realize."

The organization posted flyers and balloons across campus, encouraged WVU students to wear blue in support and lit fraternity row up in blue Monday in support of World Autism Awareness Day.

Autism consists of a group of complex brain development disorders, which occur in varying degrees, called the "autism spectrum." The disorders influence social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and can spark repetitive behaviors.

Bryant, whose brother is on the autism spectrum, said raising awareness and informing students about the disorder is something she’s passionate about.

"Just two weeks ago it was announced that now one in 88 people are on the spectrum; before that it was one in 110. This is a way for us to provide awareness of things like this," she said.

WVU’s Alpha Xi Delta chapter has also dedicated time to raising awareness as a part of the sorority’s philanthropy.

Philanthropy president Kendra Thalman said the cause hits close to home for many of the sisters.

"It’s affected more people than you would think," she said. "This year our sweetheart – his younger sister has autism, and we’re all very close with him."

Thalman said the sorority participates in various fundraisers, walks and benefits throughout the year to raise awareness for Autism Speaks and the disorder.

"Awareness is always important," Thalman said. "It’s touching. So many of these little kids I’ve seen in our efforts still have heart and passion – it’s not a depressing thing."

Bryant said she also hopes this month will inform students and change popular beliefs about the disorder.

"Most people hear someone is autistic and automatically think something is wrong," she said. "I was actually just doing some research and found that a lot of people believe Einstein was on the spectrum. Some people are brilliant. It’s the exact opposite of what they automatically expect. There’s a full range of people."

Throughout the month of April, Autism Speaks U will host various events and fundraisers, including a barbecue, a wristband sale in the Mountainlair and a fundraiser at the University Town Center Old Navy.

For more information on Autism Awareness Month at WVU and for a full list of Autism Speaks U’s events and fundraisers, visit www.facebook.com/autismspeaksuwvu.

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Date: 4/5/2012