Nation’s largest autism research study to uncover critical genetic links

MACHESNEY PARK, Ill. (WIFR) — One Stateline family wonders if their son with autism’s life would be different if he had been diagnosed earlier.

Easterseals Academy in Machesney Park is hosting an autism research study this weekend to see if there is a genetic link to the condition and figure out ways to try to diagnose it earlier.

23-year-old Brennan Ruch was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when he was 6.

“I think after elementary school it was really hard for me to make friends like I would just walk up to people and they would just hate me right away. That’s all I ever wanted was just to have friends,” says Brennan Ruch.

Brennan’s mother Jacque Ruch says the family knew something was different about Brennan as he was growing up and tried taking him to many different doctors to try to figure it out.

“Most of the time their response would be, well he’s just a boy, he’s just slow, and I say well he’s not slow, he’s very smart,” says Ruch, who is the Principal of Easterseals Academy in Machesney Park.

Jacque says 1 in 68 people have autism spectrum disorder.

Brennan explained, “To the normal person I would just look like a normal person as well. There are no telltale signs that somebody has autism, it’s all under the surface.”

Brennan’s family says they wonder what kind of early intervention their son might have received if he had been diagnosed sooner.

That’s why the research project SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge) is collecting small DNA samples from 50,000 people from across the nation with autism along with their families, to try to connect genetic links to autism through a simple cheek swab.

“The more we know about autism, the better we’re going to be able to inform our treatments and inform early diagnosis, so studies have shown over and over that the earlier a diagnosis, the better the treatment outcomes,” says Holly Lechniah, LCSW at Autism Awareness Research Treatment and Services (AARTS) at Rush University.

Brennan says this disorder can be a battle, but he has figured out a way to push through it and now is giving back to those with autism by working at Easterseals and has made many new friends.

“I have an amazing job and I have a good life and I’m going to get through it,” said Brennan.

The SPARK Study Collection Event will take place this Saturday, December 9th from 9:30-1:30 p.m. at Easterseals, 8301 Mitchell Road in Machesney Park.

Participants with autism will receive up to $50 upon completion of the study. To sign up, you can email SPARK@rush.edu or call 312-563-2765.

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