GVSU Autism Center director establishes coping mechanisms

Dylan Grosser

The Center for Disease Control identified in a study one in 68 children in the United States live with a disorder on the autistic spectrum. In Michigan, the Statewide Autism Resources and Training (START) project estimated approximately 18,000-19,000 children receive special services related to autism spectrum disorder. Grand Valley State University, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Spectrum Health have teamed up in the ‘Your Lecture’ series to deliver a community event centered around the topic of autism Tuesday, Nov. 15.

Amy Matthews is the director of the GVSU Autism Center, a GVSU psychology department faculty member and director of the START project. She was invited to speak at the event along with Steven Pastyrnak, section chief of pediatric psychology at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. Pastyrnak spoke about characteristics of autism, including signs, symptoms, early detection and diagnosis. Pastyrnak also spoke about the increasing prevalence of autism in the United States. Matthews spoke about 10 recommendations she would give to individuals with autism to help them “live better lives.”

“It’s one thing to talk about what needs to happen, I think it’s more important to give people information about how they can access services and additional resources so they can actually make it happen,” Matthews said.

Matthews said the event is geared toward anyone: family members, educators, clinical or healthcare service providers and community members. She said she wanted to share with participants how individuals with autism can find resources to help them.

“What they need to know (is) not just the characteristics of autism, but what are the ways that you’re going to help them become fully integrated members of their community and have a good quality of life,” Matthews said.

In the START project, Matthews said one of their goals is for integration in schools and community for individuals with autism. She said by speaking at this event, she hoped to raise awareness of the issue.

“I’ve done many presentations on ‘what is autism’ and its characteristics,” Matthews said. “I think what’s really more important is the intervention piece and getting to know a person with autism – who they are and how we can help them.”

Administrative assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Health Sara Walker helped organize the lecture and said the goal was to keep the conversation about autism going.

“We wanted to be able to provide a platform for community members (and) anybody who would be interested to come in and learn some more information about autism and then also learn about the resources that we have in our local community,” Walker said.

As director of the GVSU Autism Center, Matthews said there is a lot of work the center does for individuals with autism, one of them being Campus Links. Campus Links is a peer mentoring program aimed to help students with autism at GVSU make social connections and improve academically. Mentors help by taking students out to lunch, dinner and various other social activities. The program is run out the Disability Support Resources Office and is in its fifth year.

“What we know is that autism is a neurobiological disorder; you don’t really cure it or take it away,” Matthews said. “What you can do, is that you can work with individuals and you can help them learn really good skills that allow them to be really successful.”