Western Michigan University has been given a $4 million allocation from the state of Michigan for use in the university’s work related to autism spectrum disorder.
The funding is intended to help improve autism education and to better equip students graduating from WMU with the skills they need to serve Michigan families that deal with autism, said State Rep. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, who made the announcement at WMU Friday morning.
Wayne Fuqua and Stephanie Peterson, chairwoman and professor of the WMU Department of Psychology, said that the money will be used to create jobs and support professionals already working in the field while simultaneously developing support networks for those dealing with autism.
“We’re thinking of autism almost like diabetes,” Fuqua said. “We know what causes diabetes. We can’t cure it but we certainly do a lot to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes. We can do the same for people with autism.
“With effective behavioral treatment, which is what we’re implementing and what we’re developing as researchers, we can change the life trajectory of so many of these children so that they don’t end up as, essentially, custodians of the state as they become older.”
Fuqua and Peterson were previously awarded a $500,000 grant in February by the Michigan Department of Community Health to create a wide range of autism services that serve to help those dealing with autism spectrum disorder.
O’Brien, who was flanked during the announcement by State Rep. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton and State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Antwerp Township, said that the money being allocated to WMU serves as a way to not only provide increased services for communities but also as a wise way to invest taxpayer money.
“We’re transferring $3 million from the autism fund, and $1 million is allocated from the general fund,” she said. “We need to have a long term conversation about investing taxpayer money; invest wisely on the front end so we can save money on the back end.”