Healthwatch 16: Geisinger Taking Part in Autism Data Project

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LEWISBURG -- There's a good chance you know a family who is dealing with autism, and right now, there's an organization that would like to collect DNA and other info from those families.

The goal is to come up with a better bank of information for researchers to study.

Just outside Lewisburg in Union County is Geisinger Bucknell Autism and Developmental Medicine Institute (ADMI).

Dr. Cora Taylor, a pediatric psychologist, explains what they do there for families dealing with autism.

"We have a team of pediatricians, psychologists, speech language pathologists, and genetic counselors who work with us to make sure families get the care they need, serve as a medical home for them," Dr. Taylor explained.

We met the Weaver family from Lewisburg, Janell and Aaron, and their children, 8-year-old Cullen and 6-year-old Maggie.

Cullen is an almost second grader, plays soccer, and is also on the autism spectrum.

The Weavers have taken advantage of many of the services ADMI offers, including various therapies, and even movie showings meant especially for kids with autism.

"No one is going to look at my kid if he wants to play with his iPad or if he wants to bounce up and down the aisle, nobody bats an eye. It's nice to relax and be able to enjoy as a family," Janell Weaver said.

The Weavers have also volunteered to be part of something called SPARK.

SPARK is a research project looking to collect medical and genetic information to study autism, not just from the person on the spectrum, but from the entire family. That information can then be made available to qualified researchers.

All it requires is a saliva sample.

"It's actually a national project," said Dr. Taylor. "We're one of 20 partnering with the Simon Foundation to try to create a large cohort of individuals with autism to participate in research."

Geisinger Bucknell ADMI is looking for participants like the Weavers. Anyone who has at least one family member on the autism spectrum, whether that's a child or an adult, can be a part of it. You do not need to be a Geisinger patient to enroll.

The project is ongoing, but in the meantime, Janell and Aaron will continue doing what they can to help Cullen be a healthy, happy boy, just like any other parent would.

"He's no different than any other kid," said Aaron Weaver. "If you see him have a meltdown, I've seen other kids have meltdowns, too. His are just different. It just might be over something everyone else takes for granted."

Although SPARK is a genomic research project, it is separate from Geisinger's MyCode Project.

Click here for more information about Spark.

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