By Colleen Allen, President and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan

April is Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month. As the CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan, I couldn’t be more pleased with the addition of “Acceptance” to the descriptor for this month, when we elevate our efforts to raise awareness, educate, and build a level of understanding of autism among the general public. I would also like to add “Action” to raise up critical advocacy efforts that ultimately result in the awareness, acceptance and the inclusion we seek for our population.

When we think about a world where people with autism are truly included in their communities, we are envisioning the following:

  • Early childcare workers, educators and pediatricians who effectively screen EVERY child for autism between age 18-24 months, prompting detection and referral to the earliest, evidence-based interventions. EVERY child across our state should have access to quality, equitable, comprehensive services, maximizing developmental outcomes and readiness for school.
  • An education system equipped with the resources, training and expertise to support the unique behavior, communication and social challenges presented by children with autism. This support should be individualized to the skill and functioning level appropriate to each child,  raising expectations and standards for EVERY child with a lens towards equity and inclusion, from preschool to graduation.
  • Adequate and equitable educational programming that truly prepares EVERY young adult for work and a life of independence, to the greatest extent possible. By some estimates, approximately 90% of the autistic adult population are unemployed. AAoM declared an aspirational goal to place 100,000 people with autism and related disabilities in jobs over the next decade. Inclusion without opportunity to work, and contribute to community, whatever that means to each individual person, isn’t inclusion at all.
  • Finally, and most critical to assuring a life of inclusion, acceptance and opportunity, is health, safety and well-being. A family struggling to keep a child safe from dangerous wandering (49% of the population), a parent challenged with significant mental health issues, or limited access to basic medical services, such as vaccines and preventive care, will not have the resources or capacity to provide for the developmental needs of their child.

We have so much work to do, and it will take a village to create the world we envision for people with autism. As an “Alliance,” AAoM is committed to our partnerships which allow us to leverage the power and influence of organizations like Education Midwest Trust to transform the public systems that individuals with autism will experience over the course of their lives.

We have to be the voice for those who cannot advocate for themselves. A life of autism means a life of endless advocacy and ACTION from our community to assure a child begins life with every possible resource, system of care and education to start that path on the right foot. It’s what EVERY parent wants for their child, right?


Colleen Allen is the President and CEO of the Autism Alliance of Michigan. She is a member of the MI Autism Council and represents disability on the Mayor’s Workforce Development Board in Detroit. She is also a board member of InCompass Michigan.