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Archive for January, 2012

I’ve been reading news reports that it might be possible to detect autism by watching how much a 1-year-old focuses on a speaker’s mouth. Is this true?

January 27, 2012 4 comments

This week’s “Got Questions?” answer is from Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D.

In recent days, you may have read media stories about research showing that typically developing babies tend to switch from eye gazing to lip reading when first learning to talk, but then switch back to focusing primarily on a speaker’s eyes by 12 months. The research report appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In reporting their results, developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift, of Florida Atlantic University, suggest that this shift in focus may be different for infants who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or are at risk for developing it. Taking this idea a step further, they propose that paying attention to how babies shift their focus during their first year of life might help identify infants at risk for ASD – perhaps before other obvious symptoms emerge. To back their idea, they cite previous research suggesting that 2-year-olds with autism tend to look mostly at the mouths of those speaking to them, while typically developing 2-year-olds focus mostly on eyes.

It’s an intuitively appealing idea. But in truth, past studies have not consistently supported this notion that children with ASD focus less on eyes and more on mouths.

It is true that children with autism tend to pay less attention to social actions such as expressions. However, it’s possible that children with autism, like typical children, show a similar pattern of paying more attention to the mouth when they are learning language.

Given that language delays are common among children with autism, one would predict that this language-acquisition period might be prolonged. In addition one would expect that mouth-versus-eyes gaze patterns would vary among children with ASD depending on each child’s level of language skill.

Fortunately, while we don’t yet know whether eye gaze is a reliable predictor of ASD, research solidly supports the usefulness of other signs for screening toddlers. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children receive autism screening at 18 and 24 months of age. One of the AAP’s recommended screening tools is the Modified Checklist for Toddlers, or M-CHAT, which you can access on our website, here. Please also see our Learn the Signs resource page.

Meanwhile, Autism Speaks continues to fund a wealth of research on early screening and diagnosis because evidence suggests that early intervention improves outcomes. You can explore these and other Autism Speaks studies here. This research – like all the resources Autism Speaks develops and offers – is made possible by our families and supporters. Thank you for your support.

For more research news and perspective, please visit our science page.

Troops in Contact

January 26, 2012 4 comments

The following blog post by an Army Sergeant Major deployed to Afghanistan, who must remain otherwise anonymous, demonstrates vividly the extraordinary challenges faced by our military members raising children with autism. Visit ‘Welcome to Stim City‘ to follow Mrs. Sergeant Major’s Blog and to read original post.

Military families will finally get a chance to tell their stories to Congress on Tuesday, January 31. Learn more here.

The satellite radio crackles to life; “Iron Gray TOC, this is Butcher 6 receiving indirect fire at this time”.  The radio operator answers the call; “This is Iron Gray TOC.  Roger, requesting air support at this time.”

Troops in Contact (yes that means what you think it does) were a daily occurrence as an Infantry Battalion Operations Sergeant Major in Afghanistan.  I had dealt with quite a few of these by February 2010 while working the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) in theater.  I had learned to deal with them in a cold, detached manner dispensing assets such as artillery, air support and helicopter support to assist in the fight against the Taliban.

So when I heard those words “[RM] has autism” through a poor overseas cellphone connection I was initially unmoved.  My training kicked in.  Clear the airspace and give me a fire mission of 155mm artillery

It wasn’t until I got back to my bunk after a 17-hour shift did the words sink in.  AUTISM!?  Artillery isn’t going to help that.

Maybe it was the distance from home or the 130-degree Afghanistan heat that removed me from the reality of what I had heard.  I just could not believe my little girl had autism.  Yes, she was born with multiple disabilities but autism was never on the radar.  Having a nephew on the spectrum, I knew the very broad and somewhat vague meaning of an autism diagnosis, but stumbling through one in a war zone left me asking what is autism?  Probably not a good idea to sidetrack my Intelligence Section asking them to research that one for me.  To say I was busy during this deployment would be a gross understatement.  The TOC was the heart of the Battalion’s operations and the heart never stopped beating.  However, I had managed to find a few spare moments to Google “autism” which confirmed my suspicion that artillery was not the kind of support needed to be called in this time around.  Instead, my Googling from Afghanistan proved that the primary assets for this mission would include treatments such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech, occupational and physical therapies.  I assumed RM’s school would be all over that.  Evidently, as it turned out the school system in our town was not a “Friendly” element.

Never leave a fallen comrade.

Failure in my business is not an option and it would appear that my town was accepting defeat and leaving my little girl behind.  I was appalled.  Months went by with frequent calls from Mrs. SGM sharing the emotional and often fruitless results of meetings with the town, special education lawyers and one very rude town special education administrator.  It began to affect my performance.  I struggled to focus on my daily responsibilities and at times had to force the issue of autism out of my mind.  Staying focused meant ignoring my family so that I didn’t get a soldier killed in theater.

I decided to weigh in on the issue with the town.  Lucky were the town personnel who were failing my child that were out of range of my artillery support.  I think one of the frustrating things for me was the inability to affect how the fight with the town was going from Afghanistan.  Mrs. SGM gave updates almost daily. I cannot take credit for the battle that was fought and won in regards to getting RM her required therapies at an outplacement school.  Mrs. SGM led that assault and is now deep in the trenches to change TRICARE military insurance to make autism benefits accessible to all dependents as standard care.  Doing so will not take the shock, fear and disbelief out of receiving an autism diagnosis, but it will help diminish the confusion, frustration and roadblocks to success in getting our kids what they need.

TRICARE should be like Combat Support.  It should be there when you need it with no questions asked or forms to fill out and should be ready to provide cover for all Troops in Contact including our precious military children with autism.

Somebody Stole My Name! (but we’re friends now)

January 26, 2012 2 comments

This is a post by Dr. Scott Standifer, a Clinical Assistant Professor for the Disability Policy & Studies office (DPS) at the University of Missouri. He is the author of Adult Autism & Employment: A guide for vocational rehabilitation professionals, and the organizer of the Autism Works National Conference, March 6 & 7, 2012 in St. Louis, MO.

The first call came in 2008, just after I started work on the first Autism Works National Conference: “Hi Scott, this is Tracey with Autism Works…” the woman said.  “But, wait,” I thought, “That is MY project’s name…” Actually, I don’t have a copyright on the name, so it is legal for others to use it too. Still, it felt likeTracy stole my name.

Since then, I’ve had that same “Somebody stole my name!” feeling twice more as I discovered other groups with the same name. Who these groups are, and what we are each doing to advance autism employment, is a nice sample of some of the varied and vibrant approaches to this important field. Tracey, for instance, turned out to work for Community Gatepath, a Community Rehabilitation Provider (CRP) in California that had been given a grant for a special program serving adults with autism. They called it Autism Works.

A few years earlier, as part of my job helping state vocational rehabilitation agencies in four Midwestern states, I had discovered a profound lack of information about autism in the vocational rehabilitation community, and a similar lack of information about vocational rehab in the autism community. I ended up writing a reference guide on autism employment and starting the Autism Works National Conference.

Six months later, I found another Autism Works, this time in Minnesota. This one is a non-profit group that promotes not only employment, but also life planning and independent living for adults with autism. It was founded by Melissa Kenig-Davis, the parent of a young adult with Asperger’s Syndrome. Parent advocates are an important group in autism employment. They have started some of the most exciting autism employment projects in corporate America, including Randy Lewis at Walgreens and Heather Davis at TIAA-CREF. In Connecticut, parent Jim Lyman started Roses for Autism. In Missouri, parent Kate Duffy teaches job-seeking-skills courses for autism and has co-written a book on employment withTempleGrandin. Heather Davis, Kate Duffy, and Melissa Kenig-Davis were all at our 2011 conference.

And then it happened again – last summer, I found a group called Autism Works UK.  Peter MacDonald is the Director of Autism Works UK, which is part of a business movement spearheaded in the U.S. by Aspiritech in Chicago. These businesses hire adults with Asperger’s Syndrome to test computer software. Apparently, when innovative programmers finish their software masterpieces, they often don’t feel like going back to recheck every function and explore every possible input for mistakes. So they hire software testers. For us neurotypicals, software testing can be terribly boring; it requires lots of repetition, documentation, endless lists, etc. But for Aspies, routinized work like this is often appealing and easy. Aspiritech and Autism Works UK don’t market their services by pleading, “Please help these poor young people.” Instead they say, “Our unique workers do a better job than anyone else.” WOW! What an empowering message!

Peter MacDonald and I had a long talk about the challenges and opportunities of this exciting business model. Peter, Aspiritech, and folks from three similar companies will be on a panel at our Autism Works National Conference in March.

So even though each of our groups picked the same name, we are all engaged in different and complementary projects. Discovering these other Autism Works has taught me interesting new things about career options for adults with autism.

Lately I’ve had the feeling that somewhere, someone else is getting ready to choose the Autism Works name for some new kind of employment project. I can hardly wait.

Autism in the News – 01.26.12

January 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Study finds early signs of autism in baby brains (FOX News)
Children who develop autism already show signs of different brain responses in their first year of life, scientists said on Thursday in a study that may in the future help doctors diagnose the disorder earlier. Read more.

9th annual Flutie Bowl (Wicked Local)
Richie La Montagne, a former U.S.B.F. Cruiser weight champion, chats with Doug Flutie (L to R) at the 9th annual Flutie Bowl on Monday, January 23. The event was held at Kings at Legacy Place to benefit the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism established by Doug Flutie and his wife Laurie to honor their son Doug, Jr. who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Read more.

Pounding the pavement calms runner with autism in Lake (Mount Dora, Fla.)
When Kyle Krekeler showed up at the Mount Dora Christian Home and Bible School track in July to join a local running group, trainer Vickie Steuben encountered a problem. Read more.

My son had autism. Then he didn’t. (Parenting.com)
I’m trying to hold him, but he’s squirming. The airport lounge is packed with people, and I can feel all eyes on me: the dad who cannot appease his toddler. Brandy sees me struggling, and comes up with a quick fix. She flips over the stroller. She places Jackson next to it. He begins to spin one of the wheels with his hand. He keeps spinning it. Over and over and over. He’s completely absorbed. I look at Brandy quizzically. She shrugs. Read more.

Millville autism support group Puzzle Peace Moms announces 2012 meetings (Millville, N.J.)
The only autism support group in the county announced meeting dates for 2012, held at the Mt. Pleasant Church social hall on 29 Pearl St. in Millville. Read more.

Autism Speaks’ daily blog “Autism in the News” is a mix of top news stories of the day. Autism Speaks does not vet the stories and the views contained therein do not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks beliefs or point of view.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Camp Good Times Baker Summer Camp

January 25, 2012 1 comment

Blog by Beth Weiner, Camp Director of Camp Good Times in Charleston, South Carolina, which received a grant last year:

The 2011 session of Camp Good Times of Charleston, a recipient of an Autism Speaks Baker Summer Camp Scholarship Fund, was activity oriented, fun, child centered, and safe for the 130 children who attended this past June. Our camp includes not only children on the autism spectrum, but neurotypical peers who come to camp, have fun, be campers and friends with everyone.

The highlights from our 12 days include…swimming everyday, field trips to area water parks, malls and movies, a visit from a Therapy Dog group, Spray Play with the local firefighters(which was really cool!), The OT class from The Medical University of South Carolina joined our staff for a day, a “Valentines Day” party, summer solstice party for our younger campers and parents, Yo-Music, a blend of Yoga and Music, art, sports, computers, singing and dancing, piñata party, pizza and the campers favorite part of the day…SNO_CONES!

Below are some of the individual campers who benefited from the Autism Speaks Baker Summer Camp Program grant:

Four of the children who attended live in a group home. The three girls, Jen, Dee Dee, and Monique have been in a residential group home for girls with ASD for as long as I have known them. Ahmad has been a camper for many years, and has only recently been placed in a group home run by the same organization. I was fortunate to be able to offer the Baker Summer Camp Scholarship opportunity to these children, since other public funding was not available and they would not have come to camp with out it.

Two of the campers who attended through the generosity of Autism Speaks had to have their own personal assistant due to medical needs. These families were able to get financial assistance for the medically necessary aides, but there was no funding left for the camp fees. I know these families want their child to have a typical summer camp experience and the respite provided them was much needed. The Baker Summer Camp Scholarship was able to provide that.

The other campers and families also have challenges throughout the school year. I have gotten to know these families very well, all of the camp families, and the fun experience that Camp Good Times provides their child and the respite provided the families is what they value. For more info and pics…visit www.campgoodtimesofcharleston.org!

Autism in the News – 01.25.12

January 25, 2012 1 comment

‘Talking things through in their head’ may aid children with autism (Fox News)
Talking to yourself in your head may not be such a bizarre pastime.  It may actually be an important developmental tool. Read more.

Revision to DSM Manual Could Substantially Affect Autistic Individuals and Their Access to Services (Forbes)
The first substantial revision to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (D.S.M.) will be finalized by the end of 2012. Already, the revisions are 90 percent complete according to the task force that is revising the manual. It has been 17 years since the last big overhaul of the manual, and some are worried about how some disorders could be redefined. Read more.

Autistic teen swims his way to success at Fondy High (Wausau Daily Herald)
When Hunter Develice wanted to join the Fond du Lac High School swim team, his father was told that perhaps the family should consider Special Olympics instead. Read more.

Comprehensive $5 million autistic center to open in Howard Beach (Howard Beach, N.Y.)
A Queens group plans to transform a Howard Beach Chinese restaurant into a $5 million comprehensive center for autistic children and adults. Read more.

Women’s hockey launches 2012 Autism Awareness Project (Hamilton, N.Y.)
The Colgate women’s hockey team will kick off its second annual Autism Awareness Project during its home contest against Union on Feb. 3 at Starr Rink in Hamilton. Read more.

Autism Speaks’ daily blog “Autism in the News” is a mix of top news stories of the day. Autism Speaks does not vet the stories and the views contained therein do not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks beliefs or point of view.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Military Families: Let Congress Hear Your Voice!

January 25, 2012 1 comment

On January 31, military families will get their chance to tell Congress about the special challenges they face raising children with autism. Many military parents will be in the audience.

But many more will be unable to make it to Washington for the briefing.

Autism Speaks believes their voices need to be heard as well. We are making it possible for these military families to record a brief story about their experiences and upload it to our YouTube page. We will share as many of these videos as possible with Congress, including airing portions of them during the meeting.

Visit our YouTube page to find out how you can participate!

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