Archive for October, 2010

Autism in the News – Wednesday, 10.20.10

October 20, 2010 1 comment

Miami Township Center Offers Help for Families Facing Autism (Miami Township, Ohio)
Chances are you know someone who has autism. Ten years ago, one out of 10,000 babies born were diagnosed with autism. Today, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that the prevalence of autism has risen to one in every 110 births in the United States; the rate for boys is higher, one in 70 births. According to the Autism Society, autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Read more.

Dogs Reduce Stress in Kids with Autism (My Health News Daily)
Specially trained service dogs may reduce stress in children with autism, according to a new study. The results showed children with an autism spectrum disorder experienced a decrease in levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a service dog was introduced into the family. Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a range of conditions in which kids have trouble communicating and interacting with others, and behave appropriately in social situations. Read more.

Autism rights rally set for tomorrow night (Staten Island, N.Y.)
Tomorrow night, the borough will “Stand Together for Autism Services on Staten Island.” An autism rights rally from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Michael J. Petrides School, Sunnyside, will formally kick-off an Island-wide initiative designed to give families the resources they need in dealing with the disease. Read more.

Grants from Community Foundation helps Appleton Area School District buy Apple iPod Touch devices for disabled children (Post Crescent)
Last school year, Sarah Hall began a tiny experiment using iPod touch technology to help students with autism disorders gain greater independence, communicate more effectively and function better in school. Read more.

Construction starts on preschool, offices (BlueRidgeNow)
Immaculata Catholic School and St. Gerard House held a ground-breaking blessing and ceremony Tuesday for a joint new building on Oakland Street to house two new preschools and administrative offices. Read more.

In Their Own Words – Counting to 100

October 20, 2010 7 comments

This “In Their Own Words” is written by Cheairs Frank Graves, a Charlottesville, Va. mother of two. Her son has autism.

“Counted to 100 by himself in front of the entire class during circle time!” That is what his school note said.  I looked at the note in disbelief―my little Margaret-Ann jumping up and down next to me- voice getting louder and louder that she needs a snack. I read the note again. I swell with pride and disbelief. “Mommy, mommy, I am hungry.” Snapped back to the present I take my daughter’s hand and we head to the kitchen to get something to eat.  I get my daughter her favorite snack― goldfish with apple juice and I smile.

If someone had ever told when my son was first diagnosed with autism at the age of two that he would one day stand in front of his kindergarten classroom and count to 100― I would have thought they were crazy.  My two year old could not make the first utterance of any words, could not play with any toy appropriately, and would not respond to his name when I called to him. What on earth would make me think that he would one day be able to count to that magical number of 100?

Well, let me tell you my son has been working!  And when I am feeling hopeless about the progress he is making -he shows me the fight and determination that he has in him to move forward.  I think a little part of him is grinning inside just saying, “Mommy just you wait-when I am ready I am going to show what I can do.” I think he is saying, “Mommy you need to be patient-you need to wait.  I can do so many things it just takes me longer, but just when you least expect it I am going to show you my stuff.”  Well, show me his stuff is exactly what he did on that sunny Monday at school.

I can just see him as his teacher asks him if he wants to count today. I can see him bright eyed say, “Yes, Catherine!” and jump to the front of the circle and  begin to count…..1,2,3,4,5  I can see the determination in his face as he pauses and thinks of the next number.  I can see his classmates looking wide eyed in pure amazement as he counts higher and higher. I can see his teachers holding their breath and feel their hearts pounding with unsure excitement not knowing how high he will count.  I can see everyone’s anticipation―getting ready to clap because he has made it to 50.  Then I can feel the whirl of energy as he continues 51, 52, 53, 54.  I can see his fellow kindergartners giving him the thumbs up as he reaches 71, 72, 73, 74, 75.  Then I can feel the confidence in his words the determination that my little guy is going to count all the way to 100. I can hear his little monotone voice grow strong with every number 91, 92, 93,94, 95, 96, 97―pure concentration 98,99―He is going to do it!!! With a huge smile and a look of unimaginable pride 100!!!!  I can feel the claps and cheers for my son in my bones. I can feel the love that surrounds him from his teachers and classmates in my heart. I can see the huge smile of pride on his face!

Now I was not there on this most special Monday morning at Hollymead Elementary School, but as my friend Catherine who is one of the teacher’s in the class recounts the event to me on the phone that night I can see it all―the amazing triumphant of it all!  I get off the phone and as I sit in bed with my husband and tell him the whole story.  He does not have to say anything. The tears that fill his eyes say it all.

And now my son sound asleep upstairs. I can hear the words coming from his sweet head-“Mommy you need to be patient you need to wait. Just give me a little time” I put my head on my pillow and I close my eyes. “Ok, Dawson I hear you.  I am trying. Patients and waiting―I got it. I am working on it I am working hard just like you……oh, how I love you my sweet boy―my sweet counting to 100 little boy!”

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Autism in the News – Tuesday, 10.19.10

October 19, 2010 1 comment

Living the Autistic Life (Charlotte Observer)
At the Emmy Awards ceremony in August, Temple Grandin took the stage several times as the HBO movie about her life grabbed seven awards. Read more.

An excess of comic riches plus a worthy cause adds up to ‘Too Many Stars’ (New York, N.Y.)
When too much is just the right amount? Comedy Central hopes it’s got the winning number for “Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education.” Read more.

Educational series to put focus on children with autism (Lancaster, Penn.)
Many educators, therapists and parents, all of whom have expertise in the field of autism, are scheduled to take part in a upcoming series of programs that will provide information on how to raise and interact with children who have disabilities. Read more.

Rockland autism forum draws 500 plus (Montebello, N.Y.)
A forum on autism Monday attracted more than 500 people eager to learn the latest research findings and new ways to help people with the neurological disorder. Read more.

Short-breaks scheme for special-needs families (UK)
Extra help is available to families of disabled children and those with special needs living in Thanet. Read more.

Secrets of learning revealed in developing synapses

October 18, 2010 3 comments


A view of the synapse and its many proteins. Note the neuroligin and neurexin pair on either side. Image courtesy of Seaside Therapeutics


The connections between neurons—called synapses—are quite literally the stuff of learning. The dynamics of how two neurons connect at the synapse determines the quantity and quality of information flow between those two cells.  Genes that encode certain synaptic proteins, such as neurexin and neuroligin, are sometimes atypical in individuals with ASD.  These proteins act like a sort of glue to keep two neurons in close contact and their shared synapse functioning smoothly.

We can reason from the studies of genetics and animal models developed to examine autism-associated genes that disturbances in proteins like neuroligin and neurexin disrupt individual neuron-to-neuron communication and eventually the dynamics of larger functional circuits in the brain.  What we don’t understand is how, exactly, a mutation in a neuroligin protein leads to a disruption in communication.  This level of detail is exactly what we must understand to develop targeted therapeutics.  However, until recently we lacked the ability to visualize, in living tissue, neuroligin and neurexin proteins interacting as the synapse matures.

In a new report in the prestigious journal, Cell, Autism Speaks’ funded postdoctoral fellow Amar Thyagarajan, Ph.D., at the Picower Institute of MIT, demonstrates a new technique for following the dynamic development and function of synapses.  Dr. Thyagarajan, along with his mentor Alice Ting, Ph.D, labeled neuroligin and neurexin with a special tag that glows when the two interact.   The researchers observed how the activity of the neurons affects the neuroligin-neurexin connection as a new synapse matures.  As the synapse connecting the two neurons strengthens, the researchers were able to see the recruitment of new neuroligin-neurexin pairs into the synapse as well as other proteins that are needed to reinforce the synapse.

With each piece of the autism biology puzzle uncovered, new directions for developing targeted therapeutics are revealed.  The complete network of interacting proteins that contribute to a functional synapse is dizzying in its complexity. However, each time scientists identify a new string on which to tug, we learn more about how this complex network is connected.  The ability to observe the active development of synapses will undoubtedly factor into future discoveries, paying dividends for some time to come.

Reference: “Imaging Activity-Dependent Regulation of Neurexin-Neuroligin Interactions Using trans-Synaptic Enzymatic Biotinylation,” by Amar Thyagarajan and Alice Y. Ting. Cell, 7 October, 2010.

For more information about the science of the synapse and targeted therapeutics that have emerged from synaptic physiology, check out Seaside Therapeutics.

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Autism in the News – Monday, 10.18.10

October 18, 2010 1 comment

More Intellectually Disabled Youths Go to College (Warrensburg, Mo.)
Zach Neff is all high-fives as he walks through his college campus in western Missouri. The 27-year-old with Down syndrome hugs most everybody, repeatedly. He tells teachers he loves them. Read more.

‘Thanks for making my dream come true’ (UK)
Gazette readers have been thanked after a disabled boy realised his Disney Dream. A total of £10,000 was raised to send Christopher on the trip of a lifetime to Florida, US. Read more.

Prom season arrives for mentally disabled students (Sacramento, Calif.)
Students from the Jessie Baker School in Elk Grove gathered at the Hyatt Regency in Sacramento Sunday night to dance in the school’s first-ever prom. It was an especially moving evening for parents and teachers, whose kids had never before danced in such an event. They all have a severe mental disability of some kind. Read more.

iPad educational apps speak for themselves (Australia)
For children with speech problems, there is nothing more awkward than lugging around bulky educational devices. The Apple iPad looks set to change that, with the introduction of a specialised software application aimed at people with speech difficulties. Read more.

Golf Helps Teen Overcome Struggles With Autism (Stillwater, Minn.)
Charlie Bristow is working on his golf game on a beautiful fall afternoon. The 13-year-old started swinging the clubs last July after taking a golf class at Courage Center in Stillwater and has been driven to succeed on the course ever since. Read more.

Who To Tell About Being Autistic?

October 18, 2010 20 comments

This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro. Kerry, an adult who has autism, is a rising senior at Seton Hall University, majoring in Sports Management. He started an Autism Speaks U Chapter: Student Disability Awareness on campus to help spread awareness and raise funds for those affected by autism. Autism Speaks U is a program designed for college students who host awareness, advocacy and fundraising events, while supporting their local autism communities.

I can’t help but take this blog post personally, because I think now more than ever I have questioned telling other individuals about being autistic. In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I came out about being autistic during my freshman year of college almost 4 years ago. In high school, I had no worries at all about being autistic because no one was there to judge; everyone had a disability and I was with people I could relate to.

“Autism can’t define you, only you can define autism.” That’s what I said. And while it’s true, I still fight for my rights to be treated  just like everyone else. I wish this could be described as a fairy tale ending; you see someone against all odds prevail in the end; however, the road blocks along the way have been staggering. The example below will hopefully summarize my point….

I had recently been seeing an individual at my university, who had no idea that I was autistic. This wasn’t because I was holding back, merely something that had never come up. She didn’t know that I was autistic and we were doing great. Then something happened, something that I really didn’t understand till just today.

A few weeks back I appeared on Caucus NJ, on a segment called “Breakthroughs in Autism,” with Steve Adubato. On the air I discussed my life growing up with autism. As any person who ever is on TV would tell you, it’s a very exciting time. Once the episode aired I was telling my friends, my parents, pretty much anyone in an ears length of me. However, one person who saw the show happened to be the girl that I had been seeing. As soon as she saw the clip, things had changed dramatically. Every time we met our conversations would become more distant and less frequent and finally, what ended up being great turned into something of pity.

“I think we should see other people.”


“I think you should be around people more like yourself.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know, people who are more like you.”

“People more like me?”


“Enlighten me please.”

“You know…people who know who you are.”

“And what people would those be?



“I’m so sorry…”

I could tell you that it wasn’t about having autism, but it would be a lie. I could tell you that I went back to my apartment, cried and asked what I did to deserve this. But, honestly, I’ve been there before and will certainly be there again. My best friend freshman year even called me out on it, “Why didn’t you tell me you were autistic? Aren’t we friends?” On the other side of this dilemma, I have been called out about not being autistic enough. “He functions so well, he couldn’t have autism.” I’ve been associated with several autism organizations that have considered me, “misdiagnosed” because I didn’t show enough, “autistic tendencies” and therefore “not autistic.” Autism can’t define you, but apparently others can definitely define you as autistic.

So I guess the answer to this topic “who to tell about being autistic?” really comes down to how secure you are about being who you are. You don’t have to go up to every new person you see and say, “Hi, I’m ____ and I have autism,” but if you do feel like mentioning it, don’t be afraid. I don’t want to come off as insensitive in this post to those who I know don’t have a choice on whether or not to tell people about being autistic when its apparent to some. My advice stays the same, security in yourself as an individual is the best way to approach life and build your confidence. Everyone is unique in their own way. The people who I mentioned in my post have been ignorant and the only way to defeat ignorance is by awareness. Be proud of who you are. As a matter of fact, love who you are. Everything happens for a reason and if you ever need a hand, please know that you are not alone.

(This is one of my Autism Speaks U related blog posts. If you would like to contact me directly about questions/comments related to this post I can be reached at Thanks everyone!)

Autism: What’s Jaundice Got to do with it?

October 15, 2010 19 comments

Staff bloggers Alycia Halladay, Ph.D., Director of Environmental Sciences  and Leanne Chukoskie, Ph.D., Assistant Director of Science Communication and Special Projects

A study published on Monday in Pediatrics revealed that newborns who experienced jaundice were at greater risk for a later diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders. Jaundice is a common condition where bilirubin is not properly excreted by the liver, builds up in the blood and leads to a slight yellow pigment of the skin.  Bilirubin is a neurotoxin and it is well established that untreated severe jaundice can lead to brain damage and even death. Fortunately, despite the fact that jaundice is very common in newborns, it usually resolves with minimal or no intervention within a few days of birth.

Previous studies have investigated the potential for increased risk of ASD following jaundice with mixed conclusions. The advantage of this study is that the researchers used a large health registry database in Denmark including over 700,000 birth and associated developmental health records. The researchers looked at the development of 35,766 children diagnosed with perinatal jaundice (4.9% of the entire study population). They looked for children diagnosed with ASD as well as a broader definition of disorders of psychological development, which included speech delay.  The risk of an ASD was found to be about 52% greater in children who experienced jaundice as newborns versus those who did not.

This may be an overestimate because factors such as season of birth, gestational age, parental age, gender, and the birth order of the child were not considered in this comparison. When these factors were considered, the overall risk increase was no longer statistically reliable.  However an interesting pattern emerged from individually considering the factors.

Although preterm children typically experience a greater risk of autism by virtue of the challenges of prematurity, it is the full term babies that have an increased risk for ASD after exposure to jaundice.  The authors speculate that there may be some unique window of vulnerability in brain development around 40 weeks gestational age that can explain this finding.

Another interesting relationship emerged from looking at cases from mothers who had previously had children versus those giving birth for the first time. Jaundice increased the risk for developing an ASD in children who were second or later born, but conveyed no increased risk for first born children. This effect is also a bit of a scientific mystery, however we do know that second and later-born children can be exposed to maternal antibodies that accumulate from previous pregnancies.

Lastly, the authors found that birth during the winter months was statistically associated with greater ASD risk than birth in the summer months.  Exposure to daylight helps to break down bilirubin, so it is possible that individuals born in summer months, though diagnosed with jaundice had lower levels of bilirubin in their blood simply because they were exposed to more sunlight.  The authors also note that sunlight is required for Vitamin D synthesis and low light levels in the winter may alter the body’s ability to as synthesize Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is another autism risk factor under investigation.  Autism Speaks is currently supporting a study examining how Vitamin D levels at birth and genes for the Vitamin D receptor are related to a later autism diagnosis.

In summary, it is important to note that although this paper brings many new considerations, it does not establish that jaundice causes autism.  Instead, this paper reports on the risk of developing ASD after exposure to jaundice. This risk is significantly modified by several factors. Data from this study suggests that babies with jaundice who were born prior to 37 weeks gestation have little to no increased risk of ASD.  However, the data also indicate a substantially elevated risk for full-term babies born to mothers with previous pregnancies and also full-term babies that were born during winter months.  Hopefully, this and other information about medical conditions at birth will lead to the further development of screening tools to identify individuals at risk for a later autism diagnosis.  Before that is done, scientists need to determine the mechanism by which jaundice may be contributing to the risk of developing ASD.  Further research will been needed to determine whether bilirubin is itself an environmental risk factor, or if jaundice is a consequence of both genetic and environmental effects that elevate the risk of developing autism.

Autism in the News – Friday, 10.15.10

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

FDA cracks down on autism treatment (Los Angeles Times)
Products called chelators that are sold over the counter as treatments for autism, heart disease and other conditions are dangerous and illegal, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in a crackdown announced Thursday. Read more.

Assembly face-off (Saranac Lake, N.Y.)
Janet Duprey is running on her record in the Assembly. David Kimmel is running against Duprey. Read more.

Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh seeks new home (Pittsburgh, Penn.)
Moving was not a decision that came easy for the Benedictine Sisters. They came to Pittsburgh in the late 1800s to teach German immigrants who settled near the H.J. Heinz plant on the North Side. Virtually penniless, the sisters begged and sponsored penny raffles to build a monastery in Ross in the 1920s, where 55 nuns continue to follow the words of St. Benedict to “listen with the ear of your heart.” Read more.

Bullied to Death in America’s Schools (ABC News)
Fat. Gay. Or just different from the crowd. These are the reasons children are being bullied – sometimes to death — in America’s schools, with at least 14 students committing suicide in the past year alone. Read more.

Where kids come first (UK)
On paper Beaulieu House is outstanding but in reality it is much more. Ofsted inspectors turned up unannounced in August and reported the Newport respite centre provided outstanding care for children with severe disabilities. Read more.


In Their Own Words – Life is Weird

October 15, 2010 27 comments

This “In Their Own Words” is by Mallory Johnston, who has an older brother with autism. She graduated from Tennessee Technological University in May 2010 with a degree in mechanical engineering and two minors, biology and chemistry. Mallory now works full-time with NASA-Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL and has applied for medical school for the 2011 year.

I entered college with about 8 months of very limited driving experience.  I was 18 when I earned my license. My mother wouldn’t let me drive, and I didn’t push the subject. We had bigger things going on when I turned 15. Not long after moving to Bethpage, Tennessee, my brother got sick.  My brother was born about three months premature. Some people hear this and think “Oh, that is terrible. I’m sorry to hear that.” I’m not. My brother was born three months premature with hydrocephalus. Basically spinal fluid doesn’t drain properly, and excess spinal fluid from the brain isn’t removed.  Typically if a baby is born with hydrocephalus after a nine month gestation period, the baby is either a stillborn or in a vegetative state.  Severe mental disabilities begin to develop around six months of gestation.  Once again, Clay was three months premature. Who’s to say what is good and what is bad?

Twice a year we would make the three and a half hour drive to LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. CT scans were performed on “Mr. Joseph Johnston, please follow me” a couple of times a year. Because a neurological condition wasn’t enough, he also has cerebral palsy on his right side, and when he was in the first grade, he had to have his Achilles tendon severed. He spent 3 years in casts and a leg brace.  I remember doctor after doctor asking “what type of special school does Clay attend?” “None. He goes to public school,” my mother would be quick to respond. My parents never once let Clay think he wasn’t capable of anything. No matter how much time he needed, no matter how much attention he needed, neither one ever doubted him of any ability. He didn’t have disabilities; he had “different abilities”.  And when he graduated from high school with an Honors diploma, my mother cried.   My brother cried when he was told he was going to have to have neurosurgery. With a strip of dark brown hair shaved off his head and a tube coming out of his skull, we all could have cried but couldn’t.

We all thought we were in the clear. We were told that there was a “good chance” Clay would need surgery after a major growth spurt, to replace his shunt and/or the tubing that drained the excess fluid to the abdominal cavity. When he was sixteen, he threw up on his desk in Mr. Vincent’s algebra class. What should have been a routine procedure turned into three years of Percocet and Lortab; waiting room chairs turned into single person couches. On my fifteenth birthday, my brother had brain surgery.  On his seventeenth birthday, he had brain surgery.  On Easter, near Christmas, in the middle of the summer—my brother had brain surgery. If he wasn’t in the hospital, most of the time he spent on the couch with a cold cloth on his head covering his eyes. I’d get off the bus, come through the door, and when I saw that all the lights were off, I knew what that meant: Clay had another headache.  The I-can-only-imagine-to-be-the-worst-headache-ever pain would build and build. Then he would vomit until he was dry heaving, sometimes for hours.  One There were so many surgeries and nothing seemed to work. What a quality of life- taking medicine that makes you sleep 20 hours of the day, and when you’re awake for the other four you’re either too drowsy or in too much pain to do anything.  A simple, routine procedure for a condition that affects one in every 500 live births lasted three years. We all discovered that some things were more important than splitting up Christmas ornaments or getting a learner’s permit. My mother never left the hospital when Clay was admitted. My father and step-father alternated who picked me up from school every day, followed by an hour drive to Nashville to visit at the hospital. My two dads—what can I say? After her husband, my father may be my mother’s best friend.  Clay hasn’t had to have surgery since late 2002, but we all hold our breath when he says his head hurts.

After graduating from high school in 2003, Clay had been taking some classes at the local community college. My brother couldn’t drive or tie his shoes or a number of things.  He, however, was very bright with dates and facts.  My mother was constantly at the school reminding teachers and administrators of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Due to Clay’s cerebral palsy, his motor skills were hindered. This greatly affected his hand writing and his typing speed. Even after being told before school started about this, some teachers still found it to be their right to make public comments to the class about how they “couldn’t read Clay’s writing” and “can’t you just” write better.  My brother’s accommodations were time and a half on tests.  That’s all. He was legally blind without glasses, had hydrocephalus, cerebral palsy, and spent time in a leg brace.  All he wanted was time and a half on tests so he could type out the answers on a computer to make the teacher’s job easier.  About two weeks before finals week for the fall 2005 term, the college sent a letter saying his accommodations were being taken away. How convenient that it fell right before finals week.   During one of the many visits, the President of the school actually had the nerve to say to my mother “If Momma wants to go to college, why don’t Momma sign up for classes.”  She signed up for something.

At the beginning of the spring 2006 semester, my mother set up for Clay to have an extensive neuropsychological examination that would encompass two days and about 24 hours. She was going to have documentation that Clay needed accommodations, and she was going to get every single one she could for him.  Her plan was to get vengeance.  Clay was reluctant and unwilling. He eventually went inside. After about fifteen minutes the lady came out and said to my mother “I am very surprised at how well he has done considering how autistic your son is.” She said it positively.  “Wait. What? My son is what?”  I have known all my life that Clay was “different,” and more than likely Clay would need someone to live with him or at least very near him for his entire life.  But there was always hope he would “catch up”.  That single word, that diagnosis, caused abstract ideas to plummet and become real and concrete.  How could nationally recognized neurologist miss this? How could doctor after doctor never notice how he avoids eye contact, slaps his left hand into his right hand repeatedly, and just parrots what you want him to say when asked a question?  Why couldn’t his family that lived with him not recognize sooner that his destructive behavior wasn’t him “lacking discipline”? His actions were less his choices and more his reactions from the world as he perceived it.  How were we supposed to know that he didn’t see the world like the rest of us?

The diagnosis of Autism has helped all of us especially my mother.  For many years I believe she wondered “What am I doing wrong? Have I failed as a mother?”  Clay’s behavior would become more than disruptive to the point of violent over things such as a change of dinner plans. These “episodes” would almost always be followed with him bursting into tears. It is difficult to say if finding out sooner about his condition would have been better for all of us or not.  Because my parents refused to let Clay fall into the “special needs” category, he excelled further than average concerning academics.  My mother dived head first into books about autistic adults, books written by adults with Asperger’s, and books written by parents of autistic children. She read articles and watched videos.  Many of these she passed on to me.  We soon discovered that we couldn’t change his behavior, but we could only modify ours.  And on my brother’s 22nd birthday, my mother quit smoking.  “I have to live forever for him…”  We laughed because sometimes that’s all we really can do.

I remember being protective of my older brother when we were in elementary school.  If anyone picked on him, I took care of them. I have always been preparing to take care of my older brother. To be a starving artist who travels just snapping photos and writing journal entries hoping to be published sounds so incredibly desirable to me. To make mistakes, to be selfish, to run without a direction telling myself “I’ll figure it out later” are things I have tried my best to avoid.  I chose engineering because it is a stable field. It is a challenge, but it isn’t a risk. Everyone will have their responsibilities; some just embrace their responsibilities sooner than others.

When I was offered an engineering co-op position with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in the spring of 2007, I never thought in a million years I would actually work for NASA. Who does that?! The co-op experience has been amazing.  I have seen two space shuttle main engine (SSME) tests.  I have watched one of the last night-time shuttle launches ever.  I have talked with astronauts over appetizers and drinks. I get to tell people “I work for NASA”.  Sitting on my book case is an autographed picture signed “Dream big” by STS-118 Pilot Charles O. Hobaugh.

When I tell people what I want to do, they say I’m crazy.  “Well, I’m hoping to go to medical school for Fall 2011, become an astronaut, write an award winning book, and then work on becoming President…” But I’d rather be the “crazy one” aiming for the moon than the person who has grown satisfied. I only partially understand the hard work and sacrifice a woman with her GED  performed to raise a gifted daughter and challenged son. I have witnessed my brother’s struggle with beginner’s algebra and putting on shoes with laces or pants that have a zipper. I am the age my aunt was when we believe she contracted HIV/AIDS from her husband.  I would rather be the “crazy one” to everyone else, so that I can be someone who didn’t waste her talents and the sacrifices of others.

Some could say I am pursuing medical school “a little late in the game” and that I am not approaching this in an orthodox manner.  I didn’t enter college as a pre-health major knowing “I want to be a doctor”. I didn’t start moving down a list someone said was the standard way of doing things to get into medical school. I am attempting to make my path because of a passion I have always felt.  My diploma says I graduated “cum laude” (with honors),  something I didn’t think was possible even a year ago.  I’m still not sure if I have expressed how much I want this. From the many things I have observed in my life and the many things I have accomplished, there is no doubt in my mind given the chance and the preparation that I can become an amazing medical student.

I chose engineering because it is a stable field. It isn’t a risk. Applying to medical school, that’s a risk. My life has been anything but standard. It has been a rollercoaster. It has been a movie. It has been drizzled with sweet moments and sprinkled with sour flashes.  Just as Clay continues to work towards his bachelor’s degree, I am working towards being more myself. Whether I continue to work for NASA or become a doctor or an astronaut or an award winning writer, my life will continue to be my life— peculiar and complete.

“Life is weird.”

Life is what you make it.  Dream big.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

Autism in the News – Thursday, 10.14.10

October 14, 2010 1 comment

What every student with autism wants you to know (The Anchor)
Autism advocates and adults with autism partnered together to offer Rhode Island College a Diversity Week presentation on the disability. Sue Constable, who works with the R.I. Technical Assistance Project, began the presentation. Read more.

Program helps those with autism (Ocean Township, N.J.)
Expansion during an economic downturn was risky but the benefits are beginning to be enjoyed by those enrolled at the Search Day Program, a private year-round school on Wickapecko Drive for children and adults with autism. Read more.

Texas’ first public school for autistic children opens in S.A. (San Antonio, Texas)
Local parents of autistic children now have a school all their own. The Foundation School at 3622 Fredericksburg Road is Texas’ first public school solely for children with autism. Read more.

Anderson Center for Autism aided on campus expansion (Hyde Park, N.Y.)
The Anderson Center for Autism gained approval today from the Dutchess County Local Development Corp. for up to $20 million in low-cost bond borrowing for the third phase of construction on its Hyde Park campus. Read more.

Woman with autism ‘not so alone’ thanks to Facebook (SouthCoast Today)
Catalina is a brave young woman living in northern Europe after the Final War. The year is 2736. Together with her father, Brock, and a band of teammates equipped with magical abilities, Catalina must journey to the last city in the world, Techtrebajartropolis, and conquer the ultimate “big bad,” a nasty fellow by the name of Galixiote. Read more.


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