Barber and Child Make the Final Cut

UK- Over the past few days a heartwarming photo and story has been taken social media by storm. It depicts a barber cutting a little boy’s hair- while lying on the floor. Mason, who was recently diagnosed with Autism, was unwilling to be touched on certain areas by a barber, which had made past haircuts quite difficult. Fortunately, his parents Jamie Lewis and Denine Davis, were referred to patient and determined James Williams. Williams spent months working with Mason, and tried different approaches to giving him a trauma-free haircut.

On Wednesday, Williams uploaded a Facebook photo and described the experience of working with young Mason. In seeking different ways to cut Mason’s hair, Williams said “he wouldn’t allow me to go near one of his ears” and that Mason “would run away if he wasn’t up to it.”


Photos showed Williams lying on the floor with the child, gently clipping away as Mason scrolls through a smartphone calmly without any discomfort. The post, which has been shared almost 900 times and gained over 4,000 likes, demarcates a victory and an end to a special journey. Williams finally finished cutting Mason’s hair.

james-williams-1-435Williams tells about the long road to the cut, and how he wanted to share both his and little Mason’s achievement.

“The experience was amazing, and after I [lay] on the floor to cut [Mason’s] hair, I just had to post it to humor myself. I just couldn’t believe I was cutting hair in that position.”

Williams, who has experience working with children, says that working with Mason was similar to working with other children.

“Mason is a happy child. When he comes to my shop, he plays on his phone which seems to calm him and take his mind off everything else.”

Though impressed with his accomplishment, Williams is humble and recognizes that there are many barbers and stylist who know how to work with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“They deserve the credit as much as me. I’m just thrilled to have put my village on the map and to [have reached] so many families”

Williams is quick to acknowledge Mason’s courage and milestone achievement.

“Mason is the superstar for [taking] such a great step [by] having his first proper haircut.”

When working with children with ASD, patience and creativity go hand in hand. Sometimes it takes a flexibility and willingness to meet the child halfway and make the final cut.

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The New Tech Giants: Jobs for Adults with Autism

Autism1-685x320As we move forward in the technological renaissance we currently live in, we seldom think of who exactly controls the direction that innovation moves in. Big business, celebrities, and thousands of skilled workers in STEM fields control this movement. And while, in principle, everyone should be able to contribute to the wave of innovation, often times, people diagnosed with autism are excluded from the workplace.

The needs of adults with autism are seldom focused on in the media. Although more people are diagnosed with autism each year, the stigma attached to the label of “autism” continues to discourage employers from hiring autistic individuals. In fact, some estimates describe that the unemployment rate for adults on the spectrum exceeds 90%. What many employers do not recognize is the fact that many people who have autism can contribute greatly to their companies, by being productive, dependable, hard-working individuals.

In fact, discrimination and exclusion targeted towards autism in the workplace hinders employers from greater productivity and success in the long-run. According to Forbes’ A New Business Model for Autism, progressive employers who hire those with autism, benefit the most because they recognize the unique strengths of each individual.

A grassroots movement of entrepreneurs is currently emerging across the nation, a movement in which people are starting businesses that employ people with developmental disabilities and special needs. The results are incredible: From a successful Florida car-wash operation that employs an all-autism workforce, to a thriving Kansas kettle corn business that employs people with developmental disabilities, it’s evident that innovative, inclusive employment can launch a business to success.

Many tech and business jobs are available for those with autism. There are visual-thinking jobs like computer graphics and website design, and there are jobs for non-visual thinkers, like computer programming and data entry. Endless possibilities exist for businesses to employ people with autism, and it is only a matter of time before more business recognize the advantages of inclusive employment.

Ultimately, more businesses need to use innovative employment tactics in order to create innovative products and solutions for the future. Everyone has the skills and abilities to contribute to a team, and the label of “autism” should never eclipse the wide range of capabilities of the individual.

By Samantha Mallari

Posted in Autism Advocacy, Autism America, Autism Awareness, Autism Employment, Autism News, Jobs, Opportunities | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

New Smartwatch Measures Emotions


sensor watch

Dr. Rosalind Picard wears a fitness tracker on her wrist, but unlike many people who wear these, hers does more than track steps. The watch has a sensor that records medical information, measuring the skin’s electrical responses. As a leading engineer at the MIT Media Lab, Dr. Picard hopes that the watch has the capacity to save lives by predicting major health events, such as epileptic seizures. Dr. Picard researches the autonomic nervous system, which includes respiration, digestion, perspiration, and heart rate.

Picard developed the smartwatch with her company, Empatica. The watch is designed to record electrodermal (EDA) activity and wirelessly send this data to a smartphone. Versions of the sensors have been used in the past, but this adapted, highly sensitive sensor technology can receive and provide a continuous reading on our emotional states.

Dr. Picard takes her research in the field very personally, wearing her watch sensor each day and gaining noteworthy insights of changing emotional states. For instance, Picard compares her data with other researchers wearing the sensor, and notes that her tolerance of stress is significantly higher than average. “We find individual differences in stress points,” she explains, “I tend to thrive on thrill-seeking high stress situations, but other people would go nuts with what I do.”

In the scope of Autism, this kind of sensor can be useful for understanding specific health events and situations. The ability of electrodermal sensors go beyond mood tracking. Picard’s research has shown that the sensors can provide emotional information that individuals with Autism may not be able to verbally express. “A person with autism gets overloaded and they shut down and retreat into their own little world,” Picard says. Autistic responses in different situations can seem shocking and non-intuitive to some observers, such as catatonic behavior or head banging. Picard describes how this may be due to efforts to subside the pain. The EDA sensor would be able to communicate the specifics of what the individual is undergoing, and guide caregivers to make better decisions in how to respond.

Dr. Picard’s research and insight may have the capacity to revolutionize the lives of individuals with Autism. By bridging the gap between technology and human emotion, Picard’s field, ‘Affective Computing’ harnesses the power of science and technology to provide effective solutions.

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New Film “Wizard Mode” Stands For Autism Community

R.E.G. If that name doesn’t strike pangs of sheer awe into your heart, you should brush up on international pinball stats. Robert Emilio Gagno is a 27-year-old professional pinball player from Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. After a scroll through his impressive pinball tournament record, it is easy to see how amazingly talented he is. Gagno has a great collection of national and state titles from 2012-2015 under his belt, earned by defeating thousands of competitive pinball players from around the world.

And, he has autism. But, Gagno and filmmakers Jeff Petry & Nathan Drillot show that the word “autism” is much more than a label- and definitely not the only thing that defines the identity of someone diagnosed with it.

Petry and Drillot work for Salazar Film, a production team based out of Vancouver, BC. For two years, they have worked with the Gagno family, to capture the story behind the pinball legend, and his experiences with auWizard Mode Pinballtism. The production team set up a crowdfunding campaign to produce and distribute a full feature length documentary, “Wizard Mode”, which shows the life of Gagno, and his relatable struggles with pinball, coming of age, and autism. In the span of only one month, they raised $43,615 USD from 453 people, and were able to end the campaign in just this past week, on October 23rd.

Even more inspiring is the message that the filmmakers and Gagno want to convey to people through the documentary: a message of inclusion and acceptance that speaks volumes to audiences, especially to those who constantly support a greater understanding of those with autism. Petry and Drillot state on their crowdfunding page, “No condition or perceived “label” should stop you from following the interests that bring you joy.”

In regards to his feelings toward the documentary, Gagno states,”I hope they’ll become more fascinated by the world of autism and do their own research. Hopefully people will buy more books about autism and talk about it more. Because then it will help people understand the people around them better and not just see them as a label.”

The documentary will be officially released throughout North America in 2016, but you can be updated on the progress of the film through the “Wizard Mode” Facebook page.  

By Samantha Mallari

Posted in Autism Advocacy, Autism Awareness, Autism Films, Autism Media Coverage | Tagged , , | Comments closed

New Research Links Autism Traits to Gender and Profession

-A_person_s_sex_and_job_best_predicts_how_many_autistic_traits_th-a-1_1446550393423Psychologists at the University of Cambridge have found that a person’s sex and job can predict how many Autistic traits he or she has. Evidently, males who work in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics are more likely to have more traits that parallel those linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

In a Daily Mail article, researchers explained that having certain traits is not the same as being diagnosed with Autism; rather, these are attributes of personality and behavior which are commonly linked with ASD. This includes excellent attention to detail, difficulty in understanding another person’s point of view, and difficulty in switching attention.

The study entailed a half a million people taking a 50-question test and assessed how many Autism-linked traits they possess. This questionnaire, the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) includes questions that each represent a specific trait. This determines the amount of traits an individual has. The results indicate the number of traits an individual has. The questions include “I find social situations easy,” and “If I try to imagine something, I find it very easy to create a picture in my mind.”

In an initial study, the average score in the control group was 16.4. In comparison, 80% of those diagnosed with autism scored 32 or higher. On average, men score higher than women, and individuals in the STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math) score higher than those who are not.

In the new study, researchers found that the average male AQ score was 21.6, while the female score was 19.0. Scores of people working in a STEM-related job averaged 21.9 compared to a score of 18.9 for people working in non STEM-related fields. These results suggest that ASD traits are linked to both sex and the way individuals think.

The study followed a discussion of Autism and Autism-linked traits on Britain’s Channel 4 health TV program Embarrassing Bodies: Live from the Clinic. Following the show, Channel 4 posted a link to the AQ test on its website and 450,395 people participated in the test. On average, these participants were in their thirties, but ranged from people in their young teens to those approaching their seventies.

As hypothesized, neither age or geographic region predicted a person’s number of traits; however a person’s gender and job were strongly linked to their score of traits.

Emily Ruzich, who led the study, said she is pleased that such big data was available to test these questions. “They provide clear evidence that Autism-linked traits are sex-linked and STEM-linked and this will encourage further research into why these associations are seen.”

It is crucial to understand that the AQ questionnaire is not a test to diagnose autism.

Dr Carrie Allison, another member of the Cambridge research team, commented: “The Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) is a valuable research instrument and AQ scores correlate with brain structure, brain function, social perception, and attention to detail, among other things. But it is important to underline that it is not diagnostic. It is only if the high number of autistic traits is causing stress and difficulties that a person may need a referral to a specialist clinic.”

Ongoing research into this issue may shed light on the connections of Autism and genetics, and suggest potential ways of understanding and discussing related issues.



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