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Autism Speaks: Organization Aims to Spread Awareness, Educate About Condition

The Cavalier Daily
Connelly Hardaway

In our busy and stressful collegiate lives, there are many issues that we briefly consider then forget entirely. To counter this apathy, individuals form awareness groups to teach us about important issues in our society. Autism Speaks U at UVA is one of these awareness groups.

Founded last semester at the University by President Monica Dominguez, ASU at UVA works to educate students at the University and members of the Charlottesville community about autism. The executive board, composed of Dominguez, Vice President Cristina Maldonado, Secretary Michelle Maiers and Treasurer Justin Pierce, just completed the constitution for their new contracted independent organization last semester.

The issue of autism affects Dominguez not only as the organization president, but as a sister.

“My younger sister was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 8 years old,” Dominguez said. “When I found this out, I realized I had never heard of it before and wanted to learn more.”

Dominguez said she and the club’s two other founders, Maldonado and Maiers, also worked at summer camps for children and teens with autism. “It was a very rewarding experience, but I wanted more,” Dominguez said.

She came to the University hoping to find an organization where she could continue her service, but “I found nothing,” she said. “This was when I decided to start an [ASU] chapter at U.Va.”

Designed for college students, ASU is a program intended to support the national organization Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks seeks to positively affect the lives of those struggling with autism spectrum disorders and their families. It also is dedicated to improving the futures of those with autism by funding global biomedical research into the prevention, treatment and cure for autism. ASU specifically aims to engage university students across the country to increase awareness about autism and raise critical funds.

Some of Dominguez’s goals for ASU at UVA include hosting fundraising events, volunteering with the local community and raising awareness.

While the term awareness can often be vague and cryptic, Dominguez pinpointed how she plans to educate her peers.

“We want to increase awareness for autism by showing films, handing out flyers and hosting events so people can learn more about this disorder,” Dominguez said.

She said she wants people to understand a condition which affects more children than most people probably realize.

“It affects one in 110 children in America, and this year alone, more children will be diagnosed with autism than with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined.”

The CIO fills a gap on Grounds. Allison Anderson, director of the Learning Needs and Evaluation Center at Student Health, said the University does not currently have any specific outreach programs related to autism, though “the center is the resource that students who may be suffering from disabling symptoms of autism can turn to.” She also noted there are currently no specific programs for Asperger’s, but there may be some in the future. “As a need rises, we develop programs to meet it,” Anderson said.

While Student Health provides help for students dealing with autism or Asperger’s, ASU at UVA will continue increasing awareness of the diseases at the University.

With this CIO’s help, maybe one day soon more students will gain a better understanding of the seriousness of autism.

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Date: 2/25/2011