Annual event shines light on autism awareness

Cheyanne Kramer

Students, faculty and families gathered together in the Engineering Center to recognize autism spectrum disorders on April 2.

This program was put on in part by the OU Center for Autism and OUCARES.

The website for the OU Center for Autism states its mission is that it “promotes understanding and awareness of autism spectrum disorders to improve quality of life for people impacted by [them].”

Meghna Chowdhary, graduate for the OU Center for Autism, said it was her first time working on an event at the scale of Saturday’s program.

“We had about 100 RSVPs, and some people are just coming in,” she said.

Families came out and their children had a variety of games to play. Some kids played with Legos, while others played with puzzles.

“The program was about families,” Dr. Chaturi Edrisinha, an associate professor in the department of human development and child studies, said.

“We are celebrating the families having fun today,” Chowdhary said.

Other faculty members came including the current dean and the former dean of the department of human development and child studies.

President George Hynd and his wife were also in attendance. In addition, the Student Congress’ Chairman of the Diversity and Inclusion Elijah Sanders was present.

“I think being supportive of those with autism is part of the fight for inclusion,” he said.

One student in attendance, Ellen Searle, said that it was important for students to be aware of the problems those around them may face.

“My brother is on the autism spectrum, so it’s important to spread awareness,” Searle said.

Throughout the event, attendees were provided with information from three local organizations and about the programs that OU offers. The Autism Alliance of Michigan, Easter Seals Disability Services and the Autism Society were all in attendance, providing resources for families. 

Sharon Valente, a navigator for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, said that they help families throughout Michigan.

“We really help families connect with the resources that they need,” Valente said.

In an article published in 2015 by NPR, young people in their late teens and early twenties who have autism spectrum disorders are more likely to be unemployed and feel disconnected from their peers following high school.

“We also help people with autism navigate employment,” Barbara Brisch, the education coordinator for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, said. 

“I was surprised at how many parents showed up tonight, parents of OU students,” Edrisinha said.

The event was originally planned to take a walk to the Elliott Tower to see it light up blue but the migration was cancelled due to the weather.

Despite the unforeseen circumstances, the program still concluded with people releasing blue balloons into the sky, the wind blowing them away from the Elliott Tower.

For more information on resources available for those with autism and autism spectrum disorders, visit oakland.edu/hdcs/center-for-autism/.