OUCARES provides higher ‘quality of life’

By Sarah Wojcik

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OUCARES — short for Oakland University Center for Autism Research, Education and Support — is a non-profit organization that has been around for five years.

The center provides not only programs for those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but also offers master’s and certification programs, specifically for teaching students with autism taught by doctors conducting research on ASD.

“Our whole basis for everything that we do with OUCARES is based on providing a quality of life for those children and the families affected by autism,” said Kathy Sweeney, director of OUCARES. “We go all the way from the ages of two to young adults 23-24 years old.”

OUCARES provides a Master of Education in Special Education, an Autism Spectrum Disorder Teaching Endorsement, and they also partner with other universities to offer an online endorsement program, Autism Collaborative Endorsement (ACE), and an Interdisciplinary Certificate in Autism (ICA).

Oakland University professors Janet Graetz and Darlene Groomes — and a visiting professor Luke Tsai are currently doing research projects for OUCARES, according to Sweeney.

The center offers a variety of programs including art, baseball, basketball, martial arts, music, science, soccer, social skills, social outings and yoga.

“We actually structure them depending on age groups,” said Christy Lee, the program coordinator. “Depending on their age, they’re at certain development levels, so we want to group them with their peers.”

Basketball and outdoor soccer, two of the most popular programs, are held on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.

The programs aren’t only for children.

“We do have some adult programs,” Lee said. “We have an after-hours adult program that is held on Monday nights that usually takes place in Bumper’s Game Room. It’s an opportunity for them to come together in a safe environment where we structure it specifically around their needs.”

OUCARES is largely dependent on their volunteers. Over 300 volunteers are catalogued in the database, according to Sweeney.

“We just had a family fun day and it couldn’t have been successful without the volunteers,” Lee said. “We’re always looking for volunteers.”

Overall, Sweeney estimated that there is somewhere around 700 families that OUCARES reaches.

Right now, OUCARES is working on developing their summer camps. They offer a summer camp for children ages 6-13 and, new this year, a peewee summer camp for children ages 3-5.

“The research is really letting us know that the earlier a child is diagnosed with autism and gets into programs, the more likely it is for an improved quality of life, not just for them but also for their families,” Sweeney said.

In August, OUCARES is excited to present their film camp. Directed by Hollywood director Joey Travolta — John Travolta’s younger brother — children are able to come up with the idea for films and help with costumes and the script.

“OUCARES is really an incredible treasure inside Oakland University,” Sweeney said. “We have (passion for) making a difference not only for those families with children with autism, but making a difference in your life so that you understand what this is and not that these people are strange, but they’re special and they are coming to the table with skills many of us never have.”