Most people thrive on their daily social interactions. However, for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), social interactions may not come so easily. That is why ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan was formed, and continues to reach out to Michigan adults with ASD.
ASPPIRE is an acronym for Adaptive Social Program Providing Instruction, Recreation, and Enrichment. The non-profit organization’s purpose is in their name. Through social coaching, and community outreach and education, ASPPIRE aims to help adults with social deficits and cognitive and physical disabilities reach their true potential.
According to ASPPIRE’s Executive Director, Maria Peak, their main function is social coaching for adults with Autism. Social and lifestyle coaching is facilitated through a number of different interactive sessions that include topics such as healthy cooking and lifestyles, fitness, personal finance, and sexual health and relationship education.
For Peak, seeing the growth in ASPPIRE’s participants is the best part of her job. “What is exciting,” said Peak, “is watching and seeing them grow and take control of their lives. And improving their life by getting a job, moving out on their own, having a boyfriend or girlfriend, developing friendships, and getting a life outside of our organization.”
ASPPIRE also offers training and education for organizations that may be working with adults with ASD. In doing so, Peak said that their goal is to help employers and employees better understand how to work with persons in the workplace, and to help resources for persons with Autism better understand how to help. Peak said that ASPPIRE’s goal in education is to spread awareness and acceptance.
Awareness and acceptance of ASD turns out to be a fairly widespread challenge. According to a 2014 CDC report, about 1 in 59 people in the US have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and we are seeing a rising trend in the incidence rate every year. Autism is becoming a more and more common diagnosis, and yet, those who are diagnosed with the disorder struggle with finding and maintaining employment. According to an article on Moneyish.com, 85 percent of college graduates on the Spectrum are unemployed, compared to the national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.
When asked what ASPPIRE’s biggest challenge is, Peak immediately said “funding.” As a non-profit organization, ASPPIRE survives on grants and donations. However, because it is very small, not many people know the organization even exists. Still, the work they do helps dozens of adults with ASD daily, and ASPPIRE is always happy to take more participants. According to Peak, ASPPIRE takes any applicant who is eligible for their services. Though sessions do charge a fee, ASPPIRE offers scholarships to participants who demonstrate financial need.