Advocacy, guidance and inclusion for families with autism

April is Autism Awareness Month, but support lasts year-round for Autism Alliance of Michigan

Data-driven. Heart-led.

Not only does the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) work to improve quality of life for individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as an information hub, but they also run vital programs to provide tangible community benefits.

“When most families first receive an autism diagnosis, they don’t know where to turn. We provide guidance to counsel, advocate and connect families to evidence-based care and support,” says Colleen Allen, the Autism Alliance of Michigan’s CEO. “Our advocacy agenda is driven by the most up-to-date information to help our families manage their unique needs.”

Allen says “our” families because that’s how she sees them—as one of the community’s own.

COVID-19 has pulled the curtains back on what everyday isolation feels like for those dealing with autism, who without inclusive community infrastructure often feel unsafe to leave their home.

“For some families, they can’t even go into their backyard without robust fencing in place,” says Allen.

Since its beginnings a decade ago, the AAoM has facilitated first responder training sessions across the state on de-escalation strategies and clinically backed information about what autism is and isn’t. The training is uniquely led by actual first responders, and clinical content is supplemented by the experts at the AAoM.

The organization also provides wearable GPS devices to families, a key tool that provides reassurance and allows individuals with autism to leave the house and feel safe.

This year, Enbridge gave $30,000 to the Autism Alliance of Michigan as part of our commitment to corporate citizenship in the communities near our operations and projects. The funding will help run 40 state safety training sessions for first responders and purchase 18 GPS devices.

The AAoM was founded by dedicated parents who noticed a gap in service and support for their own children with autism, and after realizing the system had not improved with time for their children, now in their teens or adult years, they started the AAoM.

“We are a state-wide organization serving any family with a question or a concern around autism,” says Allen. “We offer a place where families can go when initially presented with a diagnosis, but also with anyone touched by ASD in their lifespan and all that comes with becoming independent.”

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and April is Autism Awareness Month—a perfect time to learn more and get involved—but Allen and her team are thinking bigger.

“We want families to be able to enjoy activities 365 days a year as opposed to the one autism-friendly day or month we decide on. Let’s just be better at including them in what already exists—why shouldn’t families with autism have the everyday opportunities that come with community?” she says.

“In my mind, that’s really how you define inclusion.”