Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Students' Needs Drives Rising Costs of Out-of-District Placements

EDITOR'S NOTE: A seat in a classroom isn't enough for some students, who need extra help to reach their potential. This year, Stamford Public Schools in Connecticut expects to spend $24 million on special education. For a district that relies primarily on taxpayers for funding, it's a fine line to walk, as these children's parents -- who must negotiate a learning curve unique to special education and its legal framework -- sometimes feel their children's needs aren't being fully met.
The cost of sending the neediest outside the district has risen to a net cost of $7 million this year. Meanwhile, more children are sharing assistants, and next year the district may have to find room for another classroom of special needs preschoolers.

STAMFORD, CT. -- At the end of his first week at The Foundation School in Milford, Myles Scott, 18, was non-committal about the experience, assessing it simply as "good" before heading to the kitchen to assemble a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and wrestle with his leggy, black-and-white dog, Herbie.
Last June, Scott walked in Westhill High School's graduation, but he did not receive a diploma. By now, many of his peers have started college, however, because of his autistic tendencies, a possible language processing disorder and other difficulties, Scott is entitled to special education services for nearly three more years, until he reaches 21.
"I understand I am a learning-disabled kid -- young man -- but I need to learn more of the basics to go on my own," Scott said.

Conference Tackles Autism Research and Funding

GARDEN CITY, N.Y. -- Significantly increasing funding for autism research and making insurance companies pay for treatment were among the major ideas offered at a government-university sponsored conference and rally on autism here Tuesday.
"Those are the top items of the day," said Mark Roithmyer, president of Autism Speaks, the largest advocacy agency for the disease in the world.
In response, Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plan in Washington, D.C., said "there has been a recent attempt to shift the responsibility for some educational services to the health care systems, and our customers tell us they can't pay any more."
But Roithmyer said 15 states have mandated that insurance companies provide additional services and noted, "New York State could be next. Harvey Weisenberg [D-Long Beach] is sponsoring such a bill in the Assembly and Sen. Charles Fuschillo [R-Merrick] in the Senate."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Inspired By Their Daughter, Notre Dame Coach and Wife Open Home for Adults With Special Needs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis and his wife, Maura, formally welcomed four women with special needs to a new home built by the charity inspired by their 14-year-old daughter.
"Today is for people like you who we love and we want to take care of," Maura Weis said Monday afternoon at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Hannah and Friends Farm, a more than 30-acre residential community near South Bend.
The women moved into the home on Friday, and four men are scheduled to move into a house next door in the coming months. The organization's aim is to provide housing and care for children and adults with specials needs.
The couple's daughter, Hannah, has been affected by developmental disorders.

Financial Planning for Children With Special Needs

There are financial planners -- and then there are financial planners with the expertise to help families with special-needs children.
If a planner is a generalist -- "just a money guy -- you may not get a solution there," says Michael Kresh, a certified financial planner in Islandia, N.Y., who says about 10 percent of his clients have at least one child who may require long-term care.
In some cases a condition that can run in families may be diagnosed later in life, and parents can plan now for that possibility with their child, he says.
Parents should leave nothing to chance, experts say. So, when looking for a planner with special-needs expertise, ask for referrals from other parents you know.

Chicago Schools Flunk When It Comes to Special Ed

CHICAGO -- For two years, Sandra Bollacker told school officials something was wrong with her son. Unlike his peers, he struggled to write and could barely hold a pencil.
It was only after an outside physician diagnosed Eric Bollacker with autism that Chicago Public Schools acknowledged his disorder in a special education plan. But the boy's mother, like many Chicago parents with special needs children, believes the plan is woefully insufficient. Eric, 10, is now in fourth grade and still struggles to read.
A recent state report shows that Bollacker's experience is far from unique: 40 percent of the 96 schools still scrutinized by the state were not properly implementing these crucial special education plans.
That's just one of 11 findings in the Illinois State Board of Education report, which excoriates the district for its continued failure to comply with federal disability laws.

College Students Provide Sensory Movie Screening for Children on the Spectrum

Don't usually pick up stories from college papers - but having spent many a morning, day and night working at "the maneater," the student paper at the University of Missouri, I couldn't pass this one up. It does seem that more communities are providing these sensory screenings.

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- For most children with autism, trips to the local movie theater are difficult because of sensitivity to light and sound and anxiety in large social situations. This past Saturday, several University of Missouri students organized a sensory screening for children with autism.
The viewing of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," which took place Saturday at Hollywood Theaters, used lower volume, a moderated temperature and kept the theatre lights on. All these precautions were taken to accommodate the hypersensitive senses associated with the disorder.

Surfer Rides Waves of the Ocean and Autism

Since we had a great deal of interest in the last story about Clay Marzo, the surfer with Asperger's syndrome, thought you'd enjoy a piece from USA Today.

Clay Marzo rides the big waves off Maui like no other surfer, carving turns like a skateboarder on a liquid vert ramp or a snowboarder in a moving turquoise halfpipe.
Marzo glides through the barrel, a transparent tube of water, and dips his mop of golden hair into the wave's cascading wall, then shakes hundreds of shiny droplets into the air in the film Just Add Water. His barks of joy can be heard through the roar.
Marzo, 20, may be the world's most creative surfer. He also has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Colorado Budget Cuts Focing People With Disabilities Out of Regional Center

DENVER - The state is moving forward with plans to close a skilled-nursing facility serving people with severe developmental disabilities in Grand Junction next year, despite several families' efforts to keep it open.
Grand Junction Regional Center is a 32-bed facility. Governor Ritter announced in August the facility would close, saving tax payers $1.3 million. It's part of a bigger plan to cut at total of $320 million from the state budget over the next year.
Department of Human Services, Deputy Director of Veteran's and Disability Services, Tim Hall says closing the Grand Junction Regional Center wasn't a decision based solely on money. "It's consistent with what other states are doing," he said.
Hall says since the late 1980's states have moved away from institutions like Grand Junction Regional Center and into community based facilities like nursing homes and group homes.

A Horse and His Boy

Ask most parents how far they'd go for their child, and the usual answer is "to the ends of the earth." It's a turn of phrase that Rupert Isaacson and Kristin Neff took literally.
"The Horse Boy," directed by Mr. Isaacson and Michel Orion Scott, and opening in New York on Sept. 30, is travelogue of sorts. In 2004, Mr. Isaacson and Ms. Neff's 2½-year-old son Rowan was diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder now diagnosed in one out of every 150 children according to the Centers for Disease Control. As Rowan grew, he got worse, as autistics generally do: In homemade footage, Rowan is shown becoming a volatile child whose only place of peace, his parents find, is on a horse.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Special Moment in Missouri High School Football

Another feel good moment in high school football that you won't want to miss.

Matt Ziesel was granted a special moment in a Missouri high school football game. The 15-year-old has Down Syndrome and always dreamed of scoring a touchdown.
The opposing team, which had a huge lead, let him run for a score late in the blowout game.
Ziesel plays for St. Joseph Benton. He ran for a long touchdown against Maryville.
Maryville led 46-0 at the time. The Benton coach asked the opposing coaches if they would grant the kid’s wish. Ziesel had never played in a game.
Check out Matt's play.

Kennedy Urges Hiring of People With Disabilities

CROMWELL, CT. — With some 13 million working age Americans who have disabilities unable to find work, Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy Jr. Tuesday issued a call for employers to hire the disabled.
“This is a movement whose time has come,” Kennedy said during a forum on hiring the disabled at Crowne Plaza Hotel. “It’s the final chapter of the civil rights struggle.”
Kennedy, a lawyer, said that while the Americans with Disabilities Act, which marks its 20th anniversary next year, has been successful in some regards, meeting employment goals hasn’t been one of them.

Battling New Jersey's Autism Epidemic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Jersey has the highest autism rate in the nation. With one in 94 children (one in 60 boys) born in the state being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parents have much more to worry about in the way of their children's security, health and happiness.
According to Autism New Jersey in Ewing Township, isolation stemming from the disorder itself is a fact of life for many who have ASD, but isolation in the form of a lack of available services for them and their families and friends desperately trying to help is unnecessary.

Military Families Fight for Autism Coverage

HOUSTON - As Congress and the President spend taxpayer cash as fast as it comes off the press, thousands of military families waging the toughest kind of fight are frustrated by a nation which professes gratitude for those who serve, but refuses to fully fund therapies proven to help disabled military kids.
"We are sending the parents of these children to war. We have a moral obligation to care for the medical needs of these families here at home," says Karen Driscoll, a Marine Corps wife.
While Driscoll's husband fought in Iraq she was battling Tricare, the defense department's health insurance company, to increase benefits for children like her son Paul, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In Praise of Autism

From The New York Times' Week in Review Staff's Idea of the Day blog:

Today’s idea: Autistics deserve better appreciation for their contributions to higher learning, one article says. And they should be recruited in information technology because they have “a preternatural capacity for concentration and near-total recall,” another says.
Health | Two recent articles suggest a sea change in attitudes toward those with the brain development condition. The most recent, in Wired magazine, highlights the hiring of autistics in information technology as one of the “12 shocking ideas that could change the world.” The focus of the brief article is a Danish entrepreneur who formed an I.T. consultancy made up mostly of people with autism-spectrum disorders, who troubleshoot software for companies like Microsoft and Cisco Systems.
Before that, Tyler Cowen, an economics professor who contributes to The Times, used the platform of the Chronicle of Higher Education to fault fellow academics for bigoted research dehumanizing autistics.

Campaign Puts Face on Maryland Budget Cuts

FREDERICK, MD. -- Colleen is 27. She has been on the Developmental Disabilities Administration's waiting list for services for 13 years.
She wants to be more independent, but will not let her mother teach her the necessary skills. She needs a skills trainer to help her with such tasks as laundry, cooking and cleaning. Her family fears Colleen will never get a trainer and will end up like so many of her peers -- in crisis when her mother dies.
Curran is on the waiting list for transitioning youth services, a DDA program that makes it possible for young adults to be employed in the community after they exit public school. With DDA budget cuts, Curran's family worries that he will not get a job and will lose many of the skills he learned in school.
These stories and others -- along with photographs of the individuals -- are being mailed to elected officials, in hopes of bringing attention to the price of cutting programs for the disabled.
On Aug. 26, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced sweeping budget cuts -- including a $24 million bite in the DDA budget.

Better Pay Urged for Direct Support Professionals

The Albany Times Union's story from earlier this month about the Direct Support Professionals who work with individuals with developmental disabilities across the state is generating some interest. It is particularly timely after last week's National Direct Support Professional Recognition Week and the bill in the House of Representatives that would boost wages and the professionalism for this incredibly dedicated workforce. Check out this letter to the editor from Karen Nagy, a parent of a child with autism in Rexford, N.Y.

Your Sept. 12 story, "Health workers seek respect," highlights the ongoing challenges facing direct care staff working with individuals with significant disabilities.
We are parents of a young man with autism. With the help of many not-for-profit agencies and their dedicated direct care staff, he has made significant progress toward independence and community integration. Our son is profoundly disabled and requires a high level of expertise. Staff who care for him provide a substantial level of supervision -- and they are grossly underpaid.

Direct care workers deserve to be adequately compensated and recognized for their profession.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dream Comes True on the Gridiron

Stories like this one from a newspaper in suburban Chicago really are wonderful. Check this one out. Congrats to Winfred Cooper and to both JV squads.

During a junior varsity football game between Elgin and Lake Park high schools, Elgin would sometimes put in a player who lined up far off the line of scrimmage.
Lake Park coach Nana Agyeman noticed this, and during halftime, he talked to Elgin's head coach, Dave Bierman, about it. He learned the player, Winfred Cooper, has severe autism.
"Well," Agyeman told Bierman, "if you want to throw him the ball, just let us know."

Home Autism Detector Worries Some Doctors

A new device marketed to parents as an early detection device for autism has specialists debating whether the technology will become a powerful autism screening tool for doctors, or a do-it-yourself recipe for parental anxiety.
For around $200 dollars, parents can now order a LENA Language and Autism Screen (LAS) designed to detect early signs of autism in their toddlers' daily chatter at home.
As a parent there are a lot of products coming out at us all days," said Marguerite Kirst Colston, the vice president for constituent relations at the Autism Society and mother of a 9-year-old boy with autism. "Perhaps it could be a good additive, but as a screening tool  as a parent, I paused."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Confronting Social Isolation Through Art

East Providence, R.I. -- In the photograph, Lindsey Ponte stares into the camera lens wide-eyed, her brown orbs radiating surprise. She covers her mouth with a paint-smudged hand. In the next frame, the photo’s duplicate still draws the viewer in, but it is now criss-crossed with color — purple, green, blue, black and white cover the image haphazardly.
The viewer can’t help but smile at this young woman’s take on her portrait. It is simple, refreshing and endearing, as are the rest of works in Nathan Fitch’s new exhibit, “Double Vision,” currently showing in the main gallery at AS220.
Fitch’s subjects — and collaborators — are students at East Providence’s Top Drawer Art Center, a nonprofit visual arts organization providing art programs for adults with developmental disabilities. The center aims to promote the idea that adults with developmental disabilities can confront feelings of social isolation through art.

California Budget Woes to Leave Families Without Respite

CONTRA COSTA, Calif. -- With a 2-year-old son suffering from a genetic disorder that leaves him vulnerable to accidents, Tarzana residents Lance and Samantha Reiss rely heavily on a state-funded program that helps them care for the boy while raising two other children.
Until a month ago, the Reiss family received 130 hours a month of state-funded respite care under a program that helps families raise disabled children.
But after the state's latest round of budget cuts, the family's respite care hours were reduced to 50 and are expected to be eliminated altogether by Oct. 14.
The Reisses are among thousands of families with developmentally disabled children who are beginning to feel the pain of the state budget cuts. Without these services, families might need to place their children in institutions where care is more expensive and inadequate, disability advocates say.
The cuts come as the number of people served by DDS has grown from 146,000 in 1997 to more than 240,000 today.

2,000 at Rally Call for Autism Coverage

O'FALLON, Mo. — Parents in the crowd wiped their eyes as the legislator told how he is fighting for therapy that will help a father take his son to a ballgame, a mother enjoy a movie with her daughter and a family go out to dinner.
"We know if we pass legislation, we will give these children a better shot," Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said Sunday at a rally supporting legislation requiring insurance companies to cover therapy for children with autism.
Nearly 2,000 people attended the four-hour rally and fair, organizers said.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Carter and His Service Dog's First Day of School

Check out the story of Carter, 5-year-old from Columbia, Illinois, and Corbin, his support dog. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this as the legal case continues.

Budget Cuts Threaten California Family's Ability to Support Special Needs Children

CORNING, Calif. -- Dan Steigman and his wife had depended on the HIPP or Health Insurance Premium Payment Program to reimburse them for most of their medical needs.
But due to state budget cuts, he hasn't received any money from the program since June.
He's already out more than $1,200 dollars and even worse he just found out in an email that he might not get a reimbursement check until November.

Surfing Helping Youngsters on the Spectrum

As the number of children with autism mushrooms, so too does the list of therapies for reaching the baffling world in which they live. From horseback riding to hyperbaric chambers, the methods are as diverse as the symptoms of autism itself.
But here's a therapy that surprises even the parents of autistic kids: surfing.
"When he caught his first wave, you should have seen him," said Robyn Serafine of Deerfield Beach, whose autistic 11-year-old son, Charlie Reilly, has limited verbal skills. "He was squealing and laughing — it was pure enjoyment. You could hear him 150 yards away."
Charlie first participated in a "Surfers for Autism" event last year in South Florida, where the nonprofit began in late 2007. On Saturday, surf instructors are bringing the action to Cocoa Beach for the first time. Already, 100 kids with autism have been signed up by their families.

Preparing for Adults with Autism to Enter the Work Force

For an autistic worker, the hardest part of a job is often the easiest for everyone else: Joking with co-workers, sharing desserts on a special day, instinctively treating your boss with respect.
Being socially correct is grueling. And for some autistic adults, an impossible task.
This is an issue more companies in New Jersey will have to start dealing with, autism advocates are saying, as there will soon be a surge in autistic adults in the work force.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aiming to Develop Entrepreneurial Skills of Those With Disabilities

Just Add Water plans to open its doors this spring as the newest venture of Community Options Inc., a Princeton-based nonprofit that operates six for-profit businesses throughout New Jersey. Those companies employ more than 300 people with disabilities in administrative, maintenance and retail jobs.
Just Add Water will combine a café with offices businesses can rent for conferences and training, plus the entrepreneur development service.
The recession is making it even harder for the disabled to find jobs, said Shawn McInerney, regional assistant director the state Division of Developmental Disabilities. He said DDD serves 41,000 people statewide, and each year more than 600people with developmental disabilities graduate from school and seek to transition to the work force.
But the majority — perhaps as many as 90 percent — can’t find jobs, said Chris Dixon, executive director of Community Options Enterprises.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The National Review: Special Education Needs Help

Officially reported disability rates in public schools are entirely unreliable and are almost certainly inflated indicators of how many students are actually disabled. Eventually, school and government officials are going to have to acknowledge that our current procedures for identifying students as disabled are fundamentally flawed and commit themselves to improving these procedures.
Consider also how rapidly special education has grown over the last three decades. Today almost one in seven students is classified as having a disability. That's 63 percent more than when federal programs for special education began in 1976. Do we really believe that our children's medical well-being has deteriorated so severely over the last three decades?

D.C. to Ask Judge to Dismiss Special Education Court Order

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Citing improved performance and a recent Supreme Court ruling, the District soon will ask a federal judge to dismiss a 2006 court order that requires it to provide timely assistance to a backlog of families seeking special education services from public and public charter schools.
The District's intention is included in a memorandum filed Monday in U.S. District Court by D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles. It says the city will ask U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to dismiss the consent decree imposed as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit, Blackman v. District of Columbia.
The District serves about 11,000 students with special needs. Parents denied special education programs for their children by school officials can seek a hearing at which they can appeal the decision.

Health Care Debate and Its Impact on Children With Special Needs

WASHINGTON — A group of parents who oppose President Barack Obama's plan for revamping health care said Tuesday it would lead to rationing for children with life-threatening disabilities. National advocates for the disabled immediately rejected the claim that echoed this summer's dispute over "death panels."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Student With Autism and Service Dog to Attend New School

An autistic boy who won a temporary court order to bring his service dog to class in his hometown school district Monday will instead be starting at a new school Wednesday nearly a half hour away.
Carter Kalbfleisch, 5, and his service dog, Corbin, will begin classes at the Illinois Center for Autism in Fairview Heights instead of his former pre-kindergarten special education class in the Columbia School District, said his father, Chris Kalbfleisch.
The remedy adds thousands of dollars to the cost of Carter’s education, with the district and the state picking up the tab. But while the district said it will pay for Carter’s transportation, it will not pay for the service dog to travel to the new school. The parents will instead have to drive the two to and from school.

Study Sees Progress at Iowa Resource Center

DES MOINES, Iowa - An independent review released Monday of a southwest Iowa center for the mentally disabled is urging improved staff training and hiring of top leaders.
Gov. Chet Culver ordered the review of the Glenwood Resource Center after 12 deaths in the past year at the facility, which cares for more than 300 people with mental disabilities. The center is in Glenwood, about 110 miles southwest of Des Moines.
Pennsylvania-based Liberty Healthcare's report was generally positive but called for hiring permanent leaders and improving training in lifesaving techniques as well as efforts to reduce assaults between patients. Glenwood has had an acting superintendent for more than a year.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Some Students With Autism May Make Transition to College

RALEIGH, N.C. — Although it’s not common, students with autism can make it into college if they have help and clear expectations.
That’s primarily because "we’re starting so much earlier with early intervention services. We definitely know it’s possible,” said Ann Palmer, director of advocacy and chapters for the Autism Society of North Carolina. "Not for everybody, but it’s an option.”

Memoir Drams Autism's Hidden Pains Into View

Karl Taro Greenfeld is part of a celebrity family, or one that was. His brother Noah, younger by a year and seven months, was among the earliest autism media stars, with a series of books written by his dad, Josh, and profiles by, among others, Dan Rather and "60 Minutes" in 1978, when Noah was 12.
To describe what makes "Boy Alone" -- Greenfeld's memoir about life with autism -- extraordinary means divulging "plot twists," so consider this a spoiler ale

Friday, September 11, 2009

Review: "Adam" Looks at Lifestyles of the Honest and Awkward

In a new movie, "Adam," the title character, a quirky loner played by the reliably adorable actor Hugh Dancy, turns his living room into an impromptu planetarium to entertain his attractive but romantically wary neighbor, Beth. Soon he is taking her to Central Park to witness raccoons frolicking in the moonlight, and we are comfortably launched on that predictable cinematic journey wherein the charming oddball woos the beautiful girl.
Predictable, that is, until a few scenes later, when Adam inappropriately announces his own sexual arousal and then confesses to Beth that he suffers from Asperger's Syndrome.
Asperger's is characterized, among other things, by awkwardness in social situations and an inability to read others' body language and social cues. And yet, in "Adam," much of the leading man's appeal comes from his refreshing, albeit sometimes brutal, honesty. For Beth, whose experience with men has thus far been negative, the contrast between the awkward, earnest Adam and her suave but dishonest ex-boyfriend turns Adam's supposed deficiencies into strengths, at least for a time. Despite a compellingly sympathetic portrayal by Mr. Dancy, the movie eventually adopts a heavily didactic tone, launching Adam into the more banal role of the misfit who teaches "normal" people something about life.
Whatever the deficiencies of the film, its release cements a new awareness of Asperger's Syndrome in popular culture.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Adults With Autism Finding Their Place

Wonderful story from a monthly publication in Montreal called The Senior Times. Check this out.

MONTREAL -- As you walk into Darlene Berringer’s apartment on Sherbrooke near Greene, Yosef Robinson and Ansovina Dolce take you into the room where they are working on their projects.
Yosef is 27 and has a master's degree in urban planning and Anso is working on her art.
“Each of them is brilliant in their own respect,” Berringer says of her autistic students. Her mission is to integrate them fully into careers where their talents and personalities can shine. Berringer was the founding director of Giant Steps, a school for autistic children and adolescents. It started small, she says, in a church basement in Pointe Claire. The school now has branches worldwide.

Florida Family to Provide a New View of Autism

For most of her life, Eve Walker tried to stay out of the spotlight. Self-conscious and shy, she dwelled on what other people thought of her.
After she had a daughter with autism, she felt like people stared at her when she went out and judged her child's behavior.
But six years of dealing with supermarket meltdowns and accidental injuries have helped Walker overcome her insecurity. Now, she wants to share what she has learned about children with autism and help people understand the disability.
On Sept. 16, she and her family will be featured on a special about autism on The Learning Channel.
"I see there is beauty, too," Walker said. "I want people to see the good side of autism."

School Provides Special Attention to Students With Special Needs

HILLSBORO, Oregon -- A week before school started, Bryce Poehlitz was a little worried about the "fat hallways" as he toured South Meadows Middle School.
True, they are fatter than at his previous school, but it wasn't the size of the hallways that concerned Bryce. It was the number of students he predicted would fill them.
The 13-year-old doesn't like crowds, commotion and noise. When you've got autism, those things can be more than overwhelming.
The first day of school is nerve-wracking for most kids, but it's often especially tough on children with special needs.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mastering Social Skills and Finding Friends

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Thirteen-year-old Andrea Levy ticked off a mental list of rules to follow when her guest arrived: Greet her at the door. Introduce her to the family. Offer a cold drink.
Above all, make her feel welcome by letting her choose what to do.
"Do you want to make pizza now or do you want to make it later?" the lanky, raven-haired teen rehearsed in the kitchen, as her mother spread out dough and toppings.
This was a pivotal moment for Andrea, a girl who invited just one acquaintance to her bat mitzvah.
Andrea has autism, and socializing doesn't come naturally. For the past several weeks, she's gone to classes that teach the delicate ins and outs of making friends — an Emily Post rules of etiquette for autistic teens.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pennsylvania Program Provides Support for Adults With Autism

For children who have been diagnosed with autism, there is no shortage of services available. Early intervention, intermediate units, developmental and behavioral services, Medicaid, family-based mental health services, residency placements and outpatient programs are just some of the options -- until that child turns 21.
A new program in Pennsylvania is helping to fill the void in services for adults on the spectrum. Adult Community Autism Program, a joint venture between Keystone Autism Services and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Autism, is now working to serve adults in Cumberland, Dauphin and Lancaster counties, it is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.
"You don't outgrow autism," said Drue Robinson, chief operating officer of Keystone Autism Services. "We tend to forget that you still have autism at 21. You still have autism at 45, at 60."
The program, which will initially serve 200 individuals ages 21 and older, is an all-inclusive program that provides behavioral health and medical services, Robinson said. Participants apply through the Bureau of Autism Services, part of the state Department of Public Welfare.

Huffington Post: The Real Health Care Scare

In all of the white-hot vitriol being spewed over a national health care plan, very little attention is being directed at the pharmaceutical companies and the potential conflicts of interest involving the doctors doing their research. In America, we are generally of the belief that by the time a drug or vaccine has made it into the marketplace there has been enough testing conducted by the FDA and objective physicians and researchers that we can trust its safety. Frequently, we are wrong.
The internecine relationships between drug companies and researchers and their institutions deserve constant scrutiny. As an example, the highest-profile proponent of vaccines like the MMR for children, Dr. Paul Offit has been made a wealthy man by Merck, the pharmaceutical giant that manufactures MMR. Offit did not conduct the research on the MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccine but sold a patent to Merck for a vaccine against rotavirus, which causes diarrhea in children.
Offit is not known to be in the midst of a Merck revenue stream, his opinion can hardly be considered unbiased when speaking about the company's MMR product. None of this is ever disclosed when the media frequently run to interview Offit as a vaccine expert on MMR. In fact, during a recent broadcast on NBC Dateline, "A Dose of Controversy," it was the first time Offit was asked in an interview about the millions he had earned on his rotavirus vaccine royalty. However, no mention was made of Merck by either NBC's Matt Lauer or Offit.

And, click here to read a piece from Reuters on the doctor's failure to disclose this relationship.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kansas Farm's 'Magical' Effect Helps People with Special Needs

Diana Burns straps on her helmet.
Volunteers help the 46-year-old onto her horse’s saddle and almost immediately a smile takes over her face.
“There’s something about that connection,” said Yolanda Hargett, a senior administrator with Community Living Opportunities, which provides services for adults and kids with developmental disabilities. “They seem to just really light up when they’re interacting with the animals.”

Sunday, September 6, 2009

On the Warpath About Autism

The National Autism Association has officially named September 9 "How Much Longer Day." On that day, they are encouraging parents and other members of the autism community to get in touch with their federal representatives in support of a whole raft of issues in areas including health care, education, insurance, and more.

Schools Meeting the Challenge of Educating Children on the Spectrum

COLORADO SPRINGS -- It’s mid-morning, and Teresa Wright is relaxing on her living room couch, sighing that familiar sigh mothers everywhere emit after a hectic morning getting the kids off to school.
But Wright has more on her mind than making sure the kids have their lunches and homework assignments. Three of her five sons — an 11-year-old and 9 year old twins — have autism spectrum disorder, and over the years, she and her husband, Patrick, have worked endlessly to make sure the boys’ school experiences have been productive.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Swine Flu Poses Greater Risk to Children With Special Needs, CDC Reports

At least 36 children died from swine flu in the United States as of Aug. 8, most of whom had an underlying illness or developmental disability, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Now, doctors are warning that extra attention must be given to children with special needs who present with flu-like symptoms.
Of the 36 children ages 2 months to 17 years who have died, two-thirds had a chronic illness or developmental disability such as cerebral palsy, developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, respiratory troubles or cardiac problems.

Friday, September 4, 2009

One Small Step for Autism in Health Care Reform

I've been looking to see anyone address health care reform and how it will effect people with developmental disabilities. Haven't been able to find much until this morning, thanks to Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism.

Thursday night, my husband, three daughters and I attended the health care town hall meeting in Bridgeport, CT, hosted by our Congressman Jim Himes (D.) We couldn't get a sitter, so we decided to bring the kids along rather than miss the event. After all, healthcare for children is of paramount importance.
The evening began with a few words from Congressman Himes about his desire to see all Americans with health care coverage and his honest appraisal of where he felt some of the faults in the system are today.
After two hours, I got my chance to ask a question. "Hi, I'm Kim Stagliano and I live here in Fairfield County. Last year my husband lost his job. We couldn't afford COBRA. We applied for private health insurance. We were turned down because our three daughters, who are seated behind me, have autism. Will you make certain that people with autism are not turned away from health care? Also, we are, I believe, the only nation that allows direct to consumer ads by pharmaceutical companies. They spend billions. Could we tap into that dollar pool to help pay for healthcare? Thank you."
Congressman Himes answered that just last night he'd spent the evening with families who have children on the spectrum and he was shocked to learn about the financial devastation that never seems to end. So "yes" was his answer, he would include autism in health care.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Rising Star in Pro Surfing Has Asperger's Syndrome

In the latest issue of Outside Magazine, Jonah Lehrer profile Clay Marzo, a rising star on the pro surfing circuit. In December 2007, Clay was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. What's so intriguing about Clay's story is that his Asperger's isn't a hindrance or handicap. Instead, it's a crucial part of his success, allowing Clay to focus, for hours at a time, on nothing but the physics of waves and the mechanics of surfing:

Clay Marzo doesn’t love surfing. Love is a complicated thing – sometimes, people fall out of love – but there is nothing complicated about Clay’s relationship to the ocean. For Clay, surfing is an elemental need, a form of sustenance, a way of being that he couldn’t be without. He just turned 20, but he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t obsessed with barrels, shortboards or the daily swell report.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How Autism Can Help Us Understand Animals

Interesting piece that aired earlier this year on NPR that has been rebroadcast about Temple Grandin and how autism helps her understand animals.

Temple Grandin is one of the nation's top designers of livestock facilities — and she also happens to be a person with autism. She uses her personal experience with the disorder to develop better ways to understand and communicate with animals.
Grandin tells Terry Gross that animals have emotions, including "fear, rage, separation anxiety and seeking." One of her first assignments as a consultant to the livestock industry was designing humane chutes to get the cows to slaughter, a task that drew on her understanding of the animal brain:
"[I] had to really understand how animals process information and how their senses compare to human senses because some things that would upset animals wouldn't upset us," she explains.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Struggling to Find Employment, Just Like Anyone Else

MADISON TWP., Ohio -- When Cheryl Callsen watches her 21-year-old son sit idle, she can see his frustration.
“Andrew’s got a lot to offer and, like anyone else does, he gets bored sitting around all the time,” she said of her son who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, which is on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. “He wants a job.”
But with so many people out of work, even entry-level jobs such as bagging groceries are hard to find. While nationally the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, U.S. Census data puts that figure at more than 62 percent for those with disabilities.
“Honestly, the toughest question from my clients these days is, ‘When are you going to find me a job?’ ” said Melissa Engle of Goodwill Easter Seals Miami Valley, who has been working with Andrew to find him a job through the agency’s employment services.
“I want to have a job,” Callsen said, “because I want to pay back society for all of the stuff they have given me.

Teaching People to Stand Up for Themselves

Quote of the day goes to David Swallow, a recent graduate of a program in Texas designed to help people with developmental disabilities learn advocacy and leadership skills: "People tell you you can't do anything, but I have proved them wrong every time."

FORT WORTH, Texas -- David Swallow has been called retarded all of his life.
"I hate that word," said Swallow, 54, of Fort Worth.
But instead of dwelling on negative stereotypes, he has tried to educate others, including lawmakers, about more positive alternatives. This year, he pushed for a bill that would ban the word from state statutes.
"People tell you that you can’t do anything, but I have proved them wrong every time," he said. "I have a car, I pay insurance, I drive, I’m my mother’s caregiver, and I am contributing to the community."
Swallow is among the first graduates of a new project designed to teach people with developmental and intellectual disabilities how to stand up for themselves

Cuts Stun Maryland Disability Community

Dr. Bob Ireland didn't think the state could cut his resources any more.
The executive director of Bello Machre, a Glen Burnie nonprofit organization that provides services to Marylanders with developmental disabilities, has gotten used to working with a tight budget. Even in a thriving economy, his clients' needs grew as state funding shrank.
When the state Board of Public Works decided Wednesday to slash the budget for community service providers by 2 percent - saving the state an estimated $21.7 million - Ireland cringed.
That reduction in funding was on top of the $1 million cut from the Developmental Disabilities Administration's Rolling Access program, which gives grants to families who need immediate services, and cuts to state adult respite care and service coordination programs.

High School Prepares for First Class for Students on the Spectrum

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Stamford High School and four ninth-graders will share a first Monday.
Students in a distinct class for autism spectrum disorders have progressed through Westover and Roxbury elementary schools, then Cloonan Middle School. Now, four of the five students who finished eighth grade last year in Cloonan's modified home economics room are starting high school with the promise of a classroom, Room 106, outfitted to help them learn life skills, such as cooking, along with academics.
The high school isn't new to them. During the summer, they took part in an extended school-year program, which took place, in part, at Stamford High, home of the Black Knights.
"Mickey is enchanted with Stamford High School. He thinks it's a castle, because he sees all the stuff on the knights," said Heidi Teubert of her son.

Camp for Kids With Autism Offers Extreme Therapy

Tremendous job by John Donvan of ABC News for his incredible story about an extreme sports camp for children on the spectrum.

Consider what it does to the senses when you're in a kayak on the Colorado River and you hit white water. You can't hear anything but the water. There's spray in your face. Violent drops. Wicked turns. And fear -- moments when the river seems to be in control, not you. In short, it's total sensory overload, a total adrenaline rush.
But if you have autism -- like most kids at the Extreme Sports Camp near Aspen, Colo. -- it's overload times 20, or times 100. And that's the point: to take kids to their limits, and beyond.