AKRON  Since 1970, the Autism Society has dedicated the month of April to increasing awareness of those living with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) — the obstacles they and their families overcome and the color and diversity they add to our communities. For the local chapter, the Autism Society of Greater Akron (ASGA), this April is no different. To kick off the month right, ASGA held its fourth annual Autism Summit the morning of April 5 at Quaker Square in downtown Akron. Praiseworthy advocates were recognized and new ideas for Autism Awareness in the Greater Akron area were discussed.

"Stand Up For Autism" was the resounding message of the Summit and a call to action the ASGA hopes to see realized throughout April and the rest of the year. It encourages any and all to "Participate. Advocate. Donate." for the sake of fellow community members living with ASD, which affects every one in 68 children and about 20,000 children and adults in the Greater Akron area.

Perhaps the main event of the Summit was the outlining of ASGA’s new policies for Autism advocacy. Mayor of Stow and Chairwoman of ASGA’s Advocacy Committee Sara Kline released the results of the organization’s second "State of Autism" survey and the subsequent policy statements for the local, state and national levels.

Kline’s policy statements focused improving the education, living situations, employment, family caregiving and, perhaps most importantly, health care for those affected by ASD. 

Kline’s closing remarks comprised what ASGA calls their "Big Idea: A federal funding program that is appropriately structured for people with autism and other developmental disabilities. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security Insurance/Disability Insurance were not created with the unique needs of people with developmental disabilities in mind. We would argue that as a basic human right, a program should be created that meets those unique needs to better serve this vulnerable population." 

At the sold-out Summit, three notable Autism Ambassadors were honored. Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro was recognized for declaring Summit County Autism-friendly in April 2017, making Summit the first county in Ohio to do so. Shapiro also spearheaded the Diversity and Inclusion Council which reviews county policies and procedures to maximize inclusion opportunities within the Executive Branch.

Another Summit County leader was an honorary Autism Ambassador. County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh was recognized for her creation of Take Me Home, the first program of its kind in Ohio used to help those with ASD communicate with law enforcement, a task that often frustrating if not dangerous for both parties.

The final Autism Ambassadors to be recognized were ASGA founders Joseph and Marilyn Henn. The couple has been an advocate for ASD since their daughter who lives with Autism was born. They are responsible for transforming what was just an all-volunteer parent network into the ASGA that exists today. 

"We recognize the Autism Ambassadors because without them, we could never achieve our mission of improving the lives of all affected by autism," said Dr. Bill Lanzinger, Cleveland Clinic Akron General and Chairman of the ASGA Board of Directors "It takes one person, one initiative, one level of government at a time to bring about change. We applaud these leader’s efforts and thank them for all they have done to benefit people with autism so all may enjoy the offerings of our great community."

ASGA encourages anyone interested in their cause to "Stand Up For Autism" in anyway they can this month. You can learn more about ASGA and about what you can do to get involved at their website autismakron.org.

For more information, also visit https://autismakron.org/index.php/what-we-do/naam