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MUSC lights it up blue to raise awareness for autism

By Dawn Brazell | News Center | March 27, 2013

MUSC autism researchers

Drs. Lydia King (left) and Laura Carpenter display some of the incentives for parents to return the SUCCESS surveys. They are entered into drawings to win iPads, iPod touches and gift cards.

MUSC’s North Tower of the university hospital will be bathed in blue April 2, as the campus joins in for Autism Speaks’ worldwide Light It Up Blue initiative to raise awareness of autism.

More than 19,000 homes, businesses and major landmark sites nationwide will be lit in blue lights to raise awareness of autism, a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – thought to be caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences.

Charleston, North Charleston and Mount Pleasant officials will sign autism awareness month proclamations, with several prominent landmarks lit up in blue, including the Old Exchange Building, Dock Street Theatre and several boats docked in Charleston’s harbor.

All local network television stations and one radio station will air shows on autism featuring MUSC autism experts on or before the April 2 Light It Up Blue campaign kickoff. Walter Jenner, MUSC Education and Outreach coordinator, said MUSC’s autism team will be wearing their Light It Up Blue T-shirts in support of the campaign. “Light it up Blue is one more way to raise awareness for parents and health care professionals to learn the signs of autism and act early,” he said.

That’s a key message autism experts at MUSC want the public to hear since early intervention is critical to better outcomes. The cause of these disorders is not known, but the prevalence is increasing – 78 percent in five years, which is a public health crisis, he said.

MUSC North Tower 
MUSC's North Tower bathed in blue light to raise awareness of autism. 

“We also do know that early identification and early intervention will provide the best course for outcome. Through our studies at MUSC we know that the average age for an autism diagnosis is between 4 to 5 years of age, yet evidence-based intervention programs for autism are available from birth. Children with autism are missing out on early intervention programs, the best chance to help that child. MUSC is committed to raise awareness about autism and to try to drive down the age of first autism diagnosis and increase children attending early intervention programs.”

MUSC also is part of the South Carolina Children's Educational Surveillance Study (SUCCESS), a first-of-its-kind research project assessing all families with eight-year-old children willing to participate in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

Last November, Autism Speaks awarded MUSC a $1 million grant for the three-year autism study with MUSC researchers conducting broad screening and targeted diagnostic assessments to better understand typical development in eight-year-old children, as well as estimate the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among 8,500 children in the tricounty.

Jenner said the SUCCESS team is in Charleston County schools during the 2012-2013 school year and in Dorchester and Berkeley county schools during the 2013-2014 school year. Home-and private-schooled children also will participate during both study years. Jenner said they’ve had outstanding participation from area schools in getting out a social and communication skills screening questionnaire to parents. They’ve met with more than 60 principals and hundreds of second and third grade teachers.

“We are very grateful for the cooperation and support of our study with every school we have contacted. We have finished about half our school contacts and are just beginning to see the return of the surveys from parents. We will be inviting some children and parents into MUSC this summer for in-depth assessments.”

MUSC faculty and staff support autism cause. 

In a major study released last March, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. The report signaled a dramatic 78 percent increase in autism spectrum disorders in the last five years. Children with these disorders display mild to severe impairments in social interaction and communication as well as repetitive and restrictive patterns of behavior.

Rob Scharstein, M.D., a retired radiologist and father of two adult autistic sons, began working closely with MUSC autism experts to form the Lowcountry Autism Consortium two years ago. The consortium and other area autism groups are urging support of the Light It Up Blue campaign.

 “Anyone can help us shine a light on the rising rates of autism. Just go to the Autism Speaks website and learn how you can create your own blue lights display,” he said.

For information on SUCCESS, visit, email or call 843-876-2875. For information on Light It Up Blue, visit



Resources >>

MUSC Project Rex

S.C. Children's Educational Surveilance Study

Autism Speaks


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