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Posts Tagged ‘Autism Speaks’

Autism Fire Rescue Program Featured on NBC’s ‘Today Show’

March 2, 2012 4 comments

The training of first responders is absolutely critical to keeping individuals with autism safe. Unfortunately, there are far too many stories of dangerous situations that arise because of a lack of communication and understanding between safety professionals such as firefighters, and individuals with autism and their families. Yesterday, NBC’s Today featured Bill Cannata, the father of a young adult with autism who has developed a program that has educated over 15,000 first responders around the country in how to handle people with autism, and as a result, saved lives. Bill was also a member of the professional advisory committee for the Autism Speaks Autism Safety Project, where he provided tips and quick facts for firefighters interacting with individuals with autism. To further these efforts, in 2011, the Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grants program provided funding for the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC), designed to help foster a deeper understanding of autism spectrum disorders by training public safety and law enforcement personnel. Autism Speaks applauds these first responder training efforts.

Longtime firefighter Bill Canatta is committed to caring for his 21-year-old son Ted, who is living with autism. Bill teaches people across the country how to rescue other people with the condition, and his training helped one first responder save a boy’s life. TODAY’s Amy Robach reports. You can find out more here.

I know exercise is important. But with all our autism-related therapies, there’s no energy left. Advice appreciated.

March 2, 2012 12 comments

Today’s “Got Questions?” answer comes from Michael Rosanoff, M.P.H., Autism Speaks associate director for public health research and scientific review.

As challenging as it may be for anyone to develop and maintain a physically active lifestyle, the challenges can be amplified for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We are constantly reminded how important it is to teach our kids to make healthy life decisions. But sometimes it can feel like an impossible task when they have other special needs and obstacles.

So it may be no surprise to learn that nearly a third of children with ASD are medically obese. The problem appears to increase with age, with obesity affecting over a third of young adults on the spectrum.

Inadequate physical activity is among the primary reasons for these high rates of obesity. But let’s be honest, getting active can be particularly challenging when a child or adult is also struggling with autism-related issues in areas such as self-control, motivation or physical coordination. And the sights, sounds and tactile aspects of team sports can feel overwhelming for someone with sensory integration issues.

But there’s great payoff in finding physical recreation activities that do work for an individual on the autism spectrum.

Did you know that exercise can decrease the frequency of negative, self-stimulating and self-injurious behaviors? This may be because the highly structured routines and repetitive motions involved in, say, running or swimming can distract from negative self-stimulating and repetitive behaviors. Physical activity can also promote self-esteem and improve mood and attention. For those who can participate in team sports, this type of structured activity can foster social interactions.

This isn’t to say that physical activity can or should replace proven behavioral interventions for ASD. Rather it can enhance their benefits.

For more information on recreational programs and activity tips for children and teens on the autism spectrum, see the physical fitness page in the Health & Wellness section of our website. To learn more about the importance of exercise for individuals with ASD, please see our special science report, “Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism.” And please use the comment section to share your experiences. What works and what doesn’t for you, your child or other loved one?

‘The Doctors Are In” – 03.01.12

On Thursday March 1, Autism Speaks Head of Medical Research Joe Horrigan, MD, was joined by autism specialist, dentist José Polido, DDS. Here is the transcript.

2:59
We’ll be starting very shortly.Thank you so much for joining us. Joining Dr. Horrigan today will be guest hosts pediatric dentist José Polido, DDS, head of dentistry at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, one of our Autism Treatment Network (ATN) centers. Dr. Polido helped develop our new ATN tool kit for dental professionals.Dr. Polido is joining our regular co-host, child psychiatrist Joe Horrigan, Autism Speaks assistant vice president, head of medical research. Our Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson is away today. She will be back for our next chat, April 5, along with guest host gastroenterologist and autism specialist Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

As always, we’ll be posting the transcript of today’s chat the Autism Speaks science blog here:http://blog.autismspeaks.org/category/science/.

3:01
Hi – this is Dr. Horrigan – thanks for joining us today
3:02
Hi, this is Dr. José Polido, I am a pediatric dentist, assistant professor at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and USC, glad to be able to join you on this chat.
3:03
Comment From william

good afternoon

3:03
Comment From Winnie Schroeder

Hello

3:05
Advance question from Carolyn:My twin daughters both have asd diagnosis’s , at one of the girls mdt/ iep yesterday the “team” informed me that keeping her verification as Developmental delay would provide her with the best services versus utilizing her Aspergers diagnosis. Is this true? Also in her information they used the terminology ” autistic like behaviors indicating Aspergers.” instead of Aspergers diagnosis as they listed her diagnosis’s of generalized anxiety and phonological disorder, those were not rephrased ” like” anxiety or phonological. My daughter is 6 yrs old. How does early intervention factor in when the school chooses not to ” label” her with autism?
3:08
The doctors are typing furiously. …
3:09
Dear Carolyn: I would ask the Special Ed coodinator why they are averting the use of an autism diagnosis. There are hopefully good reasons for taking the approach that they have recommended. A lot of times the optimal approach , in terms of the actual diagnois used for an IEP, is idiosyncratic to the school system, and sometimes it is to optimize the actual class placement and array of services for the youngster. Either way, they need to provide a sound rationale for the diagnoses they have chosen to institute the IEP
3:10
Comment From Guest

My son is autistic. He is 3 years old. We are working with him on brushing his teeth… but he won’t spit out the tooth paste. Any suggestions? He also has a feeding tube and many GI problems, so we are concerned about him swallowing the tooth paste.

3:13
Hi, thanks for the question. Although fluoridated toothpaste can be particularly helpful in preventing dental caries, it is important to remember that the most important part of oral hygiene is the toothbrushing to remove plaque. You can try using very minimal amounts (smear) or various types of non-fluoridated toothpaste if you think the flavor will help you with brushing, but it is ok to skip the toothpaste altogether if you think it will cause more problems with GI if swallowed. The decision can be made together with your dentist depending on how at risk for getting dental cavities your child is.
3:14
Comment From Tash Gilbert

Is hurting your baby sibling constantly part of Autism or could that be something else? Also only 4 hours a night every night could that be a brain problem?

3:16
Dear Tash: Most likely there is something else going on. It is possible that your youngster with autism is trying to acheive something, such as shaping your own behavior, or trying to communicate (if he/she is nonverbal), through his/her agressive behavior. Either way, it is important to keep your youngest one safe, for sure, and that can be exhausting, I know. Also, there is no question that middle-of-the-night awakening can heighten a child’s irritability and diminish his/her threshold for aggression. This type of insomnia is quite common in autism and it often requires working with a sleep specialist if it is severe (e.g. 4 hours of sleep or less per night). The good news is that there are a range of behavioral approaches that could be helpful and there may also be a role for medicines to help with your child’s sleep continuity
3:19
Comment From Marsha

My grandson is 6 yrs old. Mildly autistic and has PDD, OCD, etc. School is working with us. However insurance is not. They do not believe he needs help. We’ve had him at a stress center, several doctors, etc. They are weaning him off his medicine as they think it is too strong. In the meantime, what are parents suppose to do when they are trying everything and we have to fight insurance companies to get this covered. We live in Indiana

3:21
Dear Marsha: This type of problem with insurance coverage is increasingly common, espcially with marginally adequate insurance policies. Your grandson’s parents should definitely contact HR at their employer to let them kno what is going on, and to ask them to intevene, if need be. Also, the insurance company should have a contact number that the physican can call to contest the insurance company’s decisions, and there is always the possibility of contacting the state insurance commisioner, as well, to make a formal complaint about the insurance company’s failure to provide ‘medically necessary’ coverage. You should always document the name of the individual at the insurace company who you spoke to, as well as the date and time.
3:22
Comment From deborah

my 4 year old autistc grandson will not brush his teeth or let me do it. up til 6 months ago he would allow me to do it. i was unable to take him to his regular dentist as she was on a protracted bed rest with her pregnancy. i took him to another dentist tat had been recommended by a friend and the experience so frightened him that nhe will not allow me to brush his teeth. i am currently using a toothbrushing PEC and sometimes he will allow me to touch his front teeth with a brush but that is all.any suggestions as to how i can get his teeth brushed.he gets flouride drops for his secondary teeth but has not had his last routine fluoride treament due to this experience. any suggestions?

3:25
Hi, many children with autism do not respond well to change in providers or routine. I would work in trying to create a routine at home and attempt to get him back to his old behavior, allowing you to brush his teeth. Meanwhile, consider a discussion with your dentist (when she returns or a colleague) about possible behavior management techniques, desensitization and sedation alternatives so that the procedures go smoother, since he might benefit from more frequent visits if you are not able to provide ideal home care. The Dental Toolkit will help you learn more about sedation alternatives. Also important is to control the diet, avoiding sugary foods or frequent snacks since you are not currently being able to clean the teeth. Patience and perseverance will be very important at this age so that you can get him back into good habits.
3:27
Comment From Mom of Autistic Son

Dr Joe, are we any closer to the cure and how is medical research going?

3:30
Dear Mom of Autistic Son – I wish I knew your name so I could answer your question poperly. I definitely feel like we are getting closer although we are not quite there such that I can use something like the word ‘cure’. We are incredibly busy here, in tems of our medical research efforts, and I am very hopeful. Much of the reserach work that we are either helping to fund, following closely, or initiating ourselves is leveraging the recent advaces in areas such as molecular biology, and genetics, and in some ways the collaborative work that we are doing with closely aligned organizations (such as those working with individuals affected by Fragile X, Angelman, and Rett) are synergizing our efforts, because there is ofetn a clear bridge between syndromic (eg. Fragile X) and non-syndromic developmental disorders (e.g. autism) (in plainer terms, there is a lot of shared biology, and we are definitely using the knowledge gained from this to our advantage, in terms of our current research). I also think tht the second half of 2012 will be partculary importnat in terms of the findings that will be announced in some ongoing clincial trials that will be relevant to you and i and everyone reading this. I will talk more about this in the upcoming months….
3:31
Comment From Ana

My son has aspbergers and I can not get him to brush his teeth cuase it gags him he says. He is 9 and needs to take care of his teeth! what can i do to make him realize just how important it is?

3:31
To work around gagging reflex, you might want to try different toothbrush types (smaller heads, softer bristles) and techniques so that you minimize the toothbrush going too far and causing the more severe gagging. Also, look for the time of day where he might be more relaxed and not very full on his stomach. It is OK to take your time and brush really well once a day without worrying about brushing perfectly after each meal, so long as you are controlling his diet to avoid sugary foods.
3:35
Comment From H Jul

Hello and thank you for this oppertunity. We have a 3 year old boy with autism and we are taking some beginning steps into biomedical treatment with a new doctor.Wanted to know if you have some recomendations or warnings recarding some of the known and common steps in these treatments? Thank you

3:36
Dear H Jul: this is Dr. Horrigan – the most important thing is to ask at each step of the way ‘what is the rationale?’ for the various diagnostic tests that might be recommended, especially if you have to pay out of pocket for them or for some of the customized treatments that might not be covered by insurance. I encourage parents to ask, “can you walk me through the quality of the evidence to support this approach?” and “what is it about my child that makes you think we need to do this test or take this supplement (as an example?” “What about my child’s presentation made you think of doing that, or recommending that?”
3:39
Comment From Valerie

My son is autistic and he is 8 almost 9 years old. He is an extremely picky eater and is very selective about what goes in his mouth. He will look, smell, feel and maybe lick something before he eats/drinks anything. He has gotten better in the past year and brushing his teeth has become less of a chore, he even started using an electric tooth brush yesterday which I think will help with his sensitivity (we struggle with hair cuts). Anyway, do you think that OT and dental care should go hand in hand in these cases? Is there a resource list of special dentists for my area (southern IN)?

3:41
Congratulations on the positive results with the electric toothbrush! We have worked closely with OT and other behavior specialists on oral health topics to maximize the improvement in behavior, including multiple desensitization visits to the dental clinic with the OT present, but most importantly, make sure that they are not utilizing sugary foods (gummy bears, etc) as positive reinforcement, which I have seen a little too often. I would refer you to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists atwww.aapd.org to find additional resources in your area.
3:42
Comment From lissy

Do 17 year old with Autism and epilepsy need more sleep at night

3:43
Dear Lissy – this is Dr. Horrigan – the short answer is ‘yes’. Most adolescents need a lot more sleep than they normally get, and their sleep debt is often exacerbated by earlt starts on school days. Our schools here where i am now start at 7:40 AM, for example, which can be really challnging for all adolescents and their parents. Also, individuals with epilepsy, if they are still prone to having seizures, are definitely prone to having a diminished threshold to seize (e.g. to have more seizures) when they are fatigued or tired. So the these two things intersect with one another, in terms of risk. I would aim for at least 9 hours of sleep, at the very least, for my adolescent with epilepsy, with or without autism. We will talk more about this in an upcoming office hours, when I have a sleep specialist with me
3:46
Doctors furiously typing …
3:47
Comment From Kris

My son is 15 in 10th grade he is diagnosed with Aspbergers and Autisim.I did not know first that these were two separatediagnosis.He is on an IEP track and his test scores are about 9 years behind his current grade level.He functions at a much higher level though and I am wondering how to challenge the schools test scores and to see if he could get a GED to open up opportunities for himself

3:48
Dear Kris – this is Dr. Horrigan – the two diagnsoes are essentially the same thing. We probably need to talk about the specifics of your son’s IEP, but I would want to make sure that he has a range of approriate accomodations when being tested (e.g. untimed tests, verbal over written answers, testing in a carrel or a quiet place, etc). Generally speaking, most adolescents with Asperger’s, if that is the only valid diagnosis, can definitely get a GED and/or go on to post highschool education, whether it is based at a community college or at a 4-year college or university.
3:49
Comment From william

every time i take my 10 year old Autistic son to the Dentist, it takes 2-3 people to hold him down, while checking his teeth. we have yet to have a xray done to see if their is any inside issues that they cant see cuz he struggles. It was suggested it might be time to sedate him. but i’m not sure it is a good idea for a routine check up. Should i suggest a sedation next time so they can do a full check up without worrying about my son struggleing?

3:50
Dear William, I am going to assume that although your son needs additional personnel to go thorugh his dental visit, it is being done in a safe manner, so in general, I would not recommend heavy sedation or general anesthesia to take routine dental radiographs, unless the examination has showed some concerns that need to be addressed, i.e, dental caries, late eruption of permanent teeth, etc, where you would need to take x-rays and provide care. On the other hand if he is geeting too strong for a good examination, I would consider a full evaluation and treatment under general anesthesia so you can get a baseline and be more aware of any possible problems developing, while continuing to work on desensitization and improving his ability to withstand the routine dental procedures in the office. How often to consider general anesthesia will depend on the initial findings and his behavior on follow-up visits, but usually no more than every 2-3 years.
3:52
Comment From Gretchen

How can I get the ATN ToolKit for Dental Professionals? I think it is something that is needed at my office desperately.

3:53
It’s free for download.
3:54
Comment From Suzie

My son is 14 and mainstreamed and honor roll. However puberty has hit him hard. He likes girls but they don’t seem to like him because they say he is “weird”. How do I help him through this hard time in his life.

3:55
Dear Suzie – this is Dr. Horrigan. I read your question and it made me wonder if there is any professional in your community that has a reputation for doing good work with regard to providing ‘social coaching’ to adolescents- for example, an occupational therapist with an interest in young people with autism spectrum disorders. I also wondered about the avaiability of a mentor program through one of the local universities or colleges – (e.g. a college age male may be able to provide some useful advice and practical strategies to deal with the range of give-and-take converstaions and interactions that occur in any high school setting). I think that some of the Autism U chapters offer that type of mentoring
3:58
Comment From Gretchen

I have a duaghter with ADHD and a daughter with Aspergers and ADHD. I am a dental assistant. I try to help the office staff understand ASD Spectrums, but when a patient who suffers rom one of these issues is in the office, they are very critical and treat the patient like they have leporsy. How, as a professional and as a parent can I help them understand that this is a common disorder and that there will be a lot more patients presenting with these DX in the future? And how can I get them to react differently without causing a major battle. I work in a very cliquish office. i am the newest staff member. It is a military town in an area that is definitely not military friendly…..

3:59
The Dental Toolkit for dental professionals link above might be a way to start. A lot of communication can usually get fair minded professionals to engage in the discussion and find solutions. It might be that the solution will involve finding a good referral source in your community while considering how to best provide prevention guidance and other minor procedures in your own office. Educating them on the condition and how common it is will certainly help. Important to keep focused, objective and very professional in all interactions. That’s the hard work of being an advocate for your children and others with similar conditions.
4:00
Comment From Dee

My son is 7 and is diagnosed with PDD, up to 3 months ago, my son was only sleeping 3-4 hours of sleep at 1 1/2 – 2 hour intervals. Now he sleeps 6-7 hours and only occassionally wakes up 2 -3 times a night for only a few minutes. With his increase of sleep, he has become more hyper, a lot more short tempered and more aggressive. He doesn’t go to his specialist for another 2 months, are there any types of supliments that I can give him other than just trying to tire him out or trying to keep him calm?

4:01
Dear Dee – this is Dr. Horrigan – if I understand correctly what you have written, your son is sleeping for longer periods of time now, but his overall behavior is not as good. There are no over-the-counter supplements that come to mind immediately. Melatonin is usually only helpful with sleep onset, and it is genrally well tolerated. I am wondering if other rasons may account for your son’s behavior, above and beyond his sleep challenges. That said, your son may ultimately be a candidate for an alpha-2 agonist (guanfacine/Intuniv, or clonidien/Kapvay), to help with sleep continuity, but it is best to discuss this with the speciliast – even if you have to do it over the phone between now and when the next appointment is scheduled.
4:02
Apologies that we can’t get to all your questions. The doctors are trying to answer as many as possible.
4:06
Comment From Cora

My 16 year old son is a high functioning autistic, the schools could not challenge him and were not willing to work with him. While in school he was so stressed that they recommended a psychiatrist and meds. He is fine at home no problems just when attending school. So we took him out of school and have been homeschooling now for 2 years. Also while on his meds he gained weight and was sluggish and very mean tempered. He has been off his meds now for 2 years since the homeschooling began. My concern is that his weight has dropped now and he only weighs 105 but he is 5’6 is this normal?

4:06
Dear Cora – this is Dr. Horrigan – you are right in that 105 lbs is low, and I suspect that it might be related to his limited food choices (?) and/or not having great eating habits (similar to all adolescents). A dietician may need to be consulted. Also, you might want to look at supplementing his diet with protein shakes or protein bars (the prices at Walmart are pretty good). It was probably one of the medicines like risperidone or olanzapine that increased his appetite prviously, but if your son is feeling better now, it is best to avoid those
4:08
Comment From Valerie

When doing research how do you go about choosing people whom you use for studies etc? I am a stay at home mom and we are used to traveling is there a way to participate in research and or studies or how does this work ?

4:09
Hi, this is Dr. Polido, I have to sign off now. Thank you for the questions, I hope I was able to help. The most important thing I can leave you with is to encourage good communication with your dentist in regards to the various treatment options available. Early start in prevention and maintaining a healthy routine at home in regards to oral hygiene and diet will usually pay off in the long term. Best regards to all of you!
4:11
Valerie … answer coming from Dr. Joe …
4:11
Dear Valerie: this is Dr. Horrigan – I have to leave in a moment, but we have been talking here at Autism Speaks about better ways to let parents like yoursef know about what opportunties are present at any given moment, in terms of participating in reserach. One of the things that I do a few times a week is to look at www.clinicaltrials.gov, and I enter all of the various terms for autism into the search field, and then i look t the sites that are listed, so that i have a general sense of where the research is occuring, so i know what to say to parenst that live in a specific state or town …
4:11
Here’s a good link. PARTICIPATE IN RESEARCH:http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/participate-in-research
4:13
Dear families – this is Dr. Horrigan – thank you so much for writing in all of your questions. I am sorry that we weren’t able to get to them all today, but we will be back next month, so please attend that if you can find time in your schedules. Thanks again! take good care
4:14
On behalf of all of Autism Speaks. Thanks so much and please forgive us for not being able to get to all your questions. You can also send us questions in advance for the next chat. Our email issciencechat@autismspeaks.org.Please join us again on the first Thursday of next month – April 5th at 3 pm ET/noon PT. Dr. Dawson will be back along with guest host gastroenterologist and autism specialist Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Chicago’s ‘An Evening with the Stars’ Raises Over $150,000

On Oscar Night, Sunday, February 26, 2012, Autism Speaks hosted An Evening with the Stars, a red carpet spectacular with the glamorous backdrop of the 84th Annual Academy Awards® broadcast, at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, 9300 Bryn Mawr Avenue in Rosemont, Illinois.

An Evening with the Starsbrought the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to the Windy City, featuring red carpet arrivals, pre-show interviews broadcast live on the big screens and live and silent auctions with prizes ranging from dinner-theater packages to all-expense paid trips to Hollywood and New York City.

Guests were treated to a very special multi-media segment featuring milestones and accomplishments of individuals on the autism spectrum, with musical accompaniment provided by Chicago recording artist Andrew Salgado and Grammy Award winner, Jim Peterik.  Salgado and Peterik, who is best known for his work with the band, Survivor, and Ides of March, have been long-time supporters of Autism Speaks.

Steven Insoft, Autism Speaks’ Chicagoland Chapter board member and chief financial officer of Aviv REiT, served as Executive Producer of this year’s event. Insoft dedicates his involvement to his son, “For me, this is a very personal cause. My involvement is for my son and for my family, as well as for the tens of thousands of other Chicago area adults, children, families and caregivers who struggle with autism.”  Through the generous support of Aviv REIT, the Insoft Family, the Schlaack Family, FirstMerit Bank, Cathedral Rock, Bulley & Andrews, Maplewood Senior Living, the Village of Rosemont and others, the event welcomed more than 300 guests, raising over $150,000 to support Autism Speaks.

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In Their Own Words – Finding Autism Island

March 1, 2012 18 comments
Christine Passey is a wife, mother of two, social worker, and writer. She has been very involved in the autism community since her daughter was diagnosed in 2010. She is currently deeply involved in working to end autism insurance discrimination in Utah. She started her blogwww.thinkingovercoffee.com to work through her thoughts on mothering, autism and advocacy.

Photograph by Heather Sander Photography.

Imagine drifting in a boat, lost at sea.  You have absolutely no idea where you are and the sea is not kind.  There are constant storms and waves.  All the time there is fear.  Where am I?  How did I get here?  How can I find land?  Frequently you think of crazy desperate ideas that might “save you.”  But each time you are disappointed as you find you are paddling in circles.  You are powerless.  All you can do is sit in your boat feeling hopeless, frustrated, alone, confused, and like a failure.
This is how I felt before Skylynn was diagnosed with autism.  I had no idea what was going on, how to help her, and why she was the way she was.  I made desperate attempts time and time again to help her be “normal”.  Maybe this play idea or that strategy might help Skylynn catch up to her peers.  They never worked and I never knew why.  I figured I must be a failure of a mom.  Some days I would give up all together and sit Skylynn in front of Sesame Street and not try at all.  I was so lost, confused and depressed.
Now let us go back to our boat.  One day you see land in the distance.  You think you might be imagining things since you’ve been lost at sea for so long.  But you might as well try and get there, might as well see if it is land.  What do you have to loose right?  Then surprisingly it is land.  It is not the land you imagined.  In fact it looks almost nothing like what you expected.  But, in its own different way it is absolutely beautiful.  It is a difficult land.  Much more difficult then you ever thought it would be.  But it is still land.  You can set up camp and work at making a life for yourself.  A different life then you planned.  One that requires a lot more work then you ever thought possible.  But, it is a good land and you can create a good life on it.
This is how I felt when Skylynn was diagnosed with autism.  I had finally found land.  I had a place to stand, a place to start a life.  I finally understood what was going on.  I was relieved to find out that I was not the horrible broken mom I thought I was.  There were reasons all my desperate attempts to help my daughter become “normal” always failed.  They failed because my daughter wasn’t meant to be normal.  She was meant to be Skylynn; sweet, silly, beautiful, mischievous, unique, Skylynn.
It has been a long time since I was lost at sea.  I have had time to explore the devastating pit falls in this land, and I have felt the loneliness, despair, pain, and rejection that lie in them.  But I have also climbed to the amazing mountaintops of this land.  These highs are indescribably.  The joy, love, excitement, triumph, pride and bliss of these peaks can never truly be explained to someone who has not climbed them.  It is true that my land is very different from most of my friends’ lands.  But I would not change it for the world.  My land has taught me to love every small beautiful moment and to be patient through every difficult one.  It has taught me what true love is and who true friends are.  It has taught me I am stronger than I ever thought possible.  But most of all it has taught me that Skylynn was never lost.  Only I was.  It is a beautiful thing to live on the island of autism with her.  I love you my beautiful daughter.  Thank you for this place and giving me the chance to live on it with you.

*Interesting note.  I wrote over half of this within a few months of Skylynn’s diagnosis.  I couldn’t finish it because I was just beginning to explore “Autism Island”.  It has been really interested to go back and finish it now.  It is my true perspective at two very different times during this process.
“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 editors@autismspeaks.org. 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.

When an Autism Diagnosis Brings Relief

February 29, 2012 13 comments

Vincent Randazzo’s son Michael was diagnosed with Down syndrome early in life, leading Vincent to become actively involved with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). Autism Speaks and NDSS are now partnering in their support before Congress for the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act which would allow families raising children with disabilities, such as autism or Down syndrome, to save tax-free for their future needs.

Vincent Randazzo explains how his family’s connection with autism runs even deeper.

When my son Michael was born with Down syndrome 13 years ago, my wife Dorothy and I were upset and sad for Michael that he would not experience a normal life. Because of our circumstances, however, we did not experience the sense of terror that so many parents face when they get the news that their newborn has a developmental disability.

Michael has a brother and a sister who would love him and care for him like any other sibling.  At the time, my wife was a public health nurse in the public school system and an advocate for students with special needs.  We quickly became aware that medical research had advanced to the point where people with Down syndrome were living much longer and more fulfilling lives, and the future held exponentially greater promise.

I immediately engaged in Down syndrome advocacy, supporting the priorities of the National Down Syndrome Society and serving on the boards of a local parent support group and a national research foundation.  But within a few years, everything we thought we knew about Michael’s condition, and how to give him the best chance at living an independent life, was turned upside down.

Around age four, we started to notice that Michael’s developmental progress had stopped and, in many ways, he was regressing.  He became less talkative, developed verbal tics, and made eye contact less often.  He would obsess about movie videos, ceiling fans, and where we placed his food on the plate.  We would attend social gatherings hosted by the local Down syndrome support organization, and notice that he was socially different than most of the other children.  He didn’t play or interact with his peers the way a typical child with Down syndrome did.

During family vacations or visits with friends and relatives, Michael would be irritable and disruptive.  He would be violent toward other children, grabbing their necks, hitting them in the face or pushing them to the ground.  We were always being told that people with Down syndrome were so lovable and good-natured.  Why wasn’t that the case with our son?

Around age 5, we started raising concerns about Michael’s developmental issues with his pediatrician and pediatric neurologist, and told that people with Down syndrome have varying degrees of the disability.  During one medical visit, we were told “so what if he had autism, what difference would it make?”  One neurologist actually treated him for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

At about age 8, we brought up our suspicions about autism withMichael’s teachers and, to our surprise, they acknowledged the possibility.  We were referred to TEACCH, a group at the University of North Carolina Medical School in Chapel Hill which works with individuals with autism spectrum disorders and their families by providing clinical services, training teachers and care providers, and conducting psychological, educational, and biomedical research.

The initial screening determined that Michael met the criteria to be tested, and we were put on an 18-month wait list to be evaluated for autism. He was finally tested around age 10. The conclusion was that Michael had moderate autism, and that autism – not Down syndrome – was his primary disability.

We were advised to change the way we think about Michael’s disability and how to plan for him medically, socially and educationally.  After having been encouraged to put Michael in inclusive educational, social and family situations where he was continuously failing, we now know that a self-contained environment was best.  The medicines he took and the way his medical providers approached his care significantly changed.  With the dual diagnosis, he became eligible for supportive services from the State, and his school IEP was revised to emphasize more life skills and social goals.

The dual diagnosis and subsequent changes in the way we approach Michael’s disability have not alleviated his life challenges.  In fact, as he has grown older, those challenges have only increased.  But the diagnosis has provided relief to our family because we now understand him better.  We know that transitions are hard and social situations are so difficult for him, so we know how to plan for them.  And I am no longer constantly frustrated and angry with his inability to do simple tasks.

Having more realistic expectations about his progress and goals in life has actually led me to dream about someday starting a business together when Michael finishes school and I retire.

‘The Doctors Are In’ Live Chat

February 29, 2012 1 comment

Please join us Thursday at 3 pm ET/noon PT for this month’s “The Doctors Are In” live webchat. Our featured guest will be pediatric dentist José Polido, D.D.S., head of dentistry at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, one of our Autism Treatment Network centers.

Dr. Polido was instrumental in developing the newly released ATN tool kit for dental professionals. He welcomes your questions about dental issues including dental hygiene and visits to the dentist.

The live webchat will be hosted by Autism Speaks Head of Medical Research Joe Horrigan, M.D.

We hope you’ll join us!

What: “The Doctors Are In” webchat, with Drs. Horrigan and Polido
When: March 1 at 3 pm Eastern; 2 pm Central; 1 pm Mountain; noon Pacific
Where: Join via the Live Chat tab on left side of the Autism Speaks Facebook page

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