Prompted by personal experiences with family members and friends who have autism spectrum disorders, LSA sophomores Maressa Criscito and Allison Stein founded Autism SpeaksU this past summer.

“Autism spectrum disorders hit close to home for (both) of us,” Criscito said. The two were driven to create the group after, to their surprise, they could not find any active campus groups that focused on the issue.

“It gave us a sense of pride that we could unite with other students in an effort to raise awareness,” Criscito said.

Criscito and Stein said they feel the club’s creation is vitally important now, in a time when autism spectrum disorders are on the rise.

“Autism affects many people throughout Michigan, throughout the nation, throughout the world,” Criscito said.

According to the national Autism Speaks organization — of which the campus group is a chapter — one in 91 children is affected by autism. Autism is more prevalent among boys, affecting one in 58. In 2007, the CDC reported the figure at one in 150 children.

The group already has 40 members who meet bi-weekly. Criscito and Stein said the group will concentrate on fundraising for research and increasing awareness of these disorders.

This year’s fundraisers include small events such as bake sales and events at BD’s Mongolian Barbeque and Studio 4. The culmination of the fundraising however, will be the Walk-A-Thon, which will take place in April. At the walk, all of the proceeds will be donated to Autism Speaks.

Because the club is still in its infancy, Stein and Criscito said they are pursuing a reasonable yet substantial goal this year.

“We hope to raise at least $1,500 during the course of the year,” Criscito said.

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