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April is Autism Acceptance Month!

Written by FSS Team Members Sara Halker, Suzanne Kibby, and Jenna Lee.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

As indicated by Autism Support of Kent County, “Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Autism is a spectrum disorder.

The symptoms and characteristics of autism can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. Although autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors, children and adults can exhibit any combination of the behaviors in any degree of severity.” If you know one person with Autism, you know one person with Autism! This is because every person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unique in their talents, abilities and presenting problems. Some children diagnosed with ASD could struggle with receptive or expressive communication, coping skills, self-care skills, learning, fine/gross motor skills, self-direction, etc.

Where does D. A. Blodgett St-Johns fit into this? We have a case management program to serve those children diagnosed with developmental disabilities in the Kent County area. The Family Support Services program has a team of skilled supports coordinator who meet a child and their family where they are at, find out a child’s strengths and develops a person-centered plan alongside the family to help their child gain as much independent and functional skills as desired.

What is Supports Coordination?

A Supports Coordinator provides family-focused case management services to children with developmental disabilities for the purpose of assisting the child in building on their strengths and helping the family to remain safely together in the family home.  The Supports Coordinator will work in an environment convenient to the child and family to assist with 1) linking, 2) monitoring, and 3) coordinating services.  Supports Coordinators work skillfully and tactfully with other people significant to the client including families, schools, doctors, and other systems within the client’s life. Supports Coordinators provide support and resources, and effectively coordinates, educates and trains family members and support systems on individual needs of each child.

A Word from our Supports Coordinators themselves regarding Autism services:

FSS supports coordinators identified several ways in which they encourage and guide families of children who have been diagnosed with Autism. The initial diagnosis can come as a shock to parents and often times they are left with little support or guidance. This is where supports coordinators jump in to help families navigate supports and resources.

On encouraging parents and families:     
  • “I think the biggest thing for me is support for parents and just letting them know that even if they feel isolated or alone there are lots of other people out there who have similar experiences.” – Carol Mills
  • “I tell families that a diagnosis does not define their child. Families can have hope that their child can have a fulfilling life.”- Heather Kelley
  • “It’s ok if your child is diagnosed with Autism. Focus on the positives of what the child does best.” – Amanda Sias
  • “Some families think their kids aren’t capable of learning but it’s more about finding the way in which the kids learn. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s not, but once we find that avenue it gives parents encouragement that they can learn those skills.” – Andrea Denes
  • “Reminding parents and families that they don’t have to go through this process by themselves. It is helpful to break it down one thing at a time.” – Emily Mannor
  • “I spend time empowering parents and reminding them that they are the expert on their child. If people are throwing so many things at them I remind them that they know their kid best.” – Angela Nixon
Helpful Tips/Intervention Strategies:
  • “Something that worked a year ago might not work now because kids change. You need to continue trouble-shooting with all the child’s supports.” – Anonymous Supports Coordinator
  • “Reinforcing the positive is the most important thing for our children. Helping parents realize when to reinforce positive that way they’re not reinforcing the negative and causing frustration.” – Nicole Sturgeon
  • “Kids with ASD need to be disciplined in different ways that some ‘neuro-typical’ kids. There may be other ways that do work.” – Carol Mills
  • “Helpful tips for kids with Autism would be giving a routine or a set expectation for an activity. I often demonstrate activities/goals on-site to model it to families before they practice the goals on their own.” – Heather Kelley
  • “Play and interact with kids on their level. Sometimes ‘behaviors’ are just a kid’s way of communicating. I had a client who was nonverbal but still communicated with me by making funny faces over virtual calls.” – Bethany Hunt
On Parent Education/Resources:
  • “A parent told me I was the first person to explain an IEP to her and the family felt comfortable being willing to ask questions. Thankfully we can provide support and understand a range of information from school questions to questions about behaviors at home.” – Heather Kelley
  • “So many families don’t understand the IEP process and there is so much information to help families work through. So many families feel so defeated so they appreciate having someone who can advocate and support them.” – Anonymous Supports Coordinator
  • “So many families don’t even know what ABA therapy even is and I think we do a good job of explaining that in a way that they can understand.” – Brooke Glowacki
And finally, positive outcomes!
  • “It’s so exciting when you see a kid working on a goal for so long but then they make progress. My favorite thing about this job is seeing them improve, especially when families are told their kid can’t make progress.” – Anonymous Supports Coordinator
  • “I love those moments where the family sees hope, even if it takes 3 years. That’s what I love about this job. I tell families that a diagnosis does not define their child. Families can have hope that their child can have a fulfilling life.” – Heather Kelley


Autism Support of Kent County
  1. Resource guide
  2. Family activities, social groups, etc.
Sensory Friendly Films
  1. The Family Hope Foundation – Celebration Cinema Sensory Friendly Film Schedule
  2. AMC Theatres – Sensory Friendly Film Schedule
Check community libraries to see which activities are available (some virtual and some in person.)
GR Kids
Discounts at Shedd Aquarium and John Ball Zoo for low-income families
  1. Shedd Aquarium
  2. John Ball Zoo
    • John Ball Zoo – Sensory Inclusion Programs:
    • Sensory bags are available at our guest services desk near the admission booth. These include noise-canceling headphones, lap pads, fidget toys, and a feeling card.
    • Headphone zones are located at the budgie aviary, the aquarium, the Natural Treasures building, and the chimpanzee indoor viewing area.
    • Quiet areas are located on the Waterfall Trail, Forest Realm Trail, chimpanzee viewing tunnel, and between the North American turtle and Canada lynx habitats. Our staff is sensory inclusive trained through KultureCity.
Bridge benefits
Network 180 children’s I/DD team for Medicaid coverage for Autism Services and Supports Coordination: (616) 336-3909

Contact Network 180 at the number above and ask to speak to the Children’s I/DD Team indicating you are interested in ABA therapy/supports coordination.

  1. Supports Coordination:
    • Network 180 will complete a supports coordination screening and refer the family to a supports coordination program (i.e. Family Support Services!) if eligible.
    • If the child does not qualify for these services, Network 180 will provide other service options based on child’s eligibility.
  1. Autism Services:
    • Network 180 will complete an Autism screening to indicate if there is enough evidence that supports further diagnostic testing, called ADOS testing.
    • If ADOS testing is recommended, Network 180 will complete a supports coordination screening and refer the family to a supports coordination program (i.e. Family Support Services!)
    • If the child does not qualify for these services, Network 180 will provide other service options based on child’s eligibility.

About The Authors

About Sara Halker, M.Ed, LSST, QIDP

Sara has worked at DABSJ for 9 years. She started as a CLS aide, then worked as a Supports Coordinator and since 2016 as a supervisor for the Family Support Services program. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family & friends, being outdoors and catching up on her many TV shows!

About Suzanne Kibby, LMSW, QIDP

Suzanne joined Family Support Services at DABSJ in 2013, first coming on as a Community Living Support Aide, and then a Supports Coordinator until 2017 when she became an FSS Supervisor. In her free time, she is an avid cook and baker, and also enjoys spending time with her husband and fur baby, Annie.

About Jenna Lee, LMSW, QIDP

Jenna started working at DABSJ in 2015 as an FSS Supports Coordinator and transitioned into a supervisory role in 2019. She is honored to have worked with such an amazing team for almost 6 years! Outside of work Jenna enjoys traveling, spending time outside, and cheering on the Wolverines & Detroit Tigers.

DABSJ is inclusive and welcoming – from our team members, to the children we serve, to the families we license as foster parents. You could play a part in providing homes and hope for children who need a place to be themselves.