State money to WMU to benefit behavioral health, autism research Updated: Friday, June 20, 2014 | KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A big announcement from the state of Michigan is set to help students and families in West Michigan.The state pledged $4 million Friday to Western Michigan University, with an announement being held Friday morning at the university's Health and Human Services campus.The big focus of the money: graduating more mental health professionals from Western to help kids with autism.State Representative Margaret O'Brien, of Portage, was flanked by local officials as she made the big announcement."We've been able to secure $4 million of state funding, directed toward Western Michigan University," Rep. O'Brien said.She says this will increase the number of mental health professionals trained to help kids with autism.Right now, some families have to drive hours away and wait for years to get the help they need.It's a struggle mother Darci Stevens is familiar with, having a son with a disorder on the autism spectrum.A goal of the new effort is treating kids with autism earlier.Stevens says early intervention through WMU has helped her son."If the board-certified analysts get in sooner, less has to be untaught; so it is very critical for the kids," she said. "I can only hope and pray that every child has the opportunity to reach their potential like my son did; it's absolutely fabulous to get this opportunity for all the kids."The idea is that graduating more professionals from Western will keep them here to fill that need.The university is planning on hiring more instructors, beefing up programs, and doing more research on treatments for autism.Stephanie Peterson, of the WMU psychology department, says it will be a big community collaboration."So we can entice the most qualified people to come to our program and really have top-notch graduates," Peterson said. "We can make a huge difference, and we can help families."The money should be coming into the university later this fall.