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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Twin Study Suggests Genes Triumph Over Environment in Autism Cases

twin studies autism

Many studies have tried to determine the exact causes that lead to Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Most scientists agree that both genetics and environmental factors contribute. However a recent study conducted in the UK suggested genetics are more at play than any other factor.

Researchers at King’s College London collected a population sample of teenage twins to further examine. To help minimize variability, they made sure the twins had very similar environments. For example, each pair was raised in the same household and with the same parents.

Several tests were conducted such as the Childhood Autism Spectrum Test (CAST), the Development and Well-being Assessment (DAWBA), the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), and a best-estimate diagnosis. It was found that in identical twins that share the same genetic material, both were more likely to have Autism Spectrum Disorder. In comparison, fraternal twins had a significantly lower likelihood. We can see through this study that genetics carry a great influence.  

So how can we explain why so many children are being diagnosed more than ever before? Researchers chalk it up to an increase of awareness. Autism can be difficult to properly diagnose because it includes a spectrum of conditions and the severity can vary widely between individuals. As science and research progresses, we are able to identify Autism traits more accurately. Many cases of ASD would have been considered learning disabilities in the past.

Future research will continue to locate the exact genetic markers that are indicators for the disorder and their relation to Autism behavior. The next step is to determine if those genes can be inherited from one generation to the next. While there is much to be done, the study has laid out a solid foundational support concerning the role of genetics. At the same time, scientists have not completely ignored environmental factors. They still relevant and considered to be underlying factors, just not to the extent as what was once thought. 

By Raiza Belarmino

You may read the original article here

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Innovative App Specially Made for Children with Autism


autism app

There’s no doubt about it – kids these days love technology.

From cell phones to laptops to tablets, it’s very much a part of our everyday lives. Although plenty of recommended apps already exist, not all parents are aware of the simple software available for children with autism.

The Chicago-based startup company, Infiniteach, has been developing a revolutionary new app called Skill Champ. The founders and creators of this project are teachers, therapists, researchers, consultants, etc., who have many years of experience within this field both professionally and at home.

What makes Skill Champ especially unique is that it is an app for the Autism community from the Autism community. The app creators at Infiniteach have constructed a visual curriculum. Their method has undergone successful trials, using concepts from well-tested autism treatments. The goal is to change the way we approach autism education. By developing this app, they also hope to provide a tool for many children who may not typically have access to reliable, affordable resources.

The app offers 10 academic skill categories:

· Put In – learning the concept of “finished”

· Put On – practicing correspondence

· Picture Match – matching identical items

· Number Find – matching numbers

· Letter Match – matching letters

· Color concepts – matching objects to a target color

· Big & Little – sorting based on size

· Happy & Sad – sorting happy and sad faces

· A/B Patterns – finishing the pattern

· Inset Puzzle – matching objects to their shape

Each category is also accompanied with printable material for offline learning. This helps the child transition their skills and apply them to the real world. A data tracker is also available to see how the child is progressing by measuring time and accuracy.

They also offer 10 themes that cater to the child’s interests, which helps with motivation.

· Farm – animals, vehicles, and tools

· Zoo – jungle, birds, and reptiles

· Ocean – fish, boats, and beaches

· Town – cities, traffic, and buildings

· School – cafeteria, recess, and supplies

· Food – meals, snacks, and desserts

· Vehicles – cars, trucks, and planes

· Trains – toy trains and real trains

· Princess – castles, jewelry, and fairy

· Toys – sports, games, and favorite toys

Currently Skill Champ is available via free download available for Apple iPad users only, but the company plans to expand to other operating systems in the future. Plus, the developers have more educational software in the works. Their next project is to launch Prismatic, an app that incorporates academic, social, and communication skills.

For more information visit their website at www.infiniteach.com.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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The Dangers of BPA

BPA and Autism Reactions

Bispheonl-A may not be a word that everyone recognizes. Does “BPA” ring a bell?

Plastic, however, is a material that we are all familiar with. It is most commonly used in food and beverage container manufacturing because it is convenient and affordable. Unfortunately, there may be a few factors other than expedience at play with BPA products.

In a recent study conducted by Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine and Rutgers Medical School, researchers have found that BPA materials are not metabolized normally by children with ASD. Generally, although the long-term effects of BPA ingestion are hotly debated, it has not been known to cause an immediately visible problem for typically developing children. However, consumption of the BPA chemical has been observed to cause noticeable harm to children with autism.

Most of the time, BPA is broken down into a water-soluble substance within the body during digestion; later, it is converted to a glucuronide (a metabolizer used in breaking down toxins and pollutants). Subjects with ASD exhibit abnormal processes, shown in the metabolites and BPA excreted in their urine. In the present study, the children with ASD showed much greater BPA excretion than would be expected, demonstrating a potential risk. This risk is that the BPA is not fully broken down by the bodies of individuals with ASD, and therefore may cause damage to their systems.

This is the first human study that demonstrates a link between BPA and ASD. Results imply that overexposure to BPA products during pregnancy may negatively affect the later cognitive functioning of the fetus. As of right now, this research is still too new to draw any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, it is important to keep these findings in mind as the topic is explored further.

Sara Power, Fordham University

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Saliva Test for Autism: Nothing to spit at.

saliva test for autism?

No one likes waiting, but we know it’s a part of life. Some would argue that it’s an even bigger part of life for families in the autism community than the  general public.

Many families could probably tell you that their loved one has autism before any formal diagnosis is made. Families are left with a way for their medical professional to give them a bittersweet affirmative, one that is sadly becoming more common every day. If there was only a way to know without the agonizing wait, treatment could be started and the next stage of life could begin.

Researchers in New York at Clarkson University are pioneering a test to make this a reality in the near future. Using your child’s saliva, it may be possible to know if your child has autism within a very short time. Saliva is a complex biological fluid that can be examined using mass spectrometry. In simple terms, a person’s saliva is looked at to determine its protein contents. It is unclear what the researchers in this study were thinking they might find when they performed this test on the 12 children studied. But it is clear that their results are to be noted.

The children without autism had higher levels of certain proteins in their saliva while the children with autism showed an absence of those proteins. Although this is young research, the low levels of these certain proteins spur the scientists into further study to confirm what these early findings may be pointing to.  Their next step appears to be a widening of the group of research participants.

What many may find relieving is that there seems to be no mention of blood testing, which would involve a needle prick. The article does warn that this is not a new concept; researchers have attempted saliva test trials in the past with little success. But for now it is important to understand that although autism rates are climbing, this a time to understood and aware. The more people know, the more action they can take. Those who care are not in the shadows anymore. That’s when light can shine.

By Melanie L. Reach

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Picky Eating and Gluten Free Diets

gluten free diet for autism

A common issue for those with ASD is problem eating- a challenge that many parents and individuals face which leads to a poor diet. Sensory processing, eating behaviours and various feeding disorders can all lead to this.

Some with ASD are extremely picky with what they eat- color, consistency, and texture of foods are all factors. Recent studies have shown that children and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder are able to have a form of ‘control’ over their symptoms through their diets, especially when they do not eat anything that has gluten in it. This means that with the advent of the gluten-free fad, parents have so many more food options for their picky children, which ensures that they get the nutrients they need to thrive.

It’s a well known fact that the healthier one eats, the healthier one is. But with new food and diet fads constantly going in and out of style, the definition of ‘healthy eating’ changes quite a bit. Most parents are aware of the essential nutrients their children need to develop properly and thrive, but what many parent’s do not realize is that many current health crazes are not necessarily good for their children if used incorrectly. 

Recent studies have shown that many children are ready to jump onto the proverbial bandwagon of health fads- most recently, the controversial juice cleanse or total gluten free diets have been common among youth. What do health lifestyles like this mean for parents who have children with disabilities? While more extreme fads like juice cleanses may not come into mind, there are definitely more options for parents who are looking to keep their children gluten-free.

However, if a child with ASD is a picky eater, getting help through nutrition therapy may be a good solution. The child’s regular team would get together with the family, family doctor, and a dietitian or nutritionist to figure out the child’s current eating habits, the family’s eating habits, allergies, and sensory conditions. By gathering this information, they can make sure the child will get the proper amount of nutrients needed. They are then able to come up with a specific diet that the child would be likely to enjoy, and it can then be implemented into their daily routine. 

This intense planning is necessary when anyone decides to eliminate something like gluten out of their diet- because it is in so many common foods, specific measures need to be taken to ensure it is not accidentally ingested.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

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Being Diagnosed is a Liberation, Not a Limitation

asd diagnosis liberating

Every parent wants the best for their child- whether it’s social, academic, and even financial success when they are adults.

Parents and guardians work hard to remove roadblocks in child’s path to success. This is why a diagnosis of a disability like Autism Spectrum Disorder can be terrifying to parents. However, having a child diagnosed often creates a sense of clarity that can allow them to move forward. How can a child advance if their signs and symptoms are ignored?

The Huffington Post recently published an article explaining how parents cope with their child’s diagnosis, and what it means to them. Once the diagnosis is made, the mind of a loving parent is flooded with all sorts of questions. Will their child be stigmatized and limited by their disability? What kind of support is available?

Unfortunately, these fears can cause parents to put off getting their child assessed, leaving them without the treatment and care that they need to thrive. By getting an assessment and proper diagnosis, a parent is opening doors and creating opportunities for their child. They may now build a strong support system for their child as well as themselves, creating connections to ensure that isolation (whether as an individual or as a family) is not a crippling problem for them.

Ann Douglas, the author of Parenting Through The Storm, spoke to the Huffington Post about her personal experience parenting four of her children with various mental illnesses and disabilities such as Asperger’s, depression, and ADHD. She described her fears that she was a terrible parent as she watched her child with Asperger’s miss important milestones. Comparing herself to all mothers who tend to be blamed for any behavioural shortcomings of their children, Douglas explained how she began to realize that once her children were properly diagnosed, she was given the chance to be the best parent she could be. With her own diagnosis of Type II bipolar disorder, Douglas explained that a diagnosis is only a piece of a person’s identity, and that it allows parents to get their child the support they need.

This year alone, more children will be diagnosed with some form of ASD than childhood cancer, diabetes or pediatric AIDS combined. With such a high number of cases, information is being collected that will allow for early signs and symptoms to be taken into account, and have the individual assessed earlier in their lives. By being diagnosed earlier, treatment can begin earlier, and the individual will have a better chance at living a fulfilling and independent life.

By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University

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“It’s me, Phillip.”

Its Me Phillip Autism Art

This is the title of a 13 year-old boy’s art exhibition in South Carolina. Phillip Koelsch is a very unique individual not only because of his impressive creativity but also because of his very remarkable mind. What’s noteworthy about his inspiration you may ask? The answer lies within his experience with autism.

Phillip began painting before he could even speak. Before long, his mother realized his outstanding potential and has since fostered that in her son. What had begun as a doodle has since become an emotional release for her son, whose daily world can be a minefield of anxiety.

To relieve himself from insecurities and instabilities, Phillip says that it helps “to get [it] out. Everyone has imagination they need to get out every once in a while.” However, he never expected the benefits of his creativity to extend itself beyond his art table; a belief that has since been overturned.

After sharing her son’s artwork on her Facebook page, Danielle Koelsch was approached by Ivy House Antique Shop. They expressed their interest in buying and selling some of Phillip’s artwork. Since then, Phillip’s family has entered an agreement with the store and you can find his artwork online.

The proliferation of interest in Phillip’s artwork has astounded him. What began as a therapeutic resource has since become a national sensation. According to his mother, “It’s innocent, and it’s raw, and it’s real…and it’s Phil.”

His facebook page, “It’sMe Phillip” displays photos of his latest works. You can find them and their purchasing information at the following link:

Sara Power, Fordham University

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Little Professors

little aspie professors

In 1944, the renowned psychologist Hans Asperger called his subjects the “little professors.” In time, this class of individuals, noted for their high functionality and extreme focus, would be labeled “Aspies” (aka a person with Asperger’s Syndrome).

Though professionals greatly debate Asperger’s relation to autism, it is generally considered to be on the spectrum. People affected by this syndrome are known for being painstakingly (and sometimes detrimentally) attentive to details but lacking in social skills. It is due to this reason that they are called “little professors;” they may be wildly brilliant in one area, but otherwise socially and developmentally deficient.

Asperger’s unique manifestation has been typified by the film industry as the “idiot savant,” meaning that they display brilliance in one area despite lacking ability in others. While it is certainly true that a number of individuals with this diagnosis have a penchant for memorization and extraordinary focus, they do not all develop this tendency into an incredible talent that others recognize. Of the entire population of persons diagnosed with the disorder, only about 10% consist of savants (as compared to 1% in the general population).

Despite these statistics, misconceptions regarding savant-ism and autism, largely bred by social media and film (think “Rain Man” and “Forrest Gump”) run rampant; this is why it is especially important to properly inform the public. In an article by Lecia Bushak, the author states that:

… not all talented people, meanwhile, are autistic; in fact, it’s likely the meticulous attention to detail that is one underlying factor in the development of natural talent. “If ‘eye for detail’ is an important predisposing factor in talent, regardless of autism, this might perhaps help to redirect the trend for ‘Asperger spotting’ in geniuses current or long dead: instead this theory suggests that it is one or more of the cognitive biases/abilities characteristic of ASD, rather than the diagnosis itself, that is linked to special abilities and could usefully be identified in well-known individuals, from Newton to Bill Gates.

This may account for why people tend to expect autistic individuals to become some sort of prodigy, when in fact this tendency does not always appear. Nevertheless, such interpretations have brought a lot of attention to the disorder and, despite initial misconceptions, have educated the public largely about the truth behind the disorder.

Sara Power, Fordham University

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Sensory Overload: Meltdowns and How the Public Handles Them

autism meltdowns

Recently in the media, stories have been popping up about the characteristics of autistic temperament. Written to showcase how the general public treats those with ASD, these anecdotes help educate the reader on interacting with a person with autism.

Recently, as a result of uninformed decision-making, Daniel Ten Oever, a 9 year old boy with ASD from Ottawa was handcuffed by a police officer in his school during a significant meltdown.

Out of the many key characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the most difficult to deal with would arguably be what is called a “Meltdown”. Completely different from a textbook temper tantrum, an individual experiencing a meltdown loses all control, and experiences a total sensory invasion. While triggers of temper tantrums and meltdowns are similar (when a specific want is not met), a temper tantrum is a ‘controlled’ situation, meaning the individual does it to specifically get what they want.

The morning of the incident, Daniel had a minor falling out with another boy with ASD on the way to school, which resulted in the two of them being separated into different rooms while the school worked to diffuse the situation. Calming down momentarily, he left the room but soon lost control; he had begun to go into a meltdown.

The boy started to become aggressive: throwing objects, breaking things and lashing out at those around him. Daniel was taken into the principal’s office so his team (the principal, a therapist and two educational assistants) could help soothe him and ride the meltdown out. A police officer was next door in the vice-principal’s office, and upon hearing the commotion he entered the office, putting Daniel’s hands behind his back and handcuffing him. Upon questioning the officer, she responded that it was ‘standard procedure’ to detain anyone that posed a ‘threat’ to themselves or others- regardless of a disability.

Such behavior not only calls into question the education and training that Ontario police officers are receiving in the handling of incidents such as this, but why Daniel’s team had allowed the officer to ‘defuse’ the meltdown in an unproductive way. The main characteristics of a meltdown showcase the absolute loss of control of the individual, including when and how a meltdown winds down.

Unlike a temper tantrum where the episode stops as soon as the individual gets what they want, a meltdown escalates quickly and winds down slowly, regardless of the environment or situation. This means that using handcuffs to calm an overly agitated child down (with or without ASD) would do nothing but make this a traumatic experience for them.

It’s important to understand the ways that a meltdown is completely different than a common tantrum. A child in the middle of a meltdown is not looking for a reaction from others and has no interest in the social situation around them. They lack concern for their own safety, and they wind down slowly only in a secure and comforting environment. Labeling this simply as as childish manipulation is not accurate or fair for a traumatized child on the autistic spectrum.

Daniel’s unfortunate incident should also bring to light that a situation such as a public meltdown should not be considered a ‘standard police procedure’ as his behavior was sensory and not environmental. These situations need to be handled with care, patience, and compassion for those who sometimes have no control over their behavior.

Written by Sydney Chasty, Carleton University in Ottawa

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