Marquette to research autism spectrum with new Autism Consortium


In October, the Autism Consortium, Marquette Chess Club and the Autism Society of Wisconsin will sponsor a chess event to raise money for ASD support programs. Photo via Marie Cristoforo

Marquette is working to better support students with autism spectrum disorder through its recently-formed Autism Consortium.

“This is about helping people understand what it is like to have autism at Marquette and doing what we can to help those who do,” said Amy Vaughan Van Hecke, associate professor of psychology and consortium director.

One in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Van Hecke started the Marquette Autism Project when she came to the university in 2007. The project is a research program that studies the social and neural development of people of various ages with ASD.

Since she started the project, Van Hecke has connected with professors in many other departments who also conduct research on ASD. Over time, she developed a long email list of people interested in conducting autism research, but she wanted to formalize the group.

“The consortium is the first step in developing a college support program and perhaps, a center,” Van Hecke said.

Marquette currently offers ASD aid through the Counseling Center, Office of Residence Life, Office of Educational Services, Office of Educational Services, Autism Clinic and the Department of Psychology’s program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills.

The PEERS project, also directed by Van Hecke, instructs students with ASD in friendship and relationship skills.

According to Van Hecke, one goal of the consortium is a program that navigates students through the various ASD aid services, especially for students struggling with communication.

She said students in the program would receive less assistance as they get older. By the time they are seniors, they would mentor the program’s younger students.

Marquette Students for Autism Advocacy plans to join the consortium in its efforts to raise awareness.

“We are so excited to be apart of the planning team for the Autism Consortium,” said Marie Cristoforo, a junior in the College of Health Sciences and president and founder of Students for Autism Advocacy. “We know the hard work that Dr. Amy Van Hecke and the rest of the Consortium team will pay off in making our campus more aware of issues regarding ASD and how exactly our campus can make positive strides toward inclusivity.”

Members of the consortium will meet on a quarterly basis and also partner with other organizations to plan events.

In October, the Autism Consortium, Marquette Chess Club and the Autism Society of Wisconsin will sponsor a chess event to raise money for ASD support programs. The event will feature National Chess Master and Wisconsin native, Richard Martin, who has ASD.

Since its founding, the consortium developed a website with contact and upcoming event information.

Van Hecke said the consortium aligns with Marquette’s mission to honor human dignity.

“We see autism as neurodiversity, processing the world in a different way,” Van Hecke said. “People with autism have a lot to offer, and we’re going to make sure they are successful.”