Service in the City

Wauwatosa is home to many local and regional non-profit organizations that provide exceptional services. Sometimes,
they can be overlooked and underappreciated. In our series, Service In The City, we highlight some of these
fine organizations and share the incredible impact they’re making on our “City of Homes.” We also inform you of
opportunities to contribute your time and talents.

Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin encourages acceptance, improves lives

Bright lights. Loud noises. Crowds. Small annoyances for most can be downright frightening or overwhelming for individuals with autism, making it difficult for them to interact with the world around them.

Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased nearly 120 percent from 2000 to 2010 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it the fastest growing development disability in America. Today, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, supported by services costing upwards of $260 billion annually.

While the statistics may seem staggering, it is important to note that early diagnosis, as well as interventional therapies, may reduce symptoms, foster development and learning, and help decrease the cost of lifelong care.

For more than 40 years, the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin (ASSEW) has been providing tangible support to individuals and families affected by autism. The largest affiliate in the state, ASSEW serves nine counties and more than 46 percent of the population.


Supportive programs

In 2017 alone, ASSEW brought 28 unique programs and 136 events to the children, families, teens, adults, and educators it serves. From their annual iCan Bike camps to First Stage performances and water park visits, all activities are modified to make them sensory-friendly so individuals with autism can enjoy them too.

“We invest in so many events to help promote acceptance and understanding,” said Rechelle Chaffee, Marketing and Public Relations Director at ASSEW. “We want to help our families with autism get more comfortable being in the community and we want those in the community to be comfortable interacting with people with autism.”

autism child


Help Wanted: Five Ways You Can Support ASSEW

  1. Become a Member: Receive special benefits and services, including access to member-only events and the lending library resource. $40/year for a family membership and $160/year for an educators’ membership.
  2. Participate in the “Change Champions Making Change for Autism” Campaign: Join area schools and businesses during April’s National Autism Awareness Month. Collect spare change to help children with autism participate in the same activities other children enjoy in a modified, less stimulating environment. Visit for more information and to register.
  3. Attend the Safe & Sound Gala: Enjoy an evening of food, fun, and dancing on Saturday, April 21, 2018, at The Pfister Hotel. Proceeds benefit ASSEW’s safety initiatives including first responder outreach, as well as their inaugural Safety Fair. Can’t attend? Consider a sponsorship or donating an item. For more information, visit
  4. Donate: As a non-profit organization, ASSEW relies on the generosity of the community to fulfill its mission. Monetary gifts of any amount have a significant impact.
  5. Volunteer: Events like the iCan Bike Summer Camps and Dylan’s Run to Indian Summer always need help. Give the gift of your time to make a difference.

More information on these opportunities can be found by calling 414-988-1260 or visiting

Robust resources

One of the greatest needs for those with autism is finding resources to help them navigate and manage their condition. ASSEW provides help on many levels from their resource guide and help line to support groups and online tools.

In 2017, ASSEW made 2,271 support contacts, listening to needs and concerns, as well as connecting people to carefully vetted resources. Service providers listed in ASSEW’s resource guide require multiple references from other families and members.

“People sometimes have a hard time finding decent resources,” said Chaffee. “We pride ourselves on making connections. It’s a big way we work toward our mission of improving lives every day.”

Community awareness

autism in TosaOver the past three years, ASSEW has focused on increased outreach and education for first responders through its Safe & Sound initiative. Individuals living with autism may not make direct eye contact or can become uncomfortable when someone is standing too close to them. These behaviors might be seen as “red flags” to first responders in an emergent situation.

To proactively address this, ASSEW has conducted more than 50 training sessions with over 1,000 police officers, EMTs, and firefighters to help them recognize the signs of autism and learn how to approach people on the spectrum so that all involved remain safe.

Small, but mighty organization

Chaffee describes the team at ASSEW as small, but mighty. The staff of just eight provides essential help and ongoing assistance to individuals and families on a daily basis.

With every program and service offered, lives are improved and the community gets closer to better understanding this complex developmental disability.