Largest autism study launched by Thompson Center

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COLUMBIA — The nation's largest autism study is taking root at the University of Missouri's Thompson Center.

The center is one of 21 sites nationwide that just launched the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge. SPARK will involve collecting genetic information from 50,000 people with autism and their families.

Colleen Devlin registered Connor, her 9-year-old autistic son, her husband and herself to partake in the study. She says research like this helps to link DNA samples to tests for a faster diagnostic approach.

“The faster you find out that there’s a problem and the faster you get them diagnosed, it is critical for their development,” Devlin said. “If you can get them at a younger age it becomes much more critical to how they grow and how they adapt.”

She says research is important, not just for understanding the causes of autism, but also for developing supportive techniques for social skills, fine motor skills, and sensory issues.

She says Columbia is one of the best places to raise a child with autism because of innovation at the Thompson Center and other resources.

Stephen Kanne, Thompson Center Executive Director, calls the study “groundbreaking and innovative,” in its online approach.

Families can participate in the study completely from their homes. Registration takes place online, and participants can mail in saliva samples on a swab.

Study coordinator, Amanda Shocklee is in charge of recruiting for the Thompson Center. She says she’s hoping to reach the community as a whole, and not just Thompson Center regulars.

“We’re really hoping that SPARK is a community for families. After they participate they’ll have a lot of resources and tool kits and things that are available to them after they participate,” Shocklee said.