Organization spreads awareness of autism spectrum disorders

Mizzou’s Autism Speaks U works to increase knowledge about autism both on campus and in the community.  Autism spectrum disorders are found all around the world. They are disorders that cause problems with social skills, empathy, communication and flexible behavior. The level of the disability and symptoms vary drastically from one case to another.

“People who don’t understand what autism is have a hard time understanding why my nephew does things the way he does,” said Taryn Collins, aunt of a first-grader on the autistic spectrum. “He memorizes and constantly recites movie quotes, commercials, songs, and phrases. People just need to be educated about autism.”

This is where Autism Speaks U at Mizzou comes in.

“Autism Speaks U at Mizzou tries to increase campus and community awareness of what Autism spectrum disorders really are and how these individuals differ from neurotypical students,” said Jennifer Bennett, president of Autism Speaks U at Mizzou. “We also try to raise money for our national organization Autism Speaks, which donates some of the funds it raises to the Thompson Center here at Mizzou to conduct research.”

There are many different ways that Autism Speaks U spreads the word about autism. April is autism awareness month. The major event, Light it up Blue, occurs every April 2.

“Light it up Blue is an international campaign headed by Autism Speaks to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorders,” Bennet said. “People display blue lights for autism at night on April 2. They’ve had cathedrals in Europe, the Sydney Opera House, the Taj Mahal in India … high profile and ordinary buildings are lit up so people will notice and ask, why are your lights blue?”

Supporters on campus look forward to lighting it up as well.

“The Thompson Center looks forward to working with the Autism Speaks U club on the Light it Up Blue campaign,” said Nicole Takahashi, project director and research core administrator of Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment.

Last September the club held a fundraiser/awareness table at the speaker’s circle. Because Mizzou is home to many St. Louis Cardinals fans, bystanders could pay $4 to pie a Cubs fan. This event raised more than $160 and spread autism awareness all over campus. Members of Autism Speaks U work hard to spread the word and would like to interact with kids on the autistic spectrum.

“Several members of our chapter have an autism spectrum disorder,” Bennett said. “We are working on a program to volunteer with local families that have children on the autism spectrum to provide some extra social skills help and just to hang out with the kids.”

Autism Speaks U at Mizzou is a club full of compassion for those affected by autism spectrum disorders.

“Everybody involved starts to see how much good that they can do by being involved in this organization,” Bennett said. “It’s just a really good feeling to be able to do something that can actually change the world even if it is just in a small way.”

If you would like an opportunity to be part of Autism Speaks U at Mizzou or participate in Light it up Blue on April 2, contact Jennifer Bennett at

Kayla Conwell

About the Author Kayla Conwell

Agriculture has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a single-stoplight town in southeast Iowa, where harvesters roamed the streets as well as the fields, and herds of cattle speckled the countryside. My family lives right on the outside of town where we raise show cattle. My family has been involved in agriculture for many years, and I want to keep it in my life, so majoring in science and agricultural journalism at the University of Missouri was a no-brainer. It’s similar to incorporating a piece of home into my life here at Mizzou. My plans for the future are to spread the news about production agriculture while traveling the world and experiencing new things.