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Partner Spotlight

Michael McKee
Michael McKee Executive Director of Virginia Institute of Autism Executive Director of Virginia Institute of Autism

As executive director of the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), Michael McKee feels like he has the most rewarding job of his entire career. In the two years he has been in the position, Michael has been motivated by what he has seen in the world of autism and is determined to connect children with autism with their families. At the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), Michael and his staff help hundreds of families who are seeking services, training, information, and evidence-based interventions.

“With the many barriers families face to get the appropriate diagnosis, services, and intervention, I feel very motivated to help them. Our services assist children and families living with autism, providing them the necessary resources to move forward,” Michael says.

While attending an autism conference in 2004, Michael first learned about the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” campaign and was drawn to the messages and the attention it was bringing to child development. Michael attended a training session in the fall 2004 where he discovered that he could use the campaign resources to help families in conjunction with the autism clinic at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, the largest referral center in the state.

He decided that pairing VIA’s know-how as a leading service provider with one of the nation’s most respected teaching hospitals would attract more attention to the campaign.

The Virginia Institute of Autism and the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital kicked off local outreach by sending the campaign’s radio and television public service announcements to the media in April 2005. As a result, eight radio stations and two television stations began airing the PSA.

After distributing the PSAs, Michael and Dr. Susan Anderson from the University of Virginia arranged a two-day conference to educate teachers and parents about autism and early intervention. The conference gained attention from the regional media and was featured on local newscasts.

Excited about this success, Michael and Dr. Anderson jointly wrote a letter to be included in the health care professional kits they distributed throughout the state. Together, both organizations distributed 300 health care professional kits to physicians and 321 kits to child care providers. “As a result, we saw a gradual increase in referrals at the hospital,” says Dr. Anderson.

“The power of our campaign is in the partnership between Virginia Institute of Autism and the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital,” Michael adds. “I am convinced that more health professionals read the materials and incorporate them into their practice because of the Children’s Hospital involvement.”

As a benefit to the community, the partnership allows Children’s Hospital to refer families who have children with autism to the Virginia Institute for support. Michael says, “There is only so much we can do to inform families about our services, but through our partnership with University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, we have a quick and immediate link to a resource center to get families the services their child needs.”

Michael encourages organizations like his to work with other groups to inform their community about childhood development. “Every cause competes for attention,” he says. “Linking to other well-respected organizations can increase access to your audiences and amplify your message.”

For more information on how you can reach out to health professionals in your area, visit the How to Get Involved page of the “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” website.

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