Finding support for Autism in West Michigan

7:09 PM, Apr 2, 2013   |    comments
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  • Cheri Brockman and her son Johnny preparing for school.
  • Cheri Brockman owner of Hope for Jabez.

(WZZM) - Today is the 6th Annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the world are going blue to show their support for the often misunderstood disorder.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that will affect 1 in 88 American children according to the Centers for Disease Control. Autism is considered a developmental disorder of relating and communicating.

It manifests itself with significant communication delays, resistance to change and delay in typical social interaction.
West Michigan is making great strides in helping understand and support those with the disorder.

Cheri Brockman is a parent of an autistic child. She also runs a support group called Hope for Jabez. Her organization provides information and hope to parents.

"The discouraging words that this is really overwhelming and just no hope--were wrong. Parents should never be given that," explains Brockman. "They should be given a list of interventions that are available just say this is going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort but it is going to be worth it."

Due to the wide spectrum of what constitutes autism, no two autistic children are alike. This is because the symptoms of the disorder can affect things like sight, sense of balance, sound, taste and integration.

One child could be hypersensitive to sound and the hum of florescent lights could be quite painful. Another could be a picky eater to sensitive taste. Another might have a hard time making eye contact.

Cheri says no two autistic children are alike, and the key to helping is early identification because the sooner you get a diagnosis the better chance the child has to deal with the disorder.

With 16,000 students with Autism Spectrum Disorders in our public schools, there is a strong need for teachers and support staff who can help these children not only learn but lead fulfilling lives.

Over at Grand Valley State University, Jamie Owen-Deschryver, Ph.D., has plenty of knowledge to share about kids and autism with her pyschology students.

"Sometimes children with autism tend not to be able to put together a big picture," she said.

That same knowledge is being taught state-wide to 350 people through GVSU'S Statewide Autism Resources and Training (Start Project.) Owen-Deschryver says it's the only program of its kind in the state.

The people help adults, early childhood centers, and K-12 schools train their staff to deal with people with autism.

"I could ask an open-ended question about a history topic, but I could also ask a question that is more closed-ended," said Owen-Deschryver. "And that would allow the child with autism that doesn't maybe have the ability to respond to a broader open-ended question to point to the answer that is clearly presented there before him but he or she is still making the choice about which is the correct one."

She, as well as Brockman, hope increasing awareness will encourage more pyschology students to pursue degrees in the autism field. Johnny's brother is already one of them.

"A place for speech and language, pathologists," said Cheri Brockman.

"That's one of the things that's exciting about being a professor is that I get to lecture to students who can get really excited about the field of autism and the opportunities there as well," said Owen-Deschryver.

If you are looking for support and information you can visit

The Statewide Autism Resources and Training (START) Project

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