When a young child is diagnosed with autism, Western Michigan University doctoral student Thom Ratkos says “There’s really no telling what the trajectory is.”
Ratkos is one of the organizers of the annual Michigan Autism Conference in Kalamazoo. It runs September 14 – 16 at the Radisson Plaza Hotel.
Ratkos says there are practices that have been proven to work better than others. He says a lot of research currently focuses on helping students who have been “harder to reach.”
Ratkos says this year’s conference includes a broader range of speakers, including Anthony Ianni. He was diagnosed with autism at an early age, but went on to play basketball for Michigan State University, and now works for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Ianni is also a motivational speaker who talks about bullying nationwide. Every kid experiences bullying to some extent, but Ratkos says a child with autism is at greater risk, and can have a harder time navigating “the social milieu of their school.”
The state has been reviewing its rules on special education, including for students with autism. Ratkos says it can’t be a cookie cutter approach. He says any individual with a disability needs to have an individualized education plan.
Lt. Governor Brian Calley has been one of the main advocates for ensuring the best treatment and education for autistic children. Calley is the father of an autistic child. Ratkos calls him a champion on the issue of autism. He says having a politician see the issue at the parent level has been helpful for people working on autism.
But autism doesn’t end when adult hood begins. Ratkos says Michigan is better than other states because it goes beyond what the federal government requires to support special education students. But he says some autistic people need services well into adulthood.