Naperville Sparks Interest for Autism Study

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Researchers trying to find a genetic link to autism have included a Naperville organization in their efforts.

1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder. Now a nationwide study called SPARK hopes to learn more about the condition by collecting genetic information.

Research is being gathered from 50,000 individuals with autism and their family members to advance what we know.

“There is a lot more information that we still don’t have about autism and we’re looking to answer some of those questions,” said Katy Heerwagen, the research coordinator at Rush University Medical Center. “We also want to connect families to a large national research community as well as the community that we have here in Chicagoland and across Illinois to connect families with resources related to autism.”

Turning Point Autism Foundation is one of Naperville’s leading resources for families affected by autism. Participants of SPARK were welcomed at their center, where they used saliva kits to collect genetic information to then be used for research. The kit can also be mailed and done at home.

“It’s a great way to figure out how to help other people, as well as my son, with autism and how we can help them for the future. And we wanted to participate and we’re Naperville residents so it was a great location to be able to come here,” said Julie Kornak, a participant in the study.

This is the first of three years data will be collected in the nationwide study.

“We’re hoping to open our doors to more throughout this year, to let our Naperville friends and families come and visit us,” said Carrie Provenzale, the executive director at Turning Pointe. “And this seemed like a great way to start doing that this year, to be a part of the SPARK study.”

SPARK is also partnered with Rush’s Autism Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services Center in Chicago as well.

More information about the SPARK study can be found at

Naperville News 17’s Christine Lena reports.