Jan. 31, 2018
Last week, we were honored to have Ron Fournier, editor and publisher at Crain's Detroit Business, on-site at Centria's Novi HQ to deliver an inspiring speech during our monthly Company Lunch!
Since 1985, Fournier has had a successful career in journalism, working for Atlantic Magazine, the National Journal, the Associated Press (AP), and currently, Crain's Detroit Business. He is also the author of Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent's Expectations. His amazing son, Tyler, has Asperger's Syndrome.
"After reading the book, I loved hearing about what Ron's son, Tyler, is up to now, and that he aspires to be a history professor," said Katelyn Tooley, Client Service Manager at Centria Healthcare. "Most of the kids we work with at Centria are young, but it's important to remember that all of our kids will one day be adults and ABA is preparing them for those next steps in life."
Ron was kind enough to do a Q&A with Centria after his visit, covering topics ranging from the joys and challenges of parenting to his experience visiting our office.
1. What inspired your family's journey in Love That Boy?
After Tyler was diagnosed, my wife Lori and I walked out of the doctor’s office and she said, “You've got to step up and spend more time with Tyler. You've got to get him outside of the house and out into the world to do the things that we’re going to talk with him about – like shaking peoples’ hands, looking people in the eye, and being a social being – so he can practice them out in the real world."
And before we got home, she decided specifically what that project was going to be: to go to presidential sites and presidential homes, and spend a few weekends throughout the year going to historical sites. Tyler loves history, and presidents is what kept me away from the family for a long time. So she said that I should use the job that kept me away to get closer to Tyler, and we did that.
We spent a year, on several weekends, going to great places like the Kennedy Library and Sagamore Hill, where Teddy Roosevelt lived (that’s Tyler’s favorite president). When I thought I was done, I told Lori, we’ve done this and it was great – and she said, wouldn’t it be great if Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama would meet with him too? I kind of laughed and said, it would be great if I could sprout wings too, but that’s not going to happen. But I reached out to them, to people who work for them, and they agreed to do it! So basically, it was Lori’s idea to try to find a different way to bond with Tyler, and to help him out.
2. What are some of your son's biggest accomplishments so far?
First, it was embracing the fact and being proud of the fact that he is autistic. Right off the bat, he didn’t see this as a curse, he saw it as something that explained who he was. He likes to say, “Some people have brown eyes and some people have blue eyes. I have blue eyes, and I have autism. It’s just another thing that makes me different.” So that’s a big accomplishment, and it has always made me proud.
Another thing is that he graduated from high school. It wasn’t easy – not easy for a lot of kids, and it wasn’t easy for him – but with the help of Lori, he got himself through it.
Then he got a driver’s license before we moved back from Washington to Detroit, which is something we weren’t sure if he’d be able to do, but it turns out he’s a really good driver.
And then when we moved to Detroit last year, he got himself a full-time temporary job at the Edsel Ford Estate. It was 40 hours a week, but it was only supposed to last about 10 months. He worked in maintenance helping them move everything out of the estate and get things ready for an addition they were doing out there. And he did great at that! He worked real hard and did a real good job, and then he saved up a little bit of money so he could go to college.
Now he’s at a community college doing really well in his courses, starting his second semester. He’s an amazing guy.
3. What advice would you would give to parents and families who have children with autism?
Advice I give to any parent is to understand what it is to be a person with autism. Recognize the clues and don't be afraid to spot them. It’s not a curse, it’s not a disease, it’s not a death warrant. It’s something that one out of every 44 human beings has - at least.
With therapy like ABA, people with autism can really progress and be a really important part of society. Then, once you know your child has autism, find out everything you can about it and get your child the support therapy they need, like the one that Centria provides with ABA. I think looking back on it, Lori and I wished we had diagnosed him sooner, and had gotten him ABA treatment in the home when he was young. He didn’t have the benefit of the services that Centria provides, and we regret that.
For my extended family, they always loved Tyler, and he loved them, but before his diagnosis, I don’t think people really knew how to deal with him and respond to him. They may have been afraid to say something to us when he was acting out or acting different. The diagnosis made it easy for the family to understand what was going on, and be okay with it. The family has been so loving and embracing of him, but I think it was easier for them once they knew what made him different.
4. If there was one thing that everyone could do to be more inclusive and accommodating of individuals with autism, what would it be?
Well, that’s the most important question. It’s to realize that what makes anybody special, and what makes this country special, is what makes us different. The fact that somebody is wired differently, and might have a hard time looking someone in the eyes or shaking hands with somebody, or carrying on a dialogue and not be dominating a conversation, shouldn’t be - and isn’t - a reason to think less of that person.
What makes us different is what makes us special and what makes us strong, so be more accepting of people with autism. Be more accepting of people who are different. Be more accepting of people who you might think are quirky. Be more accepting of people who are – to borrow that terrible word – weird. Be more accepting of people who are awkward. In our own weird way, we are all wired differently, and weirdly, so be more accepting and be more open, because right now, we’re not taking full advantage of some of the greatest people in our families, or in our communities, or in our country, because we’re letting a lot of people who happen to have Autism be ostracized. And that’s not just a same on us, but a loss for us.
There’s all kinds of research and evidence that throughout history, people with autism have contributed so much to our culture. And if we open more paths for people with autism, we would get even more out of them.
5. How did you enjoy your visit to the Centria Headquarters, and talking with our staff and leaders?
When I first walked in the door, I was hit by a wave of noise, and an audible buzz that you don’t normally get when you walk into an office building. It reminded me of walking into a political campaign – a high-functioning political campaign the week before victory. I used to think that as a political reporter, I could walk into a campaign headquarters and I could tell right away if they were going to win or lose, just by the feeling and the energy. And walking into Centria, it had that feel of a winning campaign – that everyone was working hard and working together and enjoying their job. There was a sense of mission that you could feel in the room, and you could literally hear it, that buzz when you walk into your headquarters. So, I was impressed right off the bat, and thought, “Woah, I’m walking into the headquarters in Iowa, a week before the caucus.”
Talking to the people and the leadership team, I saw that everyone was committed to the mission and the huge opportunity that you have with this enormous population of people who need ABA but aren’t getting it. And that’s a huge business opportunity, and also a great social mission. There’s something special going on there.
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