Both prominent businessmen, they shared one experience that would present trials and opportunities for their families; they were the fathers of children with autism. While recognizing the joys of raising a child with autism, they soon experienced similar challenges in terms of limited community and medical resources available to help them address the behavioral, emotional, and developmental difficulties their children — and others like them — would experience for a lifetime.
In the spring of 2010, David Meador, Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer of DTE Energy, and Stephen D’Arcy, global automotive leader of Pricewaterhousecoopers L.L.P. and Chairman of the Detroit Medical Center, joined forces to create the Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM). Many businesses and autism service organizations rallied around their visionary efforts to create an entity that would represent the needs of thousands of families living with autism, AAoM took shape into what would soon become a growing force throughout the state of Michigan.
Autism statistics have risen at an alarming rate in the past decade, demonstrating a crucial need for autism advocacy on local, state and national levels. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children live with some form of autism, the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. The Michigan Department of Education reported in 2012 that there were 16,591 children meeting autism eligibility, demonstrating exponential growth from the 1,208 children reported in 1991. Further, it is estimated that there are over 60,000 individuals in total living with autism in Michigan. Despite the growing number of individuals affected by autism, a critical lack of access to resources, support, and information about the disorder exists for this population.
Since its founding three years ago, AAoM staff have worked diligently to increase the amount of resources and support available throughout Michigan, to advocate for greater legislative reform, and to enhance awareness among the general population about the realities of autism. Thanks to statewide support from thousands of businesses, organizations, and individuals, AAoM continues to make a growing and lasting difference for the community of individuals with autism.
One of the underpinnings of the work of AAoM is to shift the understanding and awareness of autism and strongly advocate for high expectations. Just like all children, kids on the spectrum will benefit from parents, teachers, therapists and everyone they encounter in society exhibiting high expectations. With high expectations, early access to evidenced based therapies and appropriate education, the majority of children with autism will lead independent lives, be employed and have families.