Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fla. Governor Orders 15 Percent Cuts

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered deep cuts Thursday to programs that serve tens of thousands of residents with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and other developmental disabilities.
Though a range of state services face cuts from this year's Legislature, the governor invoked his emergency powers to order the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities to immediately roll back payments to group homes and social workers by 15 percent — an amount providers say could put them out of business and threaten their clients’ safety.
"lt's not like, 'Gee, does this mean I have to skip a vacation this year?'" said Amy Van Bergen, executive director of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida. "Potentially, these cuts have life and death implications for these people."

Capturing Beauty of Cherry Blossomos

OK, it's raining and we're expecting snow in the northeast, so I thought you might enjoy this. Be sure to visit the Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children site (link below) for more photos and info on the photographers.

WASHINGTON,D.C. - A group of four photographers with autism captured the beauty of the cherry blossoms and will be auctioning off their work to commemorate National Autism Awareness Month.
The photographers, Brian, James, Matt and Jimmie, all took pictures on the tidal basin using their Nikon Coolpix L18 cameras on Monday. They are all clients of Community Services for Autistic Adults and Children (CSAAC) located in Montgomery Village, Md., one of the oldest and largest autism services providers in the nation.

Nevada Considers Autism Bills

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Testifying before the Nevada Legislature on funding for autism services was a herculean effort Wednesday for Reno mother Sherrie Olson.
Her 2-year-old son A.J., wearing a Superman T-shirt, screamed and writhed in her arms. He tried to run out of the hearing room and ride the elevators up and down. He didn't speak or listen to the people around him.
It's just an ordinary day for a parent of a child with autism.
"It's the best feeling ever when you get hugs from him rather than just screaming," Olson said.
Nevada legislators Wednesday heard three bills that would rework the state's autism services and replenish funding at the same time federal money and state general funds are drying up.

Va. Governor Pushing for Autism Coverage

RICHMOND, Va. -- Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell (R) said Wednesday he will propose amendments to a bill that will require businesses to provide insurance coverage for children with autism.
The bill was passed by the General Assembly last month after 11 years of attempts. However, opponents say the state cannot afford the costs in a tough economic climate.
Twenty-three other states mandate coverage for autism. Parents of children with autism and other advocates have been e-mailing the governor urging him to sign the bill as is written.

Hundreds Protest Proposed Cuts in Arizona

PHOENIX -- They've lost child care, housing, transportation, case management, therapies for their disabled children and counseling for themselves.
They aren't optimistic that they will change the minds of Gov. Jan Brewer and Republican lawmakers, who are poised Thursday to enact even deeper budget cuts to balance a combined $1.6 billion deficit this year and next.
But they found a way to get to the state Capitol on Wednesday. An estimated 500 of the state's most vulnerable citizens and their advocates, some in wheelchairs and strollers, rallied against reductions to health care and social services.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adults Living with Autism

The newest autism statistics from the Centers for Disease Control are staggering; 1 in 100 individuals are diagnosed with autism each year (1 in 90 in New Jersey; 1 in 74 among New Jersey boys!) Two decades ago an autism diagnosis was one in 10,000! Research into causes and cures is NOT the only discussion. How do we address the needs of the one million-plus autistic individuals TODAY....80 percent of whom are fast approaching their 20s?
The Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation (DJF) is the first national autism organization that has focused exclusively on program development and support for ADULTS living with Autism Spectrum Disorders(ASD) since its 2002 inception.

MacNeil to Return to "NewsHour" for Autism Series

Veteran journalist Robert MacNeil will return to the "PBS NewsHour" in April for a six-part series of reports on autism, the program said Tuesday.
The series will mark the first time Mr. MacNeil, who stepped down as the program’s co-anchor in 1995, has reported for the "NewsHour" in a decade, although he has continued to do occasional work for PBS in recent years, and excerpts of some of those programs have aired on the newscast.
What drew him back for the autism reports was a personal tie; his 6-year-old grandson Nick has autism, "NewsHour" said in a release, adding that it was the first time in Mr. MacNeil's five decades as a journalist that he has chosen to bring his own family into a story.

California Group Home OK'd; Appeal Likely

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- Fans of the controversial "Big Wave" development erupted in cheers, hugs and tears Tuesday as the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved land-use permits for a Coastside office complex and living facility for adults with developmental disabilities.
Project applicant Scott Holmes was dry-eyed, however. Opponents of the project, who appealed the project to the Board of Supervisors, have promised to appeal Tuesday's decision to the California Coastal Commission on the grounds that the proposal -- which includes eight office buildings and housing for 50 developmentally disabled adults, along with 20 caretakers -- is just too big for its location in a vacant field next to Half Moon Bay Airport.
There's also the fact that the project is located entirely within a tsunami evacuation zone, adding a darkly ironic twist to the project's nickname.

Seeking Data on Autism and Wandering

Though wandering has long been a concern within the autism community, no one knows exactly how many people are affected by the issue. Now, a handful of autism organizations are banding together to find out.
The Interactive Autism Network, or IAN, is launching a survey Wednesday asking parents of those with autism whether or not their children have a tendency to bolt from home or school.
Researchers say the survey is designed to answer a number of key questions including who is most at risk for wandering, how often it occurs and what can be done to help families dealing with the issue.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tennis and Dance Lessons and Loving It!

NEWPORT, Va. -- For the third time, 8-year-old Emily Chanthavisay ran to the corner of the tennis court to throw the ball over the fence and into the inaccessible bushes. But 14-year-old Emma Peplow anticipated and intercepted the move just in time.
With the same expression of patience and understanding she displayed for the past hour, the Newport Harbor High School freshman guided the young child back to the center of the court and continued the lesson of hitting the ball over the net.
Emma coordinates her tennis lessons for Down syndrome children through the Down Syndrome Assn. of Orange County. This was just another day on the courts with her students. The lessons were her idea and her solo project.

Boy, 12, Studies Physics, Tutors at Purdue

KIRKLIN, Ind. -- Wearing a red IU-Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars hoodie with his leg propped up on top of his knee, 12-year-old Jacob Barnett — friends and family call him Jake — sat at a table at Jacob’s Place in Kirklin, Ind., a free center for autistic and other special needs children founded by his mother.
"Usually (I'm) just hanging out, doing some homework, playing some Guitar Hero, et cetera," Jake said, describing his typical Wednesday evening with a casual shrug of his shoulders.
What Jake didn't mention is that his homework is from his University Physics textbook for the Physics 152 class he takes at IUPUI.
Jake, who was diagnosed as autistic when he was 2 years old, has taken classes at IUPUI since he first audited an IUPUI astronomy class in the third grade.

Virginia Gov. Seeks to Amend Bill Providing Autism Insurance Coverage for Children

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell will propose a series of amendments to a bill that would require businesses to provide insurance coverage for children with autism, according to several legislators with knowledge of the changes.
The bill, passed by the General Assembly last month after 11 years of failed attempts, is strongly opposed by the business community, which considers the proposal a financial burden that companies cannot afford in tough economic times.

When Children with ASD Grow Up

Interesting column by Deirdre Imus, Founder and President of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health CenterTM at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. While she talks about the children with autism who will become adults . . . the question still remains about all the adults who have autism today and who may not have had the benefits of early intervention and other services.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and you may have already heard countless reports about the shocking fact that 1 in 110 – a full one percent – of American children have autism.
Because the majority of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are still under the age of 20, a great deal of attention has been focused on education.
But the problems facing individuals with autism does not end when they age out of school. In many ways they become even more demanding, difficult and costly.

Singers with Disabilities to Perform at Academy of Country Music Awards

The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center will take center stage in a special performance at the 46th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards April 3 at 8 p.m. on CBS. Chart-topping country music artist Darius Rucker will join 25 young adults with developmental disabilities for a once-in-a-lifetime musical event to benefit the Kennedy Center.
The musical guests are participants in the ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp held each summer at the Kennedy Center for people with Williams Syndrome, autism and other disabilities. ACM Lifting Lives, the philanthropic arm of the Academy of Country Music, sponsored the Kennedy Center’s six-year-old music camp for the first time in 2010.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Special Hockey Team Opens Some Eyes

Just a wonderful story. Hopefully more communities can provide opportunities like this.

BUFFALO -- Lined up across the ice, neatly stuffed into brown paper bags, the jerseys sat for 10-15 grueling minutes.
The Buffalo Thunder players knew they were getting new sweaters -- they just had no clue what to expect. Some 20 yards away, they stared down the bags. Coaches gave them the green light, they skated over, ripped the bags open with a Christmas-morning adrenaline rush and couldn't believe their eyes.
"These uniforms are like the Sabres made a clone team," the Thunder's Chris Polisoto said later at the North Buffalo Ice Rink. "If Tyler Myers was here, he'd love every minute of this."
Stanley Cup exuberance ensued. Buffalo's special needs hockey team hoisted the blue and gold jerseys above their heads. Each one, the product of fundraising and donations, had their name and number stitched on the back with a Thunder logo on the front. Parents watched on from the other side of the glass. And emotions spilled over.
All players -- 21 males and females aged 10-34 -- came to play the same sport their siblings do. But in return, they've received much, much more. With challenges ranging from Down Syndrome to autism to learning disorders, the Thunder players have developed friendships they simply never had before.

Autism Documentary Offers Hope

When Tracy Thresher has something to say, he uses his right index finger — and a special computer that gives voice to what he types. Hunched over the device, he begins.
Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap, tap....
Autism silences the 43-year-old Vermont man. He doesn't speak. But he has a message for the world about how people should think of people like him. So he taps it out.
"To think intelligence, even if you see wacky, goofy behavior. We are simply intelligence, shown in a different way," comes the robotic voice, broadcast out of his computer.
Thresher and friend Larry Bissonnette, 53, who have been advocates for 10 years for people with autism and the disabled community at large, are about to get a new platform for spreading their can-do message: They're the focus of "Wretches and Jabberers," a documentary film opening next week in 40 cities that makes the point that "disabled" doesn't mean "dumb."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Memo: Illinois Aware of Abuse

CHICAGO — Illinois officials knew developmentally disabled residents had been abused at a network of group homes in eastern Illinois two years before Paul McCann died following an alleged assault by staff members, according to government documents obtained by The Associated Press.
But the residents' families, including McCann's, say they had no idea about the problems. If she had known, McCann's sister said, she could have done something to protect him.

Truman Scholarship Finalist Defies the Odds

HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Every time a door closes, Marie Holowach touches her left shoulder with her right hand. The ritual is not optional.
"If I don't put my hand on my shoulder, I feel like I'm going to die right now - or something else bad is going to happen," she explained.
Holowach, 21, is a highly functioning, highly successful 4.0 student at the University of Southern Mississippi. She's a Presidential Scholar, a National Merit finalist and just this month was named one of 197 national finalists for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, which pays out $30,000 to college juniors for graduate studies and leadership training.
Holowach also has autism, a developmental disability resulting from a neurological disorder of the brain.

Changing Perceptions One City at a Time

ORANGEVALE, Calif. -- There’s something unusual happening at the Orangevale Recreation and Park District. It’s not ballet classes or a magic show—although those things are happening. It’s something that has grown behind the scenes and yet is a key part of the parks we enjoy.
For almost 13 years, Orangevale parks have benefitted from a crew that does everything from waxing the slide at the pool, to chalking the baseball diamond. What’s unique about this crew is that it consists of three individuals who have a range of developmental disabilities.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

PBS documentary tells story of local man who was patient at Rosewood

Owings Mills, Md - Steven Corderman, a Washington County resident who was a patient at the now-closed Rosewood Center, went through “hell,” his father recalls in a documentary film about the troubled state mental-health facility.
Corderman was sometimes put in a straitjacket, and other times he would fight people, requiring at least three people to control him, said his father, Nelson Corderman.
“I think about Jesus up in heaven. And I pray about Jesus to get me out of this place,” Steven Corderman said in the documentary about the closing of the Rosewood Center.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pennsylvania Dental Association Seeks General Anesthesia Coverage for Young Children and Patients With Special Needs

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania Dental Association (PDA) is urging state lawmakers to support legislation (House Bill 532) requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of general anesthesia for young children and patients with special needs.
Many young patients and those with mental or physical disabilities often experience stress when visiting a dentist's office. Some patients require general anesthesia before a dentist can treat them. However, many insurers refuse to cover the cost of anesthesia for dental patients.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Scientists Create Autism-Like Traits in Mice

Gene manipulation produces common behaviors and provides model for testing drugs, expert says.
MONDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists report that mutating a single gene produced mice with two of the most common autism traits, a finding they say could one day lead to the development of drugs to treat autism.
Currently, there are no effective drugs to treat the disorder.
Mutating the shank3 gene led to compulsive repetitive behavior and avoidance of social interaction in the mice, apparently caused by impaired communication between brain cells, said the researchers at Duke University and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

More than one hundred contestants attended The Arkansas Angels Pageant

More than 100 were contestants in the event, several from Faulkner County. However, five states had contestants. One family, the Phillip Ventura family, said they drove 300 miles from Texas allowing their 5 year old daughter Audrey Rose to participate. Two set of grandparents also drove—one driving more than 400 miles.
“We just wanted Audrey Rose to be able to do this,” Phillip Ventura said. “This is the first pageant that we have found for her. She’s loved it.  It has just been wonderful.”
Contestants walked on stage, they rode in wheelchairs and they were carried. They smiled, they cried tears of joy and so did the audience. Boxes of tissue were available on every isle.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Autism on television: How real is it?

Jean Winegardener writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times.

SILVER SPRING, Md, March 18, 2011 — When you are raising a child with autism, seeing television portrayals of families like your own and grown-up versions of what your child could be someday suddenly become very important.
There was a time when Tommy Westphall on "St. Elsewhere" was the only character with autism that you could find on television.

Special needs student makes the basket: Chicago student provides inspiration to teammates

There were 65 seconds left in the final home game when Jesse Feehan stepped onto the court for the first time in his three years as a member of the Wheaton North High School basketball team.
What happened next can only be explained as karmic.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bronx Special Needs Schools Rally Against Proposed Cuts

Bronx, NY - Teachers and special needs students rallied Wednesday against the governor's proposed changes to education funding.
Dozens from St. Joseph's School for the Deaf and The Lavelle School for the Blind protested in the Bronx.
Under the proposed budget several schools for the disabled are at risk of losing funding. Many of the students would be forced to go back to their local school districts.

Standing up against bullies

Speaking with a little sass and a lot of passion, “Glee” actress Lauren Potter stole the show when she joined forces with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to say “enough is enough” to bullying special-needs children.
"I was a victim of bullying,” said Miss Potter, who has Down syndrome and portrays cheerleader Becky Jackson on the hit Fox television series. Forcing back tears, Miss Potter said ...that the other students “thought it was OK, just because I looked different than they did.”
“They didnt think they would get in trouble because I was just a Down’s girl,” she said. “But this Down’s girl spoke up, and told those boys that called me names to grow up. Everyone seemed shocked.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making Magic: 'I did it, Papi!'

NYC - P94M has only 60 students in their population. Each student is a special needs student. Because of the desire to use the autistic children as well as the other special needs kids, the school's lead teacher Ms. Derfner chose WILLY WONKA JR. because a group of characters don't have to a lot of script to recite, but they get to be on stage and to interact and perform. Auditioning was difficult. It's very hard for these children to show emotion, no less learn lines or sing songs or look at each other. It is not the electrifying competitive "I've seen this on Glee" experience that you would find in a typical middle or high school. Those school shows seem to produce happy, positive results. But how do you do it at "94"?
[...] One of the Oompa Loompas (a little boy who is Autistic and really non-verbal) is so pleased at his success that when he finishes one of his dances, (in the middle of the show,) he looks down at the audience and shouts, "I did it, Papi!" The audience responds, cheers in kind yells, "Go star!" "You're beautiful!"

Father, son stay connected through photography

For Steven Tryon, photography is more than just a passion for capturing the world around him — it’s a chance to connect with his son, Robert.
For the past five and 1/2 years, Robert, 33, has lived in a group home in Webster through Heritage Christian Services, a human services agency supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities. Robert is what Steven, of Brighton, said is termed “developmentally delayed,” and he is non-verbal.
But by sharing with Robert his interest in photography, Steven said he has been able to stay close with his son.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Khan Academy Turns YouTube into Virtual Learning Tool

Susan Moffitt, a mother of a high school freshman with autism, writes about how a new educational tool can be used by students with ASD.

Sal Khan was a hedge fund manager tutoring his cousins through distance learning. He started making them instructional videos to reinforce their learning when he couldn’t be there in person and after a few lessons, his cousins told him that they liked him better on video.
Through the use of video, his cousins could repeat what they didn’t understand without suffering embarrassment, while still having the benefit of their uncle’s warm, approachable demeanor. He started making them videos for a myriad of subjects and envisioned an entire public academy of free lessons delivered via YouTube.
Children with autism naturally gravitate towards computers and online learning where the social and sensory issues of a classroom are eliminated. Although much of the information is advanced, basic arithmetic is offered and affords a perfect way to augment math learning for young children with autism. Older children with autism can find many topics to reinforce classwork, or explore their special interests.

To stare or not to stare? How to see special needs children.

Editor’s note: Tim Gort, of Grand Rapids, MI, writes about his family’s life with two special needs children at The Gort Family blog.

For many people, encountering a child with a disability can cause a bit of uneasiness.
Should I stare? Should I not stare? Should I keep my child from staring? Should I pull my child away? Should I ask questions or not ask questions.? Is it any of my business?
Sadly, people in public do not know how to interact with my children. I feel they are missing out on an opportunity to not only learn about my kids but also to possibly learn something about themselves.

Special-needs students reap benefits of music classes

YORKTOWN, NY — Angeline Brown went from child to child, working her way around the semicircle and giving each one a chance to strum her guitar while she fingered the chords and sang along. And each time it was another's turn to "play," eyes brightened.
Sandagata said the program works because music engages students socially, cognitively and other ways and helps them learn to focus, listen, collaborate and be confident. The music itself, actually, is less the goal than these processes the students are developing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Effort Seeks to End Use of 'R' Word

When Eileen Cavalier of Rochester hears someone insultingly use the word "retarded," she speaks up. Her 18-month-old son has Down syndrome.
"You realize when you say that, you're making fun of people like my son, Rory," she says. People are quick to say they mean no harm, but she tells them the word is still hurtful.

'One of Us: A Family's Life with Autism'

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Autism is a spectrum disorder, we all know that, but sometimes, even as a parent of a child on that spectrum, it is hard to understand those that live on the other end.
As the mother of Jack, a young man mainstreamed in school and hopefully destined for independence, I don't have much more deep knowledge of what it is like to parent a more severely affected child than parents of neurotypical children.
In One of Us: A Family's Life with Autism, Mark Osteen shares the story of his son, Cameron, a young man on the severe end of the spectrum. Reading the struggle of Cam and his parents, I was reminded of a comment someone left on a column here several months ago.
"There is autism, and then there is autism," this commenter wrote. "Families affected by autism deal with struggles that families affected by autism do not. Families with autism have struggles of their own, no joke, it's a tough road for everybody. But for families with autism, homework struggles and housecleaning come pretty far down the list, and we couldn't possibly explain to the autism community how incredibly hard it is for those of us affected by autism."

Providing Structure and a Paycheck

ELGIN, Ill. — It’s a Friday morning, and Robert Larios and Leonard "Tucker" Banks are trying hard to concentrate on their work. The task: match up 10 large nails on a sheet of paper to outlines of the nails, then place the nails in plastic containers.
Their duties come with a purpose beyond packaging hardware. The young men, both in their 20s, are among a dozen or so participants in a new program for adults with autism spectrum disorders that the Association for Individual Development began this year at the organization’s Elgin and Aurora facilities.
Such duties give participants a sense of structure that helps builds their life skills, AID staff said. They also are being paid for their labor.

Editorial: State Must Make Case for Facilities

The timing is impeccable: Just as national "Sunshine Week" is about to get under way, calling attention to the undeniable need to pry open the workings of government, the state has been ordered to turn over records of developmentally disabled residents at a local facility that long has been the subject of concern in the community.
For years, state officials have resisted efforts to obtain confidential records from two institutions for the developmentally disabled that legal advocates say will prove residents have languished there. And one of those facilities is the Wassaic campus of the Taconic Developmental Disabilities Service Organization.

Divorce and the Child with Special Needs

Came across this on Huffington Post.

Divorce is always difficult for the children, but what happens when the parents about to split have a child with special needs? According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders has grown to 1 in 110 children today, while another CDC study indicates that 1 in 10 children aged 4 - 17 has been diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Combine these sobering statistics with the ever-rising divorce rates and you have a perfect storm of people navigating the very rocky waters of divorce with the added pressure of needing to effectively co-parent a child with special needs long after their marriage is over.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

iPad Connecting with Autism

Steve Jobs called it a magical device. For the parents of autistic children, it actually might be.
Experts say the Apple iPad lessens the symptoms of the disorder, helping kids deal with life's sensory overload -- in a sense "curing" the disorder, one parent says.
That's what Laura Holmquist believes, at least. Her son Hudson was having 8 or 9 violent meltdowns per day. One morning he started screaming in his bedroom -- and didn't stop until late that evening. The family of eight could not go to public events or out to dinner and had a hard time communicating with him.
"The iPad has given us our family back," Laura told "It's unlocked a new part of our son that we hadn't seen before, and given us insight into the way he connects with his world."

Hundreds Flood Missouri Capitol in Support of Disability Rights

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — People lined the staircases and the upper galleries; in the rotunda, every seat was filled.
Advocates arrived en masse at the Capitol building Wednesday for a rally in support of legislation that will expand the rights given to Missouri's citizens with disabilities.
Among those speaking at the rally were Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Speaker of the House Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.
They spoke amid cheers and chants from a crowd calling for the extension of their civil rights, the end to institutionalization and the appropriation of funds for disability services.

Where Will They Go? What Will They Do?

GARDEN CITY, Idaho -- Like thousands of Idahoans, Janice Worthington uses developmental therapy to remain as independent as possible.
Now 45, Janice was born with a developmental disability, and for over two decades she and her mother, Arlene Worthington, have utilized Idaho's Medicaid program to help pay her care costs.
Those costs included social worker fees, day therapy and medication.
The latest struggle both will now face is what will happen to Janice when her 85-year-old mother is no longer able to care for her.

Court Rules New York State Facility Must Open Records to Advocates

The state must turn over records of developmentally disabled residents at a state facility in Wassaic, N.Y., who an advocacy group says have "languished" for years without being placed in community homes, a state appellate court has ruled.
In a unanimous decision, a four-judge panel ruled that Disability Advocates Inc. of Albany is entitled to review clinical and medical documents if attorneys "have probable cause to suspect abuse or neglect" — even without seeking the consent of family members who are not legal representatives, a point of contention between the parties.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Asperger's or Not: Are We Really So Different?

From Lisa Jo Rudy at, a really interesting piece that I'm sure others might want to weigh in on. What's your experience? Let us know.

Recently, the Autism at Facebook community has been chatting about the topic of empathy. Do people with autism really have less empathy than people withOUT autism?
It's a topic I'm presently researching for an article - and a question that is hard to answer. After all, what is empathy really: an ability to actually feel what others feel? An ability to sympathize strongly enough with others that you reach out to help? Or - perhaps - an ability to know that you SHOULD feel for and with others, combined with the ability to express those appropriate feelings verbally?
Which brings up a topic I've been pondering recently: how different, really, is the high functioning autistic experience from that of typically developing individuals? Are the differences as deep and absolute as they're sometimes portrayed? Or are they more about how we express what we understand, feel, and want?

Charter School Threatens Autism Program

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- A highly successful program for kids with autism could be destroyed if the city moves a charter school into a Carroll Gardens elementary school, parents and teachers are charging.
Department of Education plans call for Brooklyn Prospect Charter School to move into 14 portable classrooms at Public School 32 on Hoyt St. for the next school year.
The move would displace classrooms and therapy rooms at PS32 used by autistic kids - and parents and teachers say the impact on students would be severe.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Invisibility Can Create a Burden

Powerful article by Tara Kiene, the director of case management with Community Connections Inc., in Colorado.

I don’t think that invisibility has all the advantages implied in fairy tales and Harry Potter films. It has never allowed me to reveal nefarious plots or infiltrate secret organizations. I don’t believe it has ever made someone rich or famous (indeed, fame is the exact opposite of invisible.) The only super power invisibility has is the power to make someone feel inferior.
You may already know the experience of invisibility. Perhaps you experienced it the time that someone at work made a brilliant suggestion that you know you mentioned six months ago. Or maybe you feel invisible any time you are around your 16-year-old daughter. Invisibility is, unfortunately, a common human experience.
But for one group of people, invisibility is still systematically institutionalized. People with developmental or intellectual disabilities experience a level of invisibility that would make the rest of us cringe.

Student Can Bring Service Dog to Class

HILLSBORO, Ore. – After a three-year battle with the Hillsboro School District, a young autistic boy has won his fight to bring his service dog to class.
Due to a federal investigation, the school district had to make a decision, and Oregon's attorney general laid it out bluntly: It could be a long, expensive lawsuit. So, Scooter Givens’ service dog, Madison, will be allowed during a trial period at Patterson Elementary.
"We’re thrilled; we’re absolutely thrilled," said Scooter's mother Wendy.

Kaspar the Friendly Robot Helping Children

OK, so I'm straying from the U.S. going across the Atlantic, but this story is too good to pass up.

Eden Sawczenko used to recoil when other little girls held her hand and turned stiff when they hugged her. This year, the 4-year-old autistic girl began playing with a robot that teaches about emotions and physical contact — and now she hugs everyone.
"She's a lot more affectionate with her friends now and will even initiate the embrace," said Claire Sawczenko, Eden's mother.

Disability No Barrier at This Thrift Shop

SOUTHGATE, Mich. -- Kristen Ford, 28, has never had a job, but soon she will through a new thrift store that provides employment to people with developmental disabilities. "It's a new experience for me," said the Grosse Ile resident. "It's different, more independent. I have to rely on myself."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Study: Decline in Cerebral Palsy Birth Rate

The chances of a child being born with cerebral palsy has plunged over the last two decades as perinatal medical care has improved, according to the findings of a new study.
Researchers from the Netherlands studied the rate of children born with cerebral palsy since 2000 and published their findings in the Journal of Pediatrics.

Opinion: Use Special Ed Funds to Coordinate Existing Services in New Jersey

Op-Ed piece by Alicia Grimaldi Brzycki, is an independent parent advocate whose goal it is to help educate parents regarding their children's legal educational rights, in Trenton Times. She is a proponent of parental school choice and a supporter of the Opportunity Scholarship Act.

TRENTON -- With special education so much in the news these days, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's recent proposal to establish an autism school in every county warrants further discussion.
At a time when the governor has cut tens of millions of dollars for special education, it is wholly inappropriate to create or expand public programs for children with special needs when we already have programs that are proven to work.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pressing Employers for Autism Coverage

As diagnoses of autism rise, a growing number of families are grappling with the worry and expense of finding treatment and special education for children with the complex developmental disorder. And many are pressing employers and legislators for help.
An estimated one in 110 children is diagnosed with autism in the U.S., and its prevalence is increasing for reasons that aren't well understood, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Average medical expenditures for those with autism-spectrum disorders exceed those without by $4,110 to $6,200 per year, the CDC states.
In response, at least 23 states, including Indiana, South Carolina, Arizona and Massachusetts, have passed laws in the last few years requiring state-regulated group health plans to include autism coverage, according to the National Council of State Legislatures, though many states have caps on the mandates. Most other states and Washington, D.C., have similar bills pending, according to Autism Speaks, an advocacy group. Only Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming don't have bills requiring autism coverage on their agendas.

Fan Helps Make Game More Accessible

Hans Smith has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and a love of baseball. A 24-year-old student at Boise State, he uses a wheelchair and cannot dress or feed himself but appreciates the nuances of sacrifice bunts and cutoff men.
Playing baseball on a field with friends is not an option, so Smith enjoys the game on his PlayStation 3. Even that can be frustrating because he does not always have the dexterity to direct his video game players to do what he wants.
That should change with the release Tuesday of this year’s version of MLB The Show, the most popular baseball video game. To complement the beginner, experienced and expert modes, Smith worked with a Sony design team to devise an A.D.V.A. mode. It stands for Association for Disabled Virtual Athletes, an organization that Smith is starting with the hope of making games more accessible to those who can play sports only on a video screen.

CDC Links Painkillers to Birth Defects

Moms-to-be who take prescription opioid painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone or oxycodone (Oxycontin) may increase the risk of birth defects in their newborns, according to a new U.S. government report.
Taking these types of analgesics just prior to pregnancy or in the early stages of pregnancy was linked to a modest risk of congenital heart defects in an ongoing population study, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Friday, March 4, 2011

BALTIMORE -- At Western High School, few students had heard of bocce when coach Mary Hain was putting together a team of players, with and without disabilities, in anticipation of Maryland's first Unified Indoor Bocce State High School Invitational.
Senior Thea Chase said she came out for the team thinking that "it was hibachi, some kind of eating contest." In fact, bocce is a sport that resembles bowling.
Ultimately, three freshmen and several seniors, including Chase, joined the team and trained for the interscholastic competition, which pairs students with intellectual and other disabilities with their high school peers.

A Sporting Goods Store and Much More

CRANFORD, N.J. — A trip to Green Sports not only will offer a boost for your wallet, it also will serve as a stepping stone for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Green Sports, the newest store to open downtown, accepts donations of new and slightly used sporting goods and resells the products at a significantly reduced price.
The North Union Avenue store — which opened this week and will have its grand opening on March 17 — will employ individuals through The Arc of Union County Employment Services.

Illinois Moves to Close Nursing Home

CHICAGO -- Saying they wanted to avoid more casualties, state authorities took steps Thursday to shut down the troubled Alden Village North nursing home, where numerous disabled children have died in recent years.
"We don't want another tragedy to occur," said Michael Gelder, the governor's senior health policy adviser.
State officials said they notified Alden that they planned to revoke its license, which would effectively close the facility. An Alden spokesman said the facility would appeal and remain open.
The action follows a Tribune investigative series in October that revealed a 10-year pattern of neglect and death at the North Side facility, which cares for about 90 children and adults with severe developmental disabilities.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

D.C. Group Home Operator Focus of Probe

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When health inspectors showed up at a group home in Northeast Washington in August, they found one problem after another.
A mandatory evacuation drill hadn't been held. Staff members weren't receiving adequate training. And some of the residents' wheelchairs weren't in proper working order.
The D.C. Department on Disability Services was notified, and Careco, the contractor that operated the home, agreed to fix the problems.
More than three months later, a 71-year-old resident died after falling out of his wheelchair. The man, who had been waiting more than two years for a specialized wheelchair, was still waiting Nov. 24 when he fell as he was being loaded into a van.
Not only had the wheelchair been unsuitable for him, but the seat belt had also malfunctioned, and the man was not properly secured when he was being lifted into the van, according to documents and officials.
Last month, the District closed the 57th Street group home.

Choosing Own Leisure Activities Benefits Individuals on the Spectrum, Study Finds

Free time is not always a fun time for people with autism. Giving them the power to choose their own leisure activities during free time, however, can boost their enjoyment, as well as improve communication and social skills, according to an international team of researchers.
"For many of us, we look at recreation as a time to spend on activities that are fun and that are designed for our enjoyment," said John Dattilo, professor, recreation, park and tourism management, Penn State. "But for some people with disabilities, particularly those who have autism, these activities can be a source of frustration, simply because they didn't have a chance to make their own leisure choices."

NBA Helps Spread Word to End the Word

Words are powerful things. They can be helpful or hurtful, inspiring or disheartening. And sometimes, powerful beyond what we can expect.
"Spread the Word to End the Word" is a Special Olympics campaign to eliminate use of the words "retard" and "retarded." Its goals are to promote the contributions made by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and to educate the public about the damaging effects of the "R-word."
The movement to eliminate the R-word began in 2004 by the Special Olympics and its international board of directors.
The NBA has a longstanding partnership with the Special Olympics, which includes sponsorships of basketball tournaments, the creation of public service announcements and NBA player participation in Special Olympic events. Several NBA players, including Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, have signed up to be a part of the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Universal Approach to Day Care

HADDON HEIGHTS, N.J. -- Michael Gentry ran into a day care center room and dove head-first into a pit filled with colorful plastic balls.
His 3-year-old sister Kate was close at his heels, copying his every move.
Michael, 5, has Down syndrome, while Kate is a typical child.
The Gentrys were at Little Butterflies, a day care opening next month at Bancroft's Haddon Heights campus. The center will accept both children with special needs -- especially children on the autism spectrum -- and children who do not have additional developmental needs.

Actress Joins Rally Against Cuts in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas -- A serious issue got a touch of Hollywood glamour Tuesday when celebrity Eva Longoria spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered at Morgan's Wonderland to rally against proposed cuts to services for those with intellectual developmental disabilities, or IDD.
As the petite star spoke, many in the crowd — made up of folks with disabilities such as mental retardation and autism, along with their caregivers and families — hooted, hollered and fist-pumped the air.
"When I heard about the budget cuts in Texas, I was outraged, personally hurt," said Longoria, co-founder of a program for those with IDD in San Antonio. "We need those in Austin to hear us loud and clear — this is not OK!"

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Strategic Plan for Autism Research Unveiled

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and the Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) Monday released the 2011 IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research. The Strategic Plan provides a 'blueprint' for autism research as well as providing up-to-the-minute information about possible causes of autism, an overview of treatments for autism, information about where to find services, and a sense of the #1 question parents of autistic children might prefer not to think about, but have to: What does the future hold?

Opinion: Specialization, Not Segregation, for Special Needs Students in New Jersey

Guest column by Michele Adubato, the founder of New Jersey's first charter school for students with autism.

"Segregation" is an ugly word typically associated with forced separation, harking back to a terrible time in our country’s history. Now, the word is being used by organizations seeking to stop the first charter school in New Jersey serving children with special needs.
Ironically, opponents say the school would discriminate against "nonautistic" students. I've got one thing to say to them: "Are you kidding me?"
As the founder of what will be New Jersey’s first charter school for children with autism spectrum disorders and pervasive developmental disabilities, I am offended by the use of the word "segregation" to describe the placement of children in schools designed to serve their special needs.

Upgrades at Center Amid Uncertain Future

CHESAPEAKE, Va. -- At a time when the future of Virginia's training centers for the disabled hangs in the balance, there's a flurry of activity at the one tucked behind a busy industrial corridor in Greenbrier.
New roads are being laid at the Southeastern Virginia Training Center, and concrete poured for the foundations of 15 new cottages.
At the same time, state officials, to avoid a federal lawsuit, are vowing to make a dramatic shift in moving disabled people from institutions like Southeastern to community-based programs.
The question still to be answered is this:
Could the downsizing of the state's training centers lead to closing them altogether?