Autism Acceptance Month: Celebrating Difference


By: Darrell Ezell, PhD, Director for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

In the spirit of inclusion and awareness, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology joins the international community in celebrating Autism Acceptance Month.

In 1970, the Autism Society of America launched an ongoing nationwide campaign to promote autism awareness and assure that all affected by autism are able to achieve the highest quality of life possible. While the Autism Society of America remains committed to educating others about autism, the society acknowledges the need for acceptance is greater now than ever before. 

Generally known as Autism Awareness Month, the nation’s oldest leading grassroots autism organization is taking to social media to assist in shifting the title to Autism Acceptance Month with its “Celebrate Difference” campaign.  The goal of the Celebrate Difference campaign is to build a better awareness of the signs, symptoms, and realities of autism by focusing on providing information and resources for communities to be more aware of autism, promote acceptance, and be more inclusive in everyday engagement. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disability, typically appearing during childhood and affecting a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  HudsonAlpha’s Faculty Investigator, Dr. Greg Cooper highlights in his research that “These conditions can reduce the length and quality of life of affected individuals, and contribute to emotional distress, financial challenges and lifestyle restrictions for affected families. Because these conditions are diverse and sometimes severe, many affected children undergo years of interactions with clinicians and costly testing procedures without ever receiving a precise medical diagnosis.”  

In the United States, autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder with 1 in 54 children diagnosed with ASD, totaling over 5 million youth and adults.  In advancing inclusion and acceptance, the Autism Mosaic offers an opportunity to learn more about the resilient stories of individuals living with ASD and why inclusion and acceptance is essential to one’s well-being.

While there is no known cure for autism, continued research has provided a clear understanding of the disorder, leading to enhanced treatment and therapy for those living with ASD. However, recent advances in genetic and genomic technologies have demonstrated that genetic changes underlie much of the risk for autism and intellectual disabilities. The Greg Cooper Lab at HudsonAlpha is contributing to ground-breaking research in the areas of autism and early childhood disorders.  Awarded an 18-month grant in 2016 from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), Dr. Cooper and his team identified new genetic risk factors for autism through whole genome sequencing from 500 affected children, their parents and an unaffected sibling, known as a quartet. Such innovative research contributes to better insight into the genetic and molecular mechanisms that contribute to autism and related conditions, improving diagnostic success rates and helping to guide further research to improve health and educational outcomes for children with autism and their families.  

Members of Cooper’s Lab are further contributing to advance the field of research in understanding early childhood genomic disorders. More than 500 children were enrolled in the Clinical Sequencing and Exploratory Research (CSER) project, which provided the means for DNA sequencing to identify the genetic causes of undiagnosed conditions. In addition, the ongoing Alabama Pediatric Genomics Initiative has enrolled hundreds of children in North Alabama and will begin enrolling patients in Montgomery, Dothan, Selma and Tuscaloosa.

The National Institute for Health funded SouthSeq project explores a new kind of genetic test called whole genome sequencing to try to find the reason for medical problems among newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit. In collaboration with UAB, The University of Mississippi Medical Center, The University of Louisville, Woman’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital New Orleans, the SouthSeq project has contributed to understanding genetic mutations in infants and improved care for neonatal infants in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi. 

The importance of celebrating Autism Acceptance Month is guided by HudsonAlpha’s commitment to embrace and promote inclusion in the workplace. Inclusion is regarded as celebrating, centering, and amplifying the perspectives, voices, and values, and needs of people who experience systemic barriers, mistreatment, or disadvantages based on their identities in order to ensure they feel a sense of belonging.  

To learn more about Genomic Research in Pediatric Disorders at HudsonAlpha, please visit https://hudsonalpha.org/pediatrics/.