Archive for November, 2010

In Memory of Jane Stewart

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

This guest blog is by Nikhi Young, the Acting Walk Director for Central and East Texas.

Houston’s autism community mourns the loss of a dear friend, Jane Stewart, who passed away on November 11th.  In 1981, Jane changed the landscape of autism services in Houston by founding The Westview School, a private, not-for-profit school dedicated to providing a nurturing, structured, and stimulating environment for special needs students.  She was a pioneer in education and a champion for so many Houston families.

Jane and The Westview School have been long-time supporters of the Houston Walk Now for Autism, creating an annual team.  Two years ago, Music for Autism approached Autism Speaks about working together in Houston to share their interactive children’s concerts designed for individuals on the autism spectrum, but we needed a home for these concerts.  Jane opened her doors to us without hesitation and so began a quarterly concert series to bring families together.  Annually, one of the concerts serves as the Walk Now for Autism Speaks Kick-Off Party.

Jane Stewart will be missed by so many, among them Autism Speaks, the students whose lives she touched, and their grateful families.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Westview School at

Autism in the News – Friday, 11.19.10

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

MU Researchers Announce New Autistic Education Techniques (Colombia, Miss.)
University of Missouri College of Education researchers announced Thursday a new autism curriculum being implemented in two Columbia schools. Researchers are conducting their curriculum in both Lange Middle School and West Junior High. Read more.

Wildhorse Program Seeks New Home (San Ramon, Calif.)
A local San Ramon program that serves disabled and special needs children and adults through the use of riding horses needs a new home. Read more.

Blast girl, 12, honoured for her bravery (UK)
Brave members of the public and firefighters were honoured at an awards ceremony last night for helping to save lives across South Yorkshire over the last year. Read more.

Missing CL teen found safe in Utah (Crystal Lake, Utah)
A missing Crystal Lake teen has been found safe in Wendover, Utah. Seventeen-year-old Trenton Johnson, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, left his home Tuesday after getting into a disagreement with his parents. He was seen Nokomis, Ill., about an south of Springfield, Wednesday afternoon. Read more.

Babies And Robots Learn From Each Other (Red Orbit)
A few years ago, AnthroTronix, Inc., an engineering research and development firm in College Park, Md., introduced Cosmobot, a type of social robot for therapists and educators who work with developmentally and learning disabled children. Read more.

What is epigenetics? Does this new field hold promise for understanding the causes of ASD?

November 19, 2010 9 comments

“Got Questions?” is a new weekly feature on our blog to address the desire for scientific understanding in our community.  We received over 3000 responses when we asked what science questions were on your mind. We answered a few here and the Autism Speaks Science staff will address the other themes we received in this weekly post.

Scientists have long wondered how experiences during a person’s lifetime can alter behavior and body functioning.  In the early 1800’s Jean Batiste Lamarck suggested that giraffes’ necks grew long through many generations of stretching to reach distant leaves.  That theory eventually fell to evolution–pressures from the environment selectively amplify or quiet certain traits that are variably present within a population. Later, the DNA code was found to be the mechanism for inheritance and the level at which selective pressure acts.

Today’s scientists see hints of Lamark as they peer into the molecular biology of inheritance.

Consider DNA to be a library of books that encode genes. These “genetic books” must be read so that proteins can be formed from the code.  Some genetic books are open and available for reading by the cell’s molecular machinery.  Others maybe temporarily unavailable and still others are in the restricted section—essentially permanently unreadable.

Experiences throughout an individual’s life create tags on the genetic code, marking it as available or not for reading. The molecular methods that control the availability of the genetic code are collectively referred to as epigenetic mechanisms. Literally meaning “above the genome”, epigenetic mechanisms tag DNA with different chemical marks, such as methyl or acetyl groups.  Certain tags can increase the reading frequency, resulting in more protein building-blocks transcribed from the DNA code, and more of that gene “expressed”.  Other tags result in a particular piece of the genetic code to be skipped during reading.

A host of environmental agents and interactions may leave epigenetic marks on the genome.  Early life stress, smoking, exposure to toxins may all leave epigenetic marks either creating or removing barriers for protein creation.

Here is where Lamark comes in.  Most epigenetic marks are removed before the sperm and egg meet to form an embryo, but sometimes, epigenetic marks remain.  This is one mechanism by which environmental exposures can be passed along from parent to child.

The study of epigenetics and gene expression in autism is underway and early findings are exciting.  Some of the genetic syndromes associated with autism, such as Angelman and Prader-Willi syndrome, result from epigenetic marks that render one parent’s genetic contributions unreadable.  Recently, gene expression studies from the blood and even brain tissue of individuals with autism have shown differences in the activity of patterns of genes that are involved in brain development and function.

This is an exciting area of research and we look forward to sharing more details as we learn more from the science.

Read more about epigenetics on or blog.

Perfect Pals

November 18, 2010 4 comments

This is a guest post from Codie Perry, a junior at Nantucket High School in the Perfect Pals program. Perfect Pals is Nantucket High School’s mentoring club for students with disabilities in Nantucket, MA. The goal of Perfect Pals is to provide socialization, role models and friends for the individuals with disabilities; well-deserved respite for parents; and a rewarding and memorable experience for all of the club members.

My decision to join the group Perfect Pals has been one of the greatest choices I have made in my life. It has opened my heart and mind up and has begun a change in me. Seeing the many kids with disabilities in my community makes me sad and it has opened my mind up to the broader world. Being part of this group takes me out of my own little world and forces me to realize that there are people who have it worse off than me. And so for me to be upset over little things is insulting and just not right, and this is the change in mind set that has begun in me. But the thing is, is that all these kids are happy! They are truly and genuinely happy, and so for me to be upset over small problems is just something I do not want to do any longer. Seeing them makes me happy and knowing that just by giving a little bit of my time can completely change them and make their lives so much better. It can be thought that I am helping them but in reality, they are the ones who are truly helping me. They have taught me to enjoy life for what it is and although it may not be perfect, life is still great. They have taught me to be more understanding and compassionate of others, I feel as though I have a greater sensitivity to the needs of people. I intend to stay committed to this group and making sure that I am doing everything I can to go to the events that we set up for them because its means not only the world to them but also to me. I do not want to get caught up in the world and trying to achieve personal success and end up forgetting about our Pals. Spending time with them and being with them is what is important. I have a problem of getting caught up in different problems that I may have and start to feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders, but with all that I need to find time for them. Nothing proves a person’s character more than if they are willing to put aside their own difficulties and reach out and help someone else. I intend to keep this principle as a number one priority in my life, making sure that I am living that why as each day passes. I am so fortunate to attend Nantucket High School and to have this chance to make a difference in the lives of other kids. It is the greatest feeling in the world to know that you are making a significant difference in someone else’s live. I want to thank Mrs. Walsh and Mrs. Horyn for all that they do, and the effort that they put in, to make this program as successful as it is, and I hope that I can continue to put forth my best effort in contributing to perfect Pals. I know as a result it will have a lasting impact on not only the lives of our Pals but also in my life.

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For more information, visit the Nantucket Autism Speaks Resource Center website

Family Services provides resources and information. If you have a question, contact the Autism Response Team today. If you’re concerned that your child may be affected with autism or if you’ve received a diagnosis, browse the Tools for Families section, where you’ll find our 100 Day Kit, and the Autism Video Glossary. If you’d like to do a quick search for service providers near you, select Find a Local Resource and browse the Resource Guide.

Autism in the News – Thursday, 11.18.10

November 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Autistic teen reported missing in Crystal Lake (Crystal Lake, Ill.)
Police are asking for help in locating a missing northwest suburban teen who suffers from a form of autism told a friend he was driving to New York. Read more.

Connor’s adventure highlights autism danger (Wichita, Kan.)
You probably didn’t want to be out in Wednesday’s snowy weather, but Tuesday’s was different – sunny, warmer, and the perfect opportunity for an adventurous (and autistic) five year old to wander away from his school playground,  and discover the world of west Wichita and its busy streets. Read more.

Autistic boy kicked out of program (Canada)
To Cynthia Boufford, it’s a blatant case of discrimination against a boy with special needs. To organizers of the London after-school program who excluded 12-year-old Boufford’s autistic son, Jordan, after he hit a peer, it’s about keeping kids safe. Read more.

Quentin first service dog in city for autism (The Daily Press)
A dog can be a child’s best friend, but in Philippe Girouard’s case, it will also be his protector. Four years after first learning about the National Service Dog program for those living with autism, the Girouard family wel-comed Quentin, an 18-month-old black labrador into their lives. Read more.

Ralph’s score veers to the vulnerable (Variety)
In the ongoing renaissance of innovative music scoring for documentaries, composer-songwriter J. Ralph, who scored such recent docs as “The Cove” and “Man on Wire” and made song contributions to “Crazy Love,” has certainly played a part. But his scoring work for recently released autism docu “Wretches and Jabberers” has taken on a strange life of its own, birthing a generation- and genre-spanning companion soundtrack after the fact, all composed with a recording philosophy that closely mirrors the film’s subject. Read more.

Parenthood: Put Yourself Out There

November 17, 2010 6 comments

Parenthood is a one-hour drama that follows the trials and tribulations of the very large, very colorful and imperfect Braverman family. Jason Katims, the show’s Executive Producer, has been honored by Autism Speaks. Parenthood airs Tuesday night on NBC at 10/9c.

In this episode of Parenthood, Max, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, did not get invited to a classmate’s birthday party. Max is under the impression that he isn’t invited because Emily, his classmate, doesn’t like him. Kristina and Adam are upset and hurt to learn that their son is being excluded.

Kristina confronts Emily’s mom and is surprised to hear that it was a deliberate choice not to invite Max. Emily’s parents decided that because of all of her struggles, she should be able to have her birthday be a special day, just as she wants it. Kristina can’t handle the reasoning and speaks to Emily. Kristina learns that Emily thinks Max is a sore loser, when playing games.

After another run-in with Emily’s mom, Kristina pleads for a play date so that the children can work out their issues. Kristina says that she is Max’s biggest supporter and Andie agrees with those sentiments. Bother mothers realize that need to work together to support their Aspie children.

For a full synopsis of the episode and the “Experts Speak” section, visit the NBC website.

How much, is too much parental involvement? Have you ever been in Kristina’s situation? How did you handle it? What are some constructive ways you advocate for your child?


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Autism in the News – Wednesday, 11.17.10

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Named a Scientific Hero and “Rock Star of Science” by Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® and GQ Magazine (New York, N.Y.)
Autism Speaks, the nation’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, is pleased to announce that Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., its chief science officer, has been named a “Rock Star of Science” by Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® and GQ Magazine who have joined forces, along with the Entertainment Industry Foundation/SU2C, to bring together eight celebrity musicians–rock icon Debbie Harry (Blondie), Bret Michaels, Timbaland, Keri Hilson, Heart (Anne and Nancy Wilson), Jay Sean and B.o.B — and seventeen of the nation’s top medical researchers, including Dr. Dawson as well as two Nobel Laureates. Read more.

Hamilton doctor with focus on autism will be part of new Ontario Brain Institute (Canada)
A Hamilton doctor working on trying to unlock the secrets of autism will be part of the new Ontario Brain Institute being established by the McGuinty government. Read more.

Family, district clash over service dog at school (Golden Gate Estates, Fla.)
The family of an autistic Florida boy is fighting the Collier County School District over whether he can bring a service dog to school. Read more.

L.I.F.E. center helps Valley mom with autistic son (Gilbert, Ariz.)
Autism seems to be getting much more attention recently as more cases are diagnosed in young children. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention , 1 in 110 children have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. The majority of those cases are boys. Read more.

Autism Speaks U launches Northwestern chapter (North by Northwestern)
Northwestern’s Autism Speaks U chapter, a student group hoping to raise awareness for the disorder, held its opening meeting Tuesday. Read more.


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