Autism Alliance of Michigan Is a Compass for Families

Knowledgeable support and professional guidance are what families need most when they receive a diagnosis of autism — and many don’t know exactly where to turn. That’s why the Autism Alliance of Michigan developed MiNavigator. It’s a starting point for families that contact AAoM, says President and CEO Colleen Allen.

“We connect families to supports and services, resources and provide professional guidance to address many issues across the lifespan,” Allen says. That means whether a family is looking for help overcoming challenges accessing quality, inclusive education or an adult support need, such as finding appropriate housing or employment opportunities. Families or individuals can reach out to MiNavigator and work with a professional at no cost.

“Having an organization that any person can contact, without cost, to connect with professionals, services and supports, and critical resources brings great comfort and confidence in navigating the complex systems of care that will be needed over the lifespan as a person ages,” Allen explains.

She adds that up to 55% of adults with autism will experience a co-occurring mental health condition. When individuals can access the support of “evidence-based interventions and adequate support, families function more successfully.”

Priorities and relationships

Inevitably, families encounter barriers to services, care and education for their loved ones. As an independent, third-party advocate for families living with autism, AAoM follows a data-driven approach.

“The challenges we learn about from families across the state become our advocacy priorities,” Allen says. “We will continue to help one family at a time while addressing the root causes of what brings them to us in the first place.”

By engaging with multiple stakeholders that span health, behavioral health, educational, vocational rehabilitation, business and political communities, AAoM effectively addresses challenges in the most complex cases and builds relationships through this network of support.

Foundation of support for families

Because AAoM’s professional resources are most effective when there are services and supports for families to access, the organization also works hard to raise awareness of the need for better systems, according to Allen.

“Navigation is only successful if services and support exist in our systems of care,” she says. “When they don’t it’s not only families that are frustrated, but our navigators are as well. It’s why advocacy and system reform efforts are so critical and must exist alongside our transactional, case-by-case efforts.”

In service of families

As a Flinn grantee, AAoM’s strong partnership with the Flinn Foundation aligns seamlessly with AAoM’s mission.

“We are named an ‘Alliance’ for a reason,” says Allen, adding that AAoM was created to work in collaboration with partners of many different kinds. “Flinn is a long-time partner of ours, recognizing the importance of advocacy, collective impact efforts and community organizing to create real systems change. Flinn’s funding priorities around behavioral health make them a perfectly aligned partner in our work with families struggling emotionally, physically and mentally when individuals and/or their family member is challenged with autism.”

As with many nonprofits, AAoM places funding at the top of the list of what they need more of. Specifically, Allen says, AAoM could do even more with support for advocacy efforts to address families’ significant behavioral health crisis situations, education reform and the direct care worker shortage, affecting much-needed services like day programming, respite and community activities for individuals with autism and their families.

“We are here for hope, help, answers. Today,” says Allen.

Learn more about the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Visit

Don’t miss the Living With Autism Workshop, Nov. 6-8

Autism Alliance of Michigan has joined with Upbound Staffing and Orlans PC to share a look into the future of employment for people with autism at this year’s virtual Living With Autism Workshop, presented by Flinn partners Henry Ford Health and Metro Parent magazine. Click for $10 off the $25 three-day ticket price.