What is SPARK?

March 27, 2017
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At the Autism Center at Texas Children’s Hospital (TCH), we collaborate on several research protocols. The latest of these research initiatives is called SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism for Knowledge). What makes SPARK different from other autism research studies is that SPARK will be the largest national autism research initiative ever even attempted, bringing together 25 of the nation’s top autism centers to create a community of over 50,000 individuals with autism and their families.  SPARK aims to make important progress possible by speeding up research and advancing our understanding of autism to ultimately help improve lives. As part of a family’s participation in SPARK, they’ll register online using our secure HIPAA compliant website, complete a few questionnaires (also online), and provide a saliva DNA sample (pain free!) using a saliva collection kit. 

On April 29th, SPARK at TCH and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) has partnered with the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) to host a special community event for families with Sensory Sensitivities. This event will be a unique opportunity for families to engage with the museum in a less intrusive environment (8:00am-10:00am).

Also during the April 29th Sensory Friendly Event by HMNS, SPARK is inviting families affected by autism (including PDD-NOS and Asperger’s Syndrome) to a special on-site registration and data collection event (8:00am – 12:00pm). This event is a first-of-its-kind opportunity for families with a loved one on the autism spectrum to receive personal assistance in completing the SPARK study forms and the saliva DNA collection.

Anyone interested in participating in the SPARK On-site Registration Event is requested to RSVP by April 22nd with the SPARK team. Those who RSVP by April 22nd will receive discounted tickets to the Houston Museum of Natural Science the day of the event.

To RSVP for the SPARK registration event, or for more information, contact: andrea.simon@bcm.edu | 832-824-3624.

For those who want to participate in the SPARK study, but can’t attend the on-site registration event, visit:  www.SPARKforAutism.org/TexasChildrens.

Why participate in Autism Research?

At the Autism Center at TCH, the mission of our research team is to give every family affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder the opportunity to participate in research. But it’s more than that; we work every day to use research as a tool to support our families in ways that bridge the gap between clinical care and knowledge gained from research.

April is Autism Awareness Month. And, as we write this blog, April 1st is just around the corner, so our team is eagerly collaborating with multiple organizations and groups to support awareness efforts in our community. For some, the month presents a special opportunity to bring autism families together, raise funds for specific initiatives or resources, and to spread general awareness. As researchers, we take this time to advocate on behalf of autism research—particularly emphasizing why it is so very important that families participate in research.  

So why is research important?

There are many reasons we could list about the value of participating in research. Here are just a few…

  1. Families may learn additional information that informs their children’s medical care, educational programming, or treatments
  2. Parents may feel good about contributing to science in ways that may make the journey of autism easier for others following in their footsteps
  3. Research is the only way of discovering the causes of autism and developing new treatments for autism

So, this April Autism Awareness Month, in addition to “Lighting it up Blue” and attending community events to promote important awareness efforts, we encourage you to spend a few minutes thinking of the families that came before and made so much possible by participating in autism research.

We thank them and honor them for their important contributions.


The SPARK Team


About the Authors


Authored by Jessica Orobio and Andrea Simon


Jessica (left) and Andrea (right) are colleagues and friends at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in the Pediatrics – Psychology Research sector. They, along with Dr. Robin Kochel and Ms. Gabriela Marzano, make up the core SPARK team at the Texas Children’s Hospital Autism Center.  Jessica and Andrea’s future goals involve completing Psychology graduate school programs and, ultimately, to continue working to help bridge the gap between research and clinical care. Their primary interests lie in neurodevelopmental disorders and lots of coffee. 

Authored By Guest Contributor

From distinguished lecturers to scientific scholars to visiting curators to volunteers to leaders in their respective fields, we often invite guest authors to contribute content to our blog. You'll find a wealth of information written by these fascinating individuals as we seek to expand your level of knowledge with every post.

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