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SMU Pediatrics Students Hit the Pavement for Autism

Sacramento Regional Learning Center Faculty, Staff and Students with Family and Friends Walking to Find a Cure for AutismMore than 8,000 people, including nearly 70 students, faculty, and staff from Samuel Merritt University (SMU), laced up their walking shoes to be a part of the 3rd annual Autism Speaks Walk event in Sacramento on Sunday, October 10.  Participants in the 5K Sacramento Walk Now for Autism walked from Raley Field's in West Sacramento, over the Tower Bridge to the State Capital and back in 96 degree heat all in support of families with autistic children.

With their University flags waving in the background, SMU nursing students in the Entry Level Master of Science in Nursing (ELMSN) and Accelerated Bachelors of Science in Nursing (ABSN) programs marched proudly in the event knowing they were doing their part as healthcare providers to help bring about awareness of autism spectrum disorders.

"It is essential as healthcare providers we make the public aware of the impacts of autism," explains Sundeep Sidhu, ELMSN student.  "Watching families and friends proudly wearing t-shirts with a picture of their loved one impacted by autism almost brought me to tears.  Everyone was there for different reasons, but we were walking for the same cause, to increase awareness and provide support."

According to the Autism Speaks website, every 20 minutes, a family receives news that their child has autism.  Many SMU nursing students work with pediatric patients and their families in the acute care setting, advice lines, school district, and in outreach programs.

Sunny SidhuAccording to Sacramento Regional Learning Center Managing Director and Assistant Professor, Rene Clymer-Engelhart, RN, MSN, this event was an opportunity for many to see first-hand the families dealing with Autism and how it affects the entire community.  "The fact that only a small percentage of pediatric patients are in an acute care setting it is extremely important for my students to see how these children and their families thrive in the community," said Engelhart.  "There were many children present with autism, and the event was a refreshing way to see the entire community participate in making strives to find a cure." 

The students who took part in the walk were united with the same hope, a research or cure that would help the children.  "It's truly an inspirational event and wonderful to see how families come together to bring awareness to this disorder," said Dana Paskowitz, ABSN student.  "When I participate in these events with my fellow classmates, I feel proud to be a student at SMU, and proud to be entering a profession that values community involvement in order to improve the health and well-being of others."

"We all get a chance to work with patients in the hospital setting, however, supporting them out in the community provides a different type of fulfillment," adds Sidhu.  "You are now supporting them in their everyday lives, not just in the healthcare setting."

An estimated one in every 110 children is diagnosed with autism, making it more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined.  Though the causes of autism are largely unknown, scientific evidence suggests genetics and undetermined environmental factors as possible explanations.  Government statistics show a 10-17 percent increase in cases each year that many believe is largely due in part to a continued improvement in diagnosis. 

SRLC Faculty, Staff, and Students with Friends and Family in front of the State Capital

More than $220,000 was raised at the Sacramento event for Autism Speaks, with the funding going towards research into the causes, prevention and treatments for autism.  It also provides a voice for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. 

"Everyone from the Sacramento campus represented Samuel Merritt University very well not just by walking, but also raising nearly $500 for Autism Speaks," said Engelhart.  "The awareness begins with the students nursing education.  With providing the importance of giving back to the community now, it will bring this concept of passion and caring for the community into their nursing career."

Engelhart adds that it is important for the community to acknowledge that educators, such as the SMU faculty from the Sacramento campus, have a strong belief in supporting the community and provide support where it is needed.

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