Friday, July 30, 2010

Pinpointing Strengths Helps Career Search

Interesting piece by Stephen Borgman, a psychotherapist who frequently works with children in the autism spectrum.

Do you want to have a sense of meaning and purpose? Do you want to feel a sense of pride in what you do and accomplish? Then finding a career you can thrive in is going to be a key piece of the puzzle for your personal growth and development.

Mom Suspected In Murder-Suicide Posted Blog Item Before Death

BRONX, N.Y. -- The night before a Bronx mom killed her 12-year-old autistic son and took her own life, she posted a heart-wrenching prayer on her blog saying her life was in God's hands. "I sincerely repent of my sins, and receive Jesus as my personal savior," Michaela Jackson wrote on It's Mick's World. "Now as your child, I turn my entire life over to you. Amen."
It was the final, fateful entry on the 37-year-old Jackson's blog, which included photos from a Friday post showing her dancing happily with her son, Kenneth Holmes.
Jackson and her son were found dead Wednesday in the bed of their Morris Heights apartment. Both had gunshot wounds to the head and a 9-mm. pistol lay nearby.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Enabled, Not Disabled

EL CAJON, Calif. — Philadelphia native Bob Paul Guthrie opens his cell phone to pass along the telephone numbers of his brother in San Diego and his sister in Riverside.
He meanders freely about the Internet, using the social networking site Facebook to find friends without hesitation.
The longtime East County resident has no reservations about speaking with politicians about issues that matter to him.
He has wonderful recollections of his 27 years on the job at Doetsch Enterprise Suspension Systems in El Cajon and speaks lovingly about his first job, working as a janitor for the defunct Valley News.
You’d be hard-pressed to believe that the 68-year-old spent seven years of his youth fearing for his safety in a Washington state mental institution and being bullied at two foster homes in California.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Garden Grows More Than Vegetables

FLOYDS KNOBS, Ind. — Rows of tomatoes, squash, zucchini and eggplant decorate the dirt plot, as corn tassels blow in the light breeze and homemade scarecrows smile back at visitors in a small vegetable garden at Mount Saint Francis in Floyds Knobs.
But this one-acre plot isn’t just a regular garden.
It's a garden tended to by adults with developmental disabilities from Southern Indiana and Louisville. It's a garden that gives its gardeners not just vegetables, but a place to learn, laugh and grow with friends, and in this garden, no matter what the harvest brings, there are always plenty of smiles to go around.

Teen With Autism Honored For Artwork

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Victoria Wright, 13, threw up her arms in triumph. One hand gripped a bouquet of flowers and the other a proclamation citing Victoria Wright Day here.
Victoria, who has autism, was honored July 19 during a Chesterfield City Council meeting with a proclamation recognizing her skills as an artist.
She grinned ear to ear and blew kisses to her family when the entire crowd stood to applaud her.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

20 Years After ADA, Is Life Better For People With Disabilities?

The question to ask on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, is whether life today is any better for those with disabilities? The first-ever civil rights law for people with physical and cognitive challenges, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, it prohibited employment discrimination, and imposed requirements on access to public facilities, transportation and telecommunications.
It was intended to bring about sweeping change, and in many ways it has done that. For example, more cities and towns have street corners with curb cuts, making it possible for people who use wheelchairs to cross the street and use sidewalks. There are more public buses and trains with automatic lifts, and subway systems with elevators, as well as public buildings with automatic doors.
And yet, according to Andy Imparato, the president of the American Association for People with Disabilities, there remain large obstacles when it comes to finding a job. He told NewsHour reporter Jenny Marder that despite the ADA, 70 percent of people with significant disabilities are not working today, the same as twenty years ago. For people with any type of disabilities, about half are not working, also the same as twenty years ago.
The official unemployment figure for people with disabilities is just over 14 percent, but that counts only individuals who are actively looking for work. Many have given up, or been reluctant to begin searching in the first place.

Opinion: When Two Rights Make a Wrong

Interesting opinion piece on AOL News by Charles Redner, the author of "Down But Never Out," a biography of middleweight boxing champion Joey Giardello and his son Carman, born with Down syndrome.

Can two "rights" make a wrong?
When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, it probably wasn't apparent that the law prohibiting discrimination against some 43 million Americans who have a physical or mental disability would clash with minimum wage laws.
However unintentional, it does.
Jack Scholnick, a Rio Rico, Ariz., resident and father of a daughter born with Down syndrome was angry -- angry enough to begin writing another newspaper op-ed. Jack is a tyrant when it comes to advocacy for the disabled. What had his blood boiling this time was the fact that an Arizona firm didn't want to pay disabled employees minimum wage as prescribed by both federal and state law.
What Jack failed to consider was that the jobs held by these disabled citizens are often more important to them than any wage consideration.

Virginia Group Home Prompts Fears

STAFFORD, Va. -- Charles Cooper spent his 75th birthday telling a crowd of 50 people about his son, Chuck, who has Down syndrome.
"I'm reaching the age where I may not be able to take care of him," Cooper said in a shaky voice. "I want my son to be happy, just like you want your son, your daughter to be happy."
Cooper spoke to residents of the Clearview Heights in southern Stafford County last night. The group met at the Falmouth fire station to learn more about a group home for adults with intellectual disabilities, which will be built this year in the neighborhood.
Many said they had nothing against group homes but wanted more information. Most were upset that they had not been told earlier that a group home would be built.

Obama Marks 20th Anniversary of ADA

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Obama celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act Monday evening by announcing an update to the "milestone in the journey to equality."
The president signed an executive order establishing the federal government as a "model employer" of people with disabilities.
"We’re going to boost recruitment, we’re going to boost training, we’re going to boost retention," Obama said from the South Lawn of the White House Monday evening, "We’ll better train hiring managers. Each agency will have a senior official who’s accountable for achieving the goals we’ve set. And I expect regular reports."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Survey: 20 Years Later, Same Challenges Remain

NEW YORK — On the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a new survey sponsored by Kessler Foundation and National Organization on Disability (NOD) finds that most Americans with disabilities are still struggling with many of the same lifestyle and economic issues they confronted in 1990 when the ADA became federal law. The 2010 Kessler/NOD Survey of Americans with Disabilities, conducted by Harris Interactive, reveals little or no substantial gains in 10 key indicators ranging from employment and income to social engagement and life satisfaction.
Employment remains the largest gap between people with and without disabilities and is directly linked to the continued lack of progress in other key areas for people with disabilities, such as income, access to health care and socialization. Among all working-age people with disabilities, only 21% say they are employed full or part time, compared to 59% of people without disabilities – a gap of 38 points. This gap has decreased since it was first examined in 1998 but it still remains large and its decline has been slow.

As ADA Turns 20, Advocates Say Still Work To Be Done

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Advocates for the disabled handed out wristbands at Owens Community College last week to mark Monday's 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The wristbands read: "ADA: 20 Years Toward Equality."
The preposition was a conscious choice.
"We decided it couldn't say '20 years of' equality,' because there's still work to be done," said Sue Emerine, director of disability services at Owens. "There's still a lack of recognition, a lack of understanding."

'We're People, Too'

JACKSON, Miss. -- Dee McCardle likes to stay busy.
She spent last week visiting family in Baton Rouge, where the 63-year-old Jackson resident proudly recalled taking her granddaughter shopping.
McCardle plans to return to her former home state of Michigan in a few months to check in on a homeless shelter she helped found.
These things became much more difficult for McCardle just a couple of years ago, when a fall and several health ailments forced her into a wheelchair.
But she got a van lift for her motorized chair just last week and said she's again living the kind of life those without disabilities do.
"We're people, too, just like (others)," she said Saturday while attending a block party in downtown Jackson put on by a host of state agencies and nonprofits marking the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 35th anniversary of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.
The Americans With Disabilities Act aims to protect people with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination and requires places like government buildings to provide handicapped-accessible amenities.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act is designed to provide equal rights to the disabled for a quality education.
Dunaway said there are about 60,000 people in Mississippi with a physical or mental disability, the highest per-capita rate in the country, based on the 2000 Census. She said she wouldn't be surprised if that number is higher when 2010 Census figures are released.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Survey Reveals Poor Public Perception of People With Disabilities

A new survey of Georgia residents suggests that many Americans don’t interact with and are generally unaware of the issues facing people with developmental disabilities.
In a survey of nearly 400 Georgia residents, just one third said they encounter people with developmental disabilities in their daily lives. And many expressed doubts about the abilities of those in this group.
Only a quarter of Georgians said they thought those with developmental disabilities were likely to have jobs with advancement opportunities. Meanwhile, more than half of those surveyed said kids with disabilities gain more from being in segregated school environments over mainstream ones.
The findings indicate that stigma is still very real, according to Eric Jacobson, executive director of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, which commissioned the survey to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Monday.

YAI Self-Advocates Honor Staff Who Bring ADA to Life

MAMARONECK, N.Y. - For Helen Ng and other members of the YAI Network's self-advocacy group, the Americans with Disabilities Act - passed 20 years ago this Monday - provided a framework for disabled persons' fight to gain equal standing.
On Friday, more than a dozen people who live in residencies sponsored by the YAI Network, a nonprofit organization that offers programs for those with developmental and learning disabilities, gathered in Mamaroneck. Their mission was to thank staff members who have helped empower residents to be active members of their communities.
One such program is the self-advocacy group, which encourages participants to embrace their role as independent members of their communities and to act as mentors for others in the residential program who aren't able to advocate for themselves
"It opened my heart more to helping other people," Ng said. "It makes me reach out to the other people and help them to open up. No matter what kind of disability you have you can do things like everybody else."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Surfing Breaks the Silence

COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- If you see a mass of people on the beach at Lori Wilson Park on Saturday, just know something special is going on.
If you get close enough, you will see plenty of emotion. Parents and volunteers will be overjoyed. But the most notable phenomenon will be the emotion from the kids participating in the second annual Surfers for Autism (SFA) event.
Many of the children, who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, have a history of showing no emotion and some of not even talking. But bring them to the ocean and put them on a surfboard and everything changes.

Medicaid Inspector General to Oversee Audits of New York State Agency

The state Office of the Medicaid Inspector General will take over and move faster on the auditing of Medicaid-funded state institutions and programs for the developmentally disabled in light of a Poughkeepsie Journal investigation, the inspector general said.
Those functions have traditionally been carried out by the agency that runs the programs, the Office For People With Developmental Disabilities, which operates nine institutions and oversees 7,500 private and state-run group homes.
Herm Hill, communications director for the disability agency, said in response, "We will work closely with [the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General] in this effort."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teen With Autism Gets Chance to Model

MUNDELEIN, Ill. -- Cole Emory of Mundelein cracks a big smile when asked about the opportunity to model for Men's Warehouse at a photo shoot in San Francisco.
"Honestly, I never expected to be invited to be a model," said Cole, an 18-year-old resident, who has autism.

Program Increases Employability Skills

COLUMBINE, Colo. -- A national program that aims to help students with developmental disabilities get jobs is growing because of the success it's had during the past year.
Project SEARCH, a training program for students with disabilities, is doubling in size this fall, adding four more students to the year-long internship program that places students in multiple positions with Columbine Health Systems.
"What's exciting is that these kids are getting good jobs, making a good wage and sometimes getting benefits," said Romie Tobin, coordinator with the Poudre School District's Integrated Services department.
Students with developmental disabilities are taught employment skills alongside other life skills through several adult transition programs, but none of those specifically assist students with finding a job like Project SEARCH does, Tobin said.

Virginia Institution Expansion Sparks Debate

CHESAPEAKE, VA. -- On a barren tract that backs up to Interstate 64, past a street sign that says "Dead End," sits the entrance to a home that no parent would eagerly choose for a son or daughter.
The Southeastern Virginia Training Center houses some of the state's most profoundly disabled people, those who for decades had no option but to live in institutions.
Across the country, states have been closing such places for years, moving people with mental disabilities into community homes and out of the institutions that defined care of the developmentally disabled for much of the 20th century.
Yet the training centers, seen by some families as the only alternative for loved ones who have known little else, endure in Virginia, one of 11 states that have yet to close any of their institutions.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Home Care Cuts Put Elderly and Disabled at Risk

HILLSBORO, Ore. — As states face severe budget shortfalls, many have cut home-care services for the elderly or the disabled, programs that have been shown to save states money in the long run because they keep people out of nursing homes.
Since the start of the recession, at least 25 states and the District of Columbia have curtailed programs that include meal deliveries, housekeeping aid and assistance for family caregivers, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a research organization. That threatens to reverse a long-term trend of enabling people to stay in their homes longer.

Editorial: State Can't Justify Medicaid Spending

The state clearly has some explaining to do as federal authorities, at last, want to know why New York spends so much on Medicaid compared to the national average for some services.
The federal government is zeroing in on Medicaid payments to nine state institutions for the developmentally disabled, following a Poughkeepsie Journal investigation into the matter. That investigation revealed the facilities — including the Wassaic campus of the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Service Organization — had reimbursement rates of $4,556 per day for each of 1,400 residents.
That's about four times the national average and tops in the nation, according to a University of Minnesota survey.
The state's justification for this to date simply doesn't pass the sniff test.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Opinion: The One-Two Punch of Autism

Interesting opinion piece from The Journal News by Liane Kupferberg Carter, a parent and Scarsdale resident.

SCARSDALE, N.Y. -- "Your child has autism."
It's a devastating diagnosis for a parent to hear. But it's a one-two punch when your insurance company then refuses to cover the critical, medically necessary therapies your child desperately needs.
When our then-2-year-old son was diagnosed with a developmental disability 16 years ago, a team of medical experts prescribed a rigorous program of therapies. However, state-funded early intervention services were only able to offer us an hour and a half a week of speech therapy — for a child who wasn't talking. We found private therapists to work with our child. But when we tried to file an insurance claim, the insurance company turned us down flat.

Children's Voice Patterns May Identify Autism, Study Suggests

An analysis of soundtracks from a recording system worn by young children might detect differences in vocalization and help researchers identify those children who may have autism or language delays, a new study suggests.
"This automated application makes it possible to monitor development in a completely objective way," said lead researcher Dr. D. Kimbrough Oller, a professor at the University of Memphis.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is Picky Eating An Early Sign of Autism?

New research on the finicky eating habits of children with autism finds that while autistic children do tend to eat a less varied diet than other kids, their feeding preferences have little negative effect on their height, weight and growth.
The authors do not suggest that feeding patterns are sufficient or necessary to diagnose autism, but they do think that eating habits can be used, in combination with other typical symptoms — such as a child's inability to engage with his parents or siblings — to pick up the disorder.

Thousands Leave, Others Languish at State Facility, Lawsuit Claims

Resident "J" first came to the Wassaic State School in 1947 at the age of 6. Resident "L" was placed in the sprawling state institution in 1940 at the age of 3.
Decades came and went, and Wassaic's thousands were sent to live in more humane and healthy group homes in the community. But J and L, as well as others identified in legal papers only by a capital letter, stayed at what came to be called the Wassaic campus of the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Service Office.
The story of these residents, told in a lawsuit filed in December 2008, is part of an alleged "pattern and practice ... of needlessly segregating individuals with mental retardation in public institutions, rather than placing them in more integrated community settings."
Thirteen people at Wassaic "languished," the lawsuit claimed, while the state repeatedly said it was making plans, but failed, to place them in community care.

Friday, July 16, 2010

New Study Tracking Quality of Life For Adults With Autism

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- In the 1980s, 400 Utah children diagnosed with autism became the subject of long-term study.
They have contributed greatly to researchers’ understanding of the disorder’s prevalence and characteristics. Just last year, a study showed a surprising number grew up to have fulfilling lives as adults with jobs, meaningful relationships.
Now researchers want to know the "whys" behind the good and less than favorable outcomes, which will entail tracking down as many of the original 400 as possible
"We think we can get about 70 percent of those who are still living. We know at least 20 have died,” said lead investigator William M. McMahon, professor and chairman of the University of Utah School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry. “We’re most concerned about reaching those who may have moved out of state."

Feds Probe Medicaid Payment To NYS Institutions

Federal officials have launched an inquiry into Medicaid payments to nine New York State institutions for the developmentally disabled, after the Poughkeepsie Journal revealed the facilities had reimbursement rates of $4,556 per day for each of 1,400 residents.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced the probe Thursday, when it released a Tuesday letter to the state Department of Health. In it, Sue Kelly, CMS associate regional administrator, asked the state to justify the rates, the highest in the nation by one study.
While the facilities are operated by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Health Department has chief rate-setting authority.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Camp Overcomes Fiscal Hurdles

OWEGO, N.Y. -- The green Frisbee sailed through the air, passing from hand to hand on the Owego-Apalachin Middle School lawn.
"Camp Ahwaga!" a group of players cheered before diving back into the game.
The six-week camp for disabled children in Tioga County began July 7 and runs until Aug. 13. It's free for the children, who range in age from 4 to 19. Their disabilities range from cerebral palsy to autism to ADHD.
However, the annual camp -- which dates back to 1981 -- had to overcome a pair of financial hurdles: the ongoing recession and the state budget crisis.

Transit Budget Cuts Put Job At Risk

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Some people drive to work. Others may bike, take a bus, carpool, or even walk.
However, for many people in this community, none of those is an option.
Mandie Bottema has scoliosis and cannot drive. Like many others across the city who have developmental disabilities, she may lose her job because of budget cuts in public transportation.
Previously, Mandie had been using a taxi service organized by the Resource Exchange, a nonprofit that works with children and adults with developmental disabilities to build independence. Through its Medicaid waiver program, the state would pay up to $50 a day for Yellow Cab rides. That was enough to cover Mandie's rides to and from work at Target, off of Powers Boulevard.
But according to David Ervin, executive director of the Resource Exchange, as of July 1 the waiver program went from being "cost-based" to "dependent upon the number of miles of a trip." Anne Bottema says her daughter falls into the lowest mileage category, meaning she is only allotted $5 each way.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Using Legos to Build Social Skills

PLANO, Texas – Carla Graham's Lego Lovers are creating more than castles and spaceships. They're building social skills.
Graham started Plano Lego Lovers as a way to bring together kids who have a passion for Legos but difficulty with social situations. The idea came to Graham as she searched for a play group for her 10-year-old son, Ian, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. In a year and a half, the group has grown to more than 100 members, many of whom are autistic.

Tackling Daughter's Autism With Humor

OK, we're going beyond the U.S. because this was too interesting to pass up.

MADRID (Reuters Life!) - Award-winning Spanish illustrator Miguel Gallardo has overcome the limitations imposed by his daughter's autism by doing what he does best -- drawing.
Gallardo's sketches over 12 years led to a beautifully etched and very funny comic book, "Maria and I" (Maria y Yo), explaining everyday life with his daughter and its challenges.
That book has now become a documentary film of the same name, which opens in Spain this week.
"You could say I had a debt to pay (to my past) or something like that. The drawings came from a diary I started when Maria was born ... but really it took me 13 years to find the right voice to tell a difficult story," he told Reuters.
Directed by Felix Fernandez de Castro and first shown at the Malaga film festival, the film tracks the relationship between Maria, Miguel and his ex-wife May, and how they have learned to cope with Maria's disability.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

New York State Disabilities Agency Changes Name

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Governor David A. Paterson today signed into law a bill which changes the name of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) to the New York State Office For People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). The historic legislation removed the words "Mental Retardation" from the name of the State agency and from State statute and regulations, and will take effect immediately.
"This name change sends a strong message that New York values the dignity and respect of individuals with developmental disabilities" Governor Paterson said. "For many people with developmental disabilities the words 'mental retardation' are hurtful and represent a disrespectful term. The Office For People With Developmental Disabilities is a name that respects their rights as people with developmental disabilities to have an agency name that invokes pride, and not shame."

Family At Front of Autism Insurance Push Forced to Move Out of State

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Rohde family has spent years leading the fight to get autism covered by Oklahoma insurance companies, but they say they cannot afford to fight any longer.
Oklahoma's autism coverage mandate effort is called Nick's Law. It's named after Wayne Rohde's son Nick. The Rohde family said the $40,000 per year they are forced to spend out of pocket on Nick's treatments have gotten to be too much.
It's why the family will move to Minnesota by the end of July where the state is more autism friendly.

Clara Claiborne Park, 86, Dies; Wrote About Autistic Child

Jessy, the 8-year-old daughter of Clara Claiborne Park, would step around a spot of light on the floor for hours, or incessantly run a chain through her fingers. She would sit and stare through people around her as though they were not there. A word she learned one day would fade from her memory the next.
That was more than 40 years ago, when autism was barely understood, much less recognized, as a standard diagnosis. It was considered schizophrenia, or, to some professionals who embraced the term “refrigerator mother,” a deep-seated decision to closet consciousness from an unbearable family situation, including an emotionally frigid mother.
Mrs. Park, a college English teacher, wanted to tell her daughter’s story, and the book she wrote, "The Siege," published in 1967, did that and more. It was credited with assuaging the guilt that so many parents of autistic children had assumed, and came to be regarded as an important source of insight for psychiatrists, psychologists, educators and advocates.
Mrs. Park died on July 3 in Williamstown, Mass. She was 86. The cause was complications from a fall, her son, Paul, said.

N.Y. State Sen. Thomas Morahan, Champion of People With Disabilities, Dies

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Senator Thomas Morahan, who served for 11 years representing Rockland County and part of Orange County in the New York State Senate, passed away Monday after a six month battle with leukemia. His family was with him at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
During his tenure in the the New York State Senate, Morahan introduced 230 bills which were signed into law. As chairman of the Senate’s Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee, Morahan championed Timothy’s Law, a bill which requires insurers to provide additional mental health coverage. He announced his decision not to seek re-election in May.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Facing Obstacles to Health Care

In Texas, there are roughly 2.7 million individuals who have a disability of some kind.
That roughly 18.6 percent of the state’s population has conditions ranging from the physical to the intellectual or developmental. Paralysis, spina bifida, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders and more can create challenges for the individuals who have them.
Just as the rest of the population, though, these individuals need health care. In some cases, their health care needs may be greater than those without disabilities, but the health industry as a whole still has steps to take in order to better serve an increasing part of the population.
While physicians who specialize in certain areas may be more prepared to see individuals with certain disabilities — a rheumatologist may have an office more accommodating to arthritis patients than a general practitioner — the range of disabilities means not every doctor may know much about all the different kinds of disabilities.

Young Adults With Asperger's Facing Employment Hurdles

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Her resume attracted plenty of attention.
Hospitals, technology companies and a major research organization indicated that Chelsea Ridenour - computer and math whiz, summa cum laude graduate of Capital University - looked good on paper. Some called for interviews.
And then, suddenly, it didn't seem to matter that she is intelligent and dependable and tenacious. Ridenour can communicate with a computer in six languages, but she can't chat her way through a face-to-face meeting with a stranger.
"People try to be nice. They're not deliberately not nice," the Hilliard resident said. "They just don't understand."
Ridenour is among a rising population of young adults whose coming-of-age stories are at best complicated and oftentimes heartbreaking. They are grown-ups with Asperger's syndrome and other autism disorders, conditions that society seems to handle best when boys and girls are young and in school.
But Ridenour is 23. What she needs is a job.

Documentary Captures Life of Families With Children on the Spectrum

UNION CITY, Calif. — When Noah Quianzon still was not talking by the time his third birthday neared, his parents suspected something was wrong. They noticed his lack of eye contact with others and that he would withdraw into his own world.
Eventually, Noah was diagnosed with autism. His parents were devastated. Friends and family members tried reaching out, but because they didn't fully understand autism they were unsure of how best to support the couple.
Two years later, after changing his diet and trying various forms of therapy, 5-year-old Noah seems to be showing signs of progress.
But the road hasn't been easy, and the struggle isn't over.
Parents Joseph and Rowena Quianzon prepare separate meals for Noah that are free of gluten, wheat and dairy products; devote about 15 hours a week to therapy sessions with their son; and try to maintain a sense of normality for their other two boys, ages 6 and 3.
Their story will be one of 20 from throughout the country featured in the documentary "The United States of Autism," scheduled for release next year. A four-person film crew from Pennsylvania is traveling across the country, visiting 20 households in 40 days to document the lives of families with autistic children. The documentary will be submitted to film festivals and television stations starting next summer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Unexpected Joys: Raising Child With Down Syndrome

READING, Pa. -- Janet Albert-Herman chose positivity when her son Matthew was born with Down syndrome.
She chose to work harder when, two months before Matthew was born, her then-husband left her. She reopened her decorating business to provide for her two kids, and the third, who was on the way.
The Brecknock Township mom chose legal action when Matthew, now 27, was shuffled between special classrooms at whichever school might decide to take him any given year.
Following her son's example, she chose happiness.
And she revels in the joy she chose - the special, unexpected joy that many parents of Down syndrome children often experience.
Now that people with Down syndrome are living to the average age of 60 - an increase from 25 in 1983, according to the National Down Syndrome Society - their parents sometimes earn an unexpected lifetime job.

Autism Friendly Businesses

BARTOW, Fla. -- No business is likely to promote itself as being "autism unfriendly." Yet Stacey Way of Winter Haven said that's the atmosphere many stores and restaurants present for children like her son, Spencer Branham.
"There are a lot of kids (with autism) who do have outbursts," Way said, "and some of the comments people make are really bad and some of it's (from) employees - like, 'Can't you get a grip on your kid?' "
So it came as welcome news to Way that some businesses in the Tampa Bay area now announce themselves as "Autism Friendly." The designation comes from the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), a community-service organization based at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Catch the Waves

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Parents of special needs children struggle daily with myriad issues ranging from the cost of therapy to social acceptance and inclusion. Finding an event or organization capable of bridging those gaps can be quite challenging, but a local nonprofit is stepping up to the plate in a big way. Boca Raton-based Surfers For Autism was formed in May of 2007 with the simple concept of introducing a handful of children on the autism spectrum to the healing powers of the ocean. The group has expanded to a state-wide juggernaut. The group took inspiration from California-based Surfers Healing, and the inaugural Deerfield Beach event registered 40 children on the spectrum.

Meet Your New Teacher, Mr. Robot

LOS ANGELES — The boy, a dark-haired 6-year-old, is playing with a new companion.
The two hit it off quickly — unusual for the 6-year-old, who has autism — and the boy is imitating his playmate’s every move, now nodding his head, now raising his arms.
“Like Simon Says,” says the autistic boy’s mother, seated next to him on the floor.
Yet soon he begins to withdraw; in a video of the session, he covers his ears and slumps against the wall.
But the companion, a three-foot-tall robot being tested at the University of Southern California, maintains eye contact and performs another move, raising one arm up high.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Law Enforcement and Autism: A Volatile Mix

In late May, Clifford Grevemberg had a traumatic encounter with the police. Grevemberg, 18, was standing outside the Rock House Bar and Grill in Tybee Island, Ga., waiting for his brother to pick up some cheeseburgers when he was approached by officers, Tasered, and arrested for disorderly conduct. A police-department report posted by the Savannah Morning News says Grevemberg was “staggering back and forth and appeared to be either intoxicated or on something.” By the time his brother came out of the restaurant, Grevemberg was handcuffed and bleeding with a broken tooth. Only then did police receive the critical information they’d been missing: Clifford Grevemberg is autistic.
Law enforcement and autism are a volatile mix, and not an uncommon one. “It happens quite regularly, unfortunately,” says Lee Grossman, president of the Autism Society, a grassroots organization based in Bethesda, Md. Decades ago, people with autism and other developmental disorders tended to land in institutions, where they had little interaction with anybody other than family members and staff. Today, autistic children and adults live with their families, go to local schools and, in some cases, get jobs in their communities. The unfortunate downside to this independence, says Grossman, is that “many more individuals on the spectrum are having run-ins with the police department and others, and it’s generally not a very positive experience.

N.J. Legislators Consider Cap Exemption for Special Ed Costs

TRENTON -- The high cost of special education has become the latest point of contention in New Jersey’s drama-filled path toward a new property tax cap.
On one hand, most agree it’s an increasing burden on districts across the state. But do extreme cases need to be excluded from the cap altogether when relatively few districts have sought such waivers as it is?
The Assembly is expected to approve a new 2 percent cap on Monday, when they hold a special session to vote exclusively on the agreement reached between Gov. Chris Christie and Senate Democrats last weekend. The Senate approved the measure by a 36-3vote Thursday.

Autism N.J. Releases Landmark Report

You can download a full copy of the report and view media coverage from the release of this study from the Autism New Jersey website.

Autism New Jersey, the state’s oldest and largest advocacy organization for individuals with autism, Thursday released the results of a landmark review of more than 500 interviews to determine the best ways that the needs of individuals with autism, their families and professionals who support them would be better served in New Jersey.
Connecting with Autism: A Blueprint for Lifetime Support was developed over a yearlong period and involved more than 2,000 hours traveling across the state conducting face-to-face interviews of 537 individuals with autism, their families, and the professionals who support them.
The interviews and other research activities revealed five principle goals within its central theme, “A Continuum of Seamless Services and Support throughout the Lifespan.” These goals include:
■Lifetime access to individualized services;
■Collaboration and partnerships for lifetime planning;
■Skilled and compassionate people;
■Credible and reliable information; and
■Community-based inclusion.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Autism Study Gives Parents Blueprint

PHILADELPHIA - A new study is being circulated everywhere to help parents with one of the hardest things for any family to deal with, autism.
Linda Meyer, executive director of Autism New Jersey, told "Good Day" that parents, when they get a diagnosis, crave information and just want answers.

The new study is called "Connecting with Autism: A Blueprint for Lifetime Support." Copies are being distributed to the governor, legislators, local officials, community leaders.
About 80,000 people are living with autism in New Jersey. The study identifies the critical goals and activities that will improve the quality of life for people on the autism spectrum.
For more information on the study, click here , or call 609-588-8200.

Ohio Mom a Crusader for Autism Coverage

COLUMBUS, Ohio - It's a battle being fought by thousands of parents across the country, and Tera Viola of Ohio knows it all too well. Her five-year-old daughter, Faith, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Since then, Viola has been struggling to get her daughter the treatments she needs.
Faith receives a half-hour of speech therapy and a half-hour of occupational therapy a week. Viola, the autism support group leader for Lima County, says she fought hard to get her health-care provider to pay for it.
"As soon as she took autism off of the paperwork, they started covering everything. It's just that one word - they refuse to cover it."

Treatments related to autism can cost upwards of $50,000 a year, pushing many families to the brink of financial ruin. That could change under House Bill 8, which would prohibit health insurers from excluding coverage for specified services for individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The bill was passed by the Ohio House, but is currently stalled in the Senate.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Report: N.J. Parents of Children With Autism Seeking State's Assistance

TRENTON — An in-depth survey of parents raising a child with autism found families need the state to take a more active role in helping them find the right therapists, schools, job training and respite care services.
And they want Autism New Jersey, the family support organization that conducted the survey, to become a greater force at the Statehouse to fight their cause.
Autism New Jersey is expected to distribute the report Thursday to the Legislature, members of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet, and local elected leaders.

New York State Legislature Passes Autism Insurance Coverage Bill

ALBANY - New York State Senator Thomas P. Morahan, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities has announced that the State Assembly joined the State Senate in passing legislation Wednesday evening amending the Insurance Law to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. The landmark legislation provides that coverage may be subject to annual deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance as may be deemed appropriate by the superintendent of insurance and shall be consistent with those imposed on other benefits under the contract.

The Right Fit

HILSSBOROUGH, N.C. -- Ingrid Branigan's triplet daughters started first grade last fall. It was the beginning of a tough time for the Hillsborough family.
One of the girls, Sarah, has autism and had major problems at her public school.
"She would cry for two hours the night before she had to go to school," said Branigan, who worked with her teachers to try to ease Sarah's suffering.
"But at the end of the day she was miserable and making our family miserable."
Then Branigan learned about the Jordan Lake School of the Arts, a private school founded by Beth Kuklinski that opened in October of 2009.
In that first week, Sarah's crying tantrums ceased.
At the Jordan Lake School the 20 students are daily immersed in the arts, including visual arts, music, movement, and theater. Sarah, who loves to paint, fit right in.

Autism Society In Colorado Reaches Out to Latinos

LOVELAND, Colo. -- The Autism Society of Larimer County has started an initiative to reach more low-income and Hispanic families throughout the county, trying to educate disadvantaged families about the symptoms of autism and the resources available to help them get the treatment needed, said Phyllis Zimmerman, president of the Autism Society of Larimer County.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2006 showed 1 in 110 children were detected with autism, a neurological disorder that can affect speech and social interaction skills.
That study also found the prevalence of detected Hispanic children with autism in Colorado increased 125 percent between 2002 and 2006.
Zimmerman said she knows of children who have been misdiagnosed as autistic because they don’t speak English well enough to understand instructions and choose not to interact with their English-speaking peers.
A study conducted by a psychology professor with the University of Pennsylvania’s Health System, School of Medicine found that minority children are diagnosed two to five years later than their white counterparts. The average age at which children are detected is 4½, according to the CDC.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Black Belt With Autism

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you met Nick Talent four years ago, he probably didn't look you in the eye.
Shy, muted, insecure - for most 14-year-olds, those traits come with the territory.
Nick has autism.
Now he's 18.
Extend your hand, and he'll shake it.
Look him in the eye, and you'll meet his gaze.
Smile and give small talk, and he'll do the same.
Throw a punch, though, and you'll find yourself on the ground.
Just ask his karate instructor.

Latinos Struggle With Autism

WATSONVILLE, Calif. ­-- When Eduardo Moran was 18 months old, he didn't talk. He didn't smile. He didn't sleep.
His parents, Urbana and Raoul, took him to a Watsonville doctor, who said Eduardo was fine. A few months later, still unresponsive, the Morans were referred to Stanford University, where he went through a barrage of tests.
"One psychologist immediately knew what it was," said Raoul Moran in Spanish.
It was autism, something the Morans knew little about. Urbana thought it was a phase, until she started reading.
"I felt bad," she said in Spanish. "When I read the pamphlets, I realized it wouldn't pass."

Diagnoses of autism are on the rise, fueled in part by a better understanding of symptoms by doctors and parents. But in the Latino community, there is little information about how common autism is. Gina Fiallos, clinical and intake services director at the San Andreas Regional Center, based in Campbell, which serves developmentally delayed and disabled people, said the largest growing groups of autistic children are in the Latino and Asian communities.

Opinion: Commissioner Defends Services For New Yorkers With Disabilities

Diana Jones Ritter, Commissioner of New York State's OMRDD, gives her side of the story in The Poughkeepsie Journal.

When it comes to caring for people with developmental disabilities, New York state has a mission: helping them live richer lives. This commitment guides the choices we make and dictates that such individuals reside and be served in the community whenever feasible. Mary Beth Pfeiffer's June 20 story ("At $4,556 a day, N.Y. disabled care No. 1 in nation,") did an injustice to the efforts made in recent years by the effective partnership of advocates, families, providers and the state to expedite the movement of people with developmental disabilities out of developmental centers and into the community.

Friday, July 2, 2010

U.N. Official Urges Probe of Autism Center

A high ranking United Nations official has declared electric shock to be “torture” as it’s used at a facility treating autistic students and requested the United States government to investigate the allegations.
The Judge Rotenberg Center, in Canton, Mass., uses electricity to shock autistic children and children with severe behavior problems.
About 100 students, or nearly half of those cared for at the facility, are from New York state.
Michael Flammia, a lawyer who represents the center and a parent group, told Long Island Business News about half of the center’s students receive electric shock.

Human Services Take Hit In Illinois Budget

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Quinn moved Thursday to whack $1.4 billion from the state budget, but the Democratic governor did not outline where more than half of those cuts would come.In signing a spending plan for the 2011 fiscal year, which began Thursday, Quinn said his primary objective was to preserve the state's core functions in the face of a suffocating $12.5 billion deficit.
"This is a day-by-day, case-by-case, agency-by-agency, program-by-program enterprise to make sure we still deliver the basic services to the people that they need: schools, health care, public safety," Quinn said.

Talents Shine At Airport Art Exhibit

MADISON, Wis. -- If there is evidence that each of us, in our mind's eye, has a unique and valuable take on the world, it hangs on walls of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center.
There, the Harvey A. Stevens International Collection of Art by People with Developmental Disabilities is a graphic reminder that artistic expression (and talent) can be viewed through many prisms.
Now through Jan. 9, 2011, selected works from that collection, begun in 1976 by a long-time champion of people with disabilities and maintained by the Friends of the Waisman Center, can be viewed at the Dane County Regional Airport.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Boy Scouts, Baseball, Video Games and Autism

TOWAMENCIN, Pa. — Every morning before school, Peter Jaskiewicz gets up early and checks his YouTube channel, to see if anybody new has viewed or commented on the more than 270 videos he's posted online.
"I just want to see if people have watched my videos, or see what they have to say," said Peter.
For any other 12-year-old, that might not be such a big deal, but Peter is not just any other sixth-grader — he's a Boy Scout, baseball player, math whiz, expert on several video game systems, and just so happens to be on the autism spectrum, too.

Cooking Club Helps Children With Autism Build Life Skills

PHILADELPHIA -- Brownie pizza was the featured entree at a recent cooking club meeting in Burlington County.
Four tiny chefs scrambled around the kitchen in the Medford community center, grating their white chocolate "cheese" and taking a quick break for "pin the pepperoni on the pizza."
Brownie pizza may not be the most essential recipe for a 9-year-old to master, but Rosy Gruber says the cooking is secondary for her son, Jason.
"I tell people he's going to a cooking class and they think, 'Oh, he's learning to cook.' No, he's learning to be a competent human being," she said.

Supporting Entrepreneurs With Disabilities

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- Nothing gets in the way of a born entrepreneur like Jessica Dijkstra. Certainly her developmental disability did not -- and neither did a shortage of startup money or lack of business know-how.
All she needed was help. And she got it.