Today one of my best friends completed the Bank of America Chicago marathon. Thats right, she ran 26.2 miles! Months of spending weekends for long runs, speed work, and ice baths paid off as she crossed the finish line for a cause so close to her heart: autism. Elesha is a teacher in NYC, who works with 2- and 3- year-olds with autism and specializes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Sure, finishing this race means she got some pretty cool race swag, crossed “run a marathon” off her bucket list, but mostly, she got to run in support of raising awareness and research for autism.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a group of complex brain development disorders. ASDs are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. These disorders may also be associated with intellectual disabilities, motor coordination difficulty and physical health issues. Most cases of autism, however, appear to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development. Current genetic testing identifies a genetic cause in approximately 15-20 percent of individuals with ASD.
While I’m currently a non-clinical genetic counselor and do not see these individuals and their families on a daily basis, they were a huge part of my day-to-day practice as a laboratory genetic counselor. For nearly 5 years, I worked with an awesome team to review, analyze and interpret data from these individuals’ genetic tests. And although I never got to see these individuals face-to-face or speak to them, they were not just another name on a test order form. They were individuals and families with ASD looking for an answer. Individuals and families, who my friend, Elesha, and many of my clinical genetic counselor friends, have the amazing opportunity to work with and support.
So congratulations to Elesha for not only accomplishing 26.2 miles today but also for raising autism awareness!! To keep up with Elesha’s running adventures and life as an ABA specialist, check out her blog: Miles for Merlot.