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Archive for November, 2011

First Lady of Albania Attends Opening of New Autism Support Center in Tirana

November 30, 2011 1 comment

We have just celebrated the three year anniversary of Autism Speaks’ Global Autism Public Health (GAPH) initiative and what better way to mark this birthday than to see our first official GAPH partner open a new Centre for children with autism in Albania. Over the last two and a half years Autism Speaks has partnered with Liri Berisha, M.D., president of the Albanian Children Foundation (ACF) and wife of the Albanian Prime Minister, on GAPH-Albania and today saw the realization of her vision to provide state-of-the-art clinical and therapeutic care for Albanian families.

Autism Speaks was delighted to play a small part in the opening ceremony for the Centre. Those in attendance included the Albanian Prime Minister, Sali Bersiha, members of his cabinet, international dignitaries, local families and professionals. Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, took part in the ribbon cutting ceremony along with Dr. Berisha and Domenick Scaglione, the founder of ACF. Then a selected audience was given a tour of the new Albanian Children Foundation Centre before everyone convened in the main lecture theatre for speeches and presentations of awards. Dr. Berisha spoke of how she hoped the new Centre would be like a “warm home” and a “comfortable retreat” for families to receive the necessary services they deserve. Mr. Roithmayr took great pleasure in announcing that as a result of a competitive grant process, Autism Speaks would be funding a two year study for Deborah Fein, Ph.D. to continue her work with ACF to improve autism screening, diagnosis and intervention for families in the region.

The new Centre is located just outside the Albanian capital of Tirana and is surrounded by lakes and mountains, creating a quiet and idyllic place for families to visit. The Centre will deliver early intervention using Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as diagnostic services by trained multidisciplinary teams. There is a large lecture room on the basement floor, which will allow up to 100 professionals to be trained at any time. On the top floor is a library of books kindly donated by the UK and U.S. research community, as well as technology to support distance learning and supervision. This will be a national Centre to serve families across Albania and will also support regional development through the South-East European Autism Network (SEAN), which Autism Speaks launched with ACF and the Albanian Ministry of Health in 2010.

Dr. Berisha was kind enough to acknowledge that much of the inspiration for the centre has come from meeting her friends Suzanne and Bob Wright, co-founders of Autism Speaks. As part of GAPH-Albania the last two and a half years have seen therapists receive a year’s training in early intensive behavioral intervention; textbooks for parents and teachers have been translated into Albanian, as has the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule – Generic (ADOS-G) and the M-CHAT screener. A group of pediatricians in Tirana have been trained to use the M-CHAT to screen for autism as part of a pilot study and international conferences have been held to provide basic training in best clinical practice. All this good work will be supported going forward by the Albanian Ministry of Health who signed onto a national strategy on autism in 2010.

These significant developments are the result of Dr. Berisha’s vision to improve the lives of children with autism in Albania. Autism Speaks has been honored to work with Dr. Berisha over the last few years and her contributions at our World Focus on Autism events have been invaluable. The new centre in Tirana is an amazing achievement and we hope you will join with us in congratulating Dr. Berisha and all her colleagues at the Albanian Children Foundation.

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San Francisco 49er Running Back Frank Gore and Recording Stars Pia Toscano & Andy Grammer show their support for Autism Speaks

November 30, 2011 2 comments

On November 29th San Francisco 49er Running Back Frank Gore and recording artists Pia Toscano & Andy Grammer participated in a holiday tree lighting at San Francisco’s famed 555 California Street.  The free event was open to the public and benefitted Autism Speaks.

The tree lighting was hosted by Vornado Realty Trust, a New York-based real estate investment trust (REIT) and one of the largest owners of commercial properties in the United States.

The event featured musical performances from Pia Toscano and Andy Grammer. Toscano is best known as being a strong finalist in the tenth season of American Idol. Grammer’s debut album was released in June of this year, featuring pop hit “Keep Your Head Up”. The ceremony also included family holiday entertainment from the Dick Bright Orchestra.

Frank Gore, along with a family involved with Autism Speaks, lit the tree and tossed autographed footballs into the holiday crowd.

In order to help raise awareness and funding for Autism Speaks, 16 trees lining California Street are available for sponsorship for the duration of the holiday season. The trees will be lit blue in honor of autism awareness and will offer a branded area for generous sponsors. This year’s leading sponsors include: LRG Capital, Commonwealth Title and Fried Frank. Also, the event inaugurated a virtual fundraising tree and event website www.555treelighting.com. A donation of $250 or more will receive a set of personalized holiday greeting cards from Autism Speaks and those donating $500 or more will receive the card set and their name listed on a plaque on one of the trees lining California Street during the holidays.

The annual 555 California Street tree lighting is a tradition that was reinstated by Vornado Realty Trust in 2007, when it acquired the iconic building. Last year the event featured Vernon Davis of the 49ers and recording artist Natasha Bedingfield. Other previous guests include Hall of Famer Jerry Rice and Gold Medalist Misty May-Treanor.

As one of San Francisco’s largest family holiday events, 555 California featured one of the tallest trees in the region.


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Glimcher Realty Trust Announces Sensitive Santa® Holiday Photo Event for Children with Autism

November 30, 2011 1 comment

On Sunday, December 4, 2011 at select Glimcher malls, the Santa area will reserved just for children with autism.  The Santa area will be “sensory friendly,” with lower lighting and quieter surroundings.  The events will be held before the malls open to shoppers with a free Santa photo and festive giveaways.

Sensitive Santa® Events to be held at the following Glimcher properties on Sunday, December 4:

The Sensitive Santa® event at Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island, Florida will take place on Sunday, December 11 from 7:00am-9:00am.

If you or someone you know might have a child that would enjoy one of these events, contact Glimcher Marketing Director, Jessie Fausett at jfausett@glimcher.com.

NBC’s ‘Parenthood’ Tackles When Your Child Goes Missing

November 30, 2011 13 comments

In this week’s episode ‘Missing‘ of NBC‘s Parenthood, Max’s plans to go to the museum are ruined because both Kristina and Adam have commitments with work. Haddy is left to watch Max, but is involved with a school project. When Haddie is immersed in work and not being vigilant, Max leaves and tries to find his way to the museum.

Has your child ever gone missing? How have you reacted? Do you have protocol in place if a situation like this occurs? 

The Experts Speak says,

“A missing child. Fear, panic, seemingly hundreds of phone calls, 911 and a police car outside. Now add Asperger’s to the mix.

In this episode of Parenthood, Max gets tired of waiting for his museum visit, accuses his family of breaking their promises, and decides to take matters into his own hands. So he sets out to go to the museum by himself, sending his entire family into full-blown panic mode. It’s scary enough for any child to be missing, but when you know the child has Asperger’s, you also know the child doesn’t have the usual respect for strangers or fear of danger that protects most kids.

Every year, children with autism spectrum disorders go missing from their families. Most are returned safely. Unfortunately, some are not, and the worst imaginable happens. We read of these cases in the newspaper, and we know that another family is destroyed.”

Please visit our website for more information on Safety Products and Safety Tips.

Also check out, ‘Why Do Children with Autism Wander and Bolt from Safe Places?

Autism in the News – 11.30.11

November 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Some boys with autism have larger brains: study (The New York Daily News)
Abnormal brain growth starting at four months of age occurs in a type of autism in which toddlers lose language and social skills they once had, according to a US study published Monday. Read more.

Local Teacher Given ‘Hero’ Award (Milpitas Patch)
The San Francisco 49ers and Symetra Financial recently honored Stephanie Bentzel, a teacher for Milpitas Unified’s ACCESS program for young adults with special needs, with its ‘Heroes in the Classroom’ award. Read more.

Project Lifesaver is a blessing to those, who will take advantage of it (Grafton, W.V.)
Taylor County Sheriff, Robert Beltner, wants to remind county residents of the program that he and his officers have in place to help in caring for those, who have a loved one with autism, Alzheimer’s, dementia, down syndrome, traumatic brain injuries, or impairments due to stroke, or other cognitive related disorder. Read more.

The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids (Scientific American)
When I was in fifth grade, my brother Alex started correcting my homework. This would not have been weird, except that he was in kindergarten—and autistic. His disorder, characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions and communication, made it hard for him to listen to his teachers. He was often kicked out of class for not being able to sit for more than a few seconds at a time. Even now, almost 15 years later, he can still barely scratch out his name. But he could look at my page of neatly written words or math problems and pick out which ones were wrong. Read more.

Autism strategy support (UK)
A support group which helps people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome an information day at the World of Glass. Read more.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Enzo’s mom talks insurance

November 30, 2011 12 comments

This blog post is by Jeanie Caggiano. Her son Enzo has autism and she is an Allstate customer.

My little boy, Enzo, is 7 years old.  He was diagnosed at age 3 with pervasive developmental delay. Last year, they gave us a more specific diagnosis that I am still coming to terms with: autism.

Enzo is apparently on the mild end of the spectrum. But that’s not much of a consolation when I get the call from school that he lost it again today and bit a classmate. Or when I go to volunteer at school and a boy in his class comes up to me and says, “You know, Enzo’s crazy.” Or when I call and call and call the other moms in his class to set up a play date and they don’t return my calls. For the parents of a kid with autism, there’s a new opportunity every day for your heart to break.

It’s why Autism Speaks is so essential. Every day, they’re helping families like ours cope with this disability by researching causes and treatments – and advocating for those who can’t speak for themselves.

I’m writing this because I want to tell you about an easy way to help raise money for Autism Speaks. Now through December 31 (we extended the deadline!) December 14th, when you get any Allstate insurance quote, Allstate will donate $10 to Autism Speaks.

They’ve made a pledge to donate up to $500,000. It’s really easy. You just call 866-998-4488 or visit AutismSpeaks.org/Allstate. Get a free quote on any kind of insurance: car, home, boat, life, motorcycle, business, anything.

Everybody needs insurance. I feel better about getting mine from a company that supports a cause I believe in so much. So please get a quote now through December 31 (we extended the deadline!) December 14th, and tell your family and friends about it, too.

Autism Awareness and Strategies for Public School Administrators

November 29, 2011 20 comments

Elizabeth V. Neumann, M.A., BCaBA

I was recently reflecting on my teaching career when selecting a topic for my master’s thesis. I wanted to focus on an area that could really make a difference for students with ASDs like the ones I had worked with. I believe I was most effective when I worked with administrators who understood what an autism diagnosis truly entails and what best practices are for these students. Now that I educate other school professionals through the nonprofit agency, Autism New Jersey, I have met many other teachers who share this view, as well as administrators themselves who recognize their critical role in this area. So I chose to research public school administrators’ current level of understanding of autism spectrum disorders. My graduate work was consistent with Autism New Jersey’s mission. As a training resource for parents and professionals for decades, my colleagues and I recognize that a key to effective school programs is consistent support from administrators, and we sought to learn more about their specific needs.

For my study, more than 300 public school superintendents, principals, and special services directors completed surveys. Their responses offered a wealth of information about their knowledge of autism, scientifically-validated strategies, and their strengths and challenges insupporting their staff and students. The data showed that most administrators have very little, if any, training in meeting the complex and unique educational needs of students with ASDs. This is through no fault of their own as there are no requirements pertaining to specific special needs in their certification programs, despite the fact that they are responsible for increasing numbers of students with autism. As school leaders, they make budgetary, curricular, staffing, and scheduling decisions that have a direct effect on students with ASDs without being equipped with evidence-based information that could guide them.

These data guided our development of workshop and publication content focused on the following areas: learning about autism and students’ educational needs; maximizing limited resources by identifying evidence-based practices; supporting staff of diagnosed students in all placements across campus; and providing an extensive list of resources across these topics. Through the partial support of an Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant, we offered ten free workshops specifically tailored to this underserved yet crucial group of stakeholders in the autism community. Autism for Public School Administrators: What You Need to Know was sent to all special services directors in New Jersey as well as all workshop registrants.

This top-down approach to improving educational services has been very well-received by the participating administrators and the autism community at large. Participants have been most appreciative of this information, and it has been encouraging to see their desire to maximize their offerings to students with ASDs, their families, and the school professionals responsible for their education. One administrator summarized, “Your workshop gave me a terrific overview of autism – hopes and challenges – as well as a broader scope of the input and expertise necessary to sufficiently contribute to the independence of a student with autism.”

Parents and teachers, please encourage your superintendents, principals, and special services directors to order a free copy of Autism for Public School Administrators: What You Need to Know by calling 800.4.AUTISM or visiting www.autismnj.org. We hope that this initiative will be a valuable step to helping public school programs meet the intense needs of students with ASDs and are pursuing additional funding to continue and expand it on behalf of students with autism.

Please note that while the survey responses came solely from New Jersey, the information found in the workshops and publication is likely to be of great value to administrators throughout the country.

 

For more information about the Family Services Community Grants program, visit http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants/community-grants

Autism in the News – 11.29.11

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Head Size Tied to Regressive Autism in Boys (HealthDay News)
Boys with regressive autism have a larger head circumference and bigger brains than other children, a new study finds. Read more.

Technology unlocks doors for learning disabled (Canada)
Lord Roberts was a British military commander of some fame whose picture outstares anyone passing along the hallway of the school bearing his name in Vancouver’s West End. Read more.

Boy’s artistic ability overcomes his Autism (Cleveland, Ohio)
Justin Peterson amazes everybody around him with his artistic abilities. Justin Peterson was born November 8, 1995.  Around the age of three he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, and had been fully diagnosed at the age of seven with the devastating disease known as Autism. Read more.

College material: More students with autism, learning disabilities and special needs attend campuses in Genesee County (Flint, Mich.)
The cartoon rabbit sporting urban streetwear on Nicholas Pentecost’s sketch pad is a bit of a nonconformist. Read more.

Autistic toddler denied bedroom of his own. (UK)
Autistic toddler Ryan Finney is desperate for his own bedroom. But his parents Kelvin and Lisa have been told there are almost 300 people ahead of them on the waiting list for a three bedroom house. Read more.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

A Weatherstone Grad Reflects on Entering Autism Research

November 29, 2011 5 comments

Posted by Dennis Weatherstone Pre-Doctoral Fellow Elaine Hsiao

 

Nearly seven years ago, I made the all-important decision to pursue a future in scientific research. I was inspired by the ability of research to humble far-fetched ideas into reality, and I wanted to help uncover knowledge that would serve as an indispensable foundation for the advancement of medicine, technology and industry. Importantly, I saw an opportunity to evoke change in a way that improves lives.

As I enter my fifth year of studying the molecular underpinnings of autism, it is precisely these real-life applications of scientific research that continue to motivate me. I am grateful for the support of Autism Speaks and its numerous donors, in defending the realization that only by pushing the frontiers of science will solutions to today’s most pressing problems be found.

As an Autism Speaks Weatherstone fellow, I have been studying maternal infection as a primary environmental risk factor for autism, under the guidance of neurobiologist Paul Patterson, PhD, at the California Institute of Technology. Using animal models, we are uncovering the biological pathways that implicate infection in the development of core behavioral symptoms of autism as well as associated alterations in brain development. We are further exploring means for effective prevention and treatment, with aims to translate our findings to the identification of potential biomarkers and targets for effective therapies.

Support from the Weatherstone fellowship has also allowed us to explore the potential connections between gastrointestinal (GI) complications, immune dysregulation and behavioral symptoms in animal models for autism. We are very excited that this is now part of a larger collaborative research effort supported by Autism Speaks, with the aim of better understanding gastrointestinal GI and immune dysfunction in certain subsets of persons affected by autism.

In addition to providing financial support for my studies, the Weatherstone fellowship has given me unique opportunities to interact with leading scientists in autism research. I am truly inspired by the breadth and depth of research being conducted by my Weatherstone colleagues and by scientists worldwide. Exchanging ideas with scientists from other laboratories and disciplines greatly informs my own work.

Finally, I am deeply grateful to Autism Speaks and the Weatherstone fellowship for providing unique forums for scientists to interact with individuals and families directly affected by autism. Being able to convey the promises, obstacles and advances of autism research to the community is not only rewarding, but also very constructive. Likewise, my time with these individuals and families—time spent learning about their experiences and needs—drives my desire to conduct autism research that is innovative and informative.

With the valuable training I have received through doctoral research combined with the unique experiences I have gained as a Weatherstone fellow, I feel prepared to pursue a productive career in scientific research, with aims to uncover knowledge that will better our understanding of autism’s causes and lead to the development of more effective tools for its diagnosis and treatment. 

[Editor’s note: Administered by Autism Speaks and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Dennis Weatherstone Predoctoral Fellowship Program encourages the most promising young scientists to choose autism research as their career through funding and direct mentoring by the field’s leading investigators.)

Read more news and perspective on the Autism Speaks science page.

What does an organic Santa Cruz microbrewery have in common with a national big-box chain store like Costco?

November 28, 2011 1 comment

Kate Bemesderfer is the Lead Instructor, at the Coryell Autism Center, Santa Cruz, CA

Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing (SCMB) has earned a solid and well-deserved reputation for being more than just a purveyor of tasty organic microbrews and sustainable brewing practices. Brewery owners Chad Brill and Emily Thomas and their talented staff play a major role in Santa Cruz, California community-building. They have high standards, open hearts, and a creative, collaborative approach to just about everything they do. So it is fitting that, on top of everything else they do, SCMB is proving itself to be a valuable ally to the disability community by partnering with Coryell Autism Center to provide job opportunities for our students with autism.

When we approached Chad & Emily about offering an internship to Hunter, they took him in and treated him like one of their own, giving him real work and real compensation from the beginning.  No one at SCMB had much familiarity with autism or developmental disabilities, and the learning curve has at times been sharp.  Like anyone, Hunter has the occasional bad day at work, which means that his coworkers have seen him at his most difficult.  That’s why it’s been so impressive to see the staff of SCMB continue to accept and encourage Hunter to be his best.  It turns out that he has the same effect on them.  As Nicole Beatie, who handles Sales & Distribution for SCMB, puts it, “He’s not really different from any of us. He just needs a little more guidance than some, and probably less than others.  Everyone here has been patient and understanding with him, and that has made me feel good about the other folks I work with, too.”

After six months on the job, Hunter is a valued part of the SCMB team, and it’s a team that Hunter likes being on.  Every bottle of beer the brewery produces is hand-labeled by Hunter, who has learned not only to handle the labeling by himself, but to keep track of the inventory, and to set up the tap room and patio in time for opening. He works at the same rate as anyone else (sometimes faster).  He troubleshoots when supplies are missing, mislaid, or malfunctioning.  He keeps track of his work, noticing and correcting errors.  And he interacts both socially and professionally with the brewery staff, becoming an active part of his own community.  With Hunter’s help, the brewery has been getting bigger.  As the brewery continues to expand, so, too, do Hunter’s opportunities.  It’s a lot of work to keep up with the growing demand, so when the opportunity to increase distribution came to the brewery, Chad and Emily came to Hunter.

Not only is SCMB gearing up to open a second pub in Felton, but they’ve recently contracted with Costco—another of Hunter’s favorite places—to create 6-pack gift boxes of their most popular brews. Once the beer is in the bottles and the bottles are in the warehouse, the job of filling the Costco order falls primarily to Hunter.  SCMB has moved their post-production and storage from the small garage where Hunter started to a much larger warehouse a little farther down the road, so he rides his bike to work instead of walking.  Now, labeling bottles is just the first step in a process that involves taping together gift boxes, filling them with the bottles, sealing them with a hot glue gun, and organizing the finished product on a pallet, all while maintaining a retail-worthy aesthetic.  Hunter takes pride in getting it done right and making it look good.  It’s hard work, but it pays off—literally.  Hunter receives both a WorkAbility paycheck and trade from the brewery.  His favorite part of his shift comes at the end, when he returns to the pub for a nice frosty pint…of root beer!

For more information about Coryell Autism Center visit: www.CoryellAutismCenter.org

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