Marion County Commission on Youth

This article is made possible by a partnership with the Marion County Commission on Youth. Indy with Kids is proud to support the work of MCCOY and help communicate information that is important for the youth of our community.

Written by Jacie Farris


April is Autism Awareness Month, so what better way to honor youth on the autism spectrum than by learning about their experiences and getting to know some of the organizations dedicated to helping them grow up well!

“An autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder characterized by problems with social interactions and communication, as well as limited and repetitive patterns of behavior,” said Holly Barszcz, clinical director at Cornerstone Autism Center. “It is important to support individuals with an autism spectrum disorder because, by providing them with proper supports, these individuals can have greater independence when completing tasks, learn skills that they might not have been able to complete in the past, increase their communication skills and interaction with others as well as even display skills appropriate for gainful employment.”

Cornerstone Autism Center offers one-on-one applied behavior analysis services to children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, as they know that each individual is unique and requires different kinds of support.

“When communicating with an individual with [an autism spectrum disorder], it may help to break down the material so that the person has time to process and respond to the information that was communicated,” said Barszcz. “Offer an individual choices when able to do so, that way each person has the ability to make a choice and determine things that they want to experience. Social interactions may provoke anxiety in an individual with ASD. Allow them the opportunity to communicate with others, [and] provide them with the social rules for the situation as well as a way to leave the conversation when they are finished. Also, some individuals with ASD experience difficulty with change. Establish routines, provide checklists or communicate what is happening so that the individual can process this change.”

Jane Scott and Lisa Kutschera work together at About Special Kids, an organization that provides peer support, information and training to parents and caregivers of youth with special needs. Scott, the deputy director, and Kutschera, the parent liaison, agree that individuals with autism are entirely unique.

“There is an old saying that says, ‘If you meet someone with autism, you have met one person with autism,’” said Scott and Kutschera. “The way that this disorder affects people varies tremendously. All aspects of this disorder vary. Some individuals are able to speak; others are not. Some are able to care for their personal needs; others are not. Some are able to work and support themselves; others are not.  Communication and social interactions are typically evident to some degree.”

Another organization that aims to “serve children of all abilities” is the Joseph Maley Foundation. They offer programs for children with a variety of abilities, including many who have an autism spectrum disorder. Through their various programs, they help families collaborate with various resources; teach about acceptance, respect and empathy; and offer inclusive and adaptive sports for children.

“I believe the autism spectrum is similar to a rainbow in that in contains many different colors of individuals who face both challenges and incredible abilities daily,” said Molly Shawhan, assistant to programs for the Joseph Maley Foundation. “It is just a matter of finding the beauty of each of the colors of the rainbow in getting to know, understand and care for people with autism, be they verbal or nonverbal, a lover of music or train noises, hypersensitive or hyposensitive, etc.”

How can Hoosiers support families and youth living with autism? The answer seems simple.

“Work together as a team!” said Scott and Kutschera. “Listen to each other! Never give up! Do your best to identify the individual’s needs and provide them with what they need to be successful. It can look different for every single person. Sometimes, just the manner in which the individual is approached can determine the success or failure of the person.”

“In the most basic way, the best way to support any child is to get to know them for who they are, not who they aren’t, and certainly not who anyone else might want them to be,” said Shawhan. “From there, understanding why or how they behave the way they do is critical.”

The Indianapolis community is made up of kids and teens from all different backgrounds. The Marion County Commission on Youth is dedicated to making sure ALL youth have opportunities to thrive, learn, engage and contribute.