SWK 450 class organizes five-person panel to discuss autism for Autism Awareness Month

When you meet one child with autism, you meet one child with autism. That is Ruth Ann Thayer’s philosophy when it comes to autistic children, who are all unique, she said.

Thayer, the mother of a grown son with autism and a teacher consultant for autism at mid-Michigan’s Montabella Community Schools, spoke on a panel Thursday evening in Anspach 162.

The five person-panel, made up of teachers, parents and social workers, discussed what it is like to have a child with autism, how there are varying degrees of autism and how to teach autistic children, among other things. About 50 people listened to the talk and question-and-answer session.

Thayer’s son developed autism around two years old after he received a series of four shots, one including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), the classic one that is related to autism, she said.

“It was a very rough road,” Thayer said. “As the next few years went by ... I learned during this time to let go of the child I thought I would have and love the child that I had and accept the life that he was going to have.”

One student asked panelist Bob Younce, the father of a child with autism, what his daughter is like today since she has been diagnosed.

“Very early on (my child) was tested as very highly gifted,” he said. “By the time she hit second grade we started to notice some developmental issues and in her case with Asperger's it was more so the obsessive issues,” he said.

Younce defined and gave examples of what Asperger's is, an autism spectrum disorder that can include difficulty interacting socially and restricted, repetitive patterns, interests and/or behaviors.

Panelist and parent Jennifer Nickel said the kids she has worked with on the spectrum either with Asperger's or autism need socialization.

“That is where for me it breaks my heart to see the kids with Asperger's want so much to fit it and make friends but they don’t always understand how to do it. They don’t get that piece of that,” she said.

But when Nickel and her co-workers began introducing the concept of Asperger's to other non-special needs students, the students understood better.

“Once we explain it to kids they aren’t calling it weird or crazy or odd because it was autism,” Nickel said.

Lynwood senior Amanda Lauria said this event was put on for an advocacy project by a SWK 450: Social Welfare Policies and Services II class for Autism Awareness Month.

“We just put it together in hopes to spread awareness throughout the campus and hopefully the surrounding community,” she said. “The individuals with autism are out there.”

Ovid senior Justin Ellenwood said he learned a lot he didn’t know before about autism and Asperger's.

“I already knew one person who was autistic but I didn’t know much about it beyond knowing that person,” he said. “It is important to learn how they act and process everything versus how someone else does.”