San Diego Man with Autism Graduates Law School

autistic law school grad

At the age of 2 and a half, Erik Weber suffered from a severely high fever. Shortly after, he received an autism diagnosis.

Weber quickly lost motor control and all of his language skills, left with the ability to only grunt or scream. His doctors expected he would be institutionalized and never be able to live on his own.

However, his mother was determined to prove otherwise. As a child, Erik attended the Scottish Rite Autism Clinic where he received specialized communication therapy. The clinic also provided educational programs for parents, caregivers, and educators that taught helpful techniques to cater to their individual child.

With the guidance of one willful instructor, Erik was able to develop basic language skills and left the center only after two years later. He continued to defy the doctor’s predictions by participating in Special Olympics where he became an accomplished athlete.

In an attempt to develop social skills, Erik helped his mother Sandy Weber with local political campaigns. City Council Woman Marti Emerald embraced the duo to be a part of their team. There he learned how to better understand first impressions, body language, and facial expressions. Sandy also attributes his progress to some trips he enjoyed at San Diego Zoo. Here, he studied animal behavior and social interactions.

Through perseverance and hard work, Erik was able to beat the odds and accomplish his dreams. As of December 2014, he graduated from San Diego’s prestigious Cal Western School of Law where he formed special bonds with his fellow classmates, family, teachers, coaches, and members of Emerald’s office.

Erik went onto study for the California Bar Exam, arguably one of the most difficult in the country, and hopes to practice special education law. Now, his name can be found on the February 2015 California Bar Examination Pass List.

This is truly an inspiring story from a man who considers himself an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. His lasting words of wisdom: “Be strong, live courageously, and never give up.”

Original coverage by NBC San Diego

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Posted in Autism Advocacy, Autism America, Autism Awareness, autism blogs, Autism California, Autism Education, Autism Employment, Autism News, Featured | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

European Punk Band with Disabilities

autism punk band

Finnish punk rock band, PNK, consists of four members: Kari, Pertti, Sami, and Toni.  They are a very unique quartet because each member has a developmental disability (either Down Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorder).

PNK was started in 2009 and the rockers have since released five EP’s and one album. Although they have already made a name for themselves throughout the Scandinavian countries, they are now set to be in the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest.

This annual competition allows each country belonging to the European Broadcast Union to submit one song for a live performance on television. Not only does PNK have a unique lineup, they will also be the first punk band to ever be featured on the program. In essence, they are the first to break down barriers of both music genre and disabled musicians on television. Each member is quite confident in their style of music and hopeful for votes in their favor. They are most looking forward to the mis-pronunciation of their band name. PNK actually stands for Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät.

The band also has a well-known documentary, The Punk Syndrome, which follows their journey from the early days. It is currently available on Vimeo to rent for $1.99. Although the entire 84 minute film is in their native tongue, it includes subtitles in English and other languages as well.

Viewers see the band members laugh, cry, fight, and drink with each other. We see the long hours in the recording studio and the grueling travels while out on tour. Their songs are played with a lot of attitude and pride as they express their issues with society. They also talk about their problems in everyday life such as living in a group home.

In true punk fashion, PNK rebels against all things mainstream. That especially includes the views of the disabled population. They hope that through their songs and personal journey, they will raise disability awareness.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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3D Imaging Opens Up New Dimension of Possibilities in Autism Treatments

autism facial imaging


3D imaging has been used to create great innovations in certain industries from film to video games. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have found a new use for it in the ongoing search for better autism treatments and early screening tools.

The purpose of the study was to find a correlation between specific facial traits and types of autism on the autism spectrum. Doctor Judith Miles, a professor of Child Health-Genetics, was first inspired to conduct such research after many clinical observations.

“Over years of treating children, I noticed that a portion of those diagnosed with autism tend to look alike with similar facial characteristics,” noted Miles.

Ye Duan, associate professor of computer science at the university, explains how this research can be ground-breaking in providing families with an early screening option for the disorder. Duan states that the 3D imaging software “might help us define the facial structures common to children with autism.”

Professors created a system that took many pictures of each child through multiple cameras. Then, special software compiled the pictures into one 3D image for each child, so that scientists could measure distances along the curvature of the face. This system allows for more accurate facial measurements, as opposed to measuring the faces in straight lines like previous tests have done.

Two groups of children from 8 to 12 years old were analyzed in the study. One group was made up of children diagnosed with autism, and typically developing children comprised the other group.

After statistical analysis of the images, researchers created a “fine-tuned map” of the children’s faces, which compared measurements with the autism symptoms they exhibit. They arrived at three subgroups of autism, based on similar facial traits within each subgroup. The children in each group had similar measurement patterns, which implies that there may be a way to treat children on the autism spectrum more effectively, if different treatments can be developed for each group.

Researchers continue to search for specific genes linked to the three subgroups, with hopes that the identification of such genes can lead to the development of more effective treatments and drug therapies. Although specific genes have not been identified yet, the software brings new hope that children with autism can receive more personalized and effective treatments that work for them as individuals.

Written by Samantha Mallari

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Everyday Heroes: The Haircut Edition

haircut for sensory processing disorder

There are countless triggers for a child’s meltdown: a bad day, harsh words, a fussy mood, or simply the environment they are in. This latter factor especially affects children with autism as their meltdown triggers are often rooted in sensory afflictions. 

Hypersensitivity, which is one of the most common effects of Autism Spectrum Disorder, causes everyday sensations to feel tremendously unpleasant. For example, what might feel silky to a “neurotypical” person could feel like sandpaper to a person on the spectrum. Wouldn’t you freak out if people were constantly assaulting you with such rough textures?! 

In the case of eight-year-old Michael Flores of Vernon, New Jersey, hypersensitivity sparks hits its peak when he gets a haircut. His parents originally believed that it was perhaps the experience of going to the barbershop, or the barber himself, that caused their child such distress. After attempting to cut his hair at home with disastrous results, they realized there was something else at play. 

Clearly Michael could not simply avoid haircuts for the rest of his life, but his parents did not know what other alternative they could turn to. After their older son David’s positive experience with Freddy Tineo at Bladez Barbershop, however, their luck took a turn.

The Flores family does not know exactly how Tineo is able to calm Michael so well while cutting his hair. He is the only person whom Michael feels comfortable enough with to receive a hair cut without spiraling into sensory-overload induced tantrums. They do not know if it is something about Tineo’s technique or his personality that calms Michael. Nevertheless, they were over the moon that they had at last found a solution.

When Michael’s family learned they would have to move to Virginia Beach, Mrs. Flores was particularly devastated. Tineo remained the only person who could successfully approach Michael with scissors. As a mother, she could not bear to see her child in such distress as he had formerly been in, but she simply could not see another alternative.

After posting on Facebook, “If I had unlimited funds I would fly Freddy back and forth to cut Michael’s hair,” her wish was unexpectedly granted. Tineo was moved by her message greatly.

“I didn’t know how important [the haircuts were] to her as a parent until she posted something on Facebook. That really did something to me,” Tineo says. “I remember reading the post and talking to my wife [and saying] ‘I think I am going to fly there and cut his hair.'”

Since then, he’s answered the Flores’ prayers and made two separate plans to visit the family in their new home, just so he can accommodate their son’s unique needs. What turned into a simple barber-customer relationship has since flowered into a close relationship, the likes of which the Flores had never expected from a mere acquaintance. They could not be more happy or grateful to have found such a hero in an everyday man.

Written by Sara Power

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Posted in Autism Action Alerts, Autism Advocacy, Autism Alternative Treatment, Autism America, Autism Awareness, autism blogs, Autism in the Family, Autism New Jersey, Autism News, Autism Symptoms, Autism Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking About Sending Your Child with Autism to Summer Camp?

autistic children at summer camp

Many kids enjoy going away for summer camp. They get to spend several weeks away from their parents filled with swimming, playing games, and many other fun activities. But for children with autism it can be quite an overwhelming experience.

Most camps make certain assumptions about what children like to do. In fact, they often design their programs around their needs and interests. Experiences such as being in a big group, loud noises, making messes, competing in teams, sharing a room, and arts and crafts are all found in a typical summer camp. However, those who have sensory processing or communicative issues will finds these activities difficult to participate in.

But don’t be discouraged! Now there are camps that cater to children with special needs. Whether you are interested in a day program or a sleep away camp, there are many options to consider:

  •  Is there an Extended School year program offered for children with special needs? These are often offered at low to no cost.
  • Ask your child how they feel about summer camp. If they don’t have an answer, show them pictures and even visit the site during the off-season.
  • Does your child have a special interest or hobby? You can match up your child with a specific summer camp that is focused around science or music. The strong interest might motivate them to be more open to the idea.
  • Does your child need constant support? If the camp doesn’t provide it, you can consider providing it yourself.
  • How do the camp officials feel about your child’s participation?
  • Do they have specially trained staff? Are they able to help if your child begins to have difficulty?

Summer camp can be a memorable experience for any kid. It’s a great opportunity for your child to meet other children and experience new activities. It’s important to ask the right questions and do the research to find the best environment that fits your child.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Diagnosed with Autism at 21, and Fine With That

adult autism

Many of our blog posts stress the importance of early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder. But what happens if diagnosis doesn’t occur until a much later age?

This is the case for 21 year old Lydia Wayman. All her life she knew she was different. When she was 2 she would talk to her mother about the life cycles of an insect and at 4 she was able to read chapter books. She loved to line up all of her toy dolls rather than play with them. She only ate certain foods and wore only certain socks. At school she would sit with the teachers at recess instead of playing with other kids. 

Although Lydia excelled academically, her parents were still worried about her behaviors. But doctors and psychologists weren’t concerned. They said she suffered from anxiety and would eventually grow out of her unusual quirks.  

It wasn’t until she met Leigh Valencia in college, a fellow teammate on color guard and a psychology major, that the mystery began to surface. Leigh took notice of Lydia’s peculiar behaviors, such as being sensitive to light, having difficulty following instructions, and possessing an inability to process nonverbal communication normally. When they first met, Leigh recalls, Lydia would continuously talk about cats even when the conversation moved onto a different subject. Leigh could see that she wasn’t at the same social level as others so she suggested to Lydia be evaluated for autism.

Autism spectrum disorder has always been difficult to diagnose. There is no laboratory test, like a blood test, for a doctor to conduct. The evaluation and screening process is very extensive with a comprehensive checklist. When Lydia was a child, the definition of autism was much more narrow than it is today.

And what did it feel like after 21 years? Relief. Lydia says, “When I got my I diagnosis, I started to let go of my need to ‘just be NORMAL!” She lives her life with as little stress as possible and no longer hides her unique quirks. Now at 27, she has a Master’s degree in English and nonfiction writing. She is working and living with her cat, and regularly sees a therapist.

This piece was originally sourced from The Wall Street Journal

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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China’s Autistic Children Living in Silence

autism in china

When Li Li Juan’s young son was still nonverbal at 26 months, she brought the boy to a local hospital in her home province of Henan, China. Shortly after, he received an autism diagnosis.

Ms. Li is a middle school teacher, and she decided to become certified to teach kindergarten in order to educate her own child. She took matters into her own hands since her area had no special needs programs that were suited to help her autistic son.

Eventually Ms. Li discovered the Beijing Stars and Rain Education Institute for Autism, so she relocated when her son was five so that he was able to attend. After three months of receiving Applied Behavior Analysis, she observed significant improvements in her son’s ability to carry out tasks independently. She does, however, worry frequently about the boy’s future.

Her worries are shared by many parents in China. The densely populated nation has a distinct lack of trained professionals who specialize in autism therapy. Assuming that autism rates in China are statistically similar to other countries, it is likely that millions of children have with ASD are never diagnosed. In the entire country of more than 1.3 billion citizens, there are just four board-certified behavior analysts.

The discrepancy leads to many, many children with autism never receiving the therapy they need. Of the few options that are available to treat autism, services are only extended to children ages six and under, and no adult services are offered. The Chinese are still largely unaware of autism and most parents, teachers, and professionals are not able to identify the signs.

But the good news is that in recent years, autism awareness has become a growing trend in China. On May 17, which is China’s National Day for the Disabled, the government dedicated its focus to autism spectrum disorders. A significant amount of public funding has been appropriated toward autism research in recent years.

A set of large-scale prevalence studies, the first two ever conducted in China, are now being carried out to determine the rates of autism among 120,000 children studied. Scientists are also working to discover possible genetic links to ASD.

Chinese parents also have access to more tools than previously available to help their autistic children. The first Chinese mobile app which helps kids with delayed verbal skills communicate is currently under development. Parents can also seek help from The World Health Organization, which offers an autism intervention curriculum. Stars and Rain recognizes the shortage of trained professionals available, and the clinic also provides training to parents to maximize their children’s’ improvement within the home.

This material was originally sourced from The Wall Street Journal.

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Posted in Autism Action Alerts, Autism Advocacy, Autism Awareness, autism blogs, Autism Causes, Autism Diagnosis, Autism Education, Autism International, Autism International News, Autism Research, Autism Resources, Autism Symptoms, Autism Therapy, Autism Treatment, Featured | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tikko: The International Autism Ambassador

tiny tourist for autism

Eleven-year-old Dorian Poe has an ambitious goal – to spread autism awareness throughout the world. But at such a young age he isn’t able to travel as much as he would like- so he did the next best thing and sent one of his dearest friends on an adventure.

Tikko is an adorable stuffed Webkin Polar Bear from the North Pole who dons a t-shirt with the words “Autism. It’s ok to be different.”

When Dorian was younger he suffered from symptoms common to those with autism. Symptoms such as a tic disorder, aggressive behavior, anxiety, and constant meltdowns were all a part of his life. It was very difficult for awhile, but with persistence and love from those around him, Dorian was able to overcome the symptoms.

Now he is symptom free, drug free, and excelling at school. Dorian and his mother, Christine, now have a message they wish to share with others. They hope people will start looking beyond the label of Autism and see that children with ASD are very gifted and have the ability to transform the world.

In 2013 Tikko packed his bags and left his hometown of Ontario, Canada for his great journey around the world. With him is a letter from Dorian outlining some characteristics of Autism. Once a new person gets Tikko in the mail they are asked to help raise awareness about Autism in their community by sharing Dorian’s message.

Within less than a year, the furry tourist met dozens of people in over 24 countries and is still making his way to even more places. Many have posted their encounters with Tikko on social media. From New York to New Mexico and even in Kenya, children and adults from different backgrounds have now helped raise awareness for autism.

Dorian and his mother would like to create an international outlet for Autism Awareness by uniting people around the world through unconditional love, compassion, and hope. Christine has received letters from people who are affected autism in their own lives, and also from others who have never heard of it before. Both have thanked her for the positive messages and the awareness they share with others.

If you’d like to participate please visit their Facebook page or follow them on twitter 

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Prepare Your Child for College, Since Their High School Probably Won’t

autistics in high school

As your child’s biggest autism advocate, you have probably sat in on extensive meetings with their instructors and school administrators to craft their Individualized Education Program.

U.S. High schools are typically focused on one main goal: graduating their students through senior year. Lesson plans, assignments, and testing are set up to pass students through 12th grade. However, the educational system that students become so accustomed to is drastically different from what they will encounter in a post-secondary environment.

This is especially true of a student with special learning needs, including those with autism spectrum disorder. Once the child enters adulthood, and particularly if they attend college away from home, they may struggle with the independence required to succeed without direct supervision. Luckily, there are steps a parent can take to prepare their child with this important transition.

Start preparations at a young age

Most parents, including those of neurotypical children, start thinking about college once their child enters their junior year of high school. It will behoove you to start preparing them much earlier than this. The key to success in life is preparation, and if they begin reflecting on their interests and strengths in middle school, they will be ahead of the game by the time they enter high school.

Point them in the right direction

Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, students 18 and over are in control of their own educational records and services provided to them. College environments are far less structured than grade schools, since they are under no obligation to compel their students to succeed. The best way to prepare your child to advocate for themselves is to teach them how to seek assistance.

Often in high school, accommodations are simply handed to them by adults. Once they reach adulthood themselves, they should know what kind of assistance they need, and where to go in order to request it. For example, who would they need to approach if extended testing time is needed? In other words, they should learn to be their own advocates.

Choose the right program

Although most college-bound students look at schools with prestigious reputations, a child with special learning needs should apply to schools that are prepared to accommodate them. This means that your family should extensively research institutions for the special services they offer. Make sure that your child has access to the resources they need to be successful in college, such as tutoring centers, note takers, or even specialized ASD support centers.

A high functioning student on the autism spectrum may not appear at a casual glance to be much different from other bright, neurotypical peers. This is why they must stand up for themselves, accept their differences, and ask for the right kind of help when they need it.

ICare4Autism’s Workforce Initiative is currently in the process of setting up vocational training for high school students, an invaluable resource that is difficult to find for teens reaching adulthood in the US. The program will focus on developing employable skills for high functioning and semi-skilled individuals.

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The Odd Way Home: A Film That Gives An Intimate Look at Autism

the odd way home film about autism

There are a handful of films that provide audiences a look into the faces of autism spectrum disorder. The 2013 film The Odd Way Home is a compelling and visually stunning piece worth checking out.

The film’s director Rajeev Nirmalakhandan was originally unsure about the idea of making the picture, since he had no personal connection to a person with autism in his own life. After a closer look, he became inspired by the subject matter. Since he knew so little about ASD, which continues to mystify many people, he was interested to delve into the lives of those effected by it and express some of the complexities through the film’s character Duncan, played by Chris Marquette.

The story follows a young woman named Maya, who is escaping an abusive situation at home. She meets Duncan when she attempts to steal his truck, which she later discovers is also his home.

The 87 minute film which takes place in the desert has been lauded by critics as being visually stunning, although the character portrayals are really the heart of the movie. As Maya and Duncan become closer, they learn to depend on each other to strengthen their own vulnerabilities. Dave Vescio, another actor in the film, praised the independent production for its ability to be convey emotional honesty.

The Odd Way Home was supported by a number of sponsors within the autism advocacy movement. One of these supporters is Dr. Stephen Shore, a university professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who is a leading member of ICare4Autism’s advisory board and does a series of public speaking engagements.

Other sponsors include infamous autistic author and professor Temple Grandin, and Karen Simmons, CEO and founder of Autism Today.

In order to convey ASD accurately to the film’s audience, Nirmalakhandan visited Baylor College of Medicine to study the autistic patients there. Part of his mission in producing the film was so give a voice to those of who live their lives with autism. He was inspired by the children he met at Baylor, and he hopes that the film demystifies some of the aspects of autism that define these special people.

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Posted in Arts, Autism Advocacy, Autism America, Autism Awareness, Autism Media, Autism Relationships | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment
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