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Welcome to SPARK at UNC
Join the UNC SPARK team!

What is SPARK?

  • A landmark research partnership between the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), UNC and 24 other clinical and research institutions across the US
  • A free, online study whose goal is to speed up autism research and learn more about the causes and treatments of autism
  • The goal of SPARK is to involve 50,000 people with autism and their biological family members
  • Families are asked to share basic information about medical and family history and can choose to submit saliva sample (saliva kits mailed to home)

How to get involved in SPARK at UNC

  • Read more and register at www.sparkforautism.org/UNC
  • Consent to share information about yourself and/or your child with autism and agree to be re-contacted for future studies (no obligation to participate)
  • Share family history, behavioral and medical information
  • Consent to provide a saliva sample and request the saliva collection kit (kits mailed to you with prepaid mailer)
  • Complete online surveys

Who can participate in SPARK?

  • Children and adults with a professional diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder
  • Biological parents and full siblings of the individual with autism spectrum disorder

SPARK Webinars for Families


UNC SPARK invites you to attend a FREE webinar entitled “Creating a Culture of Prevention: Addressing Autism in Today’s Criminal Justice System.”

In this webinar, Leigh Ann Davis and Samantha Crane will discuss: • Individual strategies and system reforms that could increase the safety of individuals with autism when interacting with police and the criminal justice system • Ways to reduce unnecessary police interactions, improve access to emergency services and ensure access to effective communication in emergencies or during police interactions

This webinar will be Tuesday, January 23 from 12 – 1 pm EST.

Leigh Ann Davis, M.S.S.W., M.P.A. has over 20 years of experience in the intellectual/developmental disability (I/DD) and criminal justice fields. She has worked with disability and criminal justice professionals and agencies, and also people with disabilities, to build stronger lines of communication and understanding between these two worlds. She seeks to ensure that people with I/DD, whether suspect, offender, victim or witness, have access to accommodations in the criminal justice system. She has authored numerous publications on criminal justice topics, and she gives presentations and trainings at state, national and international conferences to enlighten others about the unique issues faced by people with I/DD in the criminal justice system. She holds master’s degrees in social work and public administration.

Samantha Crane, J.D. a graduate of Harvard Law School, previously served as staff attorney at the Bazelon Center of Mental Health Law. In that job, she focused on enforcing the right to community integration as established by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. She has also been an associate at the litigation firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart, & Sullivan, L.L.P., where her focus was patent and securities litigation. From 2009 to 2010, Samantha served as law clerk to Judge William H. Yohn at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

For more information and to register for the webinar, please go to the registration page here: Creating a Culture of Prevention: Addressing Autism in Today's Criminal Justice System

What families are saying about SPARK

“It was easy to do and we enjoyed standing around the kitchen, our whole family spitting into the tubes! Just knowing that we could be a part of something bigger to help others is important to us.”

“Knowing the origins of autism might help develop better treatments and supports, which would improve the daily lives of people with autism. Also, if SPARK helps us demonstrate that autism has genetic origins, that is one step along the way to true autism acceptance.”

“There is a lot of conflicting information about what causes autism and how best to treat it. We feel we owe it to our son as well as to the many other families who have children with autism to find real answers through the best scientific research available."

Bringing Together
Families & Researchers

For Information about SPARK,
please contact


UNC SPARK Project Coordinator:

Corrie Walston, MS
919-966-6795
SparkForAutism@unc.edu

Thank you for your interest in research at UNC.



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