Families affected by autism are invited to a special on-site registration and data collection event for the nation’s largest-ever autism research study. The research project, called SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge), aims to uncover causes and treatments for autism by collecting behavioral information and saliva DNA samples from 50,000 individuals with autism and their biological family members. In Texas, the SPARK study is led by Dr. Robin Kochel, associate professor of pediatrics – psychology at Baylor College of Medicine and associate director for research at the Texas Children’s Hospital Autism Center.

“The SPARK study will empower researchers to make new discoveries that we hope will lead to the development of new support and treatment to improve the lives of people with autism,” Kochel said. “It is one of the most insightful research endeavors to date on autism.”

The SPARK on-site registration event will take place at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Saturday, April 29, from 8 a.m. to noon, during the museum’s Sensory Friendly Event. Families with a loved one of any age on the autism spectrum, including Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified and Asperger’s syndrome, are invited to participate in this unique opportunity to register for the SPARK study in-person. They will be asked to share some basic medical and behavioral information and also will receive personal assistance in completing the saliva DNA collection for their whole family. Participants with autism will receive a $50 gift card upon completion of the study.

Anyone interested in participating in the SPARK on-site registration event should RSVP by April 22. Those who RSVP in advance will receive discounted tickets to the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Sensory Friendly Event, where special accommodations are made to allow individuals with sensory sensitivities a more enjoyable visit.

Those who participate on a walk-in basis will have the opportunity to speak with the study team about SPARK and learn how to register, but they are not guaranteed a time slot for live registration that day.

Space is limited for the SPARK on-site registration. To RSVP or for more information, contact: andrea.simon@bcm.edu or 832-824-3624. Those who want to participate in the SPARK study, but cannot attend the on-site registration event, can learn more hear

The HMNS Sensory Friendly Event is open to all families with sensory sensitivities and will include modified lighting and reduced sound to the HMNS exhibit halls, including the Cockrell Butterfly Center. Special screenings in the Burke Baker Planetarium and Wortham Giant Screen Theatre will also be offered. Movies will be presented in 2D (no 3D glasses required), the house lights will remain on and all movie volumes will be reduced. 

Visitors are encouraged to use the accessibility resources to prepare for their visit. Bring them with you or check out a copy at Museum Services when you arrive. For more information about the HMNS Sensory Friendly event, email accessprogramming@hmns.org