Why Autism Should Be in the Workspace

autism works

Earlier this month, Microsoft announced its plan to hire more people on the spectrum. The reason? Good business sense.

What corporate workers mean by good business sense is supported by the following statistics: autistic consultants are 10% more likely to detect bugs in software; they are more likely to exhibit an Increased Perceptual Capacity; and generally demonstrate superior memories, to name a few advantages.

Microsoft is following a larger trend among companies to capitalize on this asset while also combatting the stereotypes surrounding autism. In order to raise awareness, they plan to emphasize strengths over weaknesses and illustrate just how independently persons on the spectrum can operate.

It’s important to note amidst this rallying that not all autistic persons are savants, however. Indeed, only 1-10% of this population demonstrates such capacities. Nevertheless, the strengths mentioned above are exhibited commonly in adults with autism spectrum disorder. Advocate Temple Grandin says, “The autistic brain is good at something and bad at something else.”

To date in the UK, only 15% of autistic adults are employed as full-time workers, though 61% who are unemployed claim to be seeking work. With Microsoft’s announcement, successful employment rates will hopefully increase. In order to make this happen, it’s important that more programs prepare autistic individuals to enter the workforce.

Consequently, it’s imperative that the workforce learns to employ and accommodate these people. It is only by doing so that we are able to make strides in the effort to decrease stigmatism and increase people-first interactions.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

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Autism Spectrum Disorder to Be a Part of Mental Health Programming

autism mandates

The world’s understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder is rapidly changing- from the measures used for diagnosis, such as the Autism Impact Measure, to how the intervention program is used, to even how these services are funded.

In Canada, intervention programs like ABA are partially or fully funded by the Federal Government depending on one’s child’s age. A larger sum is granted when the child is younger to help with assessments and initial sessions, and the amount decreases as the child ages until they reach age 18. While this is a luxury Canadians can enjoy, Americans need to apply for specific grants and other funding from private organizations.

However, communities in America are beginning to offer Autism intervention services as part of their mental health programs, which would be subsidized by the state, and allow for a partial or full funding of a child’s therapies (the age of the child determines amount given). This programming is currently being offered in-home multiple times a week to daily, and the individual can enjoy the comfort of a known environment while they get to know and work with their behavioral therapist. This programming is working towards having centres for ABA, and is moving forward quickly.

Such a big step towards funded treatment is incredible, as it allows for not only more individuals to receive the help and treatment that they need, but it also encourages parents to seek medical referrals for their children if they suspect or notice any symptoms of ASD.

If this trend continues, and more states begin to adopt this model, children and individuals all over the United States would be able to receive the treatment they need to control their symptoms and enjoy a life which they have more control over.

By Sydney Chasty, Carlton University

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Minnesota Mom Fights to Expand Federal Funds

michigan autism legislation

A Somali immigrant, Idil Abdull is one of the founders of the Somali American Autism Foundation in Minneapolis, MN. She is also the mother of a 12-year-old with autism spectrum disorder.

When her son Abdullahi was diagnosed, she became determined to enroll him in any and all treatments available. At first, the boy started with speech and occupational therapy. He later began applied behavioral analysis therapy. Unfortunately, after a year of treatment, Abdull saw little improvement in her son’s condition. She had a lot questions about ASD and the treatments available but lacked the proper resources and funds.

Since 2010, Abdull has been diligently working to broaden health care resources not only for herself, but for other low income families as well. She believes that early intervention treatments are necessary and should be available for all children with a developmental disability.

For the past 5 years, Abdull has made over 50 trips to Minnesota State Capitol with her red and blue hijabs. There were so many visits that she was soon nicknamed the “Autism Lady.” She spoke to numerous legislators and health and human service committees to raise awareness and fight for access to treatment for everyone.

She continuously asked state officials if therapies that her son needs are covered through Medical Assistance. They were then forced to explain that these services were only available to those who could afford to pay for them. Ultimately, coverage was being denied to those who needed it the most.

But her efforts did not go to waste. Minnesota is now one of the first states to provide their residents with intensive one-on-one therapies designed to improve language and social skills. The federal government has given 1 million to fund these treatments that were typically only available for the wealthy. One of the therapies now covered is applied behavioral analysis (ABA) which can cost about $100,000 a year. ABA has been shown to help autistic children manage impulsive behaviors through simple tasks and repetition.

Effective July 1, 2015, poor Minnesotan families will now be able to enroll in programs that provide needed coverage for their children. It is predicted to help hundreds of low-income families throughout the state that are on Medical Assistance. Human Services Commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, has stated that she hopes this will help children get diagnosed sooner, enroll in services earlier, and, hopefully, change the future of the children in their community.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Pingree Lends a Hand: Expanding School Resources to Home

autism treatment center

Many people know the statistic that one in every sixty-eight children will be diagnosed with autism. What they don’t necessarily know, however, is that this prevalence runs second highest in Salt Lake City. In Utah locale, one in fifty-four children will be diagnosed, and one out of every four of those children will be non-verbal.

Aside from the well-known social obstacles that persons with autism face, non-verbality adds a particularly difficult element to their communication ability. It’s not uncommon for a child with the diagnosis to not speak until elementary school. This, in combination with a disabled sense of reading social cues, often prevents a child from properly conveying her desires or needs.

Julia Hood, director of the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning in Salt Lake City hopes to alleviate this issue. Her school, which serves diagnosed children up to the age of seventeen, has recently launched a project that would provide students with in-home treatment, communication-oriented iPads, and other such instructive resources.

Treatment for autism is most effective before the age of six. For some, like those who struggle with non-verbality, such interventions do not offer enough. These individuals are often trapped within themselves, unable to communicate without the use of frustration, resulting in repetitive behaviors, aggression, and further detachment.

Hood plans to assist parents of such children through her education program. In addition to the resources her school offers during class hours, she hosts parent information nights and supplies those on the waitlist with other recommendations for treatment and outreach. Most significantly, through her project, she plans on providing each student with an in-home Applied Behavior Analyst to further extend the benefits of her program.

Thus far, the Pingree Center has raised $12,700, but they still have a long way to go before they can expand their size, provide children with alternative communication devices (such as the iPad), or begin their extension of resources beyond the classroom and into the home. To help their efforts, Hood asks that donations be made online at either www.carmenbpingree.com or at their GoFundMe page.

By Sara Power, Fordham University

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Mom Makes Affordable Weighted Vests Out of Military Uniforms

weighted military vest

When South Carolina mother Crystal Lyons began to notice her son John’s speech abilities regressing, she came up with a creative and patriotic solution.

No longer did she hear “mama” or “dada” and described experience as being similar to “walking backwards.” Soon after, 3 year old John was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Like any parent, Lyons was determined to provide her son with best tools and education to overcome these obstacles.

The toddler had an especially difficult time paying attention during his sign language classes. It was suggested that John try using a weighted vest, a therapeutic tool used for children with autism, sensory integration disorder, ADHD, to other neurological disorders. Weighted vests have been successful in reducing hyperactivity, distractibility, and self-stimulatory behaviors in patients using them. However, they can be quite costly at about $50+ a piece and Lyons’s insurance would not cover the expenses.

This story is all too familiar for parents with autistic children who struggle to cover the costs of therapy. However, Lyons was inspired to seek an alternative way to help her son and decided to make her own vest. She used her husband’s old military uniforms as the fabric and rolls of pennies for the weights.

After just one month of wearing the vest, John was making major progress. He was more attentive, learned more than 50 signs, and even started to talk again. Lyons was overjoyed with the accomplishments her son had made and decided that no child in need should go without one.

She soon created the non-profit organization Vests for Visionaries. Her goal is to provide these weighted vests for children and families at little to no cost at all. She has been receiving overwhelming support with donations from local companies and the general public. Many people from around the country have also been sending over old uniforms that that have clearly been to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kuwait. From a $100 sewing machine, Lyons was able to provide an affordable tool to help not only her own son but for many other children as well. Now, she has shipped over 130 vests for kids in need around the world and is still continuing.

Read the original article from USA Today.

You may also visit their website at http://www.vestsforvisionaries.org/

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Microsoft Launching Program to Hire Autistic Employees

autism possibilities

Inspirational photo from Ellen Smith’s Microsoft blog


To commemorate Autism Awareness Month, Tech giant Microsoft is joining the ranks of employers promoting autism acceptance.

Corporate Vice President Mary Ellen Smith announced in a blog post that the company made an appearance at the United Nations center in New York City on behalf of World Autism Awareness Day. The event’s theme was “Autism: The Employment Advantage.”

As the mother to a 19 year old young man on the autism spectrum, Smith is a strong advocate for workplace diversity. Along with other executives at Microsoft, she plans to launch the program initially by placing ten candidates with autism into appropriate full-time technology jobs. They will partner with Denmark-based training and consulting firm Specialisterne, who have experience staffing adults with autism.

Smith recognizes that there are many bright, capable job candidates who struggle to find work because ASD makes it difficult to communicate and relate to others. In a job interview, candidates are judged on their first impression, which may hinder them from landing a job they would truly excel at.

Speaking about the program, Smith praises Microsoft for embracing different kinds of minds:

“People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code. It’s a talent pool that we want to continue to bring to Microsoft!”

Ellen Smith is proud to be part of a company that embraces workplace diversity. Microsoft’s philosophy embraces all types of disabilities in the workplace, investing deeply in employees who will feed the company’s growth. Their level of commitment to provide opportunities for young adults like her son Shawn, who is now a college student working part time, promotes autism acceptance in a huge way.

When Shawn was diagnosed at age 4, the Smiths drove home from the hospital in silence together. They were each at a loss for words. Now, 15 years later, Ellen believes the journey has led them to find their voices. She is driven by this experience to educate employers about the “unique advantage” offered by under-estimated autistics like her son.

Candidates interested in applying to the program can email their resumes to msautism@microsoft.com.

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Two Nonverbal Teens Form Special Bond


Kreed is nonverbal and uses a tablet to communicate

Kreed is nonverbal and uses a tablet to communicate


Kreed and Skyler are two nonverbal teen boys on the autism spectrum. Now that they have crossed paths, the boys have found a special understanding within each other.

Skyler, 17, has Usher Syndrome in addition to ASD. He is slowly going deaf and losing his peripheral vision. Kreed, who is 14, also has serious medical conditions including epilepsy, hypothyroidism, and mitochondrial disease. He uses an electronic device to communicate.

The teens have both struggled socially in their lives because communication is so difficult for them. Finding out that another nonverbal boy around his age lived down the street was exciting for Kreed, who told his mother immediately he wanted to meet him. He now calls Skyler his best friend.

Kreed and Skyler enjoy many of them same things that teenage boys around them do, like eating pizza on the couch and watching movies together. But their connection is deeper than just shooting the breeze. They support each other through thick and thin.

Since his vision and hearing are highly impaired, Skyler is afraid to explore new places alone. His friend Kreed leads him around and enjoys the confidence that having a best friend has given him. Skyler seems to appreciate that Kreed doesn’t mind when he gets physically close and touches him.

Kreed’s mother Erin Polk keeps a blog about her son’s point of view called Kreed’s World. Recently on the Facebook page for her blog, Polk posted this photo which gives a glimpse into the beautiful friendship the boys share.

autism friendship

Check out the original Washington Post article here.

To view Kreed’s daily life, visit Erin Polk’s Youtube Channel.

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Donut Challenge – Accepted!


Last year, the Ice Bucket Challenge took the Internet and many social media platforms by storm.

We laughed as we saw everyone from our neighbors, family members, and even our favorite celebrities participate. It was estimated about 2.4 million videos circulated through Facebook showcasing their hilarious reactions to the cold water.

Viewers contributed to help fund research and spread awareness for the disease. This is the same goal Max Jamelli from Chambersburg, PA would like to achieve for kids like his son.

He is the father of a 6-year-old boy who was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at the age of 5. Jamelli created the “Derek’s Donut Challenge,” named after his son’s love for the tasty treat. He is promoting it during the month of April, which is World Autism Awareness Month.

So how does it work? All you have to do is stuff an entire doughnut into your mouth and smile big for the camera. Just like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, users post the video (or picture) online, make a donation to the National Autism Society, and tag 5 friends. Those friends are asked to do the challenge, tag 5 more friends, and so on.

Jamelli hopes this challenge goes viral but his primary goal isn’t to fundraise for the organization. Although funding the cause is important, he believes it is even more important to spread awareness for families and individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

One particular aspect Jamelli would like to bring more attention to is the perception of autistic children “misbehaving” in public. For example, when his son, Derek, acts out at Church during the holidays, it is because there are more people than he is used to. He may also be served steak when he is expecting pizza. This doesn’t happen often but when it does people tend to misunderstand the situation. Like many other kids with autism, Derek has a difficult time when his routine is disrupted.

But Jamelli would also like to shed light on the many talents his son has. At just two years old Derek was able to memorize numbers and the alphabet. He then went to learn sign language through online videos. This intelligence is definitely something to be made aware of and encouraged.

For more information please visit the original article which also includes Max and Derek Jamelli’s Doughnut Challenge video.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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Specific Gene Linked with Autism

autism genetics study

Genetics have always been a highly-debated and prime topic for discussion within autism research.

In an earlier blog post, we covered a twin study from the United Kingdom, which suggested that genes, as opposed to environmental factors, play a significantly larger role in influencing autism spectrum disorder.

Now scientists have zeroed in on one single, individual gene, CHD8. Genetically speaking, some physical characteristics, such as height or skin color, are polygenic; i.e. controlled by one or more genes. Others, like CHD8, are pleiotropic, which is when only one gene effects the expression of hundreds or even thousands of other genes.

This is what attracts the interest of so many researchers. It has the ability to influence or alter so much of the person’s genetic makeup. It also provides scientists with a better understanding of the disorder’s complexity. Since autism includes a spectrum of symptoms and characteristics, it only makes sense that thousands of genes would be involved.

In a study conducted in 2013, 116 autism risk genes were identified. Of those 116 genes, 47 were found to be targets of CHD8, which further supports the autism link.

Furthermore, research also suggests that CHD8 holds a vital part in 2 stages of development: gene regulation and neuronal signaling. This gives scientists some direction on where to start investigating. They hope to locate possible targets and, in the future, develop new drugs.

Several studies in progress are investigating the importance of this particular genetic site. They believe it is an entry way to discover the full genetic map, which can lead to a more complete understanding on the neurological intricacies and behaviors of autism spectrum disorder.

Further research will involve looking at live animal models such as mice and zebra fish who they have similar neuro-development to humans, including as the binding site to CHD8. To find further information, feel free to read the original article on the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) website.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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4 Ways You Can Raise Autism Awareness Today



autism 2

Today marks the official observance of World Autism Awareness Day. Although we hope today will open peoples’ eyes to learn more about autism, we also hope this is just one step on an ongoing journey. You can do your part to help spread awareness in your community by doing some simple things:

1. Get educated yourself!

Autism is such a widely misunderstood disorder with so many different symptoms. A child in the grocery store who is flapping his arms and repeating sounds loudly probably looks like he is misbehaving. If the average retail employee or shopper understood how overwhelmed the child feels, and that his behavior is calming his senses, the child and parent would not be judged for making a scene in public. Furthermore, while some children on the spectrum have intellectual disabilities, some of them are highly intelligent. The spectrum is a large umbrella! When you read up on autism news, symptoms, and treatment, you are arming yourself with knowledge to spread to others; awareness is the key to acceptance.

This blog is a great place to start!

2. Donate or volunteer for a cause like ICare4Autism

Autism research and treatment can be very costly. Currently, ICare is working on funding our Africa Initiative so that we can send qualified professionals to Ghana where they will build a model school for the autism community. There are always funds needed globally to provide the right therapies which allow kids to fit in and thrive in the world around them. It is estimated that the average cost of autism therapies exceeds $40,000 per year out of a family’s pocket.

3. Be an advocate for someone you know

Since 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism today, it is more likely than not that you know someone who has autism in their family. Once you become knowledgeable about ASD, you are better equipped to understand and empathize with an autistic person. Yes, others see that they are different, and have probably struggled for acceptance during their lives. You can let them know that you accept them just the way they are by being a friend to them, and sticking up for them if you ever notice them being bullied or looked down on for their differences.

4. Look into events in your area

Here in New York City, ICare is in the process of planning some exciting events to involve our community in. If you aren’t in the area, there are still many ways you can get involved in your own community. Search online for events near you where you can network with others who are passionate about the cause, like auctions or 5k races. Also reach out to anyone you know who might be effected by autism and ask if they have anything planned. Since April is Autism Awareness Month, there may well be some events right around the corner! If you don’t see anything nearby accomplishing the mission of spreading autism awareness, you can always create your own.

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