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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students discuss autism during Brain Awareness Week

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: News

GRAY MATTER: Students sell baked goods at a Brain Awareness Week event while educating peers about the effects of autism spectrum disorders.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Spectrum, an autism awareness group on campus, held Brain Awareness Week at Brandeis this week in order to raise awareness about the community of people living with a range of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Spectrum, which stands for support, progress, empowerment, communication, trust, respect, understanding and motivation, was founded by co-presidents Jake Crosby ’11 and Lauren Grewal ’13 last fall.

The group now has a rapidly growing, active membership of more than 40 students.

The club aims to educate people on autism spectrum disorders, help people in the community, and to present people with a safe forum to discuss, share and ask questions about autism.

Grewal said that because she has a brother with autism, she has wanted to start the club since she first came to Brandeis.

“My brother is on the severe end of the spectrum,” Grewal said. “He is my favorite person in the world, and I am very proud of him.

“Autism spectrum disorders … have different levels of severity. They are neurological disorders that affect a person’s understanding of social cues, as well as verbal and cognitive abilities.

“After forming Spectrum in the fall of 2009, it really picked up the following spring and I’m hoping it will get better and better,” Grewal said.

Caitlin Abber, ’13 and Dani Carrus ’11, Spectrum’s community outreach coordinators, said there will be five volunteer opportunities next semester.

“We will be working with local kids and anybody who wants to participate through a dance and movement class, a gardening program, a baseball league ‘Challenger,’ a student play group and a soccer program run by the Boys and Girls Club, ARC (Activist Resource Center) and by Spectrum,” Carrus said.

The goals of the programs are to “have kids come from around the area to learn how to move their bodies, and get out energy,” Abber said.

These programs were originally set up by parents of children with autism as a way for them to support each other and to help their children make friends.

Grewal stressed that students at Brandeis need to know “just because somebody is different, it doesn’t mean they are incapable of being intelligent or funny. People misunderstand a lot about autism because of the way the media portrays it.”

The Union officially chartered Spectrum this semester, and several of its events have been co-sponsored by the Pre Health Society, and the Health: Science, Society and Policy (HSSP) major.

The club plans to show students on campus how autism awareness is relevant and plans to gear its events toward many majors, not just toward health and education-related majors.

This semester, Spectrum has grown significantly. Its listserv boasts more than 130 members, and it continues to grow with more than 40 active members.

“It means so much to me to see people I don’t know walking in and signing up,” Grewal said.

“Some of the new members have done so much, and it makes me so happy to see people put in their time and effort.”