WMU Gets $4 Million for Autism Research

Western Michigan University has won $4 million from the state to help families with autistic kids. State Representative Margaret O’Brien of Portage says the money is needed because there aren’t enough professionals to meet demand.

The money goes to the Behavior Analysis Program in Western’s Department of Psychology. University officials say it will be used for research to make autism treatments more effective. Other uses include hiring more professors to increase the number of certified autism professionals.

O'Brien says Michigan faces a significant shortage of trained analysts and counselors to help people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. Two years ago the state required health insurance companies to cover autism treatments and began reimbursing them for those costs. O'Brien says that helps. But she says a lack of staff and programs often means kids and parents must travel for hours to get services. She says the new state appropriation for Western will also encourage more of its graduates to stay and practice in Michigan after they graduate.

State Representative Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and State Senator Tonya Schuitmaker joined WMU President John Dunn in announcing the initiative Friday. O'Brien says it is the result of several years of work by lawmakers and the university. Although the $4 million for the university is a one-time appropriation, O'Brien says getting money to keep the project going in the future is one of her top priorities.

University officials say the money will also allow Western to develop a joint program between the departments of Psychology and Education to help student teachers who also want to become certified to help those with ASD. The university also plans to create new online training programs and improve support services for Western students who are autistic.

Officials say the new initiative at WMU can help improve the "life trajectory" for people in Michigan living with various forms of autism. O'Brien says the state is investing on the "front end" now so they can become independent and productive citizens, something she says will save taxpayers in the long run.

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