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MU student starts Autism Speaks group on campus

Monday, September 26, 2011 | 12:13 p.m. CDT; updated 4:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 3, 2011

*CORRECTION: Alyssa Week's younger brother is named Brennen Bailey. An earlier version of this article misidentified him.

COLUMBIA — Alyssa Weeks, 18, has grown up with a little brother who doesn't speak.

That boy, Brennen Bailey*, was originally misdiagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. Doctors said he would die before he was 12. His parents sought other opinions and were soon presented with a diagnosis of autism.

Facts about autism

 According to the Thompson center's website:

  • Children with neurodevelopmental disorders have health conditions that disrupt the way the brain and nervous system develop.
  • On average, one in 110 individuals is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
  • The diagnosis of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade.


Today, Bailey is almost 14.

Weeks has matter-of-factly accepted that her brother is different. It took some time, but she has learned how to behave with him.

''When you first meet Brennen, if you've got watches or bracelets or anything, he automatically wants to play with them,'' Weeks said. ''He’s got his own little game. He takes it off, he puts it on himself and then, takes it off and puts it back on you, and he just goes back and forth.’’

Ray Bailey has been amazed by the evolution of his son.

''Even with all of his challenges, he is the most caring young man one could hope to meet,'' Bailey said via email. ''His unique perspective is unfettered by the typical challenges of a 13-year-old. He might not be able to talk, but through his actions and thoughts, he shows us a glimpse into a wider world of which we only scratch the surface.''

Since Brennen's diagnosis, the entire family has become involved in the charity Autism Speaks in St. Louis.

Autism Speaks' volunteers raise money that benefits other organizations that do medical and diagnostic assessments as well as research, such as the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU.

Last year, the family, who live in South County St. Louis, ran its own events that included two Warmachine tournaments, a silent auction, a bake sale and a garage sale. ''We raised over $2,200 for the cause," Bailey said.

But now that Weeks is a freshman at MU, she wants to start a chapter of Autism Speaks U, an awareness, advocacy and fundraising organization for students who want to hold autism-related events.

According to Ashley Todd, the vice chair of administration of the Organization Resource Group, MU doesn't have any groups oriented around autism.

Weeks is more than motivated.

''I would start an organization that did the same work that my family and I did in St. Louis,'' she said.

Weeks has created a Facebook event page, Autism Speaks at Mizzou, to get the word out about what she's doing. She is waiting for official MU recognition.

''Some examples of events I want to do include a bake sale and a Blue Day,'' she said. ''I would like to get more ideas from other volunteers who are passionate about this too.''

The first meeting of Autism Speaks will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Gumby's, 1201 E. Broadway.


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