Quinnipiac Autism Alliance aims to raise awareness about autism spectrum disorder on campus


Photo contributed by Kayleigh Joint

Melina Khan, Editor-in-Chief

About one in 44 children has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Quinnipiac Autism Alliance was created to advocate for individuals with ASD and raise awareness about developmental disabilities in the Quinnipiac University community.

ASD typically affects an individual’s social communication and interaction skills, according to the CDC. According to a study from the College Autism Network, one in 225 college students self-reported ASD, but the exact figure is expected to be higher due to students’ reluctance to disclose their diagnosis.

QUAA aims to raise awareness about autism through various events, including hosting speakers with connections to the ASD community and organizing fundraisers.

Most recently, QUAA donated fidget toys to Spring Glen Elementary School in Hamden. It also hosted a Valentine’s Day fundraiser for Autism Services & Resources Connecticut by selling donuts in the Carl Hansen Student Center. All of the club’s fundraising goes to ASRC, a nonprofit organization that provides “advocacy, training, and family support,” to those affected by ASD, according to its website.

Gianna Dellicarpini, QUAA’s secretary and a junior health science studies major in the occupational therapy program, said the club provides educational opportunities for students interested in career paths that involve working with people with ASD, such as special education or occupational therapy.

“Aside from (majors that educate students on working with people with ASD), I definitely don’t think there was much representation of how to be allies for the community on campus, and that’s really what (QUAA is) trying to bring,” Dellicarpini said.

Alternatively, the club provides a welcoming space on campus for students with ASD, said Kayleigh Joynt, a junior health science studies major and QUAA’s president.

“I think it’s really important to make sure that if you are on the spectrum or have a disability that you feel included, especially on a big college campus,” said Joynt. “We keep continuing the Autism Alliance club so that everybody feels comfortable and if someone is a part of that community, or on the spectrum, they feel comfortable coming to us, and also to work together.”

QUAA was first recognized as a student organization in April 2021. Evan Gundling, a 2022 Quinnipiac biomedical sciences graduate, formed the club after working with autistic individuals at a summer job.

“(QUAA) was initially for myself and friends and anyone in general who was interested and enjoyed working with that population to get involved,” Gundling said.

Gundling said he wanted to form the club to dispel misconceptions about ASD and provide a community for autistic students on campus.

“We had a student at our first meeting who came up to me afterwards and eventually emailed me who was on the spectrum herself and said, ‘I’m so glad that you guys made this organization because it feels like I have a platform,’” Gundling said.

Additionally, Gundling launched the club’s partnership with ASRC. Throughout the 2021-22 school year, Gundling said QUAA raised close to $1,000 for the organization. This year, Joynt said the club has raised close to $800 for ASRC so far.

Sara Taussik, director of programs & training for ASRC, said the nonprofit connects people with services throughout the state and provides educational resources to connect families and professionals.

She said clubs like QUAA are important to raise awareness of ASD because of the prevalence of developmental disabilities, especially on college campuses.

“I think one of the biggest challenges for the neurodiverse community is finding acceptance and camaraderie, so having a club that kind of celebrates neurodiversity and inclusive of it is really important,” Taussik said.

In addition to the importance of providing a welcoming community for people with ASD, Taussik emphasized the importance of challenging misconceptions about autism.

“I think if people don’t have somebody in their family, or a family friend or somebody in their close circle that is on the spectrum or neurodiverse, they might not have that exposure or that understanding of what that individual needs and who they are as a person,” Taussik said.