Autism Society of Mahoning Valley shares information at YSU

By Samantha Smith

The Youngstown Association of Student School Psychologists hosted a presentation involving guest speakers from the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley to discuss how they support parents of children with autism, the characteristics of autism in people and more.

Morgan Davidson, a graduate assistant for Accessibility Services and professional development chair for YASSP, explained what the organization is.

“Our student group for YASSP is specifically for students that are enrolled in the school psychology program,” she said. “We do charity work, we go to professional conferences at the state and national level.”

The three guest speakers — Robin Suzelis, Jodi Glass and Stephanie Gilchrist — are from the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley, a group that is, for the most part, run by parents of people with autism. They tailored their presentation for professionals and people who may be working with people with autism.

Suzelis, director of the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley, started off the presentation by explaining that autism is a lifelong developmental disability usually presenting itself in childhood. Suzelis then presented statistics about autism.

“Forty percent of people with autism are considered nonverbal. Those are individuals that either have no speech or [are] not able to communicate compared to their neurotypical peers. Seventeen percent of young adults [with autism] ages 21-25 have never lived independently,” she said.

The organization was first founded by families within counties Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana in 1989. Their overall mission, Suzelis said, is to make relevant and meaningful change in support of the autism community.

After the presentation, the audience was able to ask questions about the presentation or autism in general. Each speaker was able to talk about their own experiences of having a child with autism to help those in the future. Glass, board member for the Autism Society, gave some insight about her son’s autism.

“My son is 12. Super social kid, but really struggles with those social cues from typical peers. He was 6 when we came to our first Autism Society [meeting]. We lived in Philadelphia and he was diagnosed at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia,” she said.

Gilchrist, board member for the Autism Society, also discussed her son’s autism and his diagnosis at the age of 3. She explained the support she had from the Youngstown area throughout the beginning of his life.

“From there, we went on. So when I said we had a great team of support through his journey at Youngstown, but when he got to high school, I felt like that support still was not there. That’s why I decided to transition him out. But there are some great support systems,” she said.

For more information on YASSP, visit its Facebook page. For more information on the Autism Society of the Mahoning Valley, visit its website at