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Archive for November, 2011

Autism in the News – 11.22.11

November 22, 2011 1 comment

Richmond doctor says certain foods counteract symptoms of autism (Richmond, Va.)
The six-day search for Robert Wood, Jr., a nine-year old boy with autism, had a happy ending. However, the search continues for answers about autism and why the disorder continues to baffle scientists and researchers.  Read more.

Couple who meet at work have autistic babies? (India)
Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that engineers, scientists and computer programmers who meet their partners at work may be fuelling an increase in cases of autism. Read more.

Sign language benefits hearing children and those with autism. (Asbury Park Press)
More than two decades ago, Marilyn Daniels began researching the benefits of sign language — not just for deaf people, but for hearing children and babies and those with learning disabilities and autism. Read more.

Reading specialist autism school proposed (UK)
The National Autistic Society (NAS) said the school, which could open in September 2013, would add to educational provision in Berkshire. Read more.

UPDATE: Girl with autism rescued from cold pond, doing fine (WHPTV)
Scary moments for the family of a 7-year-old child with autism when the little girl wandered off and was found neck-deep in a nearby pond.  Read more.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Live Monthly Webchats with Drs Dawson and Horrigan

November 22, 2011 13 comments

The Doctors Are In!
* First Thursday of every month
* 3 pm Eastern (2 Central/1 Mountain/noon Pacific)
* Join via the Live Chat tab at https://www.facebook.com/autismspeaks

Sound of a Sunset

November 22, 2011 8 comments

Big Daddy brings his unique view of fatherhood, and the world at large, to life on this frequently updated and hilarious blog. His tales and cartoons from the lighter side of raising a child with autism always spark laughter and plenty of comments. By telling funny and off-beat stories from his life, Big Daddy shows that raising a kid with special needs is not all doom and gloom. To the contrary, it can be quite humorous and inspirational. You can read the original posting, ‘Sound of a Sunset,’ here.

Griffin makes a lot of noise.  No. I mean A LOT of noise.  If he is not sleeping there are always loud sounds emanating from him.  We have the maniacal laugh and other verbal stims.  There is the sound of him slapping his torso for hours on end.  Most of all there are the questions.  If he weren’t so cute I would swear the relentless questioning is some sort of KGB plot to drive me insane.

Sometimes, I want to tattoo, “Yes.  I like elevators and Wilford is awesome,” on my forehead to at least cut out 15% of the questions I get every hour.  “No.  We are not moving,”  and “To the bathroom.  I am going to the bathroom,” would eliminate about another 9%.

Considering the relentless noise, when Griffin is quiet we get nervous.  It sneaks up on you.  Like the other evening when Mrs. Big Daddy and Lil Sis were out and the boys were left at home.  I was doing a crossword and heard Griffin go to the kitchen with the stated purpose of getting a drink of water.  I heard him fill his cup and then …. nothing.  For about 45 seconds I heard nothing.  He had not left the kitchen.  He wasn’t giggling.  I got no questions.  Silence.

I went to the kitchen to investigate and there stood Griffin, staring out the window at a magnificent sunset.  He turned to me, as lucid and “in our world” as I’ve ever seen him and said,

“Daddy.  That’s a beautiful sunset.”

It was, without a doubt, the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen.  Before I could answer him, Griffin was off to his room to start giggling and, I’m sure, to think of new ways to ask me the same questions I’ve already answered thousands of times.  In the meantime, I stood in the kitchen, crying, for what seemed to be an hour.

Aging & Autism: Double Jeopardy?

November 22, 2011 3 comments

This invited guest blog by psychologist Hilde Geurts, PhD, comes  from the Netherlands, which the Autism Speaks science staff recently visited to forge new partnerships with European researchers and family advocates.

If you’re over 55, you’re probably not as fast as you used to be. Perhaps you more easily become emotional. Sometimes you have trouble adapting to changes in your everyday environment. In other words, you’re aging.

Some of these age-related declines are related to brain changes. But what if adapting to a changing environment or controlling your emotions was already difficult when you were young?

Autism is a lifelong condition with a distinct set of strengths and weakness. The weaknesses often involve mental and psychological skills known to deteriorate with aging. Does this mean that these abilities will deteriorate faster with age than they would if you didn’t have autism? Or might your “autistic” brain find ways to compensate?

These are the overarching questions that drive our research project: “Aging & Autism: Double Jeopardy?

We are conducting this five-year study at the University of Amsterdam within the Dutch Autism and Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) research center (d’Arc). The goal is to understand what happens when people with autism age. In essence, we’re testing the hypothesis that aging follows a different trajectory in those with autism spectrum disorder than it does in others.

Before starting this project, we spoke to persons with autism who were between the ages of 53 and 83 years. We asked them how they thought aging affected their lives.

Some said that some of the difficulties they had in childhood or young adulthood had become less prominent. They described feeling more comfortable in a variety of social situations—perhaps because the social pressure to act in specific ways had become less intense than when they were young. Others felt that their sensitivity to stimuli such as sounds had increased and that this made them more irritable. In other words, their experiences varied.

On one thing they agreed: That research in this area was sorely needed. Happily, the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research agreed with that assessment and provided us with a grant to study autism and aging.

What have we planned for the next five years?

First, we want to determine whether or not some autism-related symptoms tend to ease with age.

Second, we’ll be searching for ways to determine whose cognitive challenges will ease, whose will remain stable and whose will become more severe as they age.

Third, we’ll be investigating how these different outcomes might relate to changes within the brain.

Early results suggest that with some cognitive abilities—such as memory for pictures—the drop in function is steeper for those with autism. But with other skills—such as being creative under time pressure—those with autism show little or no decrease in performance, while those without autism tend to experience steep declines.

It may be that, in some areas, the effects of aging have less of a negative effect on those with autism. I do hope that this is the case. Of course, we’re just now getting started with this research. I look forward to reporting back our findings!

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

George Braddock Chat Transcript

November 21, 2011 2 comments

On Monday, November 21 George Braddock hosted a live chat about how to advance community living for adults on autism spectrum.

George Braddock is President of Creative Housing Solutions LLC. He pioneered the implementation of person-centered planning principles to homes for people with disabilities. George provides environmental engineering services for persons with intellectual and physical disabilities, families, providers and governmental agencies.

1:55
Hi Everyone! We are about to get started!
1:56
Comment From Sip

hooray :)

1:56
Comment From Guest

Great!

2:02
This is George Braddock and I am welcoming everyone to this chat. My background is construction and I started doing housing for people with developmental disabilities in 1984. In 1985 my daughter was born and she has developmental disabilities. Since 1984 my company has done over 1,500 projects for people with developmental disabilities. We are very committed to serving individuals in our communities and keeping families together. We believe that the roll of the physical environment in supporting that outcome has been underestimated.
2:02
Comment From Elizabeth Wilson

I am having a hard time potty training my son who has autism. He won’t go on his own, I have to take him on a routine bases. is there any suggestions on how I can help him at night, because he doesn’t sta dry at night

2:05
Hi Elizabeth – One of the barriers that we often find for people in toilet training has to do with the condition of the bathroom itself. Often times we find that people with ASD can be very tactfully defensive so the space itself needs to be as neutral as possible. It needs to be enough room around the toilet so people don’t feel too confined. It is really helpful if the space is warm and you address other types of sensations around the toileting experience. Is it cold, is there a fan running, is the light too bright, or not bright enough? You can sometimes help encourage people to use the toilet a friendly place to be.
2:06
Comment From Raissa from Georgia

What are some of the standard remodeling things you do for families with younger children with autism? Also, as my children get older, what home modifications start becoming more of a necessity as they enter adulthood?

2:12
Hi Raissa – although we recognize that every individual with autism is unique, our experience has taught us that there are actually quite a lot of common housing modifications that generally support most folks with ASD. We call them unique commonalities. We have identified six of those commonalities. We can start off with the most common modifications – the Autism Friend Home – the goal is to reduce risk and anticipate activity. Every home there are things that can hurt people. We want to focus on health and safety where the individual is the priority. Sometimes in addressing a home we have to assess the risks and dangers depending on the individuals circumstances from the start. These include things like seizures, the importance of protecting the person’s body from injury. We also find that it is good to anticipate unconventional use and eventually housing is not designed for simply people with ASD. We anticipate water play. Water is almost always a source of interest. It is often a coping skill for folks with ASD and we need to manage it to keep the water from damaging the home, but also support the person who is using water to satisfy them. We find that doors are often a problem. The way the slam, the way they communicate frustration and anxiety. We use pocket doors quite frequently and fiberglass doors because they are light weight and strong and not as likely to hurt you. It is important to select furnishings that take into account the individual involved. Often times vesicular activity such as swimming, rocking, jumping, bouncing, making sure the furniture will put up with those things. Those are the basics of an autism friendly house!
2:13
Comment From Karen

My son who is 17 and has more “classic autism” is very adversely effected by certain sounds. Even though his bedroom is downstairs in the basement, he hears the television through the floor upstairs, and even the slightest TV sound bothers him. We could all use headphones as a solution, but I was wondering if you had ideas on sound insulation techniques for our home. We already have carpets but the sound still travels between the two floors. So if he is up at night rambling outloud to himself, we can hear him through the floor, and it keeps us up, and he can hear our TV, even on low, and that keeps him up.

2:18
Hi Karen – The key to sound deadening is separation so that sound waves cannot move continuously through. There are a number of materials that will help in this regard and there are also construction techniques that will provide a space between materials to control transmission of sound. There are products, mass laden vinyl, which is a very dense, rubberlike material that is quite an effective sound deadening material. It could be placed on the carpet or on the ceiling between floors. There is type of channel where there is a resilient channel that can be installed and has a little rubber isolating block on either end of the bracket. That can be screwed to the ceiling and then the dry wall ceiling plied to it will deaden the sound between the floors. We have also had some luck with a cork material applied over a material that is like a fiberglass that can be up to half an inch thick. Then the cork panel can be attached.
2:19
Comment From Guest

What can extended family members do to make their homes more “ASD-friendly”?

2:23
Hi Guest – If you are going to have guests in your home with ASD it would be wise to understand some of the issues before they come to visit. It is likely that they will arrive anxious and experiencing some stress. It can be helpful to not too much pressure on them when they first arrive. If they are disorganized, they tend to live more rigorously in their environment, you might want to take things away that are easily broken. Typically we find from about 3 feet about the floor to about 5 feet above the floors, is the area where most handling, grabbing, and exploring takes place. From leaving fragile things out of this zone can help. Trying to manage the amount of stimulation, from televisions to radios and other things that are making noise, flashing lights. Just being aware that an overly stimulating environment results in more anxiety in the visit. If you can create a place where they can participate in usual activity and have some control over their social interactions, it can make for a better visit.
2:25
Comment From Cynthia Bartlett

Do you find that adults with autism/intellectual impairments respond differently to various colours and lighting types?

2:30
Hi Cynthia – We definitely have found that color can make a great deal of difference for some people with ASD. We spend quite a bit of time trying to figure out colors that work and are preferred. We can do this by observing a person’s choices when various colors are offered. Some of the standard thinking around the impact of color attaches reds, yellows, and oranges to more high energy activity. Whereas blues and greens and browns tend to be more calming. In the area of lighting there is good evidence that flickering lights often associated with florescent can be a problem for some people. If possible divide lighting sources with dimmers which gives a person more control. Good quality natural and artificial light are key to a good environment.
2:30
Hi everyone there was a typo in my first answer to Elizabeth! I meant to say, Tactilely-this means relating to the sense of touch, rather than tactfully!
2:31
Comment From Jody Schinnerer

Our 19 year old son finds our walls a good target when he gets frustrated. He has punched and kicked holes in the wall. He hasn’t hurt himself yet. We patched the holes and repainted but are there materials that would prevent injury to our son if he continues to hit the walls??

2:37
Hi Jody – Damage to walls is not an unusual behavior. There are a number of strategies that will make walls that are strong enough to withstand this kind of testing. There are various layers depending on how serious the person is about making holes in the wall. Sometimes if the person is just hitting the wall or kicking it occasionally, as opposed to all the time, you can add a protection material called wainscoting. This can be fiber glass reinforced plastic called FRP or solid wood panel. In some cases even carpeting glued to the wall will work. For people who are more determined to make a hole in the wall, strong building enforcement will be necessary. This can include adding the additional layer of Sheetrock or removing the existing wall finishing material and reinforcing the wall assembly with plywood. Then any number of finishes can be applied to the ply wood to make a normal looking wall. In cases where people may injure themselves from hitting the wall we have applied a half inch of foam to the wall and then protected the foam with a material such as FRP or kourguard.
2:38
Comment From Dina

Hello. I have a 19 yr. old son, who is in the mild/ mod category of Austism. He is developmentally 8 yrs. old. He has a terrible fear of separating from us. Ian suffers from the extreme anxiety that is typical if the disorder. My husband and I can’t bear to think of placing him in his own living environment. Do you have an opinion about how to best address this situation?

2:41
Hi Dina – We have had good success on a number of family homes by creating a living space for a young person with ASD within the family home. Sometimes this is an addition onto the home that accommodates the small living space usually a bedroom, bathroom, and sitting area over which the person has control. This area is designed to support their interests and lifestyle preference. We have found that as people mature, they naturally want to have some separation from their family. Even if they remain in the same home. We call it expanding the family. We have had a number of these projects prove successful in the last 15 years.
2:43
Comment From Sip

I’m very sensitive for sounds too, at night even the slightest whisper can wake me, and I can recognize people by feetsteps…and smell,that’s also trouble sometimes for me, too much different impulses at the same time is annoying

2:47
Hi Sip – Sound proofing at this level is very difficult. A room can be quieted using acoustical panels. These can be loosely attached to the wall and ceiling. There is also a sound deadening glass that can be installed in windows. This is very expensive. For some individuals white noise or preferred sound background can mask the sounds that are troubling. Solid core doors with weatherstripping or smoke seals can also help quiet the space and keep unpleasant odors out of the room. Drapes or curtains also deflect sound. Good quiet ventilating fans int eh room can also address most of these issues.
2:48
Comment From Andra

My son is 18 yrs old and has high functioning Autism. He is developmentally about 9 years old. He wants to eventually live on his own but I am concerned about what kind of environment to put him in that will be supported. Are their community types that I should look at? Are there commmunities out there that can provide for my son?

2:53
I think this issue is one of the most troublesome for families. What kind of living opportunities are going to be available for their children when they choose to leave home.Developing inclusive communities is what we all need to be involved in. People need more than an affordable house, they need a place in the community. Often times, only conventional housing is available. Housing modifications tend to focus on physical disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities need environmental modifications as well and their effect can be as profound. Much work needs to be done to educate builders and developers to make this a reality. Living in a community means not just creating more set asides, but creating real neighborhoods where people with disabilities are welcomed and valued. This means encouraging individuals involved with all kinds of disabilities to work together to support the creation of these kinds of inclusive neighborhoods. Not neighborhoods that congregate people with disabilities, but are welcoming of that diversity because involvement within this community is part of what defines community.
2:53
Comment From sherry wine

i have a 12 yr old son with autism he dont wanna go to bed at night time he wants to stay up and play games and gets on the computer and he wats to talk back any suggestiond

2:56
Hi Sherry – this is a situation where we have had some success with technology in the past. Being able to exercise some control over access to games and other activities is sometimes necessary while people build the capacity to manage those situations themselves. A computer providing information for controlling a device is different than mom and dad turning it off. I think of it a little like the difference between getting a ticket in the mail when you run a traffic light. You are angry, but your anger is not directed at another person. Supporting an individual to make the right choices requires balance and good judgement between freedom and appropriate, healthy, behavior.
2:57
I appreciate this opportunity to be involved in this chat and hope people found the information useful. Included with this chat is contact information to my website and links to the Autism Speaks network. Thank you for your attention!
2:58
George’s guide: Making HoMes tHat Work a resource guide for Families Living with
autism spectrum Disorder + Co-occurring Behaviorshttp://www.afaa-us.org/atf/cf/%7B3A65C524-1EB0-4098-97F5-88AB429252C6%7D/Making%20Homes%20That%20Work.pdf
2:59
For more information on George: http://gbcchs.com/
2:59
Check back to the Autism Speaks website,www.autismspeaks.org for updated information on housing!

Going To A Big Family Party!

November 21, 2011 2 comments

Holidays gatherings, meeting new people, eating new foods can be challenging for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families. One way to prepare and  help family members with ASD is to plan ahead by creating a Social Story to help a person with ASD prepare for a new or unique situation. Social Stories can be tailored to an individual’s preferences and situation. They promote a social understanding, as well as self- understanding. We’ve included a Social Story, “ We’re Going to a Family Dinner from The New Social Story Book, by Carol Gray.

Have you developed a Social Story to help your family member prepare for a big family gathering? We invite you to share your Social Story or other recommendations you have for other families to help them prepare for Thanksgiving day or other large family gatherings.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Autism Speaks!

James Durbin’s ‘Memories of a Beautiful Disaster’ is Available!

November 21, 2011 3 comments

This post is by the folks at JAMESDURBININFO! You can read the full post here!

It’s November 21st, which means for James Durbin fans that his highly anticipated CD, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, is finally available in stores.

Durbin, who suffers from both Asperger’s and Tourette’s Syndrome, but refuses to be sidelined by either, co-wrote five of the 11 songs on the standard edition of Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, and was afforded the dream come true scenario of working with his favorite band (Swedish cult heroes Hardcore Superstar) and with a guitar god (Mötley Crüe’s Mick Mars) on Outkast. He also wrote with several seasoned songwriters such as Marti Frederickson (Chris Daughtry, Aerosmith) and James Michael (SixxAm).

Durbin explains that the title, Memories of a Beautiful Disaster, means that he is looking back at his life, and at all of the hardships he endured due to the early death of his father from a drug overdose, and the constant bullying he faced at the hands of other kids in school. What seemed like a disaster at the time now seems beautiful, because it made him who he is today. He also sings about the redemptive power of love and the happiness he has with his fiancée, Heidi, and their young son, Hunter.

Higher than Heaven, one of the songs co-written by Durbin, starts the album out with a rocking sound about love. It’s a strong song and already a fan favorite (WindUp records gave fans a preview of the song last week.) Two songs are about being bullied, Outkast and Screaming. The former was co-written with Hardcore Superstar and features Motley Crue’s Mick Mars on the cut. It is meant to be tongue-in- cheek, and it raaaawks. The latter, written with Idol alum David Cook, is for kids who have endured the kind of treatment Durbin did as a child. It’s an anthem for outcasts, the ones who got “kicked out but never caved in,” and it tackles the subject in a fun way. I can already picture young fans screaming along to this song with Durbin during concerts.

Taking a completely different direction is the heart-tugging ballad May, shows the softer side of James. Country music fans will enjoy this cut. Be prepared to tear-up; the song is beautiful, as is James’ falsetto. Another gorgeous slower song is Everything Burns.

The US army was impressed enough with the song, Right Behind You, to license it for distribution to 100,000 troops.  The song is meant to help the troops feel supported. It starts slowly and builds to a full crescendo, and is one of the strongest cuts on the album.

Love Me Bad, Durbin’s current single, is about a love gone wrong. Be sure and watch the video on Vevo or itunes. It is classic Durbin and filled with lots of fire. StandUp is the official current stadium anthem for the NFL. You can hear it every Sunday when you attend a football game. It does just what you would expect, gets people excited and “pumped-up” in order to support their team.

Memories of a Beautiful Disaster is a strong debut album. There is something for everyone. If you loved James singing ballads on American Idol, you will love May. If you love rock you will love Outkast. And there is plenty in between.

The album is now available at leading retailers such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. Or you can order it on James’ website at www.DurbinRock.com or download it from itunes. Whatever you do, buy it – you won’t regret it!

Thank you for judging me…..

November 21, 2011 66 comments

This post is by Rob, the creator and author of the “Lost and Tired” blog and founder of Android4Autism. He is also the 33 year old father of 3 boys on the autism spectrum. Gavin is 11, Elliott is 5 and Emmett John is 3.  He has been with his amazing wife Lizze  for10 years and married for the past 8. You can read his, ‘Thank you for judging me…..’ post here.

If you were to walk into my house at any given time, you would find many things. Among them, the floor covered with toys and the kitchen with a sink full of dirty dishes. If you ventured into the basement you would see a mountain of dirty laundry patiently waiting to be washed. Look around some more and you would find unmade beds, stacks of unpaid bills and even some shut off notices. Some people would look at this and judging me, say that this is a reflection of me as a parent or my ability to take care of my family.

To those people, I say thank you.

Why in the world would I thank someone for saying something like that? The answer is both simple and complex all at the same time. While under different circumstances I would be insulted, hurt or even angered by those judgmental and thoughtless comments. However, I have 3 boys on the autism spectrum and a wife with chronic and often times disabling health issues.

They require ALL of my time and energy. I’m always taking the kids to therapy or to and from school. Working on language skills and even learning and teaching ASL. I make sure they are fed and clothed and as many of their unique sensory needs are met as possible. I deal with meltdowns, nightmares, sleepless nights and I must ensure everyones safety.

I need have priorities and these things are at the very top of the list. That means everything and everyone else will take a back burner.

So when you walk into my house, see the disaster and think that it’s a reflection of me or go so far as to judge me as a parent, I say thank you. I say thank you because it means I’m doing my job. It means my priorities are in the right place. Make no mistake, I would LOVE to have a clean house and be able to pay my bills. However, raising 3 autistic boys is all consuming, especially when one parent has chronic health issues.

There is only so much time in the day and only so much of me to go around. Choices have to be made. If I have to choose between a clean house, perfect credit and my kids, I will pick my kids every single time.

So thank you.

Thank you for judging me.

Thank you for showing for me that I’m doing the right thing.

Thank you for reinforcing that my priorities are in the right place.

Thank you for pointing out that everything that doesn’t really matter in life is still there waiting for my attention because it means those that do, are getting everything I have.

In Their Own Words: Treasure What You Have

November 21, 2011 3 comments

This is a blog post by Lena Rivkin, M.F.A., is an artist and graphologist living in Los Angeles.

Saturday was the Pumpkin Festival.  As my brother and I wandered around looking at the colorful, wildly shaped pumpkins and gourds, I realized that Halloween is the harbinger for the upcoming holiday season.  While other families carve pumpkins and scheme over costume ideas and how to keep the sugar intake to a minimum- my brother will be needlepointing his heart out.  While other families excavate Halloween and holiday decorations from boxes in the attic, Phillip will be obsessively crossing days off of his large collection of calendars.  While we all ramp up our already hectic schedules to include gift ideas, holiday outfits and double-book numerous get-togethers, it is slightly different for those of us who have special-needs family members.

My brother, Phillip, is a severely autistic adult and lives in a group home in North Hills, California, administered by New Horizons, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping adults with developmental disabilities.  Phillip also attends a day school called Tierra Del Sol Foundation. The 9th Annual Fall Festival was a fun way to raise funds for Phillip’s day school.  Among the great line-up of entertainment was Murphy’s Flaw Band- a terrific bluegrass group and gorgeous Aztec dancers that dazzled the eyes and ears.

Phillip really loved looking at the ceramic crafts hand-made by him and his classmates.  It takes a subtle eye to recognize what Phillip really enjoys since he doesn’t speak and willingly goes along with pretty much everything I suggest.  Sometimes I feel like the narrator of his life. “Isn’t this a beautiful mask, Phillip?” or “Phillip, are you ready for lunch?”  He’ll nod a sort of yes to everything I ask him, especially if it relates to food!  Or I can tell by another look in his eye that he appreciates what I am seeing or is ready to see something else.  When I am with Phillip, if I still my inner voice and erase any personal agenda, I can hear him with my eyes and appreciate exactly who he is, not wish him to be who he simply will never be.

The holidays matter to us as well, just a little differently than everyone else.  When you have a sibling who cannot speak, make direct eye contact or give a hug, a Gap Gift Certificate doesn’t quite manage to bridge the gap.  Phillip would be far happier watching me draw a pattern for him to needlepoint or baking cupcakes with him or simply being with him.  For those who are uncomfortable with developmentally delayed people, when it comes to birthdays or holidays, doing nothing appears easier than wondering whether a gift or card would even resonate.

But focusing on what simple acts delight our autistic family members is the kind of holiday gift that money cannot buy.  I have dear friends who make a point of including Phillip in their life because they recognize he is an important part of my life. They mail him postcards regularly from anywhere in the world, even from home, because they know he is thrilled to receive them.   As Edmund Burke said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”  The greatest gestures can also be the smallest.

Holidays nowadays are more likely to resemble high stakes poker games or full impact sporting events or high spending reality shows than simple exchanges of love and friendship. Holidays can be hallmarks of tiny gestures.  In our fast paced and recession-tired current times, holidays prove to be challenging for all families.

Almost every American has grown up with Norman Rockwell’s cheerfully chaotic portraits of large joyful families crowded around a Thanksgiving table.  For many of us, Rockwell’s iconic paintings hold up a beautiful ideal of family life.  As a child, I truly admired Rockwell’s incredibly warm-hearted realistic paintings. As I studied art at UCLA and became an Expressionist painter, I grew to reject Rockwell’s idyllic utopia as sugarcoated and corny.  I’ve come full circle with Rockwell, and now can truly appreciate his extraordinary talent as an illustrator, especially as I now know more about Rockwell’s life.  He grew up in a silent, working class family in New York City, married three times, and struggled with depression.  A telling quote of his was that he painted his happiness but did not live it.  Not that I am trying to celebrate the woes of those who famously appear happy, I merely appreciate knowing that not even Norman Rockwell had the Norman Rockwell fantasy holiday season.

We are all fraught with unfair expectations that every holiday season must be the perfect embodiment of familial bliss. As soon as Halloween is over we brace ourselves for the marketing onslaught in stores and on inundating us with endlessly perfect present suggestions and spectacularly decorated homes, trees and stunning meals. It seems every year the goal gets higher, more expensive and sadly more elusive.  But perhaps we can all jump off the holiday hamster wheel if we simply re-adjust and redefine our values.  Find the gift that isn’t the mall. Look deeper at the act of giving.

For Phillip, the best presents are silent, handmade gestures from the heart.  The best gift I can give my beloved brother is myself; I design the needlepoints he stitches.  Our gift to each other is how we communicate via our creative collaborations.  His endless gift to me is to treasure the present moment. Perhaps determining how best to give of ourselves can be the most rewarding New Year’s Resolution we can make.

11 Myths About Autism

November 21, 2011 24 comments

You’ve probably heard lots of thoughts and ideas about autism, but we want to make sure you know what is true and what is false. Our Family Services and Science department put together 11 myths about autism to help put an end to any misconceptions. All of these are great for students to share with their classmates. If you’re in college, get involved with Autism Speaks U, a program that supports college students in their awareness, advocacy and fundraising efforts.

1. Myth: People with autism don’t want friends.

Truth: If someone in your class has autism, they probably struggle with social skills, which may make it difficult to interact with peers. They might seem shy or unfriendly, but that’s just because he or she is unable communicate their desire for relationships the same way you do.

2. Myth: People with autism can’t feel or express any emotion—happy or sad.

Truth: Autism doesn’t make an individual unable to feel the emotions you feel, it just makes the person communicate emotions (and perceive your expressions) in different ways.

3. Myth: People with autism can’t understand the emotions of others.

Truth: Autism often affects an individual’s ability to understand unspoken interpersonal communication, so someone with autism might not detect sadness based solely on one’s body language or sarcasm in one’s tone of voice. But, when emotions are communicated more directly, people with autism are much more likely to feel empathy and compassion for others.

4. Myth: People with autism are intellectually disabled.

Truth: Often times, autism brings with it just as many exceptional abilities as limitations. Many people with autism have normal to high IQs and some may excel at math, music or another pursuit.

5. People with autism are just like Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man.

Truth: Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning its characteristics vary significantly from person to person. Knowing one person with autism means just that—knowing one person with autism. His or her capabilities and limitations are no indication of the capabilities and limitations of another person with autism.

6. Myth: People who display qualities that may be typical of a person with autism are just odd and will grow out of it.

Truth: Autism stems from biological conditions that affect brain development and, for many individuals, is a lifelong condition.

7. Myth: People with autism will have autism forever.

Truth: Recent research has shown that children with autism can make enough improvement after intensive early intervention to “test out” of the autism diagnosis. This is more evidence for the importance of addressing autism when the first signs appear.

8. Myth: Autism is just a brain disorder.

Truth: Research has shown that many people with autism also have gastro-intestinal disorders, food sensitivities, and many allergies.

9.  Myth: Autism is caused by bad parenting.

Truth: In the 1950s, a theory called the “refrigerator mother hypothesis” arose suggesting that autism was caused by mothers who lacked emotional warmth. This has long been disproved.

10. Myth: The prevalence of autism has been steadily increasing for the last 40 years.

Truth: The rate of autism has increased by 600% in the last 20 years. In 1975, an estimated 1 in 1,500 had autism. In 2009, an estimated 1 in 110 had an autism spectrum disorder.

11. Myth: Therapies for people with autism are covered by insurance.

Truth:  Most insurance companies exclude autism from the coverage plan and only half of the 50 states currently require coverage for treatments of autism spectrum disorders.

If you’re interested in raising awareness in college, visit www.AutismSpeaks.org/U.

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