According to a recent study, in the United States, 1.5 million children and adolescents ages 3-17 are living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Those same children are faced with several barriers in their lives, including limitations on social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communications and repetitive behaviors.
Avenues for Autism, a Toledo-based nonprofit, is working to remove those barriers along with several partnered organizations throughout Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan with the goal of providing opportunities for inclusion, empowerment and the ability to succeed in life.
“The autistic community can count on us to explore their options and to walk beside them as they discover new possibilities. We are humbled to serve them when they need us the most,” explains Stacy Harper, executive director of Avenues for Autism. “We witness firsthand what individuals with autism can accomplish when the limitations are removed.”
Roots in Toledo
The organization got its start in 2004 as Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism through the efforts of Bob and Suzy Tyner, parents of a child with autism. They used their personal challenges to help other parents with autistic children cope with similar struggles. In 2019, Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism changed its name to Avenues for Autism and continued to promote the same level of public awareness of autism, actively searching for partners of other autism-focused nonprofit organizations and providing financial relief to families in need.
“We can provide up to $1,500 per family per year to assist them in caring for their family member,” says Harper, adding that it costs about four to six times more per year to cover therapy, medical costs, the purchase of sensory enhancement items and other needs for development. Since 2018, Avenues for Autism has given over $300,000 to families. Harper adds that the financial assistance means even more for parents who are forced to move to part-time employment, or no employment at all, to care for their loved one. Their YouTube video, “Avenues for Autism,” explains the in-depth impact that raising a child with autism has on families.
To help provide funding to families, the organization runs special events and fundraisers throughout the year. All funding comes from the Suzanne Tyner Fund. The organization usually runs two fundraisers each year: the Suzanne Tyner Autism Assistance Fund annual breakfast in April that directly benefits the Susan Tyner Fund, and the 9 and Wine Golf Outing that happens every August.
The Vision Moving Forward
In 2023, Avenues for Autism is launching a new program; Autism Navigation Services, that will provide family therapy and coaching, individual therapy for parents and caregivers and a referral program for some families to one of the partners they work with. The goal is to help autistic individuals develop and maximize their potential without limits. The organization had a soft launch in November and looks forward to growing the program in the coming years.
“Individuals affected by autism are quite remarkable because no two individuals are the same,” says Harper. “They are unique in their own special way, just like those without autism.”