Five Hacks to Make Moving with a Child on the Spectrum Less Stressful

Blog: Moving with Autism

Anyone who has ever moved from one home or community to another can attest to how stressful that transition can be. In fact, multiple experts have confirmed that moving is the third most stressful event many people experience during their lifetimes.

It should come as no surprise then, that moving is particularly stressful for people with autism, many of whom rely on consistency and structure to feel safe and secure.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can relieve much of the stress of moving. MyMove.com has put together these suggestions for making your move as stress free as possible.

1. Give advanced notice
And we mean a lot of it. Make sure that your child is aware of plans to move as soon as the details are final. This will allow your child more time to process the idea of relocating and to ask any questions and discuss any concerns they may have. MyMove.com recommends creating a calendar that provides visual representation of important dates related to the move.

2. Talk about the move
Let your child know why the move is necessary and focus on what the move will mean for their daily life. This is a good opportunity to tell your child about anything that may excite them about the move. For example, we’ll have room for an adaptive swing-set and a sensory room or the new house has a fenced-in yard so you can finally have the dog you’ve been wanting. Be prepared to tell your child everything you know about their new school, caregiver or day program. MyMove.com suggests creating a social story about the move to help decrease your child’s anxiety. Find an example of a social story on MyMove.com’s website.

3. Enlist your child’s help with packing
Packing can be one of the most stressful parts of moving for adults and children alike. But there are ways to make the process less stressful. If your child is capable, give them a job such as assembling or labeling boxes. Give your child as much control as possible about what to keep and what to give away. Allow your child to choose new bedding with their favorite character or theme, and within limits, let them have their say about paint colors and decorations. MyMove.com recommends saving your child’s room for last when it comes to packing up the house. This will minimize confusion and anxiety. If all else fails, bubble wrap is always good for some fun!

4. Prepare your child for their new surroundings
If you’re moving to a community close to your current home, help your child get to know his new neighborhood by planning excursions around the region. If possible, take your child to visit their new home and walk around the neighborhood stopping at places your child is likely to enjoy. Is there a great ice cream parlor nearby? A movie theater showing their favorite film? A wonderful playground? Knowing these attractions are close to their new home will make the transition easier for your child. If you’re moving far away, assemble photographs of the new house and neighborhood and show them to your child frequently. This will help to prepare them for the move and feel more comfortable about what to expect.

5. Visit your child’s new school
If possible, visit your child’s new school before the move. If not, do your best to visit school before the new school year starts. Try to arrange a meeting with your child’s new teacher and help your child become acclimated to a new school building.

For more helpful moving suggestions, visit mymove.com.

Music for Autism Enriches Lives Across the U.K. and U.S.

Blog: Music for Autism

At Enabling Devices, we’re always excited to learn about quality programs that serve the disability community. So, we were thrilled to discover a groundbreaking program called Music for Autism.

Established in the United Kingdom in 2002, Music for Autism was a labor of love for John Lubbock and Christine Cairns, musicians and parents of a son with autism. The program began with some fundraising concerts and the couple’s production of a CD of Scottish folksongs called “Songs for Alexander,” which was dedicated to Lubbock and Cairn’s son Alexander. With the money they raised, Cairns and Lubbock were able to realize their dream of providing free interactive concerts for individuals with autism and their families.

As explained on the nonprofit’s website, “The concerts are held in halls that appeal to people with autism; there is always open space for the audience to react to the music through spontaneous dance and movement. Featuring members of the Orchestra of St. John’s, founded and conducted by Maestro John Lubbock, the unique concerts expose individuals with autism to high quality classical music in an environment designed to make them feel comfortable.”

But Lubbock and Cairn’s work didn’t end there. Music for Autism has also funded schools, music education programs, equipment, transportation, school supplies and sensory rooms for children with autism.

In 2007, Robert Accordino brought Music for Autism to the United States where the organization offers “autism friendly” concerts at locations including the 92nd Street Y, the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, the Brooklyn Heights Public Library and the JCC of Staten Island in New York City. In 2011, a $170,000 endowment from philanthropist Linda Rogers Emory enabled Music for Autism to provide concerts throughout New York State.

Elsewhere in the U.S., Music for Autism offers concerts at the Westview School in Houston, Texas, the Help Group in Los Angeles and The Ivymount School in Washington D.C.

In 2013, the U.S. Music for Autism program formed a partnership with the Baltimore Symphony and provided autism friendly concerts in Massachusetts.  The same year, Music for Autism in the U.S. added bilingual (Spanish and English) concerts to its repertoire.

Music for Autism concerts are performed by top musicians from all genres, including Grammy-nominated classical musicians, Pulitzer Prize winners and Tony Award-winners including Aurista Chamber Music, Cody Williams, the Brentano String Quartet, Doo Wop Project, Micky Katz, Rose Hemingway, Quattro, Thayne Jasperson and many others.

According to the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health, “Music has been identified as a strength in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder; however, there is currently no neuroscientific evidence supporting its benefits. Given its universal appeal, intrinsic reward value and ability to modify brain and behavior, music may be a potential therapeutic aid in autism.”

In other words, Music for Autism’s concerts and programming can be life changing for individuals with autism and their families.

For more information about Music for Autism visit musicforautism.org.

WHO and Autism Speaks Announce Online Caregiver Skills Training Program

Blog: WHO and Autism Speaks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, an estimated 1 in every 44 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by age 8.

While no one is sure why autism has become so prevalent, the significant increase in ASD diagnoses means that these days, more of us are caring for children with special needs. To provide good care and encourage healthy development, caregivers must understand the basics of autism and have the skills necessary to support children with ASD in their daily lives.

Lucia Murillo, Autism Speaks’ assistant director of education research, reports that many parents and caregivers, especially in underserved communities around the world, don’t have ongoing access to professionals with autism expertise who can provide them with information and tools to support children with autism.

“Many of these parents went to great lengths and expense to get their children evaluated,” says Murillo. “But a diagnosis of autism didn’t necessarily lead to services or even information about the condition. For instance, on a trip to Albania, I heard from parents, teachers and healthcare professionals about how they didn’t know what to do to help a child diagnosed with autism. ‘We don’t have the skills. We don’t have support,’ they told me. We’ve heard these concerns in many parts of the world.”

That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) collaborated with nonprofit Autism Speaks to develop the Caregivers Skills Training Program for parents and caregivers of children with developmental delays and developmental disabilities including autism. So far, the in-person program, first piloted in 2019, has been offered to caregivers in 30 countries.

On April 2, 2022, World Autism Awareness Day, the WHO released an online version of the Caregiver Skills Training Program. According to the WHO, the program “teaches parents and other caregivers day-to-day skills that help boost the well-being and development of children with autism and other developmental disabilities.”

The release of the online training program will enable thousands of families to access the curriculum, which “includes pre-recorded information sessions on topics such as using everyday routines as opportunities for children to learn, engaging with children through play and problem-solving. Sessions to help caregivers improve their own well-being are another important feature of the course,” says the WHO.

That part is critical since “parents of autistic children report that they experience more depression, anxiety, and stress-related health problems than other parents. Parental stress has also been associated with marital distress, less effective parenting, and dropping out of treatment,” according to Learn Behavioral.

Caregivers can engage in online training on their own timetables and course materials are geared toward learners without previous education in autism and developmental disabilities.

Says Dr. Chiara Servili, an expert in the mental health and brain health of children and adolescents at the WHO: “During the pilot phase, the Caregiver Skills Training Program equipped families in a wide range of community settings with the knowledge and skills to better understand and engage with their children with developmental delays or disabilities. The launch of the e-version means that many more thousands of families will now be able to benefit from it.”

To get more information about the online version of the Caregiver Skills Training Program click here.

Media Artists on the Spectrum Honored by Museum of the Moving Image

Blog: Media Artists on the Spectrum

The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, kicked off Autism Acceptance Month with its first annual Marvels of Media Awards celebration.

Developed by the museum’s education department, the program—which launched March 31 and concludes April 30—includes an awards ceremony, a festival with workshops, film screenings and artist talks, and an exhibition highlighting the work of media artists on the autism spectrum.

Preparation for the celebration started back in October 2021, when the museum put out an open call for nominations of media makers on the spectrum. They received a whopping 3,071 nominations from nominators in 117 countries!

After careful consideration by judges—including industry leaders such as president of the Jim Henson Foundation Cheryl Henson; Academy Award–winning producer Brian Grazer; and Journalist Paula Zahn—media works award winners were chosen in 12 categories: Animated Short, Collaborative Innovation, Digital Art, Documentary, Experimental Film, Mockumentary, Narrative Feature, Narrative Short, Series, Video Game, Student Animated Short, and Student Video Game.

Curated by Sara Guerrero-Mostafa, Miranda Lee, and Tiffany Joy Butler, the multimedia exhibition includes 17 works including short films and video games that can be viewed and played on screens in the gallery. Additionally, objects and documents related to media making are on display. The media makers whose work is exhibited come from all cultural and artistic backgrounds.

Workshops conducted as part of the festival included an access rider workshop led by artist-filmmaker April Lin for artists with disabilities ages 16 and up. Access riders are documents that disabled artists can use to communicate their accessibility needs to fellow artists, organizations, or employers.

Events surrounding the exhibit are screenings of shorts by filmmakers at ReelAbilities, an organization “dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expression of people with disabilities,” on April 9; media artist Carrie Hawks will present an artist talk followed by a hands-on animation workshop for media artists ages 16 and up on April 16; and on April 23, the museum will screen the Marvels of Media Awards winning entries.

In a press release, the museum’s executive director Carl Goodman said that the Marvels of Media Awards illustrates the museum’s continued “commitment to supporting the creative endeavors and pursuits of neurodiverse media-makers of all ages and backgrounds, and to help forge pathways within the media and entertainment industries through which these makers can have a substantive impact on our culture.”

Bradley Hennessey is one of the contest finalists. Hennessey’s submission, “An Aspie Life” is a videogame that teaches players what it’s like to live with autism.

“I believe Marvels of Media is an important venture into an amazing group of creators,” he said. “Throughout all media, there are many on the spectrum who work day and night to develop art. The autistic spectrum covers a wide range of individuals, each unique in who they are and how they interact with the world. When this is applied to a creative endeavor, the end result is a representation of who they are. Through this, I hope visitors will gain a better understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum and their perspective on life.”

For more information about the Marvels of Media Awards and the Museum of the Moving Image, click here.

PBS Celebrates Autism Awareness Month With Special Episodes

Blog: Temple Grandin

If you have young children, you may be familiar with “Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum,” an animated television show on PBS. The show chronicles the adventures of three children — Xavier, Yadina and Brad — who travel back in time to meet historical figures.

In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, the series recently aired a special episode in which the three young protagonists meet a new boy named Ben who has autism. Uncertain about how to relate to Ben, the trio travel back to 1953 and meet Temple Grandin, a renowned animal scientist and autism activist.

In the episode titled “I Am Temple Grandin,” Grandin teaches her visitors that “sometimes people think and do things differently.”

Grandin, who was a consultant for the episode, was pleased with the portrayal. “It was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful,” Grandin told the Beaumont Enterprise recently via Zoom. “I think things like this show are really good on educating elementary school kids about differences and inclusion.” The episode is available to stream on the PBS KIDS YouTube channel and will be rerun on April 30, May 1 and May 2 on PBS Kids.

“Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum’s” Autism Awareness Month episode is just one example of the public television network’s Autism Awareness programming. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” a spinoff of the iconic “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood,” also recently introduced a young character with autism. Max, who is voiced by a teenager on the autism spectrum, will be a recurring character on the show. Like many people on the spectrum, Max is “sensitive to loud sounds, flashing lights and uncomfortable fabrics. He likes numbers, buses, bugs and his big sister Amira, but sometimes it takes him longer to get comfortable with new people and situations,” writes Shaun Heasley for Disability Scoop. Watch the episode here.

“Hero Elementary,” which launched on PBS Kids in June 2020, already included a recurring character with autism. However, it was only in time for Autism Awareness Month that the series made its character AJ Gadgets’s diagnosis explicit in a special episode called “AJ’s Extra Superpower.”

AJ  just “happens to be on the autism spectrum,” writes Frank Campagna, a consultant for the show who is also the father of a child with autism. “My role was to ensure that autism was being portrayed accurately, and that their character with autism, AJ, was a good representation of a high-functioning child on the spectrum.” Campagna believes the show succeeded. “AJ flaps his hands when he’s anxious, wears noise canceling headphones when needed, and he doesn’t like it when his clothes get wet. AJ has his quirks, but his friends accept him for who he is. Most of my feedback to the producers focused on how the other characters reacted when AJ had his moments. I wanted AJ’s friends to be supportive, but to never come across as patronizing.” Watch the AJ’s Extra Superpower episode here.

PBS has long been a champion for diverse and inclusive programming. In 2015, the network introduced its “Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children” initiative. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesame Workshop has been offering special programming for children with autism to help them to adjust the many changes and disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Five Trends That Increase Autism Acceptance

Autism Awareness

This year, many are advocating for Autism Awareness Month to be renamed Autism Acceptance Month. The call reflects a growing understanding that being aware of autism isn’t enough. With over five million adults and one in 54 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders each year, we must create a more inclusive United States of America.

Here are some positive trends — short and long-term — that are helping to create a more autism-friendly society.

1. Shopping
Trader Joe’s is collaborating with life skills app developer MagnusCards to create special decks of cards that help customers with autism and developmental disorders negotiate the store more comfortably. According to Disability Scoop “the card decks include one focused on ‘checking out your items’ and another about ‘sensory experiences in the store,’ among others. Each provides visual cues, step-by-step instructions and audio to walk users through tasks.”

2. Vaccination
No one likes getting a shot. But for people with autism, the experience can be even more anxiety provoking. Some facilities are providing special hours and/or designated sensory-friendly rooms where individuals with autism can get their vaccines. For example, at Moorestown Mall in Burlington County, New Jersey, a so-called “vaccine megasite,” those with autism or other special needs can receive their vaccines in a private, dimly lit, quiet setting. Appointments are necessary.

And in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Foundation recently set up a special vaccination site at Lincoln Financial Field for people with autism. According to The Autism Site News, the clinic, held in luxury boxes at Eagle Stadium, was equipped with sensory blankets, fidget toys, visual schedules of events and more.

3. Work Culture
Like many other large corporations, JPMorgan Chase has come to understand the value that individuals with autism disorders bring to the workplace. Founded in 2015, the company’s Autism at Work program has hired more than 150 people with ASD in eight countries. “We work closely with senior leaders across the firm to identify roles that would benefit from the talents of ASD adults and ensure we provide an inclusive work environment for these employees to thrive,” says James Mahoney Executive Director and Head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

4. Apparel
In recent years, the fashion industry has finally awakened to the market for adaptive clothing. In addition, some individuals without the backing of large corporations are single-handedly creating clothing businesses for people living with autism. Take Jose Rodriguez, a 17-year-old boy in Rhode Island who recently started Tasium (an anagram of autism), a T-shirt company for people with ASD. The company was inspired by Jose’s brother, who has Asperger’s syndrome and benefits from the use of fidget toys. Jose came up with the idea of making T-shirts with metal grommets at the bottom where people like his brother can attach their fidget toys for easy access. Jose’s invention won first prize in the National Youth Entrepreneur Challenge back in October 2020.

5. Entertainment
Individuals with autism are more likely to be portrayed in movies and television than ever before.  Shows such as “Parenthood,” “Atypical,” “The Good Doctor,” and “The A Word,” all portray characters with autism. Sesame Street has been a leader in inclusive entertainment, by teaching typically functioning children about their peers with autism from an early age. On Autism Acceptance Day, April 8, Sesame Workshop released a new episode starring Julia, a Muppet with autism and a series of online materials meant to help children with autism and their families adapt to life during the pandemic. In a press release, Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President of US Social Impact, Sesame Workshop said, “All children depend on consistent routines, which help them feel safe and secure. Disruptions to routines can be challenging, especially for children with autism. The new resources launching today feature Julia and her family using strategies to navigate everyday moments and life’s surprises. Together, we can help families manage the stress that comes along with the unexpected.”

What’s New in Autism Research—The Latest Findings

World Autism Day

Friday, April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day. Established by the United Nations in 2007, World Autism Day is observed around the globe every year on April 2.

In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in 54 children has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Given those sky-high ratios, it’s no wonder that scientists are hard at work seeking answers to the many questions surrounding this mysterious condition. While they’re far from having all the answers, new research about ASD is emerging all the time.

We’ve searched the internet to compile a list of some of the latest and most compelling research studies to come out in the past year. Here’s what we discovered.

1. There’s a possible link between repetitive behaviors and gastrointestinal upset
Many children with autism exhibit repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping and rocking. A new study by researchers at Ohio State University College of Public Health published in the journal Autism, found a positive relationship between these behaviors and GI symptoms.  According to Payal Chakraborty, a graduate student at The Ohio State University College of Public Health who led the study: “After accounting for each associated behavioral symptom domain, repetitive behaviors and stereotypies were positively associated with gastrointestinal symptom severity.” Significantly, the same study found that GI symptoms did not correlate with the social and emotional problems typically associated with autism.

2. Treatment Intensity and styles showed little difference in outcomes
A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry looked at whether toddlers with autism assessed in four areas —autism symptom severity, expressive communication, receptive language, and nonverbal ability — responded more favorably to naturalistic developmental/behavioral treatment or discrete trial teaching. The study also tested whether symptoms responded better to 15 vs. 25 hours of intervention per week. The study found that “neither treatment style nor intensity had overall effects on child outcomes in the 4 domains examined.”

3. Black children wait longer for autism diagnoses
According to an article in the journal Pediatrics, after African American parents express concern about their child’s development, it takes an average of more than three years for them to receive an autism diagnosis. Based on their findings about the disparity between white and Black families seeking diagnoses for their children, study authors called for additional research to be an “immediate public health and research priority.” They said there is an urgent need to “explore the extent to which resolution of health disparities that compromise timely access to effective intervention, can reduce deleterious effects on cognition that disproportionately accompany autism among African American youth.”

4. Certain prerequisites predict positive outcomes for adults with autism
A study in Autism Research found that the trajectory of “more or less” cognitively able adults with autism depends on factors such as “daily living skills, fewer mental health problems, family demographics, and subjective measures of happiness.” These results have important implications for parents of children with autism as they consider their children’s transition from childhood to adulthood.

5. Genetic mutations can provide clues to autism treatment
A study conducted by Dr. Professor Sagiv Shifman from the Life Sciences Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for Autism Research, examined how the Pogz gene, a gene widely linked to autism, affected the brains of mice. The study team focused most of its attention on the cerebellum, the part of the brain associated with motor functioning and more recently, with social and cognitive functions. Said the professor: “Our work with this specific gene that we know is connected to autism and significantly impacts on the functioning of the brain provide us with considerable hope that we will be able to develop medicines to assist children with autism.”

Five Reasons Why Individuals with Autism Make Great Employees

Disability Employment Month

October 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Increasing Opportunity and Access.” Given the employment statistics for individuals with disabilities in the United States, it’s a theme that requires immediate action.

For example, according to nonprofit Autism Speaks, the vast majority of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, with estimates ranging to as high as 85%.”

On Oct. 4, CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” presented “Recruiting on the Autism Spectrum,” a segment hosted by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper.

The segment reported on the growing trend among large corporations such as Ernst & Young, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase & Co. and Ford, toward hiring people on the autism spectrum.

Contrary to what one might expect, these corporations aren’t hiring people with autism because it’s good PR. As Kelly Grier, Ernst & Young’s United States chairwoman told Cooper, “this is absolutely a business imperative, and it makes great sense from a business perspective.”

That’s because many individuals on the autism spectrum have valuable skills that neuro-typical individuals don’t have.

Grier told Cooper that people with autism “have saved [Ernst & Young] millions of dollars by looking at problems in a different way, and creating algorithms to shortcut and automate processes.” People on the spectrum make great employees for many reasons. Here’s a rundown of some of these.

They’re smart

Sixty percent of individuals with autism spectrum disorders are of average or above average intelligence. The fact that so many are underemployed or unemployed is a shame both for individuals with autism and employers. This is particularly true since many corporations struggle to find talent in the areas of IT and data analytics, areas in which people with autism tend to excel. For example, at Autocon, a global IT consultant firm, two-thirds of its workforce are individuals with autism. In a recent opinion piece for CNBC, Autocon’s CEO, David Aspinall, said that these individuals “often excel at business intelligence, quality-assurance test automation and complex software development projects. … Hiring more people with autism could be the answer to the tech skills shortage while diversifying a company’s workforce.”

They’re super-focused

Many people with autism have great powers of concentration especially when they are interested in a topic. While neuro-typical employees may find repetitive tasks boring and lose focus as a result, many employees with autism thrive on repetition and are able to maintain their focus for long periods of time.

They’re detail-oriented

People on the autism spectrum are known for their attention to detail. A 2020 article in Wired reported that people with autism consistently score “faster and more accurately” than neuro-typical people  on the “ Embedded Figures Test, in which subjects have to find a target shape within a larger design…” They also score higher on “visual-search tests, where subjects have to find a target stimulus in a large display of close imposters (such as finding a letter T among a sea of letter Is).”

They’re loyal employees

Many people with autism do well with routine and struggle with change. Therefore, they are likely to remain in their jobs over long periods of time. This saves employers time and money since they don’t need to contend with constant staff turnover and onboarding of new employees.

Neurodiversity is good for business

In recent years, corporations have begun to recognize that diversity benefits the bottom line. Just as businesses benefit from having an ethnically, racially, religious and culturally diverse workforce, they also benefit from having a neuro-diverse workforce.

According to an article on the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s website, “Research on collective intelligence released several years ago by Carnegie Mellon University demonstrates that diverse teams perform better. Other research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in memory, mathematics or pattern recognition. And a recent Harvard Business Review article explained how neurodiversity can provide a competitive advantage.”

Autism Awareness Starts with Safety

Autism Awareness Month Notice with Puzzle Symbol

April is National Autism Awareness Month! In recognition of people with autism and their families, this month, Enabling Devices’ weekly blog posts will focus on topics of interest to the autism community.

People with autism commonly experience behavioral, social and sensory challenges that may place them at increased risk of injury. In fact, the statistics are heart-breaking.  A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health  found that in the United States, the life expectancy of individuals with autism spectrum disorders is only 36 years old — half the life expectancy of an individual in the general population.” Additionally, the study found that “those with ASD are 40 times more likely to die from various injuries.” The most common causes of death in people with autism are “suffocation, asphyxiation, and drowning.”

Fortunately, there are steps families and caregivers can take to prevent such tragedies. Here’s what safety experts recommend:

1. Protect wanderers
It is common for some individuals with autism to wander off, putting them at risk for a variety of dangerous situations. Consider putting alarms on the doors leading to the outside of your home so you are alerted if your child leaves without your knowledge. Make sure your child always carries identification in case she becomes lost. You can also purchase a GPS tracking device that monitors her whereabouts. There are many types of GPS devices. Here are some of the options.

2. Safety-proof your home
Accidents can happen even in the relative safety of your home. According to Safety.com, children with autism may require the same types of safety precautions commonly taken with much younger children who are typically developing. For example, families should make sure furniture is secured to the walls with brackets or safety straps to prevent heavy furniture from toppling over and causing injuries. In addition, parents should keep cleaning products and freezers locked so that nothing dangerous can be ingested.

3. Maintain strict pool safety
Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death among children with autism. If you have a swimming pool, be sure it is fenced, that gates are securely locked and that your child is not able to reach and/or open gates leading to the pool. Teaching children to swim and to observe pool safety rules at an early age will also help to prevent accidents. Regardless of your child’s swimming ability, never leave a child unsupervised in a swimming pool, even for a second.

4. Protect against burns
As Safety.com notes, “sometimes children with autism struggle with sensory challenges, so they may be more at risk for getting burned by hot water simply because they cannot feel hot and cold.”  Adds Safety.com: turning down the temperature of your home water heater, putting warning stickers on faucets, and teaching your child how to adjust water temperature when using faucets are all ways to prevent injuries caused by hot water burns.

5. Prevent victimization
Children with autism are at increased risk for bullying, abduction and physical and sexual abuse. One way to teach them to avoid being victimized is with social stories and role play. In collaboration with Autism Speaks, TwigTale has created teaching stories on a variety of safety topics for children on the spectrum including “Police Officer, My Friend,” “Learning to Stand Tall and Be Brave,”  and “I’m the Boss of My Body.” Read and discuss them with your child frequently.

6. Have a safety plan
Though we can’t prepare for every eventuality, there’s a great deal that can be done to prevent accidents before they happen. On its website, Autism Speaks offers a comprehensive package of printable resources including a Safety & Wandering Checklist; Family Wandering Emergency Plan; Autism Alert Elopement Form; and Neighbor Alert Letter.

7. Make others aware of the safety plan
We’ve all heard the sayings “It takes a village to raise a child.” This is especially true when it comes to children with special needs who need additional help and supervision. Autism Speaks stresses the fact that your family safety plan “should include key participants – school personnel, daycare providers, neighbors, caretakers, and extended family; anyone involved in your network that has daily contact with the person at risk.”

 

Oscar Breakthrough

actor Zach G.

If you caught the Academy Awards earlier this month, you probably saw actor Zack Gottsagen make history. Gottsagen, who presented the Oscar for best live action short to filmmaker/director Marshall Curry for “The Neighbors’ Window,” was the first person with Down syndrome to be an Oscar presenter in the award ceremony’s 92-year history. The 35-year-old Florida resident  presented the award along with his friend Shia LaBeouf.

According to various news sources, the two actors met while filming the 2019 independent film “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” in which Gottsagen plays a man with Down syndrome who runs away from a nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. LaBeouf plays a fugitive fisherman who meets and teams up with Gottsagen. “The Peanut Butter Falcon” also stars Dakota Johnson and Oscar nominees Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church.

Written by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, the film was actually inspired by Gottsagen after the writers met him at an acting camp for people with disabilities. Reportedly, Gottsagen begged the young filmmakers to make a movie about him.  Naysayers said a film about a protagonist with Down syndrome would never get financing but Nilson and Schwarz persisted. It took five years, but the film was eventually brought to the screen.

Since appearing in “The Peanut Butter Falcon,” Gottsagen has become an instant celebrity, appearing on talk shows including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and even receiving the Rising Star award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival last year.

Gottsagen has been shattering expectations ever since he was born. According to the Los Angeles Times, at the time of his birth, doctors told Gottsagen’s mother that he would never walk or talk and recommended that she institutionalize him. But Zack’s mother Shelley Gottsagen wasn’t having any of that. Instead, she advocated on her son’s behalf, making him the first student with Down syndrome to be mainstreamed in the Palm Beach County public school system.

Nowadays, Gottsagen, whose longtime dream was to become an actor, also teaches theater and is part of a local dance troupe.

After Gottsagen presented the Oscar, the milestone  was hailed by disability advocates and organizations including the Ruderman Family Foundation. The Foundation has made the inclusion of people with disabilities in the film and television industries a cornerstone of its philanthropic work.

“For nearly a century, disability has been glaringly left out of the conversation on diversity in Hollywood. Tonight’s award presentation marks a substantive step forward for both the Academy and the entertainment industry as a whole,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

Yet Ruderman didn’t leave it at that. Hollywood continues to draw criticism for the fact that actors with disabilities are rarely cast, even when films and television shows include characters with disabilities. Wrote Ruderman: “It is our sincere hope that this milestone serves as a springboard for greater inclusion in Hollywood, including through increased authentic casting of actors with disabilities in disability-based roles, and able-bodied based roles.”

Social Media and Autism: Benefits and Risk Factors Assessed

Images of Social Media Icons

Studies find that teens and adults with autism can benefit from the social interactions they experience through their Facebook connections. A 2018 study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking by Deborah M. Ward and colleagues at the School of Psychology of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California revealed “adults with autism spectrum disorder who use Facebook in moderation tend to be happier than those who do not.”

Likewise, a 2017 study by the Yale Department of Psychiatry and Yale Child Study Center, researchers found that “adolescents with autism spectrum disorder derive high friendship quality through their use of social media.”

The studies’ findings aren’t surprising.  Many individuals with autism desire friendships, but struggle with face-to-face interactions that require them to read body language and facial cues, understand jokes, irony and sarcasm and respond quickly, verbally and appropriately in real time. Online communication diminishes the need for many of these social skills, and significantly reduces the social anxiety of people with autism.

Yet, just as social media use comes with a level of risk for neuro-typical adolescents and adults, it can be detrimental to individuals with autism if not used responsibly.

A group of researchers at University College of London studied the use of social media in teens with autism and created the “Rough Guide to Using Social Media for Teens with Autism” and the “Rough Guide to Using Social Media for Parents of Teens with Autism.”

The guide for teens acknowledges that social media provides great opportunities for staying in touch and meeting new friends; finding communities of people with similar interests; and learning and sharing information and opinions — while also providing advice on how to avoid the safety risks of interacting with strangers online. For example, the guide advises young social media users not to give out personal information such as addresses, phone numbers or passwords; not to arrange meetings with people on the internet without checking with an adult first; blocking people whose comments are offensive; and taking a break before responding to comments or questions that make the teen feel uncomfortable, upset or confused.

Similarly, the guide for parents points out the ways in which social media can help teens with autism learn to navigate social situations and meet other teens with autism who share their interests. Parents are encouraged to talk with their teens about their social media use on a regular basis and to set clear guidelines about what can be shared online. “Agree what your child can share on their own and what needs to be approved by you first,” says the guide, which also “discourages engagement with trolls or cyber-bullies…” and advises parents to help their children “to understand jokes, sarcasm, lies or irony” they will likely encounter online.

Technology and the internet can open doors for children with autism and other conditions that limit their ability to communicate and form relationships. Enabling Devices offers a range of communicators, iPad accessories, mounts and switches that help people with disabilities to connect to others and to access the world.

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Advocate for Autism Awareness All Year Long

Autism Puzzle Pieces

With the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders on the rise — the Centers for Disease and Prevention Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network now estimates that 1 in 59 children have ASD — declaring only one month per year Autism Awareness Month seems insufficient. In 2019, we need to be aware that individuals with autism, their families, teachers and therapists are coping with the challenges associated with ASD on a daily basis.

As we near the end of April and the close of Autism Awareness Month 2019, Enabling Devices offers these recommendations to support the autism community throughout the year.

Learn about Autism
Educate yourself and others about autism — its symptoms, treatments, and diagnoses — by reading about ASD, checking out realistic depictions of people with autism on TV and in movies. Yet, keep in mind that all people with autism are different, just like the rest of us.

Appreciate Difference
Human beings have a tendency to gravitate to people, places and activities that are familiar. We may be uncomfortable and even fearful about those who seem unfamiliar. Go out of your way to meet and get to know people with autism. You’ll undoubtedly be impressed with their unique strengths and talents.

Empathize
Individuals with autism may behave differently than neurotypical people. Flapping, tantrums, and strong reactions to sensory stimuli may draw unwanted attention to families when they venture out of their homes with a child with autism. Dealing with the reactions of others in the form of staring, teasing, unkind comments or unsolicited advice, all add to the stress of caring for a child with autism. Advises the American College of Pediatricians: “Avoid being judgmental of a family dealing with these behaviors, and realize that they are not caused by a lack of appropriate parenting.”

Help out
No matter how you slice it, parenting is hard work. Parenting a child with autism is even harder. According to the ACPEDS, “Parents caring for an autistic child appreciate hands-on help. Offering to trade baby-sitting or watching their other children so they can take their child with autism to therapy are great ways to lend a hand.”

Accommodate Friends and Family
Not sure how best to accommodate friends and family members with autism? Ask! Before hosting a party of holiday event, check with guests to find out what gifts an autistic child might prefer, what she might like to eat, or what game or TV show he might enjoy. Sensitive inquiries will go a long way toward helping a guest with autism and his family members to feel more at ease.

Volunteer Your Time
Whether you volunteer for a local autism organization, support autism fundraising events or attend educational programs that promote autism awareness, you’ll be doing your part to help people with autism and their families in a variety of ways.

Donate to autism organizations
If you have the ability, make a financial contribution to a reputable autism organization. Your dollars can help to fund autism research or help nonprofits such as schools, job training or extracurricular programs that serve the autism community.

Encourage inclusion
Whether it’s in your child’s classroom, your workplace, your local theater or place of worship, advocating for inclusion goes a long way toward encouraging your community to embrace people with autism and their families.