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      Community looks ahead to improving autism awareness

      Reports of the attempted murder-suicide investigation involving 45-year-old Kelli Stapleton, has drawn attention to autism because Kelli's 14-year-old-daughter, Isabelle, is a child with autism.

      Authorities have still not identified a motive, but they have said that Kelli was dealing with some struggles in her life. In her blog, she wrote about the struggle of providing the best life possible for her daughter.

      Officials at The Autism Center of Northern Michigan say that it's very important to keep in mind that every child with autism is different, and that their behaviors are also different. Owner and Director for The Autism Center, Jordan Boudreau, opened up the facility in March. The center is an applied behavioral analysis facility that helps children with autism better manage their emotions and behaviors. Since the opening, the number of children being served has increased from 3 to 25. Boudreau says communities have come a long way in supporting and providing services for autism, but that there are still many gaps to fill.

      "The autism legislation for insurance coverage went through last October and the Medicaid benefit went through this last April," said Boudreau. "And so now that these have gone through, the service options should increase but currently we are the only agency North of Grand Rapids that provides ABA therapy."

      Boudreau says that today more parents are pushing for their children to be mainstreamed in a school setting, and that depending on the case, things can get difficult if there aren't enough resources available.

      "It's tough for the schools because the schools need to have the resources to be able to help these kids, and teachers in the schools need the training to help these kids," said Boudreau. "And a lot of times, these resources are not provided and that training is not provided."

      Brandy Wheeler is a parent of a child with autism, and says that every parent wants their child to fit in.

      "I think one of the challenges that every parent experiences is they want their child to be accepted within the community, with the school system," said Wheeler. "And the more severe that child's disability is, the more they stand out from everybody else."

      Both agree that the only way to help solve these issues, and to better help all children with special needs, is community acceptance.

      "I have so much empathy and sympathy and only wish the best for families that are struggling with something that is more difficult than my experience," said Wheeler. "And I think we need to see more of that in the community. We need to be proactive as business leaders and as parents to accept each other and to work to help these kids."

      According to the CDC, 1 in every 88 children has been identified with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the year 2000, the CDC reported that 1 in every 150 children had been identified with autism.