Autism Alliance of Michigan trip to the U.P. shared training and health care opportunities

AAoM has built a world-class team of experienced advocates and professionals to support people on the autism spectrum and identify pathways and bring light to the challenges they face.
The Mobile Health Unit made stops in Houghton, Allouez, and Marquette.

The Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) team traveled to Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula to provide free trainings and health care services for people living with autism, their families, and the communities where they live. AAoM staff presented Autism 101 to community members and stakeholders during morning and evening sessions in Houghton at Michigan Technological University (MTU) on Sept. 13. On the evening of Sept. 14, a third Autism 101 training was held in downtown Marquette at Marquette Commons.

“Autism 101 is a basic understanding of what autism is and what it isn't,” says Joanna Lofton, AAoM outreach manager and community resource specialist. “It shares tips and tools on how to work with an individual around communication — tools you can use to understand what seemingly inappropriate behaviors are communicating and how to respond to  them.”

In addition to sharing what autism is and how to overcome behavioral and communication barriers, Autism 101 provides information on local, state, and national resources available for people living with autism.

“For those who do have autism, it gives them an opportunity to actually be involved in their community in meaningful ways,” Lofton says. “And for those who don't have autism, it is important for them to learn to be more loving and giving and understanding of individuals not just with autism, but people with disabilities period.”

Lofton stresses that “anyone and everyone” should take the course because autism not only impacts the individuals and their families but entire communities at school, work, play, and places of worship.

“Autism is so prevalent. Just about everyone knows someone who is affected,” Lofton says. “The Autism 101 training is especially great for teachers and employers.”

Jaime Zavier, AAoM outreach manager.In the U.S., one in 36 children are on the autism spectrum — about four in 10 boys and one in 10 girls are on the autism spectrum.

“I would say pretty much everyone is interacting with somebody on the autism spectrum, whether they know it or not,” says Jaime Zavier, AAoM outreach manager. “Autism 101 works to increase understanding and empathy for these individuals. By increasing understanding and empathy, we're improving the quality of life for people on the spectrum.”

Another goal of the Autism 101 training is to lessen stigma and guilt around autism. Family members of individuals living with autism, especially parents, often blame themselves for whatever behaviors are occurring — frustration and anger can be common.

“Autism 101 helps to demystify what autism is,” Lofton says. “It helps people to better understand how to communicate with individuals who have autism. It relieves a lot of anxiety and frustration. And it helps the family, in particular, to be more of a cohesive unit as they learn to manage those day-to-day skills.”

The Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) team traveled to Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula to provide free trainings and health care services.

The Keweenaw Area Community Foundation (KCF) worked with AAoM to bring the Autism 101 trainings as well as the AAoM Mobile Health Unit to the U.P. The Mobile Health Unit made stops in Houghton, Allouez, and Marquette. Its autism-informed staff provided community members the opportunity to receive flu shots, screenings for diabetes, cholesterol, and kidney function, and have their blood pressure checked.
Robin Meneguzzo, executive director, Keweenaw Area Community Foundation
“I was really excited to learn what AAoM had to offer and to find out that they would come to do trainings and provide some free health resources for our community,” says KCF executive director, Robin Meneguzzo.

Before joining KCF as executive director, Meneguzzo worked as a nurse practitioner and cared for patients with autism. In her current role, she has worked with the KCF to identify resources for people living with autism and their families.

“We do have a good share of uninsured patients. So, this was certainly an opportunity for them to have access,” Meneguzzo says. “And it was a great way for my community to raise awareness and support.”

Autism-informed staff provided community members t flu shots and health screenings.
In addition to inviting community members to the events, KCF reached out to K-12 schools, higher education, medical systems, local health departments, and emergency service organizations.

“I have come across motor vehicle accidents involving children with autism and understand the complexities and the educational needs of those emergency responders,” Meneguzzo says. “This was an opportunity for us to provide the necessary education to them, so they feel confident and have the skills to handle these kinds of high stress situations as best as possible.”

AAoM’s marketing team helped expand that reach to local newspapers and radio stations.

“When there are great organizations like this, and they have these services and knowledge and we have the community need, bringing those two things together is how we maximize the benefit for everyone,” Meneguzzo says.

Autism 101 training is one of the many free services that AAoM provides people living with autism and their families. Another free service, the AAoM MiNavigator Program provides consultation and connection to services across the state.

“We can help walk them through actually how to get that service,” Lofton says. “We can often help cut down that wait time for evaluations. And it’s not just about medical and mental health. An individual can contact us and say ‘Hey, I need help getting Social Security’ or ‘My utilities are getting cut off,’ and we will help connect them to resources. We know that we have to help the entire family in order to best help that individual who has autism.”

Belinda Lee, AAoM outreach and engagement specialist. Through the Navigator Program, AAoM also shares a directory of autism-informed providers that make an effort to accommodate patients with autism. AAoM also offers help through the Michigan Parent, Advocate & Attorney Coalition (MiPAAC) via Zoom throughout Michigan. 

“It’s about special education services, not just special ed for individuals who have autism, but anyone who's receiving special education services,” says Belinda Lee, outreach and engagement specialist with the AAoM. “I spoke to a woman about her eight-year-old son, who at five years old, was told he will never get a high school diploma. It is in his IEP to this day. MiPAAC will show her how you fight this.”

AAOM provides these and other solutions to help Michiganders living with autism access basic care, navigate their civil and legal rights, and explore appropriate education and employment opportunities. To learn more, visit
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.