Media & Press

New EC Organization Sheds Light on Autism Awareness

The Leader

Activist group Autism Speaks U Elmhurst College poses in front of the Frick Center lights, which were recently changed blue to increase autism awareness. Photo by Emily Mohney

Instated just a few weeks ago, Autism Speaks U Elmhurst College already has some big plans underway.

Co-presidents Lindsay Frankel and Tracy Hefferan established the chapter at Elmhurst after attending an Autism Speaks walk in January. The two juniors have already put blue filters on the Frick Center’s patio lights for autism awareness month.

Within the last month, the Center for Disease Control announced that autism is now affecting 1 in 88 children, a 20% increase from last year.

Because the figure has dipped below the 1 in 100 margin, autism is now considered an epidemic – one that affects 1 in 54 American boys.

Because of these statistics, Hefferan believes even those who do not have autism will be affected.

“You’re going to see people with autism more prevalently, so you need to know how to work with them” she said. “If you have two classrooms of kids, it is very likely that one of the children will have autism.”

Both Frankel and Hefferan decided to establish the Elmhurst chapter of Autism Speaks U, a national organization, because of their personal ties with the disorder.

Hefferan had a friend in high school with autism and has worked for the Clearbrook Autism Program for two years.

Frankel decided to work with the National Suburban Special Recreation Association (NSSRA) as a summer job, and had no idea she would eventually end up working with autistic people.

“I taught a baby girl her first words through applied behavior analysis therapy,” she said. “It really stuck with me, that I could have that big of an affect.”

As an organization, Autism Speaks U Elmhurst College has two main goals: fundraising and increasing awareness. The 23 members are in the process of creating a team to participate in the 2012 Chicago Walk Now for Autism Speaks this May. Fundraising is already underway for the event, including tentative plans to hold a Buffalo Wild Wings night later this April. As for awareness, the duo are still drafting new ideas.

Frankel and Hefferan call on the Elmhurst community to learn about the disorder – a task the two believe could be the most important step in autism prevention.

“Awareness is huge,” said Frankel, “education for everyone, and knowing the early signs of it. Early intervention for people with autism has been shown to be more effective than intervention for people with other disabilities.”

Autism research is also, according to Frankel and Heffran, “sorely underfunded,” and the two believe more donations should to be made towards research for preventing autism, rather than treating it after the fact.

While private funding in the United States for autism research amounted to $79 million – nearly 1/1600th the $126 billion the government distributes to adult services, special education, and other workshop programs for people who already have autism.

Frankel and Hefferan’s aim is to fund actual research so that the cause of autism can be addressed, not just the symptoms.

“Just having people with autism attending workshops is not going to help cure them,” Hefferan said.

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Date: 4/17/2012