By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Community awareness of autism needs and resources was the focus of Blue Hands United for Autism’s Light It Up Blue event March 26 at Henry Ford Elementary School.
Mona Alaouie, co-founder of Blue Hands United, chaired the event, with co-founder Mariam Alaouie, Dearborn Public Schools autism behavioral specialist.
Mayor Abdullah Hammoud and Police Chief Issa Shahin spoke, along with Fire Chief Joseph Murray and Dearborn Public Schools Director of Special Populations Mike Esseily.
Esseily said groups like Blue Hands United make the community more aware of autism, which, along with the rise in autism diagnosis, has led to policy changes, earlier interventions and accommodations, which make resources more widespread and accessible.
He said all Dearborn Public Schools staff members have participated in some type of training related to autism, and the schools have autism-friendly support systems.
Esseily said true collaboration and partnerships are crucial for student success stories to happen.
“Our team approach is setting up teams for success, while giving them the least restrictive environment,” he said. “Dearborn Public Schools have been aggressive with student supports for students with autism.”
Esseily said this includes providing more social workers, special education coordinators and behavioral specialists.
“All students can achieve greatness if granted the opportunity,” he said. “Setting the high bar for our students is not an option, but an expectation, and we make sure each and every one of our students has an opportunity for success.”
Dearborn Police Cpl. Brent King and Firefighter Jim Rodgers spoke about the Ready Bags first responders are now using, and seatbelt covers that help emergency workers in the community interact with people who are on the spectrum.
King said all first responders in Dearborn are provided with training to help them better respond to the needs of people with autism.
He said the city’s special needs registry helps give first responders the crucial information they need when responding to a household that has a person with special needs.
King said first responders’ successful use of Core Boards, which help facilitate communication with non-verbal people, will be placed in all of the Ready Bags.
Rodgers said the Ready Bags help first responders de-escalate a situation, which he said has already proven to work in the field.
He said window decals for cars, indicating the possible presence of a person with autism, also help first responders.
Rodgers said the seat belt covers also provide crucial information quickly to first responders, especially if the special needs person is non-verbal.
The Fire and Police departments are partnering with the Downriver-based non-profit Mimi’s Mission, which works with autistic individuals and their families, and helps train first responders to work with people with autism.
Mimi’s Mission founder Lisa Vilella spoke about their support groups for families and people on the spectrum.
She said Mimi’s Mission is helping develop a 911 registry Downriver, which will help first responders know where people with special needs live, whether deaf, blind or challenged in other ways.
Vilella said in a smoke-filled house, you couldn’t yell out to find a deaf person, which is an example of how the registry helps prepare emergency workers for site-specific challenges.
“Puzzle Joe,” an inspirational speaker who is on the spectrum, spoke about the challenges he and others with autism face, and what they would like the neurotypical population to understand.
Mona Alaouie said empowering and providing opportunities is what Blue Hands United for Autism is all about, for both children and adults.
“We know the challenges and we know the struggle, and the message we want to give you is we are all here beside you.”
For more information about Blue Hands United for Autism, go to bluehandsunited.org.
For more information about Mimi’s Mission, go to mimismission.com.
To support the Dearborn Fire Department’s Ready Bag fundraising initiative, contact Rodgers at [email protected]