Autism is a tricky disorder. Though the stereotypes of autistic people being isolated and emotionless while harboring some special gift continue to thrive, the actuality of the disorder is much more complicated. This is something Mary Powell knows well.
Powell has spent more than 25 years advocating for the rights of autistic adults and children, helping to reshape public understanding of the disorder. For 18 years, she worked as executive director of the Autism Society of Minnesota, but her retirement couldn’t keep her back from helping families. So, in 2010, she founded the Center for Engaging Autism (CEA) in Minnetonka, Minnesota. The nonprofit helps young families get the resources and support they need to care for autistic children.
According to the website, “Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a wide degree of variation in the way it affects people. Every child on the autism spectrum has unique abilities, symptoms and challenges.” Though each case is unique, some characteristics are common: Those with autism have some form of limitation in their communication skills, socialization skills and behavior.
Getting a diagnosis can be difficult, but once you’re there, CEA wants to step in and help families whose members are feeling overwhelmed. “We are dedicated to supporting families as they navigate through the maze of academic, medical and community interventions available for children with autism,” the website states.
CEA not only helps families as they sort through the numerous programs available, the organization also provides training for parents as they learn more about their child’s disorder. In the training, parents see new ways of adapting their homes to better serve their child, learn new parenting skills to manage behavior problems, and even build a better connection between the family members.
Because of Powell’s amazing work, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and The McKnight Foundation recognized her as an Unsung Hero in 2015. She continues to work as CEA’s board president.
Know a family struggling with an autism diagnosis? Contact CEA for help and information.