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Penn Speaks for Autism hosts events, such as after-school programs and Phillies games, to help those on the autism spectrum and their families.

Credit: Julio Sosa

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 1 in 68 children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. Despite its prevalence, the disorder is not often on the forefront of people’s minds.

Penn Speaks for Autism is trying to change that.

April is Autism Awareness Month and the organization is working to get a dialogue started about Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD.

“This is a thing,” Penn Speaks for Autism President and Wharton junior Jason Lerner said. “It’s important and it affects a lot of people.”

Lerner has a personal connection to the cause — his older brother is on the autism spectrum. Some other members of the club have a similar connection, and they are all passionate about supporting those on the spectrum.

“That’s kind of the objective of the club,” he said. “We want to support people who either have autism or are tied to it in some way.”

Lerner said it is very important to be proactive and supportive to those that are affected by Autism.

“Having a family member with autism is really difficult, and I don’t think people quite appreciate all the complexity and difficulty that comes with it,” he said.

The club hosts regular programming for people with autism and their families, such as an after-school program with arts and crafts, workshops for kids on the weekends and “young adult meet-ups” for people on the autism spectrum. They also host a tennis program.

Through these events, Lerner hopes to provide “a nice, interpersonal, real connection.”

For Autism Awareness Month, Penn Speaks for Autism is focused on bringing the disorder to the mainstream via events online and on Locust Walk. So far this month, the group has had a promotional campaign, which includes Facebook profile picture changes to support awareness. They have also given away over 100 wristbands.

Another focus for Penn Speaks for Autism during April is to raise funds for more programming and for financially supporting other organizations related to autism support and awareness.

To celebrate this month, the group also brought around 50 people on the autism spectrum to a Phillies game.

“It’s an opportunity for people on the Spectrum and their families to get a break, [to] come to a Phillies game,” Lerner said.

Lerner has also found that a surprising amount of students stop to talk to club members on Locust Walk about their experiences with autism.

“I think it actually affects more Penn students than we realize, whether the Penn student is [personally] on the Autism spectrum or they know someone really well, but it’s not something that comes up in conversation,” he said.

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