June 20, 2019 was the 33rd Annual Turtle Derby at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital! The event raises money for amenities to make patients and their families feel more comfortable. There was turtle races, a dunk tank, face painting, and other carnival games as well as the hospital’s pet therapy dogs.

SPARK’lyn Gimili, was also there--the giant turtle which was representing the Largest US Autism Study- SPARK.

The Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge (SPARK) is the nation’s largest autism genetics study, consisting of over 20 clinical sites across the country.

The program is dependent on the enrollment of 50,000 individuals with autism and their families in order to get renewed. To celebrate the SPARK’s renewal for its fourth year at the UMN site, SPARK’lyn Gimili, the giant turtle the program uses as a "mascot" to help patients, made an appearance and “interacted” with patients and families at the Turtle Derby.

The SPARK Program is not only beneficial to the individual with autism, but it also helps families in times where they may feel isolated. The program offers families a sense of community by connecting them with resources and building networks.

SPARK is constantly growing, nearly tripling in the past 3-4 years and close to 700 families have successfully completed the program.

Without the enrollment of participants and funding, this amazing research cannot be done.

Learn more about the national SPARK autism study.

Suma Jacob, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of Minnesota spoke with WCCO-AM about the SPARK study.