Featured / Mount Pleasant

Out to play: Parents learn to bridge gap between themselves, child’s autism

Five-year-old Micah Nickel was diagnosed with autism in the spring of 2009.

Immediately, Chris and Jenn Nickel set out to find how to best help their son. The family found the Massachusetts-based Son-Rise program, an organization that looked like the perfect place for Micah.

Mount Pleasant resident Micah Nickel, 5, plays on the family sofa Tuesday night after dinner at the Nickel home on South Loomis Road. In the spring of 2009 Micah was diagnosed with autism. During the summer after Micah's diagnosis his parents, Jenn and Chris, began an autism treatment program. Since beginning the program the Nickel's said Micah has made huge strides in his ability to understand and interact with others. (Photo by (Paige Calamari/Staff Photographer)

The first person they spoke to about the program was Brian Nelson, who is a counselor at the organization.

“I explained the program to them,” Nelson said. “And the more we talked, they felt like ‘Wow, Micah would be a great candidate.’”

Student volunteers Nikki Woods, a Saginaw senior, and Clinton Township senior Brittany Hoekstra have spent a lot of time working with Micah.

“We’re working on different goals we set for him every couple months,” Woods said. “Right now, our biggest goals are flexibility, just trying to get him to be more flexible with being with people and also working on his social interaction skills.”

When the Nickels discovered Micah had autism, they created a distraction-free environment in a spare bedroom of their home where Micah spends his day interacting with students like Woods and Hoekstra.

Woods has worked with Micah for a year and a half. When she first met him, Micah would not approach people, Woods said. Recently though, that has all changed.

“He is completely the opposite now,” Woods said. “He hugs you, he gives you kisses, he wants to talk to people, and he wants to see people.”

After only a few months of treatment, Jenn said the changes were incredible. Micah not only began to interact with others, but wanted to interact with others.

“At first we were like, ‘Oh man, he’s becoming a really dependent, high-maintenance child,’” Jenn said. “But we waited so long for that because he was so content to not have anyone play with him.”

Jenn said learning to accept Micah’s condition has been one of their most challenging but important lessons.

“One of the many things I’ve learned is that you can never force a child to come out,” she said. “Even as a mom you can never wish him to drop his autism or to recover from it … It’s something that, when he’s ready in his own time, he’ll make the steps slowly, slowly, slowly, into our world at his own pace, and if he chooses not to, that’s OK.”

-Staff Photographer Paige Calamari contributed to this report


  1. all the sonrise program did for us is take our 4000 dollars.our daughter got nothing out of sonrise….

  2. I'm happy for the Nickel family. However, there are *many* families here in the central Michigan area that need affordable resources and the families either don't qualify because they: 1. make too much money; 2. their child is too 'high functioning'; or 3. the program is not available in their area, and travel costs add onto the already high costs of therapy.

    As a parent with a child with autism (Asperger's syndrome), I find it incredibly frustrating that in our state, resources are plentiful in the Detroit area, and virtually nonexistent here.

  3. Michelle,

    I agree resources can be a challenge, the Autism Treatment Center of America is a non profit and they do offer scholarships, pull them up on the web and review the sight that alone is a huge resource.

  4. Audrey kreider says:

    I couldn’t afford the program but I have my son in a neurotypical Cub Scout pack and is doing fabulous!

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