Waisman Center Research On Autism Receives Support From Wisconsin-Based Group

The Friends of Autism, a grass-roots, recently founded organization, has donated $36,000 to benefit the Waisman Center’s research program on autism. The donation was given in acknowledgement of the extensive research at the center on the causes and ramifications of this complex developmental disorder that affects functioning of the brain.

Established in 1999, the Friends of Autism is the inspiration of Karen and John Sauer, whose 9-year-old son has autism. “We felt blessed to live in a state like Wisconsin, which was one of the few states that paid for in-home therapy when our son was younger,” says Karen. She and her husband wanted to give something back and recognized the all-important role of research. “We have to find out the cause of autism,” she says. “There are just too many people affected by this condition.”

Their organization has remained small, involving just the Sauers and some of their friends. It literally began on her kitchen table, says Karen, who lives in Sussex, just northwest of Milwaukee. “The response of the community has been been tremendous,” says Sauer, who attributes the organization’s success to its unflagging devotion to a cure for autism. “Every dime we raise goes to support research on autism,” she says.

Fittingly, the group’s association with the Waisman Center began with a personal connection. At a conference on autism, Karen met Paul Shattack, a graduate research assistant and doctoral student in social welfare, who is participating in a project at the Waisman Center that investigates the impact of autism on families, a study led by Waisman Center Director, Dr. Marsha Seltzer. “Paul talked to me about the many types of research at the Waisman Center concerning autism and its specialized facilities,” says Karen. One of those facilities is the state-of-the art W.M. Keck Laboratory for Functional Brain Imaging and Behavior, which will play a key role in the center’s efforts to understand the underlying brain mechanisms involved in autism.

Funds from the Friends of Autism will benefit the center’s expanded research on autism, which was recently enhanced by the center’s designation as a STAART (Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment) Center by the National Institutes of Health. Waisman Center research covers a wide range of topics, from genetic influences to the impact of autism on many aspects of development, including speech, hearing, motor, and emotional development.

“We are most appreciative of the Friends of Autism,” says Waisman Center director Marsha M. Seltzer. “This gift has a special significance. It was the direct result of the efforts of families, people in the community, and businesses who care deeply about autism-and we value it highly.”