By Sanjay Shah
How much do you know about autism?
If you answered “not much,” you’re not alone. The uncomfortable and frankly frustrating truth about autism is that, despite years of research and a growing realization that a significant fraction of humanity is affected in some way by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we still don’t know very much about the causes or pathologies of autism.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that this reality is slowly, fitfully turning around. We’ve learned more about autism in the past 10 years than in the previous five decades combined. And we’re breaking new ground every month.
Autism researchers have tremendous momentum right now. Whether this momentum peters out or continues to build depends in large part on people like you. Every person who steps up to provide material support for autism research adds their voice to a growing chorus and brings the ultimate goal—untangling the mysteries of autism—closer to fruition.
You don’t have to be a millionaire philanthropist to do your part. You just have to make the conscious choice to get involved, and then follow through. That’s it.
Here’s how to start.
1. Join Your Local Autism Support Society
First things first: Find a worthy autism support group or society in your area and get involved. In the United States, for instance, groups like Autism Speaks and the Autism Society earn consistently high ratings from independent charity evaluators. (There are plenty of others; some operate nationally, others in specific regions or localities.)
Spend some time on these organizations’ websites and determine how, if at all, they support autism research. Use third-party sources like Charity Navigator to verify their claims. If you’re satisfied with their approach, why wait? Donate early and often.
2. Help Families Help Themselves
Raising a child with ASD is an expensive, stressful proposition. While providing in-kind support to families struggling to make it from one day to the next isn’t quite the same as writing a check to a research organization, it definitely frees up resources for cash-strapped families.
Look at it this way: Every ride you give, food donation you provide or pack of school supplies you pick up is a load off those families’ shoulders. With more money left over at the end of the month or year, and more time to think intentionally about giving, they’ll be more likely to donate to reputable autism research organizations. If you don’t have much disposable income of your own, this is a great option for giving back.
3. Buy Branded Merchandise for a Good Cause
Can swag make a difference? When the proceeds go to a good cause, absolutely.
If the idea of cutting a check and calling it good doesn’t quite grab you, look for organizations that give you more for your money. Autism Rocks is a great example: All funds raised from the sale of branded merchandise go to the Autism Research Trust, which in turn funds autism research at Cambridge University, home to some of the world’s best medical minds.
Come on—you know you could use a new cap.
4. Go to a Concert
If swag doesn’t get your blood pumping, live music probably will. Autism Rocks has that covered too—that’s actually the organization’s whole raison d’etre. It’s a long story, but a chance meeting with Snoop Dogg set in motion a serendipitous chain of events (Prince was involved too) that led to the first in a series of high-profile performances that have since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for autism research
Who said concerts were a waste of money?
5. Publicize Findings
This is another great way for frugal or resource-poor philanthropists to give back without shortchanging their own needs.
Do whatever you have to do to stay up on the latest news from the autism research front: Compile a web bookmarks list or social feed of reputable organizations, set up news alerts, get on mailing lists, subscribe to newsletters. When new information comes across your desk, blast it out across your network. If you’re really feeling ambitious, go one step further and create your own newsletter or feed.
Your friends and neighbors want to help. They just need a friendly reminder every now and then.
Are you doing your part to fund autism research?