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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Autism awareness builds understanding, acceptance and kindness every day


Above / On April 10, 2018, Michael Sapp, center, was recognized for his work in the office of the DuPage County State’s Attorney by DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin. (Photo courtesy Jerry Sapp)

As April wraps up and the blue illumination of Moser Tower dims along the Riverwalk, we’re mindful that every day and every month present times to heighten awareness about autism. Amazing gains have been made with early intervention since we first were introduced to what was considered a very “rare developmental disorder” during a 1981 visit to Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, New Jersey. At the time, we were unaware that the first National Autism Awareness month had begun in April of 1970. 

During Autism Awareness Month in April, Moser Tower, located at the base of Rotary Hill along the Naperville Riverwalk, is illuminated to help heighten understanding, acceptance and kindness.

Today the prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is 1 in 54 among children, according to reports from the CDC. New knowledge and increasing detection every year have been helpful to prepare our community to develop realistic plans, build alternative schools and provide educational services to benefit individuals with programs that lead to jobs. Early diagnosis and intervention are considered the most effective treatment for ASD, a condition that indiscriminately crosses all boundaries throughout the world.

During a recent Spirit Week event presented by the Turning Point Autism Foundation (TPAF) to recognize the positive programs at the CN Day School and Career College, Executive Director Carrie Provenzale introduced us to Jerry Sapp, father of a 2017 TPAF Career College graduate. Sapp was there that morning to pick up several “school spirit” t-shirts his wife, Sue, had ordered. Carrie took us both on a tour of the facility that has undergone an interior facelift and redesign this past year.

The day school and Career College supported by Turning Pointe Autism Foundation provides space for students to “dream big.”

My last visit inside Turning Pointe had been more than a year ago before the pandemic had limited visitors. All the new classroom, recreation and educational spaces were indeed impressive. During the tour and afterward, Jerry enlightened me about his family’s connection to Turning Pointe.

Jerry’s story shines bright light on what can happen when an individual’s special needs are met, thanks to a generous community.

Sue and Jerry Sapp share their son’s story

Our son Michael Sapp, 28, is a 2017 graduate of Turning Pointe Career College. As parents of a child with autism, we faced many challenges and had many concerns about Michael’s future. It was a struggle at times navigating the public school system, but Michael graduated from high school with his class. 

After graduation, Michael took some classes at a community college. He also worked very briefly as a janitor. He worked probably 10-20 hours and they let him go. His employer was one that employed only people with a disability. At this point, we just didn’t know what the future would look like for Michael. Would he be able to support himself? Could he hold down a job?

We knew that the next couple of years would be critical for Michael. The first thing we did was to start Michael at a local greenhouse and garden center that provides employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Michael made friends and learned a lot there. For the short term, this job was OK, but we knew we wanted more for Michael.

Through networking with other parents, we learned about Turning Pointe. From his first tour and interview with the staff, we knew it would be a good fit for Michael. His future suddenly looked much brighter. 

From the beginning, he had such a wonderful experience there and made many friends.

Michael learned life skills and independent living, social communication, self-advocacy along with interviewing and employment skills. He was able immediately to put his self-advocacy skills to use as a co-worker had been bossing him around (The co-worker had overstepped his bounds.) and Michael was able to confront him about it.

Self-confidence skills produce positive results

All of this education prepared Michael for his next big step—interviewing for full-time employment. As the first semester was ending, we were contacted through the school about an opportunity in the imaging department at the DuPage County State’s Attorney’s Office. We knew Michael’s attention to detail made him a good fit for this job. We were all very excited about the opportunity.

Of course, Michael had to interview for the job, but the preparation that he had received at Turning Pointe Career College made the process much easier. 

Michael was ecstatic when he received news that he’d gotten the job. He immediately accepted and started shortly after completing his coursework at Turning Pointe. 

He has been there almost four years. He enjoys his work and has made many friends there. He missed everyone when he was forced to work from home due to Covid-19.  Currently, he is working from home every other day.

We are forever grateful to Turning Pointe Autism Foundation for their part in Michael’s success. The positive impact on Michael and the rest of our family has been such a blessing.

One more thing: After talking with Carrie about the Autism Awareness presentation at Du Page County in 2018, I dug up the video.

Yes, the “thank you for believing in me” comment choked up my wife and me—again!

—Sue Sapp and Jerry Sapp

After hearing Michael’s story, reading his parents’ words and viewing the video that touts Michael’s dedication after his first year on the job in 2018, we reached out to Michael’s employer for an update, considering that now he’s been with the State’s Attorney’s office for four years.

“Michael has become an integral part of the State’s Attorney team and has earned the love, respect, and admiration of every employee in the office,” emailed DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin. “His work ethic, commitment to excellence, and positive attitude are inspirational, and proof that people with autism can find happiness and success.” 

—Stephanie Penick, PN Publisher

During a recent tour of the CS Day School and Career College at Turning Pointe Autism Foundation, “Otis the service dog” served as our guide, igniting smiles and joy throughout the halls and classrooms.

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PN Editor
PN Editor
An editor is someone who prepares content for publishing. It entered English, the American Language, via French. Its modern sense for newspapers has been around since about 1800.


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