Suffering in Silence – GE Aviation leading effort for ASD awareness

Published 1:40 am Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Team members at the GE Aviation facility in Batesville used the opportunity of Autism Awareness Month in April to begin conversations about the developmental disability and design support avenues for affected GE employees and their extended family.

What began as another project for the GE Volunteers became much more when local GE leaders began to get feedback from the local workforce.

“At GE Aviation one of our core values is about community engagement, community involvement and being out there supporting our communities,” said Plant Leader Brian Rapien. “This team  coming out of a year of Covid, has done an amazing job with more than six hundred hours of community involvement.” 

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The local GE team collected and sent bottled water to City of Jackson residents during their water crisis a year ago, helped fix up a halfway house in Hernando, donated to a dialysis center, and took a sponsorship position in this weekend’s Juneteenth celebration in Sardis.

“Part of the GE culture is donating our time and money and resources to raising awareness,” Rapien said, describing the beginning of the Autism Awareness effort in the Batesville plant.

To spearhead the project he turned to IT site leader Andrew Schwinn, who also serves as the GE Volunteers leader. Schwinn, himself the father of two children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, was a natural choice, Rapien said.

Schwinn’s family has been involved in numerous autism therapy groups, and can attest that early diagnosis and treatment programs partly determine an autistic child’s chances for a higher quality of life as an adult. 

Still, Schwinn said he was surprised to learn, along with some of his fellow employees, that autism was directly affecting the lives of local GE families, often undetected.

“What researchers are finding, especially in the African American community, is that some families don’t know about autism, and they think it’s just bad behavior,” Schwinn said. “Through this process we’ve been able to identify three situations where parents were able to learn about autism and hopefully be able to get involved with classes and programs to benefit their children.”

“The biggest thing is to get early intervention techniques,” Schwinn said. “There are conversations happening that weren’t happening before. For several that were suffering in silence those conversations would not have happened without this event. We were able to network and offer support within our site.”

As part of the effort, Rapien and Schwinn recently hosted a tour of the facility and an opportunity for local officials to meet GE Volunteers members who took part in autism walks each day and used other means to raise site awareness.

Among those were State Sen. Nicole Boyd, also the parent of an autistic child.

Sen. Boyd told the group of volunteers she identifies with those parents who can sense a problem with their young children, but are unsure what is wrong.

“For me it was frustrating because I knew something was wrong, and no one could give me an answer,” she said. “Ironically I was watching The View one day, which I never do, and the guest was from Autism Speaks. As she described her child’s diagnosis it was like she was talking about my son and I knew immediately he had autism.”

Sen. Boyd again pledged her support for autism research and services for affected families. Since her election to the Legislature, she has sponsored several bills and amendments to further autism research and services to Mississippi families.

Events and initiatives like the one at GE Aviation are real difference makers, she said.

“Never underestimate the importance of what GE and others are doing with these events. It leads to awareness and early diagnosis and gives families the start they need in this battle against ASD,” Boyd said.

Top Photo: State Sen. Nicole Boyd talks with GE Aviation IT site leader Andrew Schwinn at a recent Autism Awareness event held at the Batesville facility.