University of Minnesota Medical School Researchers Provide Important Holiday Experience for Minnesota Families

For many children, going to see Santa is one of the most exciting parts of Christmas. But for kids with autism, or sensory issues, the experience can be extremely scary.

As a “thank you” to the contributions of the community to research, University of Minnesota Medical School researchers are inviting families to the “Sensory Friendly Santa SPARK event” on December 15th from 12-4PM at the 717 Delaware Building on campus. Families will be able to meet Santa and have a free family photo taken at the event. There will also be staff at the event if families are interested in research by providing a saliva sample for the SPARK study.

SPARK, which stands for Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge is the nation's largest autism genetics study and the University of Minnesota is one of over 20 clinical sites across the country recruiting participants. They are looking to enroll 50,000 individuals with autism and their families (both biological parents and one additional sibling) in the study, nationwide. More information about SPARK is available on their website.

“By connecting our local autism community to national and international resources, we are learning more together. The complexity of neurodevelopmental disorders makes it essential for us to work together, especially to make new discoveries and translate findings to individuals and subgroups that are unique,” said Suma Jacob, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with University of Minnesota Health. “Our autism group looks for ways to make things easier and more fun for children with autism. We appreciate our occupational therapy colleagues who helped us develop an event that focuses on the needs of our families and children.”

A 2018 study indicates 1 in 42 children in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties has autism spectrum disorder. Minnesota's autism rate was also higher than in other areas - 1 in 42 compared to 1 in 59 elsewhere. Interdisciplinary faculty at the University of Minnesota work together on SPARK and other innovative projects to learn more about autism.

SPARK is free for participants, who can enroll online and have a saliva collection kit mailed to their home. The UMN team helps families at any step during the process and connects them to resources. The goal is to speed up research and advance the understanding of autism. By having so many research participants, the most of any study of its kind, SPARK aims to help make new discoveries possible. Register for the event here.