Thursday, December 31, 2009

Louisiana Braces for Major Job Cuts

BATON ROUGE, LA -- About 450 workers at the state Department of Health and Hospitals will lose their jobs because of budget cuts, the head of the agency announced Wednesday.
“The next 24 months are going to be very difficult,” DHH Secretary Alan Levine said during a news conference in downtown Baton Rouge.
Most of the layoffs are in the Office of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, which will lose more than 400 positions.Overall, DHH is eliminating 445 filled positions and 416 vacant positions.
The job loss within the Office of Citizens with Developmental Disabilities is high because the state is moving residents from state-run group homes into private facilities, eliminating the need for employees, Levine said.

Connecticut Law Will Force Insurers To Cover Autism Treatment

HARTFORD, CT -- The McDonalds had only four months to go before the crushing economics of covering treatments for their autism spectrum son was all on them.
“But thank God, come January, we’ll have no worries,” said Michelle McDonald, 39, as she joined others in Hartford Wednesday to talk about an insurance fix that mandates coverage for medical needs of these children.
The law, which was championed by state Sen. Martin Looney, D-New Haven, state Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, and state House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, applies to private insurance plans and is effective as of Friday.
Connecticut is only the 11th state to mandate this coverage from private insurers.

Researchers Identify Autism Clusters In California

Researchers at UC Davis have identified 10 locations in California where the incidence of autism is higher than surrounding areas in the same region.
Most of the areas, or clusters, are in places where parents have higher-than-average levels of education.
The clusters are found primarily in the high-population areas of Southern California and, to a lesser extent, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The researchers said that, while children born within the clusters during the study period were more likely to be diagnosed with autism, the majority of the state's children with autism were born in adjacent areas outside the clusters.
For the rigorous study, published online today in the journal Autism Research, scientists examined nearly all of the approximately 2.5 million births recorded in California from 1996 through 2000. About 10,000 children born during that five-year period were later diagnosed with an autism, according to the state Department of Developmental Services.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Technology Can Help Police Find Missing People With Disabilities

SCHAUMBURG, IL. -- Safely recovering a missing person with autism or Alzheimer's today is usually dependent on either good luck or the kindness of strangers.
But new technology is beginning to help police make it a more methodical process.
Employing the same radio-frequency tracking equipment used to study wildlife behavior, a downstate Illinois company is making the finding of lost special-needs people a quicker and easier task.
Schaumburg police will be the next of only a few Chicago-area departments taking advantage of the innovations of Murphysboro-based Care Trak International.
The average time it takes the devices to find a missing person is 30 minutes, Nebl said.
Though the tracking equipment has only a 1-mile range, the people it's intended to track are very rarely farther away than that before their caregivers know they're gone.

Texas Study Finds Lower Autism Rate Among Hispanics

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Hispanic kids are less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to be diagnosed with autism, and socioeconomic factors don't seem to explain the difference, according to a new study in Texas schoolchildren.
"These findings raise questions: Is autism under diagnosed among Hispanics? Are there protective factors associated with Hispanic ethnicity?" Dr. Raymond F. Palmer of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and his colleagues write in the American Journal of Public Health.
Other research has shown a lower risk of autism among Hispanic individuals, while one study found that Hispanics with autism were typically diagnosed later than autistic children of other ethnic backgrounds. Autism could be under diagnosed among Hispanics, Palmer and his team note, given that these children are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to have trouble accessing medical care.

Judge Backs Couples Lawsuit For Independent Living

RALEIGH, N.C. -- A federal judge Monday prohibited the state and a local mental health management office from cutting services to two Wilson-area people with mental illness and developmental disabilities until they get a full hearing on their lawsuit seeking to continue independent living.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle said it's likely that two residents identified in the lawsuit as Marlo M., 39, and Durwood W., 49, would suffer irreparable harm if a local mental health office went through with a money-saving plan to move them from their apartments.
Their lawyers contend the two would end up in institutions, though a lawyer for the local mental health office disagreed with that conclusion.

Art Helps People With Disabilities Convey What It's Like

CHICAGO -- Louis DeMarco has trouble organizing his memories. He gets distracted by mirrors. So he corrals his mind by painting cloud charts -- grids of bright puffs that are labeled and ranked according to color. Or he sketches the landscape of Loudemar, a fantasyland he's created.
DeMarco, 24, of Chicago, also paints portraits, some of friends, some of himself. And he plays music -- bass, keyboard, guitar -- to express his thoughts in a manner that can be difficult when brain and lips don't connect properly.
He has autism, which encumbers his communication but fuels his creativity.
"Those on the autism spectrum tend to be prolific," said Rob Lentz, co-founder and program director of Project Onward , an art studio and gallery that supports the creative growth of visual artists with mental and developmental disabilities. "And they thrive on routine."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Special-Needs Hockey Team Forms

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Special-needs children often spend a good part of their childhoods on the sidelines, with few opportunities for regular physical exercise and the socialization that it brings.
But local hockey parent and coach Paul Hopgood is hoping to change that
with a newly formed special hockey team, the Cat5 Canes West.
"There's some kind of connection between skating and these kids," he said. "They like it."
Playing on a team offers experiences that can't be duplicated at home or at school, he said.
Children learn to work with each other toward a common goal, take direction from coaches and to win and lose gracefully.

'Love Hormone' May Reduce Autism Symptoms

NEW YORK (UPI) -- The "love hormone," released at childbirth and during sex, is being used in a U.S. trial of young adults with autism spectrum disorders, researchers say.
Dr. Eric Hollander, the center's advisory board chairman and chairman of the psychiatry at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says giving oxytocin may improve social functioning and repetitive behaviors -- irrespective of the age of the patient.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Military Helps Families Care for Children with Special Needs

When her husband, a Marine Corps colonel, was transferred last summer from the Pentagon to a base in southern California, Karen Driscoll was forced to confront her autistic child's new school district and the intricacies of federal special education law.
The Poway Unified School District near San Diego offered Driscoll's 11-year-old, Paul, the support of an aide for 10 hours a week -- fewer than half the 21 hours Fairfax County had provided and said he deserved under federal law.
"They slashed his services in half and said, 'We believe this is comparable,' " Driscoll said.
Until recently, Driscoll would have had to fight the school district alone. But under a new Marine Corps initiative, she had reinforcements: a caseworker and a special education attorney, provided by the military, to accompany her to meetings with school officials and, if need be, to court.
That initiative is part of a larger military effort, led by the Marines and the Army, to address the medical, educational and emotional challenges faced by special-needs families.
The Defense Department says that about 220,000 active-duty and reserve service members have dependents with special needs, but only 90,000 are enrolled in the military's main program to serve them.

A Choir for People With Developmental Disabilities

GREEN BAY, WI -- Throughout his music career, Michael Barber has tried to get his singers to smile.
The simple act improves not only how they look, Barber says, but more importantly how they sound.
And while Barber used to have limited success in achieving this happy-faced goal, his most recent endeavor has made it a whole lot easier.
Earlier this year, Barber started a singing group for adults with mental disabilities. After observing the ease with which his singers grinned, the group name — the Smiling Voices — seemed obvious.

Maryland Service System At Breaking Point

An incredibly thoughtful piece on a bleak situation in Maryland for people with developmental disabilities.

Because of chronic under-funding, thousands of families in Maryland are on waiting lists for services for their child with a developmental disabilities, and even those deemed to be in a state of crisis can be forced to wait years for services. Those who are in need of small breaks, like respite care to allow them to take a few hours off to attend to their own needs, can wind up waiting forever. Family members who care for relatives with developmental disabilities find themselves unable to work because they can't leave their charges alone. Others suffer physical consequences themselves from having to cope with homes that are not handicapped accessible. Some of the develomentally disabled regress - losing skills like walking and speech - because their families cannot afford therapy.
Despite major unmet needs, the state has been forced to cut funding for community support services for the developmentally disabled in the last year.
Maryland, despite its wealth, has lagged for years in services for its most vulnerable residents and those who give over their lives to care for them. The system is fast approaching a breaking point, but the state, caregivers and advocates should use that crisis as an opportunity to make sure Maryland lives up to the promise that all its citizens can live a life of freedom and dignity.

YAI Network Addresses Rise In Autism Among Latinos

With the CDC's recent report on the increase in autism, one of the alarming statistics was the dramatic rise in the diagnosis among Latino children. Dr. Charles Cartwright, Director of the YAI Autism Center, and Dr. Brigida Hernandez, Director of Research for the YAI Network, were guests on WABC-TV's "Tiempo" on Sunday. The interview is broken into two parts - here is part two.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Can You Teach Empathy To Children

Another fine piece on Lisa Belkin's Motherlode Blog at The New York Times. In a time when not-for-profits really can use assistance, committed volunteers really do make a difference.

Last week the Centers for Disease Control released new data showing that autism is diagnosed more frequently than had been thought — affecting 1 in every 110 children and 1 in every 70 boys.
Next week, high-school seniors will be scrambling to finish up the last of their college applications, chock full of evidence that they are good citizens who give back to their communities.
That makes this a particularly good time to listen to Liane Kupferberg Carter, founder of the Alternative Sports League in her neighborhood (a place for disabled children to participate on teams) and mother of Mickey, a teen with autism. In an essay in The Huffington Post, she wonders what all these college hopefuls with their do-good resumes are actually learning.

Children With Autism Try Their Hand at Sailing

DESTIN, Fla. — Six-year-old Steven Myatt’s captain’s hat hid his eyes as he looked up while steering the sailboat around the harbor.
Steven’s autism normally causes him to fidget, scream, leave his mother’s side and sometimes take off his clothes. But he sat calmly on the boat Wednesday. He took directions from the captain and sat beside his shell-shocked mother.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mom's Turning Baking Into Business

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was just past noon on Monday. Lynn Yeager and Janice Copley were inside their small store on San Jose Boulevard, but Cookie Momsters wasn’t really open for business. It was a baking day.
The door was open though, and Yanira Ferrer walked in with her son, Jose. They’d just moved up from Orlando and Ferrer was looking for cookies and other goodies that 12-year-old Jose could eat. He’s autistic and more and more these days, a gluten-free, casein-free diet is recommended for people with autism.
Of course, that’s how Cookie Momsters got started in the first place. What began as simply a mom trying to find something her child would and should eat has grown into a statewide business.
Yeager’s son Jacob, now 6, is autistic, and she started reading that gluten (the protein in wheat, rye and barley) and casein (a protein in cow’s milk) could cause a lot of problems for children with autism and other issues.

Building Skills and Confidence

RINGWOOD, IL - The old Lydia went to the doctor a lot.
She was born with Down syndrome and a major heart defect.
At 6 months old, she had open-heart surgery.
At age 4, she got a pacemaker.
Outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices, she struggled to “find her voice,” said her mother, Laura Barten.
That is, until this year. Age 9 has been different.

Parents Say High School Is Failing In Special Education

GREENWICH, CT. -- Citing years of frustration without any improvement, parents of special education students took their concerns directly to the Board of Education last week and once again called for a task force to evaluate deficiencies for their kids at the high school.
While parents soundly praised the education their children have received from the elementary and middle schools, they cited continuing problems at Greenwich High School where parents claim there is a drop off in quality services. Parents have called for a task force for years to get at what they feel is systemically wrong with the high school education their children receive.
Parent Lynn Arazini said her son, who has autism, had “regressed dramatically” since entering the high school. A teacher in the school system for more than 20 years, Ms. Arazini said she had seen quality education for her son and other special education students, but that changed at the high school.
“Not every GHS teacher has failed my son, but even the best teachers cannot give him what he needs due to the systemic problems,” Ms. Arazini said, citing lack of consistent staffing, paraprofessional training and community-based life skills programs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Schools Shortchange Students With Special Needs

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The city has cheated some special needs kids out of valuable time in school, pulling them from class early to catch their ride home.
Across the city, the Daily News found scores of students boarding school buses as much as 40 minutes before the official end of the day.
"It's not right. They're not helping the kids learn more or get better in school," said Jacqueline Peralta, 35, mother of two students, Luis Diaz, 16, and Carla Diaz, 14, who attend Public School 79 in East Harlem because they use wheelchairs and have learning disabilities.

Holidays Can Be Overwhelming For Children With Autism

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Kate Skinner glows with pride when talking about her 10-year-old son, Mathieu, an aspiring filmmaker and inventor who can't wait for Christmas.
Skinner recounts her son busting out with phrases like "'Mom, I love you so much, I'm so glad it's Christmas,'" she said. Or, "I'm going to make you something for Christmas, I don't know what it is yet.'"
Mathieu has autism and can become overwhelmed during the holidays.
"Everything is different, the schedule changes, the expectations change," Skinner said. "There are new bright shiny things in the house that weren't there before."
The things so many people enjoy about the holidays - vacations, holiday treats, seeing friends and family - can be stressful for kids on the autism spectrum because their normal routine is disrupted, according to Michael Marcin, MD, a psychiatrist specializing in autism spectrum disorders.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Chili Recipe Leads to Job

A great story from the Republican Herald in Potsville, Pa.

An Auburn, Pa., woman's chili recipe has stirred up a job for her.
The 3Cs Family Restaurant, Port Clinton, Pa., was impressed enough with Christine Elliott, 19, that it gave her a position on its staff - provided she bring her recipe with her.
Elliott, who has Down syndrome, has been working two days a week for two months at the eatery, learning everything she can about the restaurant business, while at the same time prepping the ingredients for her spicy chili, which took first place at the 2006 Schuylkill County Fair.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sharp Rise in Autism, But Causes Are Unclear

Dr. Philip H. Levy, CEO & President of the YAI Network was quoted in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal, commenting on the new CDC autism prevalence study. Check it out.

About one in every 110 U.S. children has been diagnosed with an autism disorder, according to a new government study, a significant increase from recent years.
The rise was driven partly by better detection of the brain disorder, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. But the study also said the possibility that children face an increased risk of developing autism symptoms "cannot be ruled out."
The CDC data showed a 57% rise in autism spectrum disorders in 2006 over a 2002 study that found autism in one in every 150 U.S. children.
Boys were diagnosed with autism four to five times more often than girls, according to the latest report, which concluded that autism-spectrum disorders should be considered an "urgent public health concern." Overall, about 1% of 8-year-olds are estimated to have an autism-spectrum disorder, according to the study.
Dr. Philip H. Levy, CEO and President of YAI Network, a New York-based nonprofit that serves people with disabilities, including autism disorders, said the report confirmed that autism is "a continuing national health crisis." He added that some societal factors were helping to increase the risk of diagnosis. "With fathers in particular, there's a stronger correlation that has been made between older fathers and autistic children," Dr. Levy said.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Funding Cuts Threaten North Carolina Group Home

UNAKA, N.C. – Eight men and women sit in a large, cheerful room, decorated for Christmas with gas logs aglow in the fireplace.
It appears to be a large family or gathering of friends, passing a late afternoon in a homey atmosphere. But this home is in danger of being closed, and the occupants would have to find other housing. The home is Autumn Halls of Unaka and it houses 12 developmentally or learning disabled residents, said Shelly Debty, who owns and operates the home along with her father, Will Hayes.
The state, in a severe budget crunch, has cut funding to group homes across the state. Autumn Halls, like many other homes for developmentally disabled, is having to cut spending to scrimp by. Some are in danger of closing, Debty said.

Waitlist Frustrates Maryland Families

ANNAPOLIS, MD. - It's just after 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning at the home of Donald and Diane Creed, and they're a little surprised that their daughter Larissa Creed isn't awake yet.
After a few minutes, Donald Creed strides down the hallway of their homey, ranch-style house on a leaf-strewn street in Rockville. He gets to his daughter's bedroom and greets her in a cheerful, high-pitched tone: "Hi! How are you?" and then, "Let's turn off your noise machine."
Larissa Creed is a 24-year-old woman with severe developmental disabilities. She lives with her parents, who are both in their 60s and work full time. And she is one of thousands in Maryland with developmental disabilities who are waiting for badly needed services.
Approximately 19,000 developmentally disabled children and adults deemed eligible for services from the Developmental Disabilities Administration are currently on a waiting list.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"When I'm working, I'm In a Real Happy Mood"

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Jim Seibert loved his job at a local restaurant. He worked his way up from rolling flatware and napkins to ushering diners to their tables and telling them the day's lunch specials.
Then the restaurant closed last month.
"When I'm working, I'm in a real happy mood," said Seibert, 49, of Evansville. "Also, when I'm not working, every day is a dull day."
Employers increasingly see the value of hiring the disabled, say staff members at ARC, which serves developmentally disabled children and adults in Southwestern Indiana.
Rudy Winderlich is manager of ARC's Community Job Link program, which helps clients such as Seibert find jobs and offers them support services.
"The economy," he said, "has really hurt us, just like everybody else. The majority of clients we work with are looking for entry-level positions. Usually they are the first ones to be let go."
When ARC clients search for work these days, "they're competing with 70, 80, 100 people," he said.

CDC Study Expected to Show Autism Rate at 1 in 100

With the latest autism rate figures due out tomorrow from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network and the Centers for Disease Control, thought this piece from Age of Autism would be of interest. Like to hear your thoughts.

ATLANTA - Researchers report that autism has risen to an epidemic rate of 1 in 100 children in a study to be released on Friday by the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network office of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This rate represents a 50% increase between the two birth cohort years of 1994 and 1996 and mirrors a recent study released by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), which found a rate of 1 in 91 children, 1 in 58 boys.
In 2007, the ADDM released a similar study conducted in 2002 examining children born in 1994 that found the autism rate to be 1 in 150. In the study to be released Friday, the CDC looked at children born in 1996 (8 years old in 2004) and determined that there was a substantial increase of 50% between those two birth years.
This study and other recently published research clearly indicate that autism cannot solely be caused by genetic differences because it is impossible for genetic diseases to increase at such astronomical rates. It also cannot be explained by better diagnosing, changes in diagnostic criteria or migration patterns. It is clearly triggered by the environment. It’s well past time that CDC and NIH treat the autism epidemic with the national emergency status it deserves and act with crisis level response.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Overcoming Autism: A Mother's Story

At the age of 18 months, Roman Scott was diagnosed with a form of autism. By age 4, he no longer tested on the autism spectrum.
Although there is no cure for autism, and references in medical literature to "overcoming" autism symptoms are few and far between, Roman's mom, Elizabeth Scott, and his pediatrician, Dr. Jacquelynn Longshaw, believed that through much patience and training, Roman could overcome the odds.
"The whole thing was difficult because I was so afraid," Scott said today on "Good Morning America." "I was terrified of losing my son."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

'A Place That Taught Me to Finally Be Happy With Myself'

Interesting piece by Mike Elk on Huffington Post.

Today as I leave for Brazil, I go back to a place and a people that literally saved my life.
Without Brazil, I wonder how I would even be alive today. Brazil was the place that taught me to finally be happy with myself despite my numerous defects.
As a teenager, when I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum condition known as Asperger's Syndrome, it seemed like a death sentence.

Single Mom Seeks Help for Son with Autism

FLATBUSH, N.Y. -- This cartoonist needs some special care.
Amoako Buachie, 18, a gifted autistic artist, suffers from a severe sleeping disorder that causes him to throw tantrums in the middle of the night - a condition that is tearing his family apart.
"I don't know what starts it, but he'll be stomping his feet, throwing himself down, yelling, running up and down the hallway, and the whole building shakes," said Amoako's mother, Akosua Mainu, 46, who came to Brooklyn from Ghana 15 years ago.
"He's a very sweet young man, but I want to try and get a residential setting for him."
Waiting lists for city-area residential homes are between five and seven years long, and a private facility is too expensive for the single mother of two, who cleans houses for a living.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Women With Disabilities To Lose Residential Facility

EAST LYME, CT. — A residential facility for young women with disabilities in Niantic is closing Friday, citing a lack of funding and the inability to meet the criteria to receive money from the state Department of Developmental Disabilities.
The closing of North Washington House, operated by Lighthouse Voc-ed Center on North Washington Avenue, displaces five women. The future of a second facility, Beckwith House on Beckwith Street in Niantic, is also in question.
Diane Martin, a Waterford resident, said her daughter, Elaine, who is 22, has been at Beckwith House for one-and-a-half years. She said Elaine has become more independent and mature since living there.
"The girls are closer than most sisters. It's just amazing to see them together," Martin said. "It's a wonderful program, that's why us parents are so upset. It's like taking a very close family and scattering them."

In Autism, Medication Is Not Only Answer

Interesting op-ed from The Boston Globe by Dr. Claudia M. Gold, a pediatrician in Great Barrington.

Contemporary research integrating developmental psychology and neuroscience demonstrates that children with autism learn to regulate emotions in relationships. Intense experiences that are beyond the capacity of a child to self-regulate can be co-regulated with the help of people close to him.
A study published in the current issue of Pediatrics gives me hope. An intervention, the Early Start Denver Model, was offered in the homes of families, with parent, child, and therapist playing together. In the two-year study period, toddlers diagnosed with autism showed significant improvement in behavior, language, and IQ. The authors attribute the success of their intervention to the fact that it is “delivered within an affectively rich, relationship-focused context.’’
Some children severely affected by autism cannot function without medication. But because medication is the “standard of care’’ for treatment of ADHD, there is often an over-reliance on drugs, on the part of parents, teachers, and physicians, to treat complex problems. I worry that the same could become true for autism.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Field Trip Enhances Life Skills

NORTH AUGUSTA, GA. --- For a group of special education pupils at two elementary schools, a Christmas shopping trip Thursday was as much about learning as it was about fun.
The field trip gave the Mossy Creek and North Augusta elementary schools pupils a chance to practice social skills they would need later in life, said one teacher.
"It's exposure to the community and things they'll be doing when they grow up," said Kelley Kirkland, the special education teacher at North Augusta Elementary. "We start them on the process of exploring the community and the different things they can do like grocery shopping, buying presents and eating at restaurants."

Nonprofit That Hires People With Disabilities Set to Close

BELLINGHAM, WA. - A local nonprofit that provides jobs to adults with development disabilities will close Tuesday, Dec. 15.
The stress of the poor economy and tough competition has led to the closure of Current Industries, which provides manufacturing jobs for people with development disabilities. Executive Director John Butorac made the announcement to employees Thursday, Dec. 3, the day after the board of directors made the decision to close down.
The closure is a devastating blow for the nonprofit's approximately 40 employees, many of whom have developmental disabilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the unemployment rate for people with developmental disabilities in Washington state was about 70 percent in 2006, and Butorac believes it's gotten higher since then.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Study Links Earlier the Intervention to Improved IQ in Children with Autism

A study released by the University of Washington Autism Center sets a new stage for early autism recognition, which can lead to higher IQs and increased social skills in autistic children.
While the UW Autism Center has worked on a variety of studies related to autism, the Early Start study is at the forefront due to its success in early intervention, with some of the toddlers in the study being as young as 18 months. The method, which was deemed the “Early Start Denver Model” (ESDM), was measured against a community-based autism program and, in the end, was found to improve children’s IQ scores by an average of 17.6 points, while the community intervention only improved by seven points.
If you reach a child before the two-and-a-half year mark that’s not adapting to the environment or picking up skills that typical kids should, you’re sort of preventing the predicted delay that they’d have,” said Milani Smith, director of Clinical Services at the UW Autism Center Clinical Program.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Special Santas for Children With Special Needs

SAN JOSE, CA. -- "Braving the mall" during the holiday season takes on a whole new meaning for parents of children with special needs. Navigating wheelchairs through the crowds or keeping autistic children patient in line for Santa can be excruciating.
That's why Parents Helping Parents organized a holiday open house Saturday at the Sobrato Center for Nonprofits here, where children didn't have to wait in line for Santa, and photographers were happy to retake photos until they got them right. Children received toys, danced to music, made craft projects, and occasionally struggled with their parents and siblings — all in a nonjudgmental environment.

House OKs Autism Bill in Ohio

COLUMBUS, OHIO -- Many health-insurance plans could no longer exclude coverage for autism or diabetes under bills that passed the Ohio House Tuesday over objections of most Republicans.
Though the rate of autism diagnoses make it the fastest-growing disability in the United States, and studies show success with early treatment, current Ohio law explicitly allows insurance companies to exclude coverage for children and adults with the disorder.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Setting Priorities for Young Adults on the Spectrum

Each year, tens of thousands of children diagnosed with autism, from mild to severe, enter adulthood and leave the safe confines of schools and their services behind.
Every day, their parents, such as Jennifer Smith-Currier of Gardner, Kan., worry what will become of them.
"It's like, where is the journey going?" said Smith-Currier, whose children Corinne, 16, and Cameron, 14, have autism. "When you have a typical child, there are goals: You go to high school; you go to college; you have a career and 2.5 children. My daughter is 16 with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Will my son ever get married? I don't know the answer. Will my daughter ever drive a car? I don't know the answer. Will she ever find love?
Smith-Currier joined about 65 other parents, counselors, developmental experts and many adults with autism recently to be part of a "National Town Hall" - meetings held simultaneously in 16 cities.

Cost of Raising a Child With Special Needs Varies from State to State

From Lisa Jo Rudy's autism blog at

Which state is best at providing for the needs of families with special needs children? A professor at Washington University in St. Louis has finally compiled the information that many families have been waiting for:
The study found that families with similar demographics and nature of their children's special needs have different out-of-pocket health expenditures depending on the state in which they live. Click here for the list.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Autism Album Debuts

From John O'Neil of The New York Times Locals' Blog

Last spring, I invaded these columns to tell about a local autism awareness music project, SingSOS!, that had been invited to perform at the United Nations. That was a high point on a long and winding road that has now led — at last! — to the release of the “Songs of the Spectrum” album in time for the holidays.
The album features original songs about autism, featuring performances by artists like Jackson Browne, Dar Williams, Marshall Crenshaw and other top names. The music is packaged with a shelf’s worth of handpicked autism resources, including excerpts from books by leaders in the field, all in electronic form.

Learning His Body, Learning to Dance

NEW YORK -- Gregg Mozgala, a 31-year-old actor with cerebral palsy, had 12 years of physical therapy while he was growing up. But in the last eight months, a determined choreographer with an unconventional résumé has done what all those therapists could not: She has dramatically changed the way Mr. Mozgala walks.
Mr. Mozgala and the choreographer, Tamar Rogoff, have been working since last winter on a dance piece called “Diagnosis of a Faun.” It is to have its premiere on Dec. 3 at La MaMa Annex in the East Village, but the more important work of art may be what Ms. Rogoff has done to transform Mr. Mozgala’s body.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

New Yorkers Protest Proposed Cuts

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Dozens of New Yorkers with developmental disabilities and their advocates gathered outside of Gov. David A. Paterson's office last week to protest proposed cuts to the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities funding.
Attending the protest was Assemblyman Greg Ball, R–Patterson, who has publicly opposed the governor's deficit reduction plan, which would cut funding to OMRDD programs by 10 percent.
"We all know things are tighter than ever, and the state should step up and do its part. However, pick-pocketing the disabled to fill a budget gap is not the answer," said Ball. "This measure, if accepted, would endanger the health and safety of our extremely vulnerable population and destroy the quality of care for the neediest among us."
The assemblyman said a cut in state OMRDD funding would result in the loss of matching federal Medicaid funds as well.

Runaway Spends 11 Days in NYC Subways

When will the police realize that when a person with a developmental disability is missing, it can't be treated as just another missing person.

Day after day, night after night, Francisco Hernandez Jr. rode the subway. He had a MetroCard, $10 in his pocket and a book bag on his lap. As the human tide flowed and ebbed around him, he sat impassively, a gangly 13-year-old boy in glasses and a red hoodie, speaking to no one.
After getting in trouble in class in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and fearing another scolding at home, he had sought refuge in the subway system. He removed the battery from his cellphone. “I didn’t want anyone to scream at me,” he said.
All told, Francisco disappeared for 11 days last month. Since Oct. 26, when a transit police officer found him in a Coney Island subway station, no one has been able to fully explain how a boy could vanish for so long in a busy train system dotted with surveillance cameras and fliers bearing his photograph.
But this was not a typical missing-person search. Francisco has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that often causes difficulty with social interaction, and can lead to seemingly eccentric behavior and isolation. His parents are Mexican immigrants, who say they felt the police were slow to make the case a priority.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Researchers Warn Against Misusing Report

Dr. Carlos Pardo was trying to head off trouble.
The Johns Hopkins neurologist and his colleagues had autopsied the brains of people with autism who died in accidents and found evidence of neuroinflammation. This rare look inside the autistic brain had the potential to increase understanding of the mysterious disorder.
It also, he knew, could inspire doctors aiming to help children recover from autism to develop new experimental treatments -- even though the research was so preliminary
the scientists did not know whether the inflammation was good or bad, or even how it might relate to autism.
So when Pardo and his colleagues published their paper in the Annals of Neurology in 2005, they added an online primer that clearly explained their findings in layman's terms and sternly warned doctors not to use them to develop treatments.
Over and over, doctors in the autism recovery movement have used the paper to justify experimental treatments aimed at reducing neuroinflammation.

Supported Employments Makes Gains in Missouri

It may take a blend of public and private support, a dash or two of creativity, courage, and a little extra training to overcome obstacles, but supported employment for people with disabilities is beginning to gain ground in Missouri. According to the 2008 Missouri State Rehabilitation Council Report, the annual income of persons with disabilities who were assisted in obtaining community-based competitive employment increased by $46 million in 2008. And it's good for the economy as well -- every dollar spent in Missouri on supported employment returns $1.03 to taxpayers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's In a Name?

From The Los Angeles Times' health blog Booster Shots.

We health bloggers and reporters think about words a lot and care about using the right ones. So we were interested when we heard that a legislative proposal offered in the U.S. Senate recently would outlaw further use of the terms "mentally retarded" or "mental retardation" from federal statutes and policy papers in the area of health, education and labor.

Editorial: New Jersey Needs to Focus on Adults With Autism

Autism has been getting more of the attention it deserves in the last few years, and the once-grim landscape for people with autism is changing. Recent developments include a task force appointed by the governor, mandatory health insurance coverage and courses on the disorder offered to parents and teachers.
With greater understanding and wider acceptance, autism can move from the hushed side rooms to the main hall of daily life. But that will require a greater focus on treating and assisting adults with the disorder.

Going to Battle Against Autism

From Lisa Belkin's Motherlode, Adventures in Parenting New York Times' Blog. Be sure to check out the readers' comments, as well.

Any parent of an autistic child will tell you that their life is forever changed by their child’s condition. A recent study in The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders quantifies exactly how different that life can be. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin at Madison followed a groups of mothers and their autistic children (adolescents and adults) for eight days.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Assembly Bill Would Help New Jersey Adults With Autism

TRENTON, N.J. -- Adults with autism would be specifically covered by anti-discrimination laws under one of two new measures designed to assist people who have the disorder, Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts said today.
The second bill would permit adults with autism to voluntarily place their names on a new state registry that will help New Jersey improve its planning and delivery of services, said Roberts (D-Camden).
The other would revise the state’s laws to specifically prohibit discriminatory acts against people with autism. Both would be introduced next week when the Assembly returns from a lengthy break, Roberts said.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Arizona Budget Cuts Target People With Disabilities, Suit Claims

Arizona officials have cut services to people with developmental disabilities at a greater rate than they have other services, and the courts should reverse that discriminatory policy, according to a complaint filed Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
A coalition for the developmentally disabled has filed the latest legal salvo against the state over its budget decisions.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lessons of Willowbrook

If history teaches us anything, it is not to repeat the mistakes of the past. New York Governor David A. Paterson’s recent directive to reduce state allocation to the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) by 10 percent is a chilling reminder that what’s old is new again.
A half century ago NYS was lauded for it’s efforts in supporting individuals with development disabilities in what at the time were considered state of the art facilities such as Willowbrook.
We all know what happened in that infamous institution when the State repeatedly cut back on its funding. The state of the art became a state of despair and thousands of people were forced to live in sub-human conditions.
Cuts of the magnitude proposed by Paterson will surely lead us down a similar path unless more reasoned voices prevail.

Questioning Change in Diagnosis

After the recent article The New York Times about dropping the diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, thought we'd share several letters from readers:

Re “The Short Life of a Diagnosis” (Op-Ed, Nov. 10):
I’m writing in support of Simon Baron-Cohen’s argument for maintaining the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

A Special Member of the Team

He is the first player to be in uniform and the first to emerge from the locker room and onto the practice field.
As the players count off their calisthenics, he counts the loudest.
When equipment needs to be moved, he is the first to grab it and lug it to the other side of the field.
He is Marcel Green, No.73 on the Detroit Crockett High School football team, which advanced to a Division 3 regional final.
And he has autism.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Judge Rules In Favor of Autism Service Dog

TUSCOLA, Ill. – A Douglas County judge ruled on Tuesday that the Villa Grove school district must continue to allow a 6-year-old boy to bring his service dog with him to attend fall classes.
Nichelle and Bradley Drew of Villa Grove filed suit in circuit court to require the school to allow the dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Chewey, to accompany their son, Kaleb, to school.

When the Handwriting Indicates ASD

A new and very small study shows that kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) tend to have worse handwriting than their non-ASD peers.
Of 14 kids with ASD and 14 without who were asked to complete a standardized handwriting test, those with ASD specifically had trouble forming letter shapes correctly. Otherwise their handwriting was fine. They spaced and aligned letters correctly and -- perhaps because the test dictated the size of the letters -- made them the right size.
The researchers (from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the
Kennedy Krieger Institute, both in Baltimore) speculate that the handwriting deficit likely stems from the poor fine-motor skills associated with ASD.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Health Care Reform and People With Disabilities

The Health care reform legislation passed Saturday by the House of Representatives is the "high water mark" for people with disabilities, advocates say, but the measure still has a long way to go as all eyes turn to the Senate, which must consider the legislation next.
The House bill, which comes after months of negotiation and heated debate, requires health insurers to offer more comprehensive coverage and to provide insurance to a wider swath of the population including those with pre-existing conditions. The measure would also create new long-term care options and expand Medicaid.
"The fact that the package has paid such attention to people with disabilities is very significant," says Marty Ford, chair of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Struggling Economy Hits People With Disabilities in Workplace

MENTOR, OHIO -- Bill Sutton is hard at work cleaning dishes at HomeTown Buffet in Mentor.
"I like it here. There's nice people," he said during a break on his six-hour daytime shift.
Sutton, 49, of Eastlake, is one of 120 disabled people who found work at various restaurants, laundries, hotels and factories through the Lake County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities' Community Employment Program.
But such jobs are becoming more scarce in today's economy.
The national unemployment rate is 10.2 percent.
However, at least 62 percent of people with mental and physical disabilities are currently out of work, according to U.S. Census data

Friday, November 6, 2009

Advocacy Video Sparks Controversy

Few medical conditions rival autism as a magnet for controversy. Practically everything about the disorder — its cause, its treatment, the way it is diagnosed, how it is studied — is subject to bitter dispute, sometimes to the point of death threats.
The most impassioned disagreements are propelled by desperate parents of autistic children, but increasingly, people who themselves have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis are speaking up. And their priorities, surprisingly enough, are not always in line with the advocacy groups who seek to represent their interests. (See six tips for traveling with an autistic child.)

The latest example is the eruption over a video produced for Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy group. The slickly produced video, written by Grammy-nominated songwriter Billy Mann and directed by Academy Award–winning director Alfonso Cuarón, shows a series of images of children with autism, accompanied by an ominous voice-over: "I am Autism ... I know where you live ... I live there too ... I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer and diabetes combined ... And if you are happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Special Education Grants for Catholic Schools

When her son Alex neared his first communion, Francesca Pellegrino wanted to enroll her son in Catholic school, but found there were few options at the small institutions for a boy with mild cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities.
Alex, now 17, never did end up going to Catholic school. But Pellegrino, of Kensington, MD., wanted to make sure other children would get the chance.
"I started talking to other families and realized I was not alone," she said. So with the help of other parents brainstorming "around the dining room table," in 2004 she founded the Catholic Coalition for Special Education, a nonprofit organization that awards grants to Maryland Catholic schools to help pay the salaries of special education teachers and aids. The organization recently awarded $107,500 in grants to seven Maryland schools. The program encourages the schools to provide as much interaction between special education students and students in the general classroom as possible, a connection Pellegrino said equally benefits both groups.

Texas School Probe on Use of Restraints

AUSTIN – Texas educators forcibly pinned down students with disabilities more than 18,000 times in the last school year, sometimes injuring them in the process.
A Texas Tribune review of state data shows public school educators used so-called “physical restraints” – a tool to control or discipline students with disabilities – roughly 100 times a day during the 2007-08 school year.
Disability rights advocates say the numbers point to a crisis in Texas special education. They say teachers are resorting to physical restraints because they aren’t properly trained to manage their students’ disabilities – posing a threat to vulnerable children and to themselves.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Childhood Vaccines, Autism and Danger of Group Think

Los Angeles writer Amy Wallace knew there would be blow back when she wrote a story for Wired magazine debunking the idea that autism is caused by childhood vaccinations. But she didn't imagine anything like this.
Two weeks after the story hit the Internet, the e-mail keeps flowing. A majority voice support for “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” But at least one in five disagrees. Many seethe with indignation. A few sling vile names and veiled threats.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Powerful Identity, a Vanishing Diagnosis

It is one of the most intriguing labels in psychiatry. Children with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, are socially awkward and often physically clumsy, but many are verbal prodigies, speaking in complex sentences at early ages, reading newspapers fluently by age 5 or 6 and acquiring expertise in some preferred topic — stegosaurs, clipper ships, Interstate highways — that will astonish adults and bore their playmates to tears.
Much of the growing prevalence of autism, which now affects about 1 percent of American children, according to federal data, can be attributed to Asperger’s and other mild forms of the disorder. But no sooner has Asperger consciousness awakened than the disorder seems headed for psychiatric obsolescence. Though it became an official part of the medical lexicon only in 1994, the experts who are revising psychiatry’s diagnostic manual have proposed to eliminate it from the new edition, due out in 2012. If these experts have their way, Asperger’s syndrome and another mild form of autism, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (P.D.D.-N.O.S. for short), will be folded into a single broad diagnosis, autism spectrum disorder — a category that encompasses autism’s entire range, or spectrum, from high-functioning to profoundly disabling.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloween Lasts Just a Little Bit Longer

PEMBROKE, Mass. - Halloween lasted one more day for the witches, vampires, princesses, and queens who hit the dance floor last evening at the Knights of Columbus lodge.
Building off of the special needs prom he has organized for two years, Kevin McKenna, 51, of Hanson, threw the Halloween party Sunday for special needs children and adults.
“There is not enough being done for special needs,’’ said McKenna, a former Boston Housing Authority police officer and Grand Knight of the Pembroke Knights of Columbus, who added that about 150 special needs children and adults attended. “We wanted the kids to have a second chance to wear their costumes.’’
“Anything that can get these kids out to socialize with their peers is wonderful,’’ said Joann Reale, 47, of Scituate. Joann’s daughter, Hannah, who has Sturge-Weber syndrome, a neurological disorder, dressed as an angel. The 19-year-old said she was most excited to be dressed up and dance at the party.

All Learning Comes to Use

From Sunday's New York Times, a profile of Ellen Zimiles, Chief Executive of Daylight Forensic Advisory in Manhattan, and why her company hires people with autism trained through the YAI Network.

My younger child, Daniel, 13, was born with autism. We knew when he was 2. Although I’ve always worked, my focus was trying to figure out how to help my son. My background in speech pathology turned out to be useful. I realized that nothing you learn in life is for naught — everything will serve you at some point. You just don’t know when.
Several years ago, I decided that if I wanted my son to get a job someday, I had to put my money where my mouth is. Two people with autism now work at our firm. I would tell other executives that hiring people with autism adds exponentially to a company’s culture. You get back more than you give. We recruited these workers through the YAI Network.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stop Stereotyping Kids With Special Needs

Interesting item by Ellen Seidman on Huffington Post.

Last month, Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley adopted a baby girl from Korea; a new bunch of photos of the proud mama and Naleigh recently came out. Practically every article on them, if not every headline, mentions that the child has "special needs." The couple hasn't elaborated--why should they?--and of course, everyone's eager to know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Like a Skyline Etched in His Head

NEW YORK -- In a helicopter above the city on Friday, Stephen Wiltshire of London looked down at the streets and sprawl of New York. He flew for 20 minutes. Since then, working only from the memory of that sight, he has been sketching and drawing a mighty panorama of the city, rendering the city’s 305 square miles along an arc of paper that is 19 feet long. He is working publicly in a gallery at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Mr. Wiltshire sees and draws. It is how he connects. Until age 5, he had never uttered a word. One day, his kindergarten class at a school for autistic children in London went on a field trip.
When they came back, he spoke.
“He said, ‘Paper,’ ” his sister, Annette Wiltshire, said. “The teacher asked him to say it again. He said it. Then they asked him to say something else, and he said, ‘Pen.’ ”
With pen and paper in hand, he drew what he had seen that day.

Ruling Deals a Blow to Autism Treatment Denials

LOS ANGELES -- A tactic used by insurance companies to deny expensive behavioral therapy to autistic children has been deemed illegal by a Los Angeles judge.
In a preliminary ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant found that Kaiser Permanente's refusal to pay for a child's autism treatment because the provider was not licensed by the state runs counter to California's Mental Health Parity Act. That act requires insurers to cover care for mental and behavioral problems at the same levels they do for physical illnesses.

Growing Autism Population Requires Increase in Services

Thought we'd share a piece about the increasing number of children being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders and how this is impacting the YAI Network.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hearings Sought on Hawaii Plan For Furlough Fridays

HONOLULU -- A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of special education students was amended Sunday to require the state to hold public hearings on the plan to furlough teachers on 17 Fridays.
In addition, the families of special education students are asking the U.S. Department of Education to intervene so the students won't lose any more days of education.
The state's furlough plan affects 170,000 children in public schools. The furloughs are an attempt by the state to save money and help close the budget deficit.
The state's furlough plan did not provide for any alternatives for special education students

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Overflow Crowd Protests Service Cuts in Maryland

From Maryland, a scene that I'm afraid will be played out more and more.

Pam Matheson spoke at a community rally Thursday night from her wheelchair, her 39-year-old adopted son at her side in his wheelchair.
“Matthew has wanted all his life to be a regular guy,” she told several legislators and more than 250 people who had crammed into Ellicott City Assembly of God Church to protest state budget cuts to developmental disabilities programs.
Matthew, who doesn't speak and weighs only 53 pounds, sat placidly beside her.
He hated being at Rosewood [Center] and they've closed it, but now they're decimating community services,” she said, referring to the $30 million in cuts made since July 1.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Doctors May Drop Parents Who Won't Vaccinate Children

When Cathlene Echan walked into her pediatrician's office two weeks after giving birth, she was nervous about discussing her recent decision not to vaccinate her second baby.
"The doctor said it was too much of a liability to have us as patients," said Echan, a 28-year-old stay at home mom. Echan's oldest child, Josiah, now 5, had just been diagnosed with autism around the same time her second son Torren, now 2, was born.
Echan's situation is a growing problem for parents and pediatricians alike. Despite adamant statements from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Centers of Disease Control that vaccines have no link to autism, an anti-vaccination movement is growing online, from parent to parent, and through activist celebrities, such as actress Jenny McCarthy.
Now, more and more doctors are feeling compelled to say "no" back to these parents. The issue was raised Wednesday at the annual American Academy of Pediatrics meeting in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Woman Thrives In Her 'Dream Job'

ST. LOUIS -- A Cardinals tote bag sits at Libby Waddell's feet as she pulls a sticker off a large roll and places it on one of the hundreds of bottles of antiseptic spray. The bag holds some of her favorite things, including a crumpled picture of her and her co-workers.
The picture was taken three years ago, when she first worked at the warehouse as part of a summer program for high school graduates with disabilities. Waddell, who has Down syndrome, adored the job, where she labeled medical supplies. She begged the manager to let her stay.
Manager Jan O'Connell, long an advocate for hiring the disabled at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, also didn't want Waddell to leave.
"It worked so well," O'Connell said. "I thought, we need to make this a permanent thing."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

From Haircuts to Movies, Businesses Reach Out to Autism Families

A growing number of businesses are learning to make special accommodations for parents of children with autism. A joint effort between the support and awareness group Autism Speaks, the salon chain Snip-Its and Melmark New England is proving to be a godsend for many families. Working together, the organizations developed a guide to help professionals and parents avoid some of the problems that arise when an autistic child gets a haircut.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Teacher Brings Music to Special Education Students

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- When Donald DeVito arrived at the Sidney Lanier Center School, music classes were held in a portable with only seven instruments.
Today, the disabled students at the school take music classes in a large, colorful room filled with instruments, uniforms and music.
About one-third of DeVito's 60 students are unable to speak, and the others have disabilities like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. They use music to express themselves, he said.
"Music really helps students to transcend their challenges through creative self-expression," he said. "I believe that there is really only one ability needed to participate in music education, and that is the ability to feel. As long as the music can reach you through an effective response, then everything else is just accommodation."

Local Businesses Benefit From Hiring People With Disabilities

LANCASTER, Ohio -- There is a large dedicated and hard-working local labor force, which county officials say is underutilized.
Many local business owners have chosen to hire workers with disabilities; a move that has benefits for the workers and the companies.

Mercury Levels Not Higher in Children With Autism

The blood levels of mercury are similar in children who are developing normally and children with autism, researchers reported Monday, and do not appear to be contributing to developmental problems.
The study, reported in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, is part of a dedicated effort by scientists to identify and study possible causes of autism, both environmental and genetic. The study participants are children between ages 24 months and 60 months who are diagnosed with autism as well as children with other developmental disabilities, and children who are developing normally.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Cheerleaders With Special Needs

Wonderful story from ABC World News With Charles Gibson. Their Person of the Week segments are truly inspiring and this one is definitely worth checking out.

Watch the cheerleaders at Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, and you may want to stand up and cheer yourself. They don't always execute perfect routines; in fact, they may miss steps or clap off beat once in a while. But their fun is contagious.
These cheerleaders are like no others. In the Spring of 2008, cheerleaders Sarah Cronk and Sarah Herr got the idea to expand their varsity squad.
"I got really inspired when I went to a Special Olympics program where they had a bunch of cheerleaders come and we helped them with the clinic and everything," said Herr. "I was like, I want to spend more time with these great athletes."

Outings Tailored For Children With Autism

BALTIMORE -- Like most 15-year-olds, Eric Kane loves watching movies, sometimes as many as three a night.
Yet they're almost always DVDs. Seeing the latest blockbusters on the big screen in a darkened theater wasn't always easy for the autistic teenager.
"He would start making noises when he would get overwhelmed, and it bothered the people around us," said Kane's tutor, Kelly Slaski.
But Sunday, Kane and about a dozen other autistic children took in a screening of "Where the Wild Things Are" at AMC Loews Theatre in White Marsh. Some of them squirmed in their seats; others stood and made noises along with the movie. And no one seemed to mind.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Filling the Autism Void

Interesting guest column by Doug Flutie in the Boston Globe

Massachusetts may have the best health care in the country, but it doesn’t cover the treatment for the fastest-growing health threat to children - autism.
Autism affects brain function and impairs communication, social interaction, and sensory modulation skills. The most recent statistics show that 1 in 91 children has autism, with the incidence four times as high in boys.
More than 500 babies born this year in Massachusetts will soon be diagnosed with autism. What their parents will learn first - what my wife, Laurie, and I have learned from our son Dougie - is that while the hopes and dreams for their child may change, they will also intensify.
Parents will learn that, with early intervention, children with autism can make significant strides - a fact backed up by extensive studies. They’ll find that their pediatricians and neurologists will prescribe intense one-on-one speech, occupational, physical, and behavioral therapies. And then they’ll be dismayed to discover that, though they’ve always paid their health care premiums, their health plans will not cover these services.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Autism Genetic? Researchers Zero In On Answers

Alisa Rock, whose 10-year-old son Connor has autism, says parents of autistic children often align themselves with one of two camps: There are those who believe that genes cause the disorder, and those firmly convinced that environmental factors are to blame.
Many genes and mutations are likely involved in producing autism, researchers said.
So it would seem helpful that new research on autism has just discovered a possible genetic link -- an alteration near a gene called semaphorin 5A, which is thought to guide the growth of brain-cell extensions essential for neuron-to-neuron communication. But for some parents, including Rock, the research is just a stepping stone to answering the million-dollar question: What causes autism?
"The scientific consensus now is that we're not talking about a single disorder. We're talking about a collection of disorders that are probably related," says Andy Shih, the vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks, a New York City-based organization that supports autism research and advocates for people with autism and their families. "The current thinking is that there could be as many as 100 genes or more involved in autism."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Helping Adults With Autism Find Work

Columbia, Mo. -- According to the Autism Society of America, Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disability, with a 10 to 17 percent increase in the number of cases each year primarily among children. As these children with ASD become adults, they will face many challenges, including finding a job. A new guide from the University of Missouri will minimize this challenge by giving employment service professionals new information about helping adults with autism find jobs.
A few years ago, MU researcher Scott Standifer noticed a significant lack of information for counselors working with adults with autism. In an effort to give counselors the tools they need, Standifer wrote Adult Autism and Employment: A Guide for Vocational Rehabilitation Professionals.

Doors Open for All With Down Syndrome

Nice viewpoint piece in The Buffalo News by the mother of three sons with Down syndrome.

A spectacular movement has been taking place over the past few decades. This movement has pushed boundaries, changed minds and opened doors. The people who have benefited from these efforts have reached the bar of expectation and in many cases shattered it on their way up.
October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month and it is the perfect time for a new awareness of the astounding achievements of people who have Down syndrome. Today, 50 years after the extra chromosome responsible for Down syndrome was identified, our children’s potential is unlimited.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In New Jersey, People With Disabilities Urged to Just Say Something

Nearly two decades after the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people of all ages with developmental disabilities in New Jersey continue to lack jobs, health care, housing, and access to public venues.
To address this, the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities (NJCDD) has launched, an online forum that squarely tackles the issues that people really care about.
"Too many people with developmental disabilities continue to live in outdated state institutions," said Dr. Alison Lozano, executive director of the Council. "Thousands more are waiting for housing. Many sit for years on state waiting lists for support services they are qualified to receive. The public needs to recognize that people with developmental disabilities are equal members of the community and need to be treated fairly."

Autism Group Just for Fathers

CINCINNATI -- On Monday night, the dads who gathered at the Mason sports bar were ready for some football. Oh, were they ready.
One said it had been three years since he had watched "Monday Night Football." Another said he hadn't allowed himself such an evening out in 13 years.
Besides a fondness for football, the men shared another bond: They are fathers of children with autism.

Student With Autism Saves Teacher

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- A local 10-year-old boy is being hailed as a hero. He says he used what he learned in Cub Scouts to save his teacher's life. The amazing young man explained to Eyewitness News how he reacted in an unusual situation with maturity well beyond his years.
Kyle Forbes, 10, is no ordinary kid. Most everyone will agree upon that. But now he's being honored by his school and his Scout troop for springing into action Tuesday to save his teacher's life.
For Hyde Elementary School teacher Sheri Lowe, every day teaching art class now is a gift.

UC Denver Study on Autism Risk Factors

The University of Colorado Denver is taking part in nation's largest study of risk factors for autism, a multi-year study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Nobody really knows right now what the causes are. The more we know about the risk factors, the more we can know the causes," said Kristina Hightshoe, Coordinator of the Study to Explore Early Development. "We hope this is a breakthrough study."

Charter School Opens for South Florida Students With Autism

HIALEAH, Fla. -- Susan Leon spent years trying to find the right school for her autistic son, Reno.
The public schools didn't have the right tools to teach children with autism, she said. And the specialized private schools were too costly.
So Leon, a paralegal from Kendall, convened a group of parents and experts to create the region's first charter school exclusively for autistic children.
The South Florida Autism Charter School in Hialeah opened in August with 81 students from Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
``These kids can learn so much,'' said Leon, now the school's director of development. ``You just have to know how to teach them.''

Building a Career One Book at a Time

Another great story about the importance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Lyall Frazier's fascination with books and attention to detail have led him to a job he loves.
The Pensacola man, who has a developmental disability, has been working for the West Florida Public Library System for more than four years.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Commentary: Hiring People with Disabilities

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, thought this item from the Federal Times might be of interest.

There is a clear business case for the federal workforce, charged with the responsibility of public service, to reflect the diverse tapestry of America. People with disabilities are part of that tapestry and arguably constitute one of the most diverse groups in our society.
While society has made significant progress in bringing attention to the value of diversity in the workplace, regrettably, people with disabilities have high rates of unemployment. They often are forced to remain dependent on government disability benefits even though they may be willing and able to work.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The 'Cure' for Autism, and the Fight Over It

Really interesting read from John Elder Robin's Living with Asperger's blog on Psychology Today.
Our society is confronting many serious, chronic medical issues, including AIDS, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer's, MS, heart disease, and autism. What do all those conditions have in common? Every one is something you live with for a long period of time; in some cases all your life. Furthermore, every one has one or more strong advocacy organizations who speak for people affected by the condition.
The "High Functioning" autistic group says, "We don't need to be cured. We just need tolerance and understanding."
The Highly Impaired group says, "Enough with the understanding! We need some cures, fast!"
Parents of affected kids say, "I want my kid to have a good life, whatever that means or takes."
Unfortunately, each person who's touched by autism thinks his autism experience is representative of everyone else's.
Autism, by virtue of its diversity, is totally different.

Special Athlete Helps His Team

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- Lisa Denatale and Steve Boutcher have spent the past 15 years advocating for their son Harrison, who has Down syndrome, to be included in the same activities as other children. Their approach has not only benefited Harrison, it also enriches the lives of teens and adults in the community.
Burlington High School cross-country running team coach Dan Hagan said Harrison Boutcher's participation in the sport has brought people together to support his success in competition.
"The only hurdle we have faced is the logistics of having a runner who needs more time to complete the workouts and races. The BHS community has really come together in providing that logistical support -- from the assistant principal who recruited her daughter to run as his aide in his first race, to the University of Vermont student intern who has volunteered to run with him at practice, to the special educators who help manage his schedule and early dismissal," Hagan said.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

David Kirby: Questioning Nonchalance About Autism Rate

It amazes me to see that the Obama Administration and mainstream media have been rather nonchalant about the startling news that 1-in-100 American children - and perhaps around 1-in-60 boys - have an autism spectrum disorder.
On Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told listeners on a conference call about an upcoming CDC study showing that the estimated rate of autism increased by about 50% among children living in study locations who were born in 1994, compared with those born in 1996.