Community mental health agency a resource for autism services

OnPoint autism services focus on communication, behavior support for social skills, daily living skills, family training, and ongoing assessment.

When a parent finds out that their child is autistic, it's a life-changing moment. One person who knows this more intimately than most is Megan Ford, supervisor of autism and intellectual and developmental disability services at OnPoint in Allegan County.

"As a parent myself, if my child got the diagnosis, I would think, 'OK, now just what does this mean?'" she says. "And, what if I knew that I could get support that could make my child still have a happy, healthy life? In the way that they want it, and the way that I see it for them?"

OnPoint provides quality behavioral health care through a variety of services and supports to Allegan County residents. Ford’s role involves overseeing autism services for all individuals with Medicaid. What that means is that between the ages of 18 months to 21 years, testing for autism or participation in any kind of applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is facilitated through her team. They currently serve 210 clients. ABA is a science-backed, intensive approach to improving social behavior among autistic children.

"My world is about helping families through early intervention and ongoing support," Ford says. "The most rewarding part of my job is connecting people to help they never knew they had available and actually giving kids a real chance." 

The impact is tremendous, she says, especially for parents who might not be able to access the community at all because their life surrounds their child's behaviors and how their child acts. 

"Maybe they can't have their other kids participate in anything because their son or daughter takes up all of their time," Ford says. "Maybe their child needs help with friends or being able to be at school all day without their parents getting a phone call."

Megan Ford

How ABA helps

Ford explains when an autism diagnosis is given and ABA services are recommended, the next step is getting clients connected to one of seven contracted ABA providers.

"Help ranges from in-home ABA to a center-based approach. Nothing is cookie-cutter," Ford says. "We could be looking at focusing on communication, behavior support for social skills, daily living skills, family training, or ongoing assessments."

Many misconceptions about ABA exist, she adds. Most simply, it involves taking a behavior, looking at the impact it has on the environment, and then providing interventions to create changes in behavior. A basic starting point: What is impacting a person's life that is making it difficult for them to lead the happiest, healthiest life?

"We look at the things that are going to prevent someone from getting dressed, holding a job, having friends, or staying in their home or with family," Ford says. "How we determine what to change is based on what we consider is socially significant."

When a parent brings in a child who refuses to talk to people, ABA therapy would work to first determine the function of that behavior. Why are they not speaking? Is it because they're not capable? Is it because they don't want to? Is it because they like the attention? Do they have the skills to communicate? Are they trying to escape from something by not speaking?
OnPoint is located at 540 Jenner Drive (M-40) in Allegan.
At OnPoint, a big part of the vision is seeing that people get the services they need, receive high quality help, and make connections that create long lasting, positive outcomes. Ford's department monitors clients' services until they are discharged, or until clients decide they don't want to continue. Someone might decide, for example, that they only need speech services or need to go back to a different type of therapy. At that time, they'll be supported in finding the most suitable assistance and programs. 

"We're big on helping parents learn the skills they need," Ford says. "That way, when they're not with us later on in life, they know exactly what to do and where to go to help their child best succeed."

Jaishree Drepaul is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at

Megan Ford and OnPoint photo courtesy OnPoint. Family photo by Anna Shvetsa via

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of MichiganCenter for Health and Research TransformationLifeWaysMental Health Foundation of West MichiganNorthern Lakes CMH AuthorityOnPointSanilac County CMHSt. Clair County CMHSummit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.

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