"No mom, he's not autistic or anything. He just has an anger management problem."
That was the beginning of a conversation I had with my son a couple of years ago. Thanks to the openness of a couple of families who had had children in his class, he seemed to have a moderately good grasp (for an elementary school student) of what autism is, and what Down Syndrome is. Anger management? That was different entirely (and it was probably more disruptive to the class too).
I don't have a very sophisticated understanding of autism, although I do have increased interest now that a close relative has been evaluated and found to be "on the autism spectrum." Nationally, special education services are mandated, but they are undoubtedly better in some districts--and some states--than others. Friends of mine who have moved from California and Massachusetts tell me that special education services which are standard there are hard to come by here. And parents of children with special needs who have some control over their destiny (e.g., middle and upper class people) will choose their school districts based on the special education services available.
When we talk about autism, a few things are clear. Autism treatments have been subject to a lot of controversy. The autistic spectrum covers a wide range of behaviors and actions. And the prevalence of autism seems to be going up--whether that is because of better diagnoses, or an actual increase, I don't know.
In any case, I thought it would be good to write about some local resources. I have no personal experience with them.
First, for several months I have had on the right-hand sidebar a link to a Child Psychology Research Blog. In fact, I linked to it in this post for an article on the prevalence of autism, as well as the links for autism and autism treatments. What I value about this blog is the way that the author(s) explain(s) scientific findings in easy-to-understand language. Well, it turns out that Dr. Nestor Lopez-Duran has recently moved to Ann Arbor--and that despite the very large number of entries around autism and autism causes and treatment, his own research is on mood disorders in children and adolescents. Side note: If you find a notice that he is speaking locally, he'll probably be worth going to hear.
Second, Eastern Michigan University is opening an Autism Collaborative Center. It is opening in the former Fletcher School Building (in case you wonder whether, or how, closed school buildings can be repurposed--here is one positive example). You can find more information at www.accemu.org.
Third, the University of Michigan has a well-established Autism and Communication Disorders Center. You can find more information about them at www.umaccweb.com.