Historical Highlight of ASI – Phase One

The following brief historical highlights of ASI have been gathered from available Newsletters and Secretary Reports.  In the summer of 2017 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of ASI.  Phase One of Autism Society of Indiana, beginning May 2nd 1994, also needs to be celebrated.  The first Board of Directors included Linda Barton, Nan Daley, Nancy Dalrymple, Lisa Ruble, Chris Braffet, Robin Herman, Diana Hershberger, Pat Hoxworth, Molly Lung, Joanne O’Bryan, Karen Patton, Suzie Rimstidt, Jennifer Seet, Al Velez and Jacqui Wilcox. This article is submitted by Suzie Rimstidt, a former ASI Update Editor and ASI Secretary, and highlights some of the major achievements from 1994 –2007.

            The national Autism Society of America Conference in Indianapolis in 1991 Setting the Pace: Reaching the Goals was sponsored by the Indiana Resource Center of Autism and the local Indiana ASA Chapters.  This successful conference which nearly doubled the attendance of any previous national conferences may have been the genesis of Indiana chapters working together to provide information and support for persons with autism and their families and professionals.

Representatives from the Indiana local autism chapters then met many times and decided they wanted to have one voice for autism in Indiana. On May 2, 1994, the national Autism Society of America issued Charter #560 to the Autism Society of Indiana.  The first ASI Board of Directors, representatives of all local Indiana ASA chapters, consisting of parents, individuals with autism, siblings, and providers, held its initial meeting in Muncie on June 11th 1994.  Parent from Indianapolis Linda Barton was the first ASI President.

The purposes of Autism Society of Indiana will sound familiar to current parent and professional’ wishes and missions:  “further study and research, increase public awareness, improve education, foster the development of good services, and monitor existing services.  Additionally, provide information and referral, gather and disseminate complete, current information on care treatment and habilitation.”

Since there was much less information available about and awareness of autism at that time, ASI began a long series of informative conferences by collaborating with Ohio that fall in Cincinnati called Charting the Course for Change. Two years later one of the annual conferences featured Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Cathy Pratt, and Carole Gray, just three of the nationally recognized and popular speakers that drew a large crowd at the cooperative regional conference which Indiana hosted, Autism: Another Step Forward.

During those first few years a part time coordinator for ASI was hired to maintain an updated membership list, complete business with Autism Society of America, and arrange the printing and shipment of booklets that were sold throughout the USA and Ontario, and help coordinate conferences.  Other coordinators and directors followed.

One of the several standing committees of ASI, the Legislative Committee, immediately started attending the Indiana Legislative Commission on Autism.  Local and state chapters from other states admired and wanted to emulate this Commission, and the Indiana Resource Center for Autism and ASI both informed and influenced this Commission and their proposed legislation to improve the lives of persons with autism and their families.  The legislators on the Autism Commission, including a lay member from ASI, consistently and successfully sought additional Medicaid Waivers and a way to reduce the waiting list, as well as redefined autism as a neurological disorder, not a mental illness.  The ASI particularly advocated for the continuation of and increased slots in the Autism Waiver separate from the ICF/DD Waiver when the 317 Plan was considered.  Applied Behavioral Analysis services were secured under waivers as well as the hard- fought battle for the Autism Health Insurance mandate, due to the efforts of multiple advocates, organizations, and a strong push from ASI.  ASI also fought for a statewide waiting list, rather than regional waiting lists that weren’t comparable in numbers of years that families had to wait.

Another element of the one Indiana voice for autism was expressed through the Autism Society of Indiana’s Quarterly Update which was later renamed the ASI Update.  Persons with autism, moms, dads, siblings, and professionals contributed articles including advocacy, daily living hints for families,  legislative updates, and latest treatments.  These 8-12 page newsletters initially were mailed to approximately 1000 persons. The  publication Working with Autism: A Resource Guide of Professional Service Providers in Indiana was developed, frequently revised, and given to members.  Other short booklets written by professional members of ASI were sold to help defray the newsletter printing and mailing costs and other expenses of the organization.  These booklets were sold all over the United States in state autism society bookstores and Ontario.

Some awareness and training activities were collaborative with the Indiana Autism Coalition which began in 2002 until the Coalition dissolved.  Well attended ASI state and local expo’s have provided thousands of Indiana citizens with information about autism and resources.  Successful summer camps were initiated by an ASI Board member on her own but later were sponsored by Easter Seals, and ASI supplied many of the volunteers until it was moved to Bradford Woods which had their own staff.  The multiple step application process for Autism License Plates moved forward as an awareness tool and fundraiser.

For the first time ASI received an offer of office space and the potential for collaboration from Ball State University, and two Board Members agreed to operate the office.  Since then the office has moved at least a couple of times and is now in Indianapolis.

Now the one voice of ASI continues with advocacy for individuals and families through a strong ASI program that includes but is not limited to frequent electronic newsletters, a comprehensive web site, career services, and regional allies throughout the state.   Some new television series will feature individuals with autism in the fall of 2017– hopefully authentically—but more respite, more waiver slots, more answers about causes, and especially evidence-based, successful treatments are needed as much as ever before.  Autism Society of Indiana should be celebrated as a vibrant, dynamic voice for persons with autism and their families since 1994.

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