Milestones 2017 Honoree Dr. Stephen L. Ruedrich – Research & Medicine

Dr. Stephen L. Ruedrich, Milestones 2017 honoree of the Research & Medicine Award, was profoundly impacted by his first encounter with patients with autism and intellectual disabilities. Inspired by the courage of the individuals he met, Ruedrich decided to dedicate his career to making life better for persons with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders.

More than 40 years after that first experience, Dr. Ruedrich, who serves as the L. Douglas Lenkoski Professor of Psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, continues to positively impact the region by helping to demystify the process of seeking and receiving psychiatric care for patients and families.

In addition to his role at Case, Dr. Ruedrich serves as Vice-Chair, Chief of the Division of Adult Psychiatry and Chief Quality Officer in the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland. At University Hospitals, he has continued and expanded a focused clinical practice serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with co-morbid psychiatric or behavioral disorders.

How do you feel your efforts have impacted the autism and special needs community?

I hope that our work has made it easier for persons in Northeast Ohio with autism and special needs, who also have psychiatric or behavioral disorders, to seek and receive psychiatric care, and for their families to participate in their assessment and treatment. Our goal has been to normalize and demystify this process for patients and families, so that their level of comfort and confidence in seeking psychiatric care makes our office visit just one more pleasant community outing.

How has helping others shaped your life?

My first opportunity to work with persons with autism and intellectual disabilities was in 1978, at a State of Ohio Developmental Center. From the first day, I was inspired by the courage of the individuals I met, and the grace and dedication of the families and staff caring for them. It was an easy decision to want to become a part of this universe. I have been blessed since by every encounter with patients and families in the special needs community, and have tried to learn from each experience. I hope I am still learning, because they are still teaching.

What is your message to inspire others to serve the autism and special needs community?

My favorite bumper sticker offers this simple wisdom: “The soul of our nation is tied to how well we treat our most vulnerable members.” Together, we have much work to do.

Milestones 2017 Honoree Saundra Jordan – Parent Tribute

As a Parent Mentor for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Saundra Jordan, our 2017 honoree of the Parent Tribute Award, has served Cleveland parents for 13 years. As a parent of a child (now an adult) with a disability, her daughter’s success is a testament to Saundra’s dedication. She is a proud mother of a college graduate, which has provided fuel in effectively mentoring countless parents over the years.

Along with her years working with Cleveland parents, Saundra has over 20 years of volunteer work around all aspects of the Special Education process. Her many accomplishments include the 2017 Milestones Autism Conference Steering Committee, Parent Leadership Council SST3, Parent Advisory Committee of Cleveland Schools, Co-Founder of Parent Support Groups, Facilitator for the Cleveland/Akron Regional Forum addressing Ohio students with disabilities in the Juvenile Justice System in 2006, receiving the Outstanding Parent Service Award (SST3) in 2000, and serving on ESY Task Force helping to Review and Revise Guideline for Extended School Year in 1999. Saundra has also served as a member of Parent School Improvement Program and volunteered as a Surrogate Parent in the Orange City Schools.

How do you feel your efforts have impacted the autism and special needs community?

I believe every child/student should be given the opportunity to experience all levels of learning. There should not be a ceiling placed on the education of any child/student. While embracing that belief, I would encourage parents and families and community members to work toward expecting the best from our children and also seeing college as an option for their own children/students.

How has helping others shaped your life?

Helping others has proven to me the old adage, “One person can make a difference.” It has given me the courage, the purpose and the confidence that only serving can promote.

What is your message to inspire others to serve the autism and special needs community?

When you serve for the betterment of others, you discover your own powers and strength, talents and gifts. The journey you take while helping others becomes your journey toward the true meaning of life – LOVE.

Milestones 2017 Honoree Tyler Aldrich – Trailblazer

Tyler Aldrich, 22, is a trailblazer – both literally and figuratively.

He had a dream a few years ago while he was on vacation with his family. He wanted to run across the country to the West Coast, kind of like Tom Hanks’ character did in the film Forrest Gump. When the Fremont, Ohio native and Milestones 2017 honoree of the Trailblazer Award told his mentor and former high school cross country coach about this goal, his coach tried talking him out of it. You’re too young, he told Tyler, usually “ultra-runners” don’t do something like that until they are in their 30s. Maybe instead he should start out small, his coach suggested. Tyler’s response: “OK coach, then I’m going to run across the state of Ohio!”

That’s how Tyler’s version of “Run Ohio” was born. What started as a pipe dream became a dream come true. It took him two years to prepare for his June 11, 2016 run. Tyler started in Fremont and ran 225 miles across the state to Cincinnati, along the Ohio River. His “finish line” was at The Great American Ballpark (where the Cincinnati Reds play) during a game against the Chicago Cubs. Wanting to recognize Tyler’s achievement, the Reds organization reached out and invited him to run through the stadium, ending in the ball field and made him the Grand Marshall of their parade.

“I run to prove to myself – and others – that anything is possible,” says Tyler, who was diagnosed with autism at age four. “It’s my passion to bring awareness to autism as well as to set an example for others living on the spectrum and for those that may be living with challenges.”

When Tyler is not attending classes at Tiffin University, or working, he is running. Always running. He runs competitively in 5Ks and ran his first half-marathon in June 2015, placing 67th overall out of 1200 runners and placing 6th in his age group.

How do you feel your efforts have impacted the autism and special needs community?

I feel I have impacted the autism and special needs community by setting an example to those living with challenges, by persevering, by making positive changes, and by living my life with purpose and with the mindset that anything is possible.

How has helping others shaped your life?

Helping others is my calling. I aspire to help individuals living with autism, or people in general, to overcome their psychological barriers. I am living the life I created, sharing the lessons that only an ordinary person who pursued an extraordinary dream can share and serving as a beacon for others to do the same.

What is your message to inspire others to serve the autism and special needs community?

I used my passion for running, by running across the State of Ohio in June, 2016, for autism awareness, and to offer hope and inspiration to others who may live with challenges – that ANYTHING is possible. The MEANING of our lives is to find our gift… The PURPOSE of our lives is to give it away… OUR PURPOSE is GREATER than our challenges… I AM NOT what happened to me… I AM what I choose to become… and the best is yet to come.

My Milestones – Molly Dann

Molly Dann says the world would benefit from a changed perspective and acceptance of autism.

“We should look at it as a positive, not a negative,” says the 24-year-old Beachwood native, who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at age 11. “There are so many positive things individuals with autism have contributed. Take all the technology we have, for example. We wouldn’t have innovation without people with autism.”

An autism activist who is passionate about helping others find their voice, Molly, who earned the nickname the Autism Whisperer, has recently started to meet with legislators in the state’s capital to speak about important issues and advocate for people with disabilities. She is grateful for the support of her family, friends and the Milestones community.

“Milestones helped me get through high school and eventually with transitioning to adulthood,” she says. In addition to her advocacy work, Molly works part-time at the Strongsville Library and is attending Tri-C. Her full-time job goal is to be a paraprofessional in a special needs classroom.

“I’m in such a good place,” she says. “I have career goals. I’m getting married. I have my own apartment. I’m paying my bills. This is what success looks like.”

How has Milestones helped you?

I was a senior at Beachwood High School when I first learned about Milestones. I always wanted to work with special needs kids and I volunteered with Milestones to create a program that pairs a person with autism or disabilities with a neuro-typical person. The program included activities like helping them with social events like prom.

You went from volunteering in high school to becoming an advocate. Tell us about that.

I recently visited with legislators in Columbus with the goal of sharing my ideas of having a mandatory program for police officers to learn how to deal with individuals with autism. It comes from personal experience. I have been stopped by police officers once or twice while driving. I was breathalyzed but I wasn’t under the influence. I just got so overwhelmed with my sensory issues. I was fortunate enough that the officer understood once he realized the situation, but there have been many people with autism who have had much scarier experiences than mine.

How was the transition to adulthood? What were some specific challenges during this time?

I attempted to go to University of Akron, but I lasted about 6 weeks. Milestones helped my mom and I figure out a plan. We had a list of goals, one of which was to get me an apartment. I went to Milestones every week to touch base, to tell them what I accomplished that week.

I moved into my first apartment in Woodmere. At first, I didn’t like living on my own. I didn’t have any friends and it was very lonely. But I started making friends, I grew to really appreciate living on my own, and now I love it.

You’re getting married soon. Congrats! Tell us about your fiancé and what you are most looking forward to.

My fiancé, Sammy, and I are getting married in October of 2018. He was my high school crush and we started dating on and off since the 9th grade. Our romance is nine years in the making. He is neuro-typical, he is a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings in Strongsville and he wants to go to Tri-C and study business management.

Tell us about your nickname, the Autism Whisperer.

Beth Thompson at Milestones came up with it. I can translate for people with autism. I’m fortunate to be high functioning. I live in both worlds, so I have the experience to know what might be bothering a person with autism and can convey that to neuro-typical people.

You and your fiancé will be participating in the Couples Panel at the 15th Annual Autism Conference. What are you hoping to share with attendees?

I want to share that it can happen with your child. My parents and I, we never thought it would happen. But you just keep pushing and believing, like going to college and getting married, or any milestone. You just have to believe.

Milestones 2017 Honoree Dr. Thomas Frazier – Research & Medicine

Dr. Thomas Frazier, Milestones 2017 honoree of the Research & Medicine Award, has spent his career making a difference in the lives of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “Helping people with autism provides meaning to my life,” he says. “It’s what gets me up in the morning.”

A licensed clinical psychologist who received his PhD from Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Frazier’s clinical contributions include adoption of electronic data collection systems and publication of outcomes for the Lerner School Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program; development of outpatient ABA programs to serve young, underserved children; overseeing growth of the social SPIES outpatient program providing social skills training and peer integration for children with high functioning autism.

His research contributions include the publication of more than 100 research articles in peer-reviewed journals and more than 150 scientific abstracts and invited talks at national and international research conferences. In addition, Dr. Frazier is renowned for his studies validating the DSM-5 criteria for autism and investigations describing structural brain abnormalities in children and adolescents with autism.

Dr. Frazier has served in many roles at Cleveland Clinic, including as staff psychologist and director of the Center for Autism, as well as assistant professor of pediatrics in the Lerner College of Medicine. In April 2017, Dr. Frazier joined Autism Speaks as Chief Science Officer where he continues to advance research that will increase understanding of autism’s causes, improve screening and diagnosis, and develop effective interventions.

How do you feel your efforts have impacted the autism and special needs community?

In clinical practice, I believe my biggest impacts have been in developing services that provide outpatient Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment to young children with autism who are not able to access intensive intervention services, parent groups to provide support and initial training in behavioral methods, and in increasing the availability of diagnostic and care coordinator services.

In research, the most impactful projects I have participated in have been studies that clarified the organization of autism symptoms and clarified differences in symptom patterns across males and females, investigations that identified specific patterns of brain abnormalities in autism, and the characterization of a unique genetic-subgroup of autism associated with mutations in the PTEN gene.

How has helping others shaped your life?

Being involved in helping people with autism has provided meaning to both my professional and personal life. It’s what gets me up in the morning and sustains me, even on the hardest days.

What is your message to inspire others to serve the autism and special needs community?

Outside of being a good spouse and father, I have experienced nothing more rewarding than helping people with developmental disabilities. A wise farmer once explained that he gives away his best corn to his neighbors. He does this not out of selflessness but because this causes them to grow better corn which leads to his crop being sustained and strengthened. The point for me is, even when you can’t muster selflessness, recognize that doing good for people with autism gives back to you more than you could imagine.

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