Autism awareness

NMU Best Buddies fosters inclusion

Northern Michigan University’s Best Buddies organization presents an Autism Awareness Month speaker and panel discussion last week in Jamrich Hall. NMU student Lindsey Miller reads a display set up at the event. (Journal photo by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — Students and community members gathered at Northern Michigan University’s Jamrich Hall Thursday for presentations and a discussion panel held in the name of Autism Awareness Month.

The event, held by NMU’s Best Buddies organization, featured two speakers — Carissa Rondeau, U.P. regional consultant and behavior consultant for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, and Erik Bergh, senior director of workforce development at Goodwill and father to an individual with autism.

Rondeau’s presentation covered the signs, behaviors, possible causes, co-conditions, diagnosis and treatment of autism. Bergh spoke of his own personal experience of raising a child with autism.

Both emphasized that autism is an individualized condition requiring personalized treatment.

Following the presentations, a panel of four specialists on autism hosted a question-and-answer session with the audience. The panel was comprised of Rondeau, Bergh, Jennifer Gorton, coordinator of disability services at NMU, and Dr. Laura Reissner, professor of education at NMU.

Seton Trost, president of NMU Best Buddies, explained the significance of the presentations and panel discussion, saying, “I think events like these are important because more and more people these days are being diagnosed with different disabilities. I think if the community is more aware of it they won’t shy away from it.”

Bergh echoed this, saying, “I think this (event) is such wonderful work because it encourages students to reach out and make connections, to not be afraid of the people who are afflicted with a disability; it makes them more human, more approachable. Every person has value, every person has dignity. Just because somebody has this particular disability doesn’t relegate them to the back bench.”

NMU Best Buddies is an associate chapter of Best Buddies International, said Trost, and will become a full chapter next year. NMU’s faction of the non-profit organization pairs NMU students with college-aged community members who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. Their goal is to foster inclusion and end the isolation that can come to individuals with disabilities.

Trost said more information can be found about NMU Best Buddies by visiting its Facebook page.