Efforts highlight need for more local resources
The Hillsdale Daily News - 4/11/2019
April 11-- Apr. 11--HILLSDALE -- April is autism awareness month, and several local entities are working to increase public education on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which affects more than 3.5 million people nationwide.
In 2017-18, according to the Michigan Department of Education data, 20,595 students who met the eligibility requirements for ASD were enrolled in Michigan schools.
But despite its prevalence (Michigan had the 5th largest autism population as compared to other U.S. states in 2007), some areas don't have very many resources for parents or caregivers.
That's why Katy Price, Hillsdale's city clerk, whose own child was recently diagnosed with ASD, lobbied for the city to pass it's first-ever autism awareness proclamation at council's April 1 meeting.
The proclamation was read and signed by Hillsdale Mayor Adam Stockford, who praised Price for spearheading efforts to increase public awareness in the community. Asked later about her push to place the proclamation on the council agenda, Price said in an email she feels there aren't enough local resources available in Hillsdale County.
"I hope that Hillsdale will continue to grow and offer more education and help for those that are affected with autism," Price said. "We need more resources in this county."
Price isn't alone in her belief that Hillsdale doesn't have adequate resources. Shannan Clevenger, chief operating officer of LifeWays Community Mental Health, says it's true -- the county doesn't have as many resources for parents as nearby Adrian and Jackson.
It's partly due to population, she says.
"In a smaller rural area, like Hillsdale, which is really spread out, there aren't as many natural opportunities for group or social activities, and we don't have the population to entice a provider to this area," Clevenger said.
LifeWays CMH, which currently provides 24 individuals in Hillsdale County under the age of 21 with applied behavior analysis (ABA) support (and has provided more individuals who have ASD with other services), partners with four providers to facilitate applied behavior analysis training for medicaid eligible children and young adults diagnosed with ASD.
Those include clinical treatment options in Jackson, she said, and in-home services available for those who don't have the means to transport their family members out-of-county on a regular basis. Family training services are also available. But Clevenger acknowledges some gaps remain in local programming, specifically opportunities for adult enrichment, physical activities, and group learning.
That's something she hopes will change in the future, and she expects LifeWays to play a significant role in that change as the organization continues "looking for creative partnerships" to leverage existing resources. Clevenger cited St. Paul'sAbility Resource Center (SPARC) as a particularly innovative approach.
SPARC describes itself as "a ministry center in Hillsdale that seeks to embrace and support individuals with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairments, and Down syndrome."
"It will be really crucial for us to find creative partnerships with some of these groups," Clevenger said. Another organization which offers programing, and which Clevenger mentioned, is the Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (ISD).
Hillsdale ISD works in cooperation with the county's eight local school district and two public school academies, provides special education programs and services for all students who qualify, including those with autism spectrum disorder.
According to the ISD's website, they currently serve 819 special education students in various programs, representing 14 percent of the county's school population.
There's hope that LifeWays can partner with some of these entities in the future, or collaborate with other non-profit organizations to provide more resources locally, but it will require a different approach, owing to Hillsdale's size. "If there's any way for us, with the limited resources we have, we're going to have to get creative about finding these opportunities," Clevenger said.
Those interested in learning more about ASD don't have to go very far. Hillsdale Community Library has a special table display, filled with books on autism and other social and emotional disorders, that patrons can check out. It's just one small way to help educate the public, says Heidi Pruitt, the library worker who put up the display.
"I was actually surprised at how many books on autism we had," Pruitt said, adding that several have already been checked out.
"We've had several families with autism in Hillsdale donate books. I think it's more of a focus now."
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