Autism Speaks U: Miami University
Published: Monday, September 27, 2010
Updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 22:09
An introduction to autism
Autism is the term used to describe a series of developmental brain disorders called pervasive development disorders, which are sometimes referred to as autism spectrum disorders and include Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder as well as many others. Autism affects the way a child perceives the world and makes communication and social interaction difficult, according to the Autism Speaks website. The child may also have repetitive behaviors or intense interests.
However, autism is not just a disease that affects children, these symptoms remain with the individual into adulthood. Someone with high-functioning autism, such as Asperger's syndrome, may have difficulty relating to peers but otherwise lead a normal life. Some individuals need constant care for their entire lives. Early identification of autism in children greatly increases their chances for living a generally happy and healthy life.
Autism Speaks at Miami
Miami University senior Katie Weeks said she got the idea for Autism Speaks U when she applied for an internship with Autism Speaks in Chicago last summer. While Weeks was interning in Chicago, she received a unique chance to see how Autism Speaks U operated, while vice president Kelley Miller learned about the family side of autism while interning at the speech and hearing clinic at Miami. The clinic provides diagnostic and treatment services to individuals with special speech, language and hearing needs, according to its website.
Caminker provides each new Autism Speaks U chapter with Autism Speaks U chapter in a box, which Weeks helped create at her internship. The document describes how to start an Autism Speaks U chapter, hold events, recruit members and get involved in the community. Autism Speaks U: Miami University's constitution is used as the packet's sample constitution of how to draw up an Autism Speaks U chapter constitution.
Weeks and Miller said they wanted Autism Speaks at Miami to be a campus-wide organization, not just a student organization for certain majors or interests.
"A lot of the groups on campus are very organized based on major, so what we wanted to do was get everyone involved, so we advertised to every major possible," Miller said.
While the national Autism Speaks U organization is there to support their university chapters, they allow each chapter creative freedom in planning events, meetings and community involvement.
A pleasant surprise
Weeks and Miller thought they were prepared for the first meeting of Autism Speaks U: Miami University, the new student organization they co-founded together, but when more than 200 interested students showed up, they had to move to a larger room.
The Aug. 31 meeting was the first for Autism Speaks at Miami.
Weeks and Miller started by asking how many people were personally affected by autism.
"Every single person raised their hands," Miller said.
Approximately one in 110 children and one in 70 boys have been diagnosed with autism, according to Autism Speaks' website.
"Think about how many people were in your elementary school," Weeks said. "I had probably about 200 kids in my class, and now with one in 70 boys that's like three or four kids and the numbers are rising."
Autism is more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined, according to the Autism Speaks website.
Autism Speaks U National Director Sarah Caminker has worked with chapters like Miami's to promote awareness of these numbers.
"It's sad to say, but with the (prevalent) numbers of autism … these students one day will become parents and will possibly have a kid on the spectrum," Caminker said. "Awareness and having them understand what autism is and the signs is critical. College volunteers and these college programs are so important to the organization."
Miami originally had involvement with Autism Speaks through Alpha Xi Delta, a sorority suspended at Miami until August 2012, but last year Weeks and Miller decided to take it campus-wide.
While Weeks and Miller are not part of Alpha Xi Delta themselves, their organization has drawn Alpha Xi Delta members, including sophomore Torrey Schusterman and senior Libby Puckett. Schusterman said she wants to continue to promote awareness of autism.
"People need to be more aware of people with special needs," Schusterman said.
Puckett has worked with children with autism the last four summers at a day camp for children with disabilities.
"The kids have touched my life in so many ways and I wanted to give back somehow," Puckett said. "They bring joy to so many people's lives. As much as they needed me, I needed them more."
Autism Speaks is born
Autism Speaks was created to help promote awareness of autism so autistic individuals are able to receive the care they need. Autism Speaks was created to change the future for all who struggle with autism spectrum disorders. Bob and Suzanne Wright created Autism Speaks in 2005 after their grandchild had been diagnosed with autism. It is the largest national autism advocacy organization dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and finding a cure for autism, according to the organization's website.