Student organization works to increase autism awareness on campus

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    “Autism Speaks U” showed the Emmy Award winning movie "Temple Grandin" to psychology students on Tuesday night to raise awareness for the organization and for autism.

    Bobby Pendry, vice president of the chapter, said he hoped more students would understand autism after watching the movie.

    In the movie, Claire Danes plays Temple Grandin, a woman who overcame struggles with autism through college and became an expert in animal handling.

    The movie also stars David Strathairn, who plays Grandin’s role model Dr. Carlock.

    Dr. Naomi Ekas, an assistant psychology professor who works with autistic children, said the organization picked the movie because it is an accurate portrayal of the disorder.

    Since the group first met Oct. 3, they have participated in "Walk Now For Autism Speaks," a fundraiser which donates money to autism research and promotes awareness of the disease, and held a bake sale last month outside the Mary Couts Burnett Library. 

    Organization members volunteered their time at the Hope Center for Autism in Fort Worth by helping with "respite nights." Respite nights are when parents with autistic children can leave their children with volunteers and staff at the center and have the night to themselves, Ekas said.

    “This allows students the chance to work with the children and see how much work it is,” Ekas said.

    Autism spectrum disorder, which encompasses autism, Asperger’s and other mental disorders, are disorders that affect brain development, according to the official website. When referring to the range of disorders encompassed by ASD, it is called the "spectrum."

    Pat Robbins, Texas-area director for Autism Speaks, said the organization is the largest private contributor to autism research in the world. Founded in 2005, the organization works to help research and promote advocacy for autism, according to the official website.

    The university chapter will focus on advocating and creating awareness of the disorder on campus, said Megan Pruitt, the president of “Autism Speaks U.” The group will have monthly meetings and fundraisers to create one event each semester, she said.

    According to the Autism Speaks website, the university’s chapter has raised over $2000 this semester.

    Haley Friend, a junior psychology major, said she learned of the screening through Dr. Ekas’ lab. After seeing the movie, she said she wanted to become more involved with the organization.

    The group plans to meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays or Thursdays next semester, said Pruitt.  

    The group hopes to light up the Brown-Lupton University Union blue in April for National Autism Awareness Month, Ekas said.

    Pendry mentioned plans to organize a family walk around the university next semester as well.

    On Tuesday of finals week, the organization will host a fundraiser at McAlister’s from 5 to 7 p.m.  

    “It will offer students a chance for a study break to help a good cause,” Ekas said.