Liz MacDonald, ASD '07

Autism Spectrum Disorders
"What I wanted was the language to best explain what I needed for my child, to become a resource for myself and for others."

An Unexpected Journey

Several years ago, when her young son was diagnosed with autism, stay-at-home mom Elizabeth Macdonald set out to learn everything she could about the disorder. Today, she uses her knowledge not only to help her own family, but other New Hampshire children with disabilities and their families too.

Liz completed Antioch University New England's Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate Program in 2007. Since then, she's been employed part-time as the Central Southwest Region Facilitator for NH Connections. In her role with the project, which is funded by the New Hampshire Department of Education, she helps educators, parents, and service providers become strong advocates for children with disabilities and their educational needs."It's rewarding!," she said. "I work to support children with all disabilities, anyone with an IEP (Individual Education Plan) from ages three to twenty-one.

Farmer's Daughter Turned Fashion Designer Finds New Mission in Life

Prior to motherhood, Liz, 46, was a fashion designer. A farmer's daughter, she grew up in Cornwall, England, and graduated from De Montfort University in Leicester, U.K. with a degree in fashion and textile. In 1997, she relocated to the United States for a job as a footwear designer with Timberland Company.

She intended a brief stay until, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, she met her future husband, who is also from England. The couple married, had a son, and in 2004 relocated to the Monadnock Region. At the same time, Liz, who was retired from the fashion industry and pregnant with her second child, noticed that her toddler displayed signs of a developmental disorder.

"He stopped saying the words he was saying," she said. "He was officially diagnosed with autism later at age two and one half."

The Turning Point

Immediately, and in ensuing years, Liz sought help through early intervention programs funded by Monadnock Developmental Services in Keene: RISE and Jumpstart. "I learned the skills to engage with my own child," she said. "It was a good turning point."

Soon she was nominated for participation in the NH Leadership program. The training series, which empowers parents of individuals with disabilities for advocacy, is a program of the Institute on Disability, a nonprofit organization at the University of New Hampshire. Then a friend told her about AUNE's Autism Spectrum Disorders Certificate Program. Ever eager to advance her knowledge, she quickly requested an interview.

"The quality of the faculty drove me to the interview and from the interview it was obvious that I'd gain a broad perspective not only from the faculty, but from other students. To have such a faculty so close to me, I would have been crazy not to take advantage of it."

In 2006, she was accepted into the two-semester program that is specifically tailored not only for educators and service providers, but for parents of children with autism spectrum disorders.

"I had a great number of aha moments," she said. "I gained a greater depth of understanding of our child and other people's perspectives." The strength of the program, claims Liz, is the quality of the faculty and that students can take what they learn and implement it immediately. "What I wanted was the language to best explain what I needed for my child, to become a resource for myself and for others," she said. "You can only do that with training. It increased the depth of my experience."

At the onset of her AUNE studies, Liz, who lives in Hinsdale, New Hampshire with her husband and two children, interviewed for her current position with NH Connections, but did not secure the job. The position re-opened as she was concluding the program, and she was quickly hired. She credits AUNE for preparing her well.

"Once I went through the program, I felt far more suited for the role," she said. "I have a lot more contacts and I felt more connected to the community. It gave me greater understanding of the different perspectives."

Now Liz promotes parent involvement in special education and facilitates workshops where she allows people to uncover their shared interests and work together to improve outcomes for kids with special needs. "It's a good thing," she concludes.