On Tuesday, April 30, Spring Arbor University (SAU) hosted the Asperger’s and High Functioning Autism Summit. The goal of the summit was to find ways that the community could come together in order to effectively interact with this growing population and their families. The Center for Disease control just recently estimated that 1 in 50 children born will meet the diagnostic criteria for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This new figure is up from the previous 1 in 88 statistic.
The turnout and response exceeded expectations. and included State Representation Earl Poleski, Jackson’s mayor Martin Griffin, and Julie Alexander with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, among many others. The summit provided the needed opportunity for dialogue among police officers, firemen, educators, pastors, employment organizations, mental health professionals, community leaders, and about 50 family members. “The number of community members who showed an interest in this topic was amazing,” says Terri Pardee, associate professor of psychology at SAU and event coordinator.
Pardee and Tony Starr from the Jackson Intermediate School District opened the summit with an overview presentation that identified Asperger’s and high functioning autism and why there’s a need for greater community awareness. Attendees then had the chance to talk among themselves to identify current strengths and areas where improvement is needed. Time was also spent giving initial considerations to where Jackson, as a community, can go from here.
“We wanted to bring the community together to discuss how we can help these individuals build their skills. Our goal isn’t to see these individuals in terms of a problem that needs fixing, but rather to build an appreciation for the diversity and talents these individuals bring to the community,” Pardee says.
Pardee plans to provide a summary report from the summit and distribute it to all in attendance. From there, participants can continue to work toward solutions by keeping
in touch with one another.
The event was made possible thanks to a grant from the Jackson Community Foundation. Other event partners included SAU, Jackson Intermediate School District, Life Ways of Jackson, and Recovery Technology. The Eaton Cooperation, Biggby Coffee, and Legacy Cakes donated to the summit.