COE Advocates "Best Values" for Autism

By Linda Hass | Published April 27, 2016

The autistic community has no better advocate than Sally Burton-Hoyle, an associate professor in Eastern Michigan University’s special education department.

Not only does Burton-Hoyle bring a lifetime of autism experience to her field, her initiatives have helped Eastern become an educational leader in one of the fastest growing healthcare specialties in the country.

“I’ve focused my life and career on improving the education and lives of people with autism and other challenging behaviors,” says Burton-Hoyle, whose late brother was on the autism spectrum.

Since the dedicated educator was hired by Eastern in 2006, she has helped develop the undergraduate and master’s autism spectrum disorders programs at EMU, both of which she currently directs with Dr. Derrick Fries.

The master’s program started with about 10 students in 2008 and has grown to 60 this year. The undergraduate program, which has been approved by the Michigan Department of Education, is poised for final approval by the EMU Regents committees and is likely to start next year, she adds.

Totally Dedicated

Burton-Hoyle also is faculty advisor to the College Supports program, which is designed to support students with Autism Spectrum Disorder as they transition into college and through completion of their degrees. The program, which currently serves over 20 students from five states.

“Sally is totally dedicated to her field,” says Michael Sayler, dean of EMU’s College of Education, adding it is one of the fastest growing segments of special education.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children have autism spectrum disorders, a number much higher than a few years ago, in part because of better diagnoses and more accurate reporting.

“Sally brings more than a clinical approach to her field. She is deeply committed and personally connected to her students and the autistic community, including the families served,” adds Sayler.

Burton-Hoyle credits her late brother with helping to foster her sense of commitment. “I was blessed to have a brother with autism; through him I learned the importance of full family involvement,” she says, adding that her brother, who passed away in 2009, was employed and lived in his own apartment.

“The disorder of autism affects every member of the family. That’s why the best intervention you can give a child is to support the parents in their parenting roles and their understanding of autism and autism intervention,” she says.

National Recognition

Burton-Hoyle’s commitment and contributions have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, she was named to a federal advisory committee that deals with efforts concerning autism spectrum disorder. She was one of only 15 individuals nationwide invited to participate, and the only Michigan representative on the Interagency Autism Coordination Committee. The committee consisted of individuals representing people on the autism spectrum, autism advocates, parents, clinicians and researchers from across the country.

Previously, Burton-Hoyle was executive director of the Autism Society of Michigan. She has a master’s degree in special education from the University of Kansas, and a doctorate in education from the University of Idaho.

For more information on EMU’s special education department, which was ranked by Top Masters In Education as one of the “best values” for its special education’s master's program for the 2015-16 academic year, see: here. Top Masters In Education is an independent online resource that offers objective rankings and critical reviews of Master’s in Education degree programs around the country.

Persons interested in showing support for the autistic community will have an opportunity on April 12 to join the Green March for Autism Acceptance. Participants will meet at the Student Center at 1 p.m. and march to the Porter Building to promote autism acceptance.