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New center aims to solve autism puzzle

Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities opens its doors to scholars and families with inaugural symposium
Posted November 26, 2013
IMAGE: Anastasia Vasilikais IMAGE: Anastasia Vasilikais

The prevalence of autism has become part of the general lexicon in schools and communities across the country. The statistics can be staggering—approximately 1 in 88 American children are on the autism spectrum.  That is a 10-fold increase in diagnoses over the last 40 years, leading to expenditures in excess of $126 billion.  Although a firm cause of this epidemic is unclear, the need for comprehensive, multidisciplinary research to address this public health challenge is obvious.

Uniting families and scholars in a common purpose, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has recently launched the Wendy Klag Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities. The center is named in honor Wendy Klag, the late wife of Bloomberg School Dean Mike Klag, who passed away in 2006.  The Klags’ youngest daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with autism at age 5 and Wendy dedicated her life to advocate for children and those with developmental disabilities.  Dean Klag documented his search for answers to the autism puzzle in a touching essay published last year in Johns Hopkins Public Health Magazine.

In 2006, family and friends generously created the Wendy Klag Memorial Fund, which supports students at the Bloomberg School who are working on issues related to the health and well being of children. The Wendy Klag Scholars will now be integrated into the new center, which will connect current autism research at the schools of Public Health and Medicine with the Kennedy Krieger Institute.  M. Daniele Fallin, chair of the department of mental health, has been tapped to lead the new center, which will take a holistic approach, examining the origins and detection of developmental disabilities through to policies and interventions.

On October 15, the center hosted its inaugural symposium at which Klag presented the Dean's Medal to Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group that funds research and raises public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and societies. The Wrights, who co-founded Autism Speaks in honor of their autistic grandson, have been leading advocates for autism research - at Johns Hopkins, nationally, and internationally.