Profile:Michele Moses from Autism Speaks Northwestern Listens

Allison Lasher

United by four founding members a little less than two years ago, Autism Speaks has continued to make strides in creating awareness across campus and the community. The group’s central focus is educating the surrounding area and bringing autism to the forefront of people’s minds.

As Autism Awareness month has kicked into gear, the group is working hard to advocate across campus throughout April.

“No. 1 overall is [to] have everyone know about autism, know what it is, that it’s a very prevalent disorder, and that there is no certain cause or cure,” said Eric Yarnik, Weinberg ’13, president of Autism Speaks.

The club puts on a number of fundraising and awareness events through out the year to help accomplish that goal. While the group is busy year-round, spring quarter brings forth their busiest month. Autism Speaks kicked off its April efforts with the Light It Up Blue campaign. The entire campus was bathed in the organization’s color including blue desserts in dining halls, lights at Deering Field, and even the traditionally purple clock tower. That week, Yarnik was proudest to see “the Northwestern community show support.”

This year, rather than solely making the campus aware of autism, the group made its first effort to get campus-wide involvement for the campaign. Members gave students the opportunity to decorate puzzle pieces that were then assembled and displayed in Norris.

Vice President of On-Campus Outreach Anoki Shah (SESP ’14) described the effort as “a great way to get a lot of campus involved.” The project drew support from many students for the first time, in the end creating an “eye catching and colorful display.”

With diagnosis rates increasing, the group feels there is a growing need for advocacy, awareness and research. Shah reported that diagnoses used to occur in “one out of every 100 [people], and now it’s one in 80.”

Shah described the direct link she sees between awareness and treatment options. “The more people we make aware, the more people can get diagnosed and get the right help.”

In addition to the groups on-campus work, Autism Speaks has introduced a community component to their efforts. The group partnered with Have Dreams, an autism agency in Evanston, to have a stronger hands-on effect. Together, Autism Speaks and Have Dreams are planning a luau for high school students with autism in place of a traditional homecoming dance. The group is volunteering their time to make decorations, bring food, and play games with the students.

Their major spring fundraising event is happening Thursday, April 12. A Cappella for Autism will feature the Treblemakers, Brown Sugar, and Phi Mu Alpha, among others. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Autism Speaks team on May 12 in the Walk Now For Autism Speaks in Chicago. For Yarnik, Autism Speaks spring efforts are about the “board, members, and community coming together, culminating in the walk in early May.”

Yarnik predicts a bright future for the club. “In each incoming class, [there are] more and more members who know someone touched by autism,” said Yarnik.

Moving forward, founding member Kerry Kinney (Weinberg ’13) hopes to see the group grow.

“I’d like to see the member base expand and have our general members become involved more deeply with organization,” said Kerry.

Overall, the club’s leadership wants people to have a broader understanding and acceptance of what’s “normal,” and further community efforts towards finding a more effective plan of circulating information regarding the autism cause.

A Cappella for Autism will take place Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Jones Great Room. Tickets are $5.

Allison Lasher