Michigan Mom Pushes to Extend Benefits for Applied Behavior Analysis

applied behavioral analysis

For mother Lisa Mortimer, nothing in life has been quite so rewarding as seeing the success her six-year-old son, Steven, has achieved as a result of Applied Behavior Analysis teaching.

Applied Behavior Analysis is a popular method for treating autism during the early stages of its emergence. Generally, it takes place within the home so that parents can learn from experts on how best to maximize their child’s educational opportunities. It consists of behavioral coping mechanisms specifically designed to counteract the detrimental effects autism can have on the individual’s ability to communicate, reason, and interact with others.

Though Steven was receiving therapy, Mortimer says he did not make significant gains until his enrollment with an ABA program. Since then, he’s made incredible gains in his cognitive abilities; he is now able to say more than 50 words and communicate appropriately with his peers. She credits this largely to the rigor of the program, which consisted of two hours of daily behavioral training within her home.

Unfortunately, government-appropriated benefits in the form of ABA treatment are not guaranteed to children beyond the age of five. Following this time stamp, families generally have to commit to paying upwards of $60,000 in treatment for their children. To combat this, Mortimer has asked that the government provide funding for ABA past the age of 5. She believes that doing so will create extremely beneficial outcomes for both children affected by autism and their families.

Thus far, she has succeeded in persuading her state (Michigan) to extend these benefits to the age of 21, starting next January. She hopes to expand this development further across the nation.

As Heidi Fogarty, who heads the program Mortimer’s son went through, “Autism is a pervasive developmental disability. It lasts a lifetime. We need to continue to provide kids with opportunities to learn and to gain skills. I definitely think it would benefit beyond the age of five to receive ABA services. The age they’re targeting now is early intervention but the kids over the age of five can continue to make gains.”

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New Strategies for Job Seekers

autism workforce

Adults with autism may often find it difficult when searching for employment. Even with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 it is estimated that about 60-70% of individuals with autism are still unemployed.

Activities that are associated with obtaining a job include networking and interviewing. Both of these steps involve making social interactions and connections that can pose a challenge.

However, Michael S. Bernick and Richard Holden, the authors of The Autism Job Club: The Neurodiverse Workforce in the New Normal of Employment, have compiled a how-to guide to overcome these obstacles. This breakthrough book has offered in-depth information on the current job climates and where someone with autism might fit in. Furthermore, the authors discuss different insights and approaches on employment.

The book has its ties with San Francisco based nonprofit organization AASCEND (Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome Coalition for Education, Networking and Development). They explore the following concepts: the autism advantage in the technology sector, autism and the Internet economy, and autism employment within the practical/craft economy. Their main purpose is to help job seekers take advantage of opportunities that are suitable for their own mental framework.

Here are a few additional pointers mentioned:

  • Highlight your strengths and interests. There is no “one size” fits all job position for adults with autism. They will vary and should cater to what one excel’s at.
  • Take advantage of a job coach. This can be done privately or through government assistance. Job coaches help with placement and development of skills for that specific occupation.
  • Apply for different levels. Consider applying for different positions or even in different departments. Don’t be afraid to take a lower job title or even a volunteer position to try and get in the door.
  • Be upfront with your autism. Now that awareness and education is more widespread, there is a higher likeliness employers are familiar with autism. Once they are aware, most employers are accommodating.
  • Participate within the autism community. Become more involved with the people around you. There are opportunities and support that can be found within various organizations.

By Raiza Belarmino

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April is Autism Awareness Month!

autism awareness month


As the last of the snow melts (hopefully), here in New York we are greeting the first signs of spring! April is not only a special month because it brings warmer temperatures; it also brings everyone together for autism awareness.

April 2 marks World Autism Awareness Day. First recognized by the United Nations just eight years ago, WAAD is celebrated internationally in different ways. In England for example, the people created Onesie Wednesday to coincide with WAAD in 2014. By wearing a onesie, they spread the message that being different is okay.

By spreading autism awareness, the world is made easier and more accepting for people living with ASD. First, it reduces feelings of alienation. The community begins to understand that this child screaming in public is not simply spoiled and angry, but that the lights and sounds around them are far more intense than they would be for the other children. In turn, his mother is not judged for the way she handles the grocery store meltdown.

With better awareness also comes better detection. Now, doctors and therapists know the signs to look for. Signs like social avoidance, not responding to touch, or even a wandering gaze can clue them in to what’s going on with the child, so that effective therapies can be started earlier in life. Children with autism are no longer shunned and recommended for institutionalization simply because they learn and experience the world differently.

As “autism” becomes included better in the popular lexicon, scientists become more interested in learning more about the disorder, which means conducting in-depth peer reviewed studies to pin down the causes and most effective treatments for ASD. The public will slowly begin to understand what the risk factors are for developing autism, and better medicines and therapies will become available for their children.

But don’t forget that we also embrace the gifts from the autism community! By becoming aware of the complexities of ASD, we also recognize the unique and amazing things the autism brain can be capable of. We celebrate the accomplishments of historical figures who were most likely on the autism spectrum, including Mozart, Newton, and Einstein. Their ability to fixate on a passion and develop mastery in a single area while socializing minimally can often be a great asset in the workplace.

With World Autism Awareness Day approaching in the near future, we turn our gaze forward to the autism community in Ghana, where autism awareness is not as high as it may be in developed nations. The country lacks the resources to nurture children with autism- a meltdown is explained by witchcraft and the community ostracizes them. These kids deserve so much better- and with our help we can build a model school run by experts in the field, who can bring their knowledge to parents and policy makers. Learn more about Caring 4 Autism in Africa>>

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Searching for Breakthrough Therapies at Duke University

duke autism research

Duke University has established their new facility called Center for Autism and Brain Development, lead by the legendary clinician and scientist Geraldine Dawson. 

For the past 30 years she has dedicated her life’s work to finding useful treatments for individuals living with Autism. What began as a fascination with human behavior has developed into many discoveries and advancements within the field. Her ability to bridge the gap between researchers and clinicians has facilitated scientific research that is applicable to everyday life.

The center’s most recent project involves cord-blood medical therapy to help improve cognitive function of patients with autism. The study is still in its clinical trial phases and the researcher’s predictions are very uncertain. It is unknown if the umbilical-cord blood cells can actually treat or alleviate Autism. However, many are intrigued with the preliminary research.

The therapy was pioneered by Joanne Kurtzberg and has been shown to help with treatments for cancers, blood disorders, immune deficiencies, and many more. They discovered that cord-blood cells were able to cross over the blood-brain barrier. It is thought that this can help reduce inflammation or repair myelin sheaths that can increase improved connectivity.

Another project being conducted in this facility focuses on early detection. Dawson has partnered with Duke’s adolescent psychiatry leader and a computer engineer to develop a more accurate way of testing for autism at an early age. They created a video player that shows objects, animals, and people across the screen. The device records and gathers data on gestures and eye contact or lack thereof.

However, what sets her even more apart is Dawson’s continuing determination to incorporate a voice from the autism community such as John Elder Robison. Robison is the author of Look My in the Eye: My Life With Asperger’s. In the book he discusses his issues with other people through out his life but also his ability to be successful in other areas. He believes that the medical and scientific community should focus their research on where help is needed, while at the same time developing the strengths that are part of ASD.

With all these experiments, studies, and trials being conducted, the center would like to take research into a different direction. They hope to discover new types of therapies and treatments that will truly make a positive impact in many lives.

By Raiza Belarmino

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Big Fat Smile for Autism in China!

big fat smile for autism

With a population of over 1 billion people, it is estimated that China has 13 million children with autism.

Yet, the country lacks proper training and resources to meet the needs of these children.  There are only about 100 doctors qualified to diagnose autism and only a handful of treatment centers (most of which focus on traditional eastern medicine practices).

Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that many have missed out on early detection, intervention, and education. Implementing these practices early in life are crucial in helping to manage the disorder. Chinese officials are recognizing that there is a strong need for more knowledge and resources regarding autism.

Big Fat Smile, an Australian based not-for-profit organization, has sought to change just that. At home, Big Fat Smile works with many communities by offering more than 40 preschools, play centers, playgroups, creative workshops, and outreach programs. They invision their facilities as magical places where children are driven to create a braver, brighter, and more creative world. They also pride themselves on being fun, diverse leaders and learners.

In recent years, Big Fat Smile’s CEO Bill Feld has been meeting with many educational leaders in Beijing, hoping to recreate the same ideas in China. It has become apparent that there is an overwhelming need for more qualified professionals. Their strategy is to recruit highly motivated individuals in the child’s life, such as the parents and families, and provide the necessary skills and techniques so that they can give their children a better future.

Along with the University of Wollongong, Big Fat Smile has developed a training package geared towards families, to help bring the best of western research. If approved, the Chinese government will spread this across the entire country. This will allow greater accessibility to quality materials. This organization’s success in Austrailia will hopefully provide the template for changing social policy and the lives of many people.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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A Gut Feeling: New Factor for the Cause of Autism Discussed

In the past month, Dr. Derrick MacFabe of London, Ontario presented groundbreaking evidence into a possible cause of Autism Spectrum Disorder to the Nobel Forum Conference.

MacFabe, the Director of the Kilee Patchell-Evans Autism Research Group at Western University in London, Ontario, presented the findings of his team to the conference which focuses on the impact of nutrition on ASD; specifically, how microbes can be a contributing factor in the development of autism.

With such a small number of top scientists and pioneers in the area, the symposium was able to hone in on human and animal tested research which focused on the ways certain medications disrupt the digestive cycle. These disturbances of natural microbes (or the ‘microbiome’ as it has been termed) seem to be caused by the overuse of ‘antibiotics, disinfectants, C-section deliveries, and even diet’. Along with autism and other forms of ASD, the conference looked at how these biomes could be a factor in the increased prevalence of obesity, various cancers, and  immunological disorders and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism.

This new finding pushes the envelope for the nature versus nurture debate on what causes autism. The new available information significantly points in the direction of specific bacteria in our intestines contribute to brain function and behaviour. It appears that said bacteria could act as a switch of sorts in various neurodevelopments. MacFabe and his colleagues examined these bacterium and came to the conclusion that an overuse of antibiotics or disinfectants and a poor diet could severely alter the microbiome, turning the switch and altering the brain’s development.

While this new theory is incredibly progressive, it supports the idea that it is not solely nature or nurture that creates a person, but rather a mixture of the two. If something as simple as the overuse of antibiotics or aggressive disinfecting could have such a large impact on a child’s development, perhaps some changes to drug administration could be considered in the future after more studies have been conducted and this theory gains a better foundation. Until then, the search to determine the cause of autism continues as more treatment programs become available to those of all ages and levels of functioning.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

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Autism and Intellect: Are They Correlated?

autism brain

One of the biggest misconceptions about Autism Spectrum Disorder arises from media’s depictions of savants. Despite showing impressive talent, these prodigies are often described as being “off” or, indiscreetly, disabled in their thinking.

Even considering the over-representation of autism prodigies in mass media, the character trope has some basis in reality. Genetic variation increases the chances of developing autism, and possessing higher genetic variation is linked to above average intelligence and ability in different areas. Whether or not this correlation signifies autism gene’s potential advantages is unclear. However, a recent study at the University of Edinburgh hopes to illuminate this interplay.

In the first study ever done on autism genetic variations and intelligence quotients, researchers have discovered that people who carry autism-associated genes (but do not necessarily develop the condition) exhibit greater cognitive abilities than their typically developing peers. As per the 1 in 68 rate of diagnosis for children with autism, researchers believe that nearly half of these individuals will later demonstrate an above average intellectual level.

Of course, not all people benefit from this genetic discrepancy. Furthermore, it seems to be that people who have the genes, but do not necessarily meet the diagnostic criterion, comprise the largest portion of this statistic. Conclusive evidence from further studies in Australia have further strengthened this conclusion.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

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Dr. Temple Grandin: The Benefits of Expectation

Temple Grandin autism expectations

Over the past several years, Temple Grandin has made quite the name for herself.

She is renowned for her research in animal science, books that have topped the bestseller list, and her work in autism advocacy. However, these accolades are not her most defining feature. Rather, Temple Grandin is best known for being an esteemed professional who also happens to be on the autism spectrum.

Temple Grandin received her diagnosis at age 2, and did not begin speaking until she was 4. From very early on, her parents insisted on getting her the best help and therapy despite the scarcity of resources that were available at that time in the 1950s. However, in a new interview, Grandin has disclosed that the “primitive” days of these early autism therapies may have been more beneficial than the ones promoted currently.

Grandin is open about her struggles with hypersensitivity and connecting with other people on an emotional level. Such struggles are typical of a person living with ASD. What is not typical, however, is how the expectations for people on the spectrum have changed over the course of Grandin’s lifetime.

She notes: “I‘m seeing too many kids get overprotected. Fully verbal kids come into meetings, and parents do all the talking. Nobody taught them how to shake hands. Nobody taught them how to shop. These are things I learned in elementary school.”

During Grandin’s childhood, she was expected to do all these things and more. She says that her mother pushed her to what she could achieve, and that this 1950’s parenting style is what has ultimately led to her great successes. Grandin believes that the gentleness with which new therapies and programs approach autism may in fact be detrimental. In breaking down the stereotypes of neurotypicality, Grandin says she fears that parents are not pushing their children to socialize properly, or learn to adapt to their environments.

Of course, there is a very fine line between pushing too little and pushing too hard. The crux lies within the fact that if we do not push children hard enough, they will never reach their full potential. However, pushing them too hard may consequently lead to discouragement and depression. Nevertheless, Grandin’s advocacy of her 1950’s upbringing proffers a stimulating topic of discussion in the world of autism advocacy.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

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A Sibling with Autism (Essay)

loving a sibling with autism

When I was seven years old, I was sure that if my brother’s autism didn’t exist, everything would be better.

It would be easier to get a genuine smile out of him. At school he wouldn’t be surrounded by people who said nothing to him except for “retard.” He’d laugh at my jokes, protect me like an older sibling ought to, and have petty disagreements with me instead of fights that ended with his violent outbursts and my guilt for getting angry at something he couldn’t control. Without autism, I wouldn’t need to help him with his homework as if he were in kindergarten instead of 11th grade.

But as I grew older these thoughts wavered, particularly after incidents that didn’t involve me at all. Once a boy at school was walking down the hallways, surrounded by friends. As they walked by, a special education student dropped her papers. In response, the boy and his friends kept walking without pause.

As I bent over to pick up the stray papers, I realized that my brother’s autism had rendered me more understanding and patient. After all, while my parents focused much of their time and attention on him, I grew up myself. Due to Willy’s medical condition, I never had a “normal” older brother. However, I had come to understand that life was not a candy-giving machine, and I could either ignore my brother or include him in my life – no matter how nerve-wracking his behaviors could be.

Before I was sure that autism was a disease, a malfunction of the body – that it ought to be “cured.” Yes, I admit, there are many times when I have wished he was not this way: when he shrieks and dances in front of my friends, when he laughs with his classmates even though they are laughing at him, when he slaps tables and rips papers because he doesn’t know how to channel his anger, when he comes home crying because of mistreatment by his peers. But there are other moments, too, fragments that happen much less frequently but still manage to stay in my mind.

I remember yelling at a popular boy to stop giggling at Willy and seeing Willy’s face light up. I remember him clutching my hand and laughing. I remember his bursting into my room to tell me about his day. I remember greeting each special education child at my school whenever I saw them because I knew that’s what Willy would want.

I am not sure now whether autism is good or bad, whether it has affected me and my brother for the better or for the worse. After all, it kills me to know that Willy will never live alone, never drive a car, most likely never get married. Without autism, would I have the patience I possess now? Would I have the bravery to calm his tantrums? Would I try to help the other special education students at my school? The answer is probably no.

Written by Tiffany Liu, San Francisco Bay Area High Schools

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Upcoming Film Documentary Focuses on Autism in Adulthood

autism documentary

Melissa Collins-Porter is a film studies professor and the mother of a 14-year-old son with Autism. Her son, Liam, enjoys filling out calendars. He writes out all of his schedules and plans for the future but gets stumped on plans after high school.

This is a common worry for many parents – what happens when our children become adults? Liam is a part of what many collectively refer to as the “autism tsunami,” a growing number of teenagers with Autism who will soon be entering the responsibilities of adulthood with limited education, job skills, and living options. Many parents give up on the traditional ideals for their child: going to college or getting married often never play out due to their disability. However, Collins-Porter is determined to think otherwise.

Liam is on the moderate side of the spectrum. Mostly, he has normal days but when things don’t go as planned they can quickly turn into bad ones. He currently attends the Training Education & Research Institute (TERI) Campus for Life Country School in San Marcos. He says that after he graduates he wants to go to UC Berkeley.

Although these plans seem somewhat unrealistic, this is a common conversation Collins-Porter and her husband have. It is estimated that there are 1.5 million Americans who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and 80% are under the age of 22. So they are not the only parents with the same concerns.

Collins-Porter recently learned about Sweetwater Spectrum, a housing solution for adults with Autism located in Sonoma, CA. According to their website, their mission is “To provide adults with autism an innovative, supportive residential community that challenges each individual to reach his or her highest potential.” The facility was created by a group of families, civic leaders, and professionals who recognize the need for specialized housing.

Inspired by the facility, Collins-Porter has teamed up with local film producer Craig Young to create the documentary film “Aging Out.” She hopes that through this film, she is able to show new ways that adults with Autism can lead meaningful, independent lives. They are set to follow the lives of teenagers who are approaching their 18th birthday.

The film will include interviews from family members, teachers, social workers, and caregivers. Also, the documentary will feature facilities such as the TERI Campus for Life Country School and Sweetwater Spectrum. Unlike other documentaries, Craig and Collins-Porter wish to stray away from the theme of tragedy and triumph; instead they hope to create an accurate yet positive portrayal of autism in adulthood.

If would like to donate to the film please visit their kickstarter https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/757842605/aging-out-0

For more information about Sweetwater Spectrum, visit their website at http://www.sweetwaterspectrum.org/home0.aspx

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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