Many thanks to Lucy Joswick and her associates at Family Futures for supplying us with much of the information. Family Futures provides many programs for local families, including Connections, a free program which helps families track their child’s growth and identify any developmental delays in their first years.

Where to Find Support for You and Your Special Needs Child

Having a child with special needs can feel pretty isolating, but it doesn’t have to be! There are numerous resources around West Michigan just waiting to serve you and connect you with the support you need.

Our hope is to provide a starting point for families that are wondering if their child needs additional services or intervention, plus a link to support groups for parents and anything else a family with special needs might want to be aware of.

We recognize that this is not a full list of special needs resources and hope you will help us grow the list. If you know of anything else that could help families with special needs, please leave us a comment below and we will add it to our guide.

If you’ve used any of these services please leave a comment and let others know how they have helped you.

And please, share this list with others so that we may make it as complete as possible.

Austism Affects Kids in West Michigan

Characteristics Often Seen in Children on the Spectrum

Sensitivity to sounds, difficulty relating to others, excessive interest in specific topics or subjects, unexpected emotional responses, and picky eating….

Have you ever met a child like this? Does your child display some of these traits?

This is just a small sample of some of the characteristics often seen in children who fall on the autism spectrum.

Autism is referred to as a “spectrum disorder” because there is such a wide variety of severity. You may have heard terms such as Asperger’s, classic autism, or high-functioning autism. All have some of the same underlying difficulties but can present themselves very differently. Some children show significant delays from a very young age. Other kids are considered “quirky” for many years, and not diagnosed until later.

Children Can Make Great Improvements

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 88 American children are on the autism spectrum. The good news? Children on the autism spectrum can make significant improvement in their ability to function at home and school and in the community. Research continues to show that early intervention for children on the autism spectrum is crucial to their success.

Just as there are differences between all kinds of kids, there are many differences between children on the autism spectrum. There is no “one size fits all” approach to their diagnosis and treatment. As a school social worker, I have worked with many students with autism over the years.

Different Methods Work With Different Kids

I have learned that certain methods (such as the use of visual supports) work for nearly all children with autism. I have also learned that you have to be creative with each kid. You have to incorporate their intense interests into therapy and start where they are.

I worked with a student several years ago who had some unique obsessions. She loved princesses, obsessively picked at the skin around her fingernails, and was terrified of the fire alarm at school.

We tried consequences for picking skin and rewards for not picking. No luck. If we told her about fire drills ahead of time, she would obsess about it all day. If we did not tell her about the fire drills she would simply rifle through every teacher’s belongings until she found the staff notes which revealed whether or not there was a fire drill that week.

Our eventual solutions? We let her wear long silky princess gloves (I think I may have worn them in my friend’s wedding many years ago) so she was unable to pick at her nails. We also made her the “fire marshall” at school and let her pull the fire alarm when it was time for a fire drill (while wearing noise-blocking headphones, of course).

It Takes a Team

Those ideas were not all mine: it took a team of us (including her parents) who were willing to work together, try lots of new ideas, and love this girl for the kid that she was.

I have seen several students on the autism spectrum make dramatic improvements over the years. It takes diligence on the part of the parents, cooperation with the school, and a whole lot of patience.

Accepting that your child is “different,” but still recognizing all of his or her talents is key. Advocating for your child in all settings (school, child care, the community, with your relatives and elsewhere) is also important.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you have concerns about your child’s development, your pediatrician is a good place to start. He or she should be able to suggest whether you should pursue further evaluation and/or treatment. Your child’s preschool, school, or local ISD are all good resources, too.

West Michigan Resources for Families with a Child on the Spectrum

Project Find (800-252-0052) or Early On can both point you in the right direction if you want to have your young child evaluated.

More resources for learning more about autism and treatment options:



Special Needs Support in Greater Grand Rapids

Resources for Social, Personal and Emotional Support

  • Bright Beginnings – Kent ISD’s program empowers parents with the skills and tools they need to be their child’s first and best teacher. They serve children birth to kindergarten with free home visits, playgroups and screenings. 616-365-2277
  • Arbor Circle – Arbor Circle helps clients build coping skills through more than 50 counseling, education and prevention programs and services addressing everything from school readiness and child abuse prevention to substance use and homelessness. 616-456-6571
  • Pine Rest – Mental health services; provides testing & assessment for ADHD, autism, learning disabilities and cognitive impairment at the Psychological Consultation Center (866-852-4001), and Parent Support and Counseling Services through the Outpatient Clinic Network (866-852-4001)
  • Cerebral Palsy Guide – Cerebral Palsy Guide provides free educational materials, financial options and support to help those across the country affected by this disorder. 1-855-376-5523
  • Cerebral Palsy Guidance – Cerebral Palsy Guidance provides vital guidance and assistance to parents of a child with cerebral palsy through symptom information, financial assistance and daily living articles.  866-579-8495

Help with Developmental Delays

  • Family Futures – Family Futures programs and resources are designed to provide a wide range of support for West Michigan parents, teens and families through education and prevention-based programming, including Connections (616-454-4673), a free program which helps families track their child’s growth and identify any developmental delays from birth to age five.
  • Early On – Kent ISD Early On program assists families with infants and toddlers, from birth until 36 months, who have a delay in their development or a diagnosed disability. They provide evaluations for your child’s development right in your home and if they qualify, they create a plan and provide services and support to help your child reach their full potential. 616-365-2310
  • Ken-O-Sha – Students who reside within Grand Rapids Public Schools are provided services in a continuum of settings including home or school buildings located throughout the district. Programs include: Early Childhood Special Education, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Emotional Impairment, Moderate Cognitive Impairment, and Resource Programs. Ken-O-Sha Early Childhood Center provides services to children birth through age five with developmental delays. (Call Child Find Hotline 616-819-3514)
  • HeadStart – HeadStart for Kent County’s early childhood programs focus on education, nutrition, medical and dental care, parent involvement and social service. Programs include home visits and free preschool for children ages three and four. 616-453-4145
  • Family Tree Therapies – Family Tree Therapies is a multidisciplinary therapy clinic specializing in occupational and speech-language therapy. 616-447-7799
  • Wedgwood Christian Services – Wedgwood Christian Services provides a wide range of social services to children, youth and families who are struggling with tough problems including: sex trafficking, abuse and neglect, sexual abuse and sexual behavior issues, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, developmental delays, learning difficulties, school expulsions and more. 616-942-2110
  • Comprehensive Therapy Center – Comprehensive Therapy Center offers the West Michigan community speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, sensory integration and motor therapies. 616-559-1054
  • Hope Network – Provides services including rehabilitation, behavioral health, developmental and community support. 800-695-7273
  • Conductive Learning Center – The Conductive Learning Center serves children birth to age 26 with motor disorders related to complications of prematurity, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida or brain injury. 616-575-0575
  • Great Start to Quality – Great Start to Quality is Michigan’s tiered quality rating and improvement system that supports early childhood programs and providers in their efforts to improve their programs while helping families find and choose quality programs that meet their children’s needs. 1-877-614-7328
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools Early Childhood – Preschool and Kindergarten Registration, including The Great Start Readiness Program, a state funded free preschool program for qualifying four-year-old children.
  • Mary Free Bed Pediatric Rehabilitation and Therapy – An inpatient rehabilitation hospital where pediatric doctors, nurses, and therapists treat young people who have experienced brain injury, brain related illnesses and concussion, cancer, neurological conditions, stroke, spinal cord injury, fractures, chronic pain conditions, surgery, burns and other debilitating illnesses and injuries. 616-840-8790
  • Michigan Alliance for Families – A statewide resource for families of children with disabilities to help improve educational services and outcomes. 1-800-552-4821
  • Life Therapeutic Solutions Inc. – Provides children with personalized recreational therapy sessions including in home therapy, aquatic play, or community outings. Our Recreational therapist work on facilitating inclusion into activities your children enjoy, despite their disability. Children benefit from recreational therapy by overcoming specific obstacles to engage with their peers and environment. Email [email protected] to get started.
  • Integrity School of Dance Arts is now partnering with Darby’s Dancers to provide free dance classes to students with special needs. Classes, costumes and shoes are FREE for participants. Class meets Mondays 5-6:00pm at 2495 84th Street SW in Byron Center and is for ages 6 and up. Fill out an application at: or call 616-583-9886 for more information.


Parent Support and Counseling Services

  • MomsBloom – MomsBloom’s programs provide hands-on, nonjudgmental practical and emotional support to women and their families while rebuilding a sense of community and connecting people to each other. 616-828-1021
  • Spectrum Health Maternal Infant Health Program – A team of nurses, community health workers, counselors, and nutritionists who make home visits and telephone calls throughout your pregnancy and your baby’s first year, with the goal to help you to be a healthy mom who has a healthy baby. 616-391-8601
  • Network180 – Network180 connects individuals and their families to services for mental illness, substance use disorders or developmental disabilities. 616-336-3909
  • Wellspring Counseling A non-profit organization dedicated to assisting churches and community organizations in providing superior counseling care. 616-460-3341
  • Pine Rest Christian Counseling Center – The Christian Counseling Center provides quality behavioral health services, including therapy and psychiatric services for children, adolescents, adults, and families. 866-852-4001
  • Levine Benjamin Law Firm – A social security disability firm specializing in helping individuals and families that want to apply for or have been denied benefits based off their disabilities. 1-888-613-1254

Resources for Healthcare

  • Medicaid – Essential health care coverage available to those who otherwise cannot afford it. Michigan has many health care programs available to children, families and adults who meet eligibility requirements. (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services – Kent County 616-248-1000)
  • Children’s Special Health Care Services – A program within the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that provides certain approved medical service coverage to children and some adults with special health care needs. 1-800-359-3722.

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