MACHESNEY PARK — Between 25 and 75 individuals — people with autism and their relatives — are expected to provide saliva samples Saturday at Easterseals Academy for a national study on genetic links to the disease.
“The whole goal of this study is so we can learn more,” said Holly Lechniak, outreach director and clinician at the Autism Assessment Research Treatment and Services Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Rush is one of 25 research institutions assisting the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge study of more than 50,000 individuals. “We still know very little,” Lechniak said.
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and is characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors. But the symptoms and their severity vary widely. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 68 American children have autism.
The Easterseals Academy is a day school that serves 87 students from ages 5 to 22 with autism, emotional disorders and intellectual disabilities; 60 of those students have received a diagnosis of autism, Principal Jacque Ruch said.
Her son, Brennan Ruch, 23, a paraprofessional at the academy, received an autism diagnosis when he was 7 years old, though his mother recognized he was having difficulties when he was 2 or 3 years old.
“There’s limited information on the cause,” Jacque Ruch said. “Identification of genetic links and causes (can lead to) how to best move forward to treat symptoms of autism.”
Brennan Ruch, a high school graduate who attended college, drives a car and lives at home, said he and his mother will provide saliva samples. “I want to do any kind of study that can help out other people,” he said.
Lechniak said between 10 and 30 families — or between 25 and 75 people — are expected to provide samples Saturday at the academy.
An estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of families are expected to receive genetic results in the first analysis. The information will be reanalyzed, and as new autism genes are identified, more results will be shared.
Georgette Braun: 815-987-1331; firstname.lastname@example.org; @GeorgetteBraun
Autism DNA collection
Who: Individuals of any age with autism, their parents and biological siblings under age 18 years old are eligible to participate in the SPARK study.
Registration: Requested at sparkforautism.org. But walk-ins are welcome.
Collection: Saliva samples will be taken from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Easterseals Academy, 8301 Mitchell Road, Machesney Park
Other: Demographic, medical and behavioral information will be requested
Information: Email Holly Lechniak at Holly_N_Lechniak@rush.edu; or call 312-563-2765