Autism Society of Michigan

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IMG_0381By Sarah Spohn The Autism Society of Michigan has seen its fair share of changes over the last 39 years it’s been around. Founded upon the mission “to assure full participation and self-determination in every aspect of life for each individual,” the Autism Society of Michigan got its start in 1976. For roughly 30 years, Anne Carpenter has been a volunteer with the organization. In 1988, she was diagnosed with autism, and her journey has been anything but easy, but it’s the organization that keeps her busy enjoying life. The self-described “small but mighty” staff of three: Anne Carpenter, Cathy Gladstone and Kathy Johnson at the Autism Society of Michigan, under President Penny Bearden, work tirelessly providing advice, resources, books, workshops and conferences for families and those with autism. “The goal is to include people with autism in all aspects of society, to help them achieve their potential and to also respect them for who they are in their own right,” said Carpenter. The nonprofit is funded nationally by the United Way, as well as through corporate and individual donations, which keeps it running year after year. The Autism Society of Michigan is an affiliate of the national organization and does not do therapies or treatments, but provides a comprehensive and ever-growing list of resources across the state. It’s an organization extremely close to Carpenter, as her first job was filing and cataloging with the society, then known as the Michigan Society for Autistic Citizens. While some might take for granted that 20-minute drive to work, Carpenter has a much longer morning commute. First she must take a cab to the transit center in Ann Arbor, then she takes the Michigan Flyer bus to East Lansing and lastly the Spec-Tran into the Okemos office. It makes for a long day, she says, but certainly worthwhile. After her diagnosis at age 30, she knows firsthand the troubles and problems that often arise from learning of disabilities. As the information and referral specialist and librarian, Carpenter is often the front-lines and the first impression of the organization. It’s a role she’s happy to play, and an inspiring one at that — given her own journey with doctor diagnoses. Often times she’s even asked for by callers who are looking for specific resources in their area, as it’s a subject she knows firsthand. The organization’s main goal is to promote a more positive view of autism, a mindset she and Gladstone urge people to adopt. “I’d like them to see more of what’s below the surface,” Carpenter said. “They’ll tell you that someone’s IQ is like, 55; we don’t want to know that. They’ll tell you that the person will never speak … we need to look below the surface and see what that person is really like. Get them an alternative form of communication, help them explore what they’re really interested in and help them to learn and grow and see what’s really underneath the surface.”
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