The X Factor

ISD communications leader adapts to the unexpected in his career and in life as a father of a son with Fragile X Syndrome

For many, birthdays are a time of joy and celebration.

Not for Ted Coutilish.

For Coutilish, 57, ISD’s Assistant Director of Strategic Engagement and Communications, they are a time of reflection, pain, and sorrow. 

It started on his 38th birthday on October 10, 2002. 

His wife, Mary Beth Langan, unexpectedly asked him to return to their home in Grosse Pointe near the middle of his work day at Wayne State University. She met him at the front door, hugged him, and through streaming tears and a shaky voice told him their nearly 2-year-old son, Andrew, had been diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder which may result in a spectrum of issues: intellectual disabilities, behavioral and learning challenges, ADHD, anxiety, and more. Fragile X is also the most common inherited cause of autism. Andrew, who is very affected by Fragile X, also has a dual diagnosis of Autism. 

The news was devastating.

Their dreams for their son were instantly shattered. He would not grow up like his peers. The fear of “nots” for their infant son began piling up: 

  • Not learning to drive. 
  • Not getting married. 
  • Not having children. 
  • Not living independently. 
  • Not being able to bathe or clothe himself independently. 
  • Not able to speak. 
  • Not being employed. 
  • Not . . . not . . . not.

Getting Off the Mat

Soon after their son’s diagnosis, the couple dusted themselves off and began to immerse themselves in efforts to raise awareness of the disorder. 

Langan uses her MA in Counseling to help other families affected by Fragile X and other Fragile X-associated disorders, serving on the executive board of the Fragile X Association of Michigan, in addition to working at University of Detroit Mercy. Coutilish focuses his efforts on the national and international stages. He served six years on the Board of Directors for the National Fragile X Foundation and for the past seven years he has served on the Board of Directors for FRAXA, a global organization dedicated to finding a cure for Fragile X. Coutilish also serves on the Development Committee of Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) and helps FRAXA and AAoM raise millions of dollars each year through his marketing communications and fundraising guidance. In addition, he is Communication Chair of both the Rotary Club of Grosse Pointe and Village of Grosse Pointe Shores. 

“I am blessed and honored to be in a position where my marketing communication experience, strategies, and skills benefit others,” Coutilish said. “I am excited to help raise visibility, awareness and, most importantly, dollars.”

Love Speaks Volumes

While their son’s diagnosis was a gut punch, Coutilish sees how positively his son, now 20 years old, has impacted his life and those around him. 

“Andrew teaches us about love, sacrifice, patience, and appreciating the little things in life, like going for a walk, riding escalators, and opening grocery freezer doors,” Coutilish said. “He is nonverbal, but his love, and our love for him, speaks volumes. My favorite role in life is being his dad. As challenging as it is, I know my life’s purpose is to make his life more meaningful, as well as for other people with special needs.”

The Odd Couple

Growing up, Coutilish’s dream was to become a sports journalist like the fictional character Oscar Madison on the 1960s television show The Odd Couple. He accomplished his dream while becoming Editor of Sport Detroit Magazine in 1989. Unfortunately, the magazine folded a little over a year later.

After realizing print journalism was contracting as an industry, Coutilish entered the world of higher education marketing communications in 1991. He started as Publications Manager at University of Detroit Mercy and moved up through progressive leadership positions as Publications Director at Oakland University, Executive Director of Marketing and Publications at Wayne State University, Associate Vice President of Marketing at Eastern Michigan University and Vice Chancellor for Marketing and Communications at Oakland Community College.

Coutilish was president of the Detroit chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) from  2004-2005. In 2012, IABC Detroit recognized him with its highest honor: Communicator of the Year. The following year Grosse Pointe North High School named him with its highest honor: Distinguished Alumnus, in recongition for his community, charitable and professional achievements.

Building Relationships

Coutilish loves the profession of marketing communications.

“In marketing communication, we enjoy relationships,” he said. “We enjoy storytelling. We enjoy researching, identifying and sharing the right messages with the right audiences at the right times.”

Coutilish’s career success may seem surprising, considering he earned a BA in Print Journalism at WSU and never took a marketing or communication class as an undergraduate student. He earned a MA in Liberal Studies focused on Communications at Detroit Mercy and has taught various marketing, communications and writing classes to undergraduate and graduate students at WSU and EMU.  

“I’ve been fortunate to learn from outstanding mentors and colleagues, as well as from college students, in my field,” he said.

Finding his Intersection at ISD

Coutilish has always been a diehard fan of U-M’s football and basketball teams. He is believed to be among the first in U-M’s history to hire the core U-M marching band to play at his friends’ 1991 wedding reception as a surprise to the bride and groom, both U-M graduates.

In his communication leadership role at ISD, Coutilish leads advertising, branding, communications, marketing, new student recruitment, social media, strategic engagement and web initiatives. 

His goals are to help revamp the ISD website, streamline communications, create and execute an integrated marketing communications plan and brand for ISD, help develop a strategic plan, refine new student recruitment strategies, and grow the number of high-quality students enrolling in ISD’s six graduate programs: Global Automotive Manufacturing Engineering, Energy Systems Engineering, Automotive Engineering, Manufacturing, Systems Engineering Design and Design Science. 

“ISD is the right choice for selective, caring and high-achieving graduate students looking for a pre-eminent education integrating complementary academic disciplines to learn how to solve highly complex and interconnected problems,” Coutilish said. “I love learning from and working with some of the world’s brightest minds. This is the place to be.”