This guest Q&A is with Tammy Morris, the Chief Program Officer for the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Tammy oversees all of AAoM’s programmatic and community activities.  She is a licensed Speech/Language Pathologist with 20 years of experience providing evaluation, diagnostic and intervention services to children with developmental communication disorders, including Autism Spectrum Disorders. Tammy has worked in a variety of healthcare and educational settings, with both children and adults with special health care needs and challenges.

Hi Tammy! Can you tell us how you first found out about the Autism Alliance of Michigan?

I came to the Autism Alliance of Michigan first as a provider, working for a healthcare system, who relied on AAoM for policy and insurance leadership. I had the opportunity to participate in a Best Practice working group to outline what a quality autism assessment and evidence-based treatment would look like. The relationship with this professional organization continued to grow from there.

We are obviously huge fans of national speaker Anthony Ianni who you’ve collaborated with in the past. When did you first find out about his story and want to get involved with him?

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Anthony worked for AAoM before I did. I was lucky enough to meet him and have him visit a group of autism parents at Oakwood Healthcare, where they were instantly inspired seeing the potential for their own children’s futures. There is nothing more meaningful to a parent of a young child than to see the future in ‘grown-ups’ on the spectrum who are doing amazing things. When I joined AAoM, I was lucky enough to get to work with Anthony who was working in the Relentless Tour program, inspiring students across the state. Last year, the Relentless Tour had grown such that the decision was made to move it to the Office of Civil Rights.

We love the title behind your annual conference! When did the idea to host this conference come about? Any highlights so far?

Navigating Autism Today does actually carry a lot of meaning for us. Our pillars of focus at AAoM are Community, Advocacy, and Navigation, work on behalf of the many autism stakeholders across our state. Our mission is to overcome barriers to care, and obstacles to inclusion, across the state. ‘Today’ denotes our drive to maintain the most up-to-date information regarding supports and services for families. The goal of our MiNavigator program was to save time for autism stake holders. To let clinicians focus on providing high quality care. To let businesses focus on business. To let parents focus on spending quality time with their children. The more that we can navigate the complexities of systems, referrals, insurance, and policies for care providers, the more time they should have to spend with those who matter most.

21929119179_c8be74b396_oThrough our travels speaking around the country we’ve noticed a need for more self-advocates speaking about their personal experiences growing up on the autism spectrum. Have you noticed this yourself? AAoM has seemed to be doing a pretty fine job of including these individuals.

I couldn’t agree more. As first a clinician for 20 years, how I wish I had known in my early clinical practice, what I know now firsthand, and what I have learned from adults on the autism spectrum, and advocates from the autism community. We do have a diverse staff and volunteer group. I have been very excited with the addition of advocates who also help in training employers of individuals on the spectrum. Our first rule in training employers is “Assume Competence” and this is facilitated by having met and interacted with individuals on the spectrum beforehand.

How can someone who reads this article potentially get involved to help support your team’s cause?

The Autism Alliance of Michigan is involved in so many efforts, that at times it can be difficult to explain in thirty seconds or less what we do. However, that also means that regardless of someone’s background, interest, and what they can bring to AAoM, there is usually a place for them on our team. We have a growing Volunteer Corp, Young Professionals Board, Committees, Free Parent Conferences, and many fun community events to begin to get involved. All of our events and services for families are free. I hope that your readers will follow our website and social media to look for opportunities to get involved.

What’s next for you? Anything fun coming up?

Always fun. Our Gala theme this year is ‘Expect the Unexpected,’ so I can’t share much there, but it is always an amazing room filled with autism supporters. We have two upcoming free parent conferences, on March 9th and May 11-12th. For the May conference in Frankenmuth, we have added a parent networking cocktail hour Thursday night, and we are very much looking forward to connecting parents to one another more intentionally, and also connecting them with many autism experts that evening. Our 3rd Annual Autism Heroes Walk at the Detroit Zoo is going to be even more amazing. It is a sight to see a sea of autism families walking together, doing fun activities, meeting with autism resources, and of course dancing like nobody’s watching!

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

We have so many friends on the spectrum. When we look at Community at the Autism Alliance of Michigan, we look at strengthening the autism community, and also ensuring that individuals with autism are included in the community at large. While we are busy, and individuals on the spectrum are busy and working hard, both aspects of ‘Community’ are equally important.

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