Although the clubbing scene in Davis isn’t very big, the club scene sure is. Throughout the school year, The California Aggie will give you a feel for student life at UC Davis by profiling various clubs and student organizations on campus. Next on the scene is the Autism Awareness Association.
Nearly one in every 150 people in the U.S. has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. As that number continues to grow, so does awareness for it on the UC Davis Campus.
This can be accredited to the Autism Awareness Association of UC Davis, the first of its kind in the country devoted to education, research and awareness of autism and other related neurological disorders.
“It’s important to start spreading awareness here because we don’t know the cause and we don’t know the cure,” said Co-President Tanya Shtutman, a junior human development major with a minor in Spanish.
Though the club has only been active since last year, they have brought a variety of resources to the undergraduate population. One major accomplishment is the association’s relationship with the MIND Institute in Sacramento, an extension of the UC Davis Health system that researches neurobiological disorders.
When AAA Co-President Jay Lytton heard of the MIND Institute, he instantly got involved in their work. However, the closer he became to the researchers at the institute, the further he got from UC Davis undergraduates. So he and Shtutman created the association to connect his peers to the researchers and faculty in Sacramento.
“For the last 10 years we have put so much attention to getting the MIND Institute going, we forgot about the undergraduate students,” said David Amaral, director of research at the MIND Institute. “With the association, we can provide new ways the faculty here can help some students on campus play a role in our research programs.”
During their monthly meetings, AAA brings researchers from all over the world to discuss recent breakthroughs in autism research for their Distinguished Lecture series.
Recently, the association has even been able to stream lecturers into their meetings via Real Player so they can bring important individuals to campus who otherwise would not have been able to travel the distance. The association is even working toward obtaining the technology that would allow for students to ask questions of the lecturers.
“We’ve really wanted to bridge the gap between the MIND Institute and students here,” said Lytton, a junior human development major. “It’s been a great success after only a year.”
In addition to the meetings, the association has also advocated for a series of classes to be offered at UC Davis.
Their efforts have been successful. Peter Mundi, who has both a position as educational director at the MIND Institute and also at the UC Davis School of Education, will now teach undergraduate courses in neurodevelopmental disorders over the next three years.
So far, the officers said they feel that they have made a significant difference on the campus, as far as education and research. Awareness, they say, is the first step toward developing a more welcoming community, if not encouraging further research.
“If you have an autism disorder, you can’t just walk up to people and say, ‘Hi, I have autism, these are the symptoms, please be nice to me,'” Shtutman said. “If you teach [about the disorder], people with autism will feel more comfortable and they won’t be seen as weird or odd or anything.”
Awareness isn’t just the research aspect of autism either. The club welcomes those interested in the politics, therapy and administration of neurological disorders. Or – the club’s leaders say – anyone who is just curious to learn more.
The AAA has approximately 35 members currently and is hoping to expand its reaches to more undergraduate students. In doing so, they will be able to offer more resources to students on campus who have autism spectrum disorders or other high-functioning autism.
Their next event will be a college night at Soga’s on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at 9:30. Also, on Feb. 21 they will hold a bike-a-thon to raise money for “Autism Speaks,” a nonprofit benefiting autism research.
To learn more about autism, the AAA offers information and resources for all interested. Contact Tanya Shtutman at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or concerns.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.