Local center and community unite to ‘Bring Autism to Light’

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published April 12, 2017

 Judson Center executive assistant Hannah Gregory holds a lawn sign that is available for free to help “Bring Autism to Light” during April is Autism Awareness month.

Judson Center executive assistant Hannah Gregory holds a lawn sign that is available for free to help “Bring Autism to Light” during April is Autism Awareness month.

Photo by Deb Jacques

ROYAL OAK — When Fadi Francis put out a call to the community to help promote autism awareness, he never imagined the magnitude of positivity and partnership that would come his way on behalf of the Judson Center.

Francis works at the Judson Center’s Royal Oak location as a development associate and was tasked with kicking off the Bring Autism to Light campaign.

As part of the movement to turn the community blue in recognition of April is Autism Awareness Month, the Judson Center along with Royal Oak City Hall and other destinations are passing out free yard signs and blue lightbulbs intended for people’s front porches and lawns.

“I started out reaching out to the community, and the response right away was everyone wanted to be involved,” Francis said. “And the demand has been growing and growing.

“We’re being contacted by organizations, businesses and parents of the Autism Connections program for more signs every day.”

Francis said he was especially surprised when Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier responded personally, saying that the city wanted to do whatever it could to help.

Since that call, numerous city buildings and departments have stepped up to turn their buildings blue, pass out lawn signs, and Fournier issued an official proclamation to Judson Center officials March 27 designating April as Autism Awareness Month in Royal Oak.

“The city of Royal Oak is proud to be home to the Judson Center and was honored to be asked to partner in the endeavor to bring autism to light,” Fournier said.

Judson Center Director of Autism Connections Ann Patronik said she hopes the campaign and attention equates to the community being more aware.

“People with autism have so much to offer,” she said. “Whether it is in school or peer friends or in the job market, I think if we can raise that awareness, the better opportunities kids and adults with autism will have in the community, not just here at the Judson Center.”

Patronik said the campaign is important because it lets the autism community know that it is not alone and lets people know that the Judson Center is there for them.

Patronik said she also hopes that through the campaign everyone will know life is just a little bit different for families who have children with autism.

“So think twice before you judge that child having a meltdown in the grocery store,” she said. “Kids with autism don’t look different. They look the same as everyone else, so it’s about just raising awareness to the community around us.”

According to data issued by the Judson Center, as more health professionals become proficient in diagnosing autism, more children are being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, resulting in rates as high as one in 68 children nationally and more than 50,000 individuals in Michigan alone. Each day, 100 individuals receive an autism diagnosis and more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.

According to MayoClinic.org, “autism spectrum disorder is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.”

There is no cure for autism, but it is well-documented that if individuals receive treatment early in their lives, it is often possible for those with autism to lead significantly improved lives.

The Autism Connections program recently underwent an expansion enveloping three of the four Royal Oak building’s wings.

The Judson Center Autism Connections program opened in 2005 and saw dramatic growth in 2012 after legislation passed requiring private insurance to cover treatment.

Patronik said the most intensive service offered at the Judson Center is the Applied Behavioral Analysis program, which uses the science of behavior to teach skills, including basic developmental skills and helping participants prepare and understand the world around them.

As a part of the program, those ages 2-18 spend three to five hours a day at the center working on an individualized plan while receiving one-on-one treatment.

Currently there are about 70 kids in the ABA program.

The center also offers social skills groups, which are less intensive treatment plans than the ABA program. The kids come once a week to participate in activities that are fun and game-centered and focus on social skills.

Other Autism Connections programs include a teen night out for those with autism to just have fun, because Patronik said often they don’t have the same social opportunities as other children.

Program participants may also move on to receiving vocational services through another program within the Judson Center that goes beyond age 18.

In addition to offering the Autism Connections program, the nonprofit Judson Center offers three other programs — Child & Family Services, Disability Services and Mental Health.

Although all four programs are independant, support and services could overlap for Judson Center participants, like vocational and life skills support for older autism clients.

“We have the full continuum of services,” Patronik said. “We’re hoping to stay with that family over the child’s lifespan to be able to continue to provide services and help them live a full life.”

Patronik said the center also looks at the entire family when providing service through the Autism Connections program.

Counseling is available to all autism program participants and family members, and the center offers Sib Shops — a curriculum designed for siblings in a fast-paced, fun, safe and non judgemental atmosphere, where siblings of autism children could come and know they are in an understanding environment.

The center also offers Kids Night In — a kind of respite night for Mom and Dad.

“It’s the continuum of care, and that’s really what it is about,” said Erika Jones, Judson Center director of individual giving and communications. “You enter at one age, and we help you and your entire family along this journey that will literally change lives.”

Patronik said the goal with all of its patients is to be as independent as possible.

“So in school, in life, at home — really in all of those domains,” she said.

Jones said that since April 1, the Bring Autism to Light campaign has grown from 30 community partners to more than 100.

“We’re very thankful,” Jones said. “It sounds cliche, but it does take a village to help. We have a great community of caring, and we really appreciate and value their dedication to our mission.”

Blue light bulbs and lawn signs are available at City Hall and all three Royal Oak fire stations while supplies last, but with the help and donations from Signs by Tomorrow in Royal Oak, the center is printing more signs each week.

“When you talk to people, most people will say, ‘I know someone with autism,’” Patronik said. “My neighbor, my cousin, my somebody — it’s touching more people all of the time.”

To learn more, call Francis at (248) 837-2048 or email fadi_francis@judsoncenter.org.