Archive for December, 2011

Autism in the News – 12.30.11

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Frostbite 5K in North Park to Benefit Locals Living with Autism (Pine-Richland Patch)
TJ Burke, a local educator and law enforcement officer, has teamed up with the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders to host the first Frostbite 5K run at North Park. Read more.

New Miller College seminar aids in autism battle (Battle Creek Inquirer)
Harper Creek Community Schools special education coach Kindra Hanson said there’s an old saying about autism: “Autism always wins.” Read more.

Astoria realtor to shave off his signature mustache to raise money for autism support group (The Daily News)
A respected Queens community leader is attempting to turn the mustache he’s sported for the last 35 years into some cold hard cash for an autism organization. Read more.

Integrity of disability panel in question (Canada)
Ken and Gail Wilkinson have spent more than $80,000 of their retirement savings in a legal fight with the province to get financial support for their son Patrick who has autism, cerebral palsy and hearing loss. Read more.

Play day is fun for children (UK)
The voluntarily-run Spectrum group took over Kids Play in Thurston Drive, Kettering, for a session before Christmas. The group regularly rents out venues throughout the year where young autism sufferers and their parents can have fun with similar people. Read more.

Autism Speaks’ daily blog “Autism in the News” is a mix of top news stories of the day. Autism Speaks does not vet the stories and the views contained therein do not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks beliefs or point of view.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Autism in the News – 12.29.11

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Love, Autism, And Excellent Modern Journalism (Palisades Hudson Financial Group)
In case you missed it during Monday’s holiday, The New York Times published a magazine-length profile of a young man and a young woman, each of whom have Asperger’s, who are building a loving relationship together. I found it noteworthy for several reasons. Read more.

Sarah Haskins, Olympic Triathlete, Comes Home to High Ridge (Arnold Patch)
Olympic Triathlete Sarah Haskins came home for the holidays to High Ridge last  week from her winter home in Florida, where she and her husband, Nathan Kortuem, live. Haskins is in training for a push to improve on her 11th place finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics triathlon. She is hoping to make the U.S. team that will compete in the 2012 Summer Games in London next August. Read more.

Rooney and Owen act as an aid for a child suffering from cancer (Sports Pulse)
A die-hard football fan, aged 12, recovered from cancer with the help of motivation from Manchester United front-line players, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. Read more.

Inclusion Films teaches developmentally disabled adults all aspects of filmmaking (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Greg Donoghue grew up around film sets. His father worked as a film publicist in Europe and his uncle is Pierre Spengler, a producer of the “Superman” movies. Read more.

Blackburn farm launches social enterprise for adults with special needs (UK)
Adults with special needs can now boost their career prospects by working on a Blackburn farm. Read more.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Autism in the News – 12.28.11

December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Autism: A Year In Review (Huffington Post)
In the United States, we’ve seen a fifteen-fold increase in autism diagnoses over the past two decades. In fact, it’s currently estimated that almost 1% of US children have an autism-spectrum disorder (ASD), while the rates in US adults are largely unknown. Autism is described in the DSM-IV, listed as a disorder usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. Autism is further categorized as a pervasive developmental disorder, falling within the autistism spectrum, along with Asperger’s and PDD-NOS.  Read more.

Boy with autism put in duffle bag at school: responds (
A young Kentucky boy and his mother have become the center of a national petition after  a school employee allegedly put her son in a bag. Read more.

Autism center hopes grant will help it help others (Green Bay, Wis.)
Twenty-year-old Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student Joe Morton is painting for the first time. He’s has a spectrum of colors to choose from. For the canvas he’s working on at the moment, he’s chosen red and blue. Read more.

Fundraising begins for autistic son of slain East Washington officer (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Friends and colleagues of slain East Washington police Officer John David Dryer have begun raising money for his 17-year-old son, whose autism challenges him to articulate his grief. Read more. Read more.

It Takes a (Christmas) Village to Raise a Child With Autism (Huffington Post)
We’re three years apart, my brother and me. I’m a city mouse. He’s a suburb mouse. He drives a big suburban truck. I ride the subway. He works in finance and subsists on Diet Pepsi and cheeseburgers. I’m a latte-sipping, teacher and poet. There’s a major cultural divide. On Sundays, his kids go to mass and play soccer. On Sundays my kids set up for the Hope Dinner at my church and study art at the museum. Read more.

Autism Speaks’ daily blog “Autism in the News” is a mix of top news stories of the day. Autism Speaks does not vet the stories and the views contained therein do not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks beliefs or point of view.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,

Autism in the News – 12.27.11

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Chesapeake father creates app to navigate autism (
Joe Hill watched his son press a finger against the screen of an iPhone, pull back an animated slingshot, and fire a bird through the virtual air. Read more.

New medical-legal partnership will help families after autism diagnosis (Asbury Park Press)
Almost one out of every 94 children born in New Jersey is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Read more.

Top year for specialist school (UK)
It’s been a year of celebrations for staff and students at Portfield School. The Wessex Autistic Society’s specialist school in West Parley, which caters for students aged three to 19 with autism, reached its milestone 40th birthday this year. Read more.

Parkway Grad, Olympic Triathlete Comes Home This Holiday (Town and Country Manchester Patch)
Olympic Triathlete Sarah Haskins came home for the holidays last week from her winter home in Florida, where she lives with her husband, Nathan Kortuem. Haskins is a 1999 graduate of Manchester’s Parkway South High School and was inducted into the Parkway South Hall of Fame last year. Read more.

A Very Special Winter Break (St. Charles Patch)
Although the weather doesn’t seem to indicate it, we are smack in the middle of the winter school break. School children everywhere get two to three weeks off to…I don’t know, what are they doing? Playing with their Christmas toys? Nah, that was over about five minutes after they opened them. They sure aren’t tobogganing or building snowmen, at least not in this part of the country. I guess the only certainty is that they are all enjoying not being in school. Read more.

Autism Speaks’ daily blog “Autism in the News” is a mix of top news stories of the day. Autism Speaks does not vet the stories and the views contained therein do not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks beliefs or point of view.

Categories: Autism in the News Tags: ,


December 27, 2011 10 comments

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced that states could define benefits under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal health care law enacted in 2010, by choosing one of several state and federal health care plans as a reference.  The plan each state chooses could have significant impact on the coverage of autism interventions.

HHS is encouraging public input on its intended approach.  To help the autism community respond, Autism Speaks has analyzed the HHS proposal as it relates to autism coverage. Comments should be directed to HHS by January 31, 2012, to

Under the HHS proposal, the health care plan a state chooses would serve as its standard for all health care plans, whether they operate inside the health insurance exchange created in the state, or in individual and small group health care plans offered outside the exchange. The benchmark plan would set benefits for all health care services, including autism interventions.

The ACA directs HHS to define essential health benefits (EHB) – a set of core health services.  Certain health plans would then have to cover those benefits beginning in 2014. Those plans include: individual and small group health plans that were not in effect the day the law was signed in 2010; Medicaid benchmark and benchmark-equivalent; and Basic Health Programs (optional state programs for individuals and families with incomes between 133 and 200 percent of the federal poverty limit).

The law provides that the EHB include items and services within the following 10 benefit categories:

1.     Ambulatory patient services

2.     Emergency services

3.     Hospitalization

4.     Maternity and newborn care

5.     Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment

6.     Prescription drugs

7.     Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices

8.     Laboratory services

9.     Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management

10.   Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

States must pay the cost of any benefits required by state law that go beyond the EHB.  In a challenging economy, states may be reluctant to assume the cost of additional services, so what is covered in the EHB really matters.

With the stated aim of balancing “comprehensiveness, affordability, and state flexibility while taking into account public input throughout the process of establishing and implementing EHB,” HHS for 2014 and 2015 gives states a choice of four benchmark plan types:

1.     the largest plan by enrollment in any of the three largest small group insurance products in the state’s small group market

2.     any of the three largest state employee health benefit plans by enrollment

3.     any of the three largest national Federal Employees Health Benefits Program plan options by enrollment

4.     the largest insured commercial non-Medicaid health maintenance organization (HMO) operating in the state

If a state chooses a benchmark subject to state mandates, that benchmark would include those mandates in the state EHB package. HHS intends to assess the benchmark process for 2016 and beyond and may exclude some state benefit mandates from the state EHB package.

HHS will require states to supplement coverage if a benchmark plan is missing one of the 10 categories of benefits. For example, if a state’s benchmark plan does not cover habilitative services, such as speech therapy for a child with autism who is not talking at the expected age, HHS could require the plan to add that care.

HHS is considering two specific options for benchmark plans that do not include coverage for habilitative services:

1.     requiring habilitative services to be offered at parity with rehabilitative services, or

2.     letting plans decide which habilitative services to cover

Under the second option, plans would report their coverage decisions to HHS, which would evaluate them and further define habilitative services in the future.  This option might give plans discretion to refuse coverage for autism.

Another concern is applied behavior analysis (ABA).  All plans must cover mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment, and HHS acknowledges that mental health parity applies in the context of EHB.  Many of the benchmark plans will follow state law that makes ABA a covered benefit.  But what if a benchmark plan does not cover ABA?  HHS has provided no guidance, even though the ACA demands this care. (Reference AB)

HHS intends to require that a health plan offer benefits that are “substantially equal” to the benefits of the benchmark plan selected by the state and modified as necessary to reflect the 10 coverage categories.  In other words, HHS will allow insurance companies some flexibility to adjust benefits, including the specific services covered.  Allowing substitution within or across coverage categories introduces more uncertainty – it could either enhance or dilute autism services.

To respond to the HHS proposal, send your comments by January 31, 2012, to

Music as a Path to Language in Autism

December 27, 2011 24 comments

Today’s guest blog post is from Gottfried Schlaug, MD, PhD, director of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory and associate professor of neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, in Boston. He is a recent recipient of an Autism Speaks Treatment Research Grant.

As many as three in ten children with autism are nonverbal. Yet many children with autism have superior auditory skills and a particular attraction to music. Based on these observations, I and my colleagues have been using forms of music-making that encourage vocalization as a pathway to developing language.

We call our therapy Auditory-Motor Mapping Training (AMMT), and our approach is built on two findings.

First research has shown that music-making creates clear changes in the human brain. In particular we know that it engages and strengthens connections between the auditory and motor regions and improves mapping of sounds to actions. Second, here at our Music and Neuroimaging Lab, we have successfully used a form of singing (i.e., Melodic Intonation Therapy) to help stroke patients regain speech lost after a stroke (aphasia). In essence, our therapies involve having the patient sing words and phrases while using a coordinated movement of the hand not affected by the stroke. This helps their brains map sounds to actions.

In recent years, we’ve adapted our music-motor therapy for stroke victims in ways that allow us to use it with children who have autism and little or no speech. In simplified terms: Our team members sing words and phrases with social connotations (for example, “more please,” “mommy,” “all done”) to the children and with the children, while showing them pictures of the action, person or object. At the same time, we guide each child’s hand to play two drum pads tuned to different pitches.

We believe that intensive, repetitive training—pairing sound with actions–can engage and strengthen the brain pathways needed to speak. In our recently published “proof of concept” study, each participant received 40 treatment sessions, conducted 5 days per week over an 8 week period, with each session lasting 45 minutes. Further analysis revealed that the therapy’s benefits probably occur in the first 25 sessions.

We have seen very encouraging results in our pilot and proof-of-concept studies and are now excited to expand our research and therapy program with a 2011 treatment grant from Autism Speaks. In other words, this funding and this study are being made possible by you—Autism Speaks’ community of supporters. Thank you. We look forward to reporting back our results! Meanwhile, please visit our lab’s website:

Read more science news and perspective on the science page. And explore more of the studies we’re funding with our grant search.

‘Tis the Season, 2011

December 26, 2011 6 comments

This “In Their Own Words” is by Shelley Stolaroff Segal. Segal is a playwright, performer, and essayist living in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Her latest play focused on autism and race and was performed at the Manhattan Repertory Theater and TEDxEast.  Her fourteen-year-old autistic son, Josh, is her divine inspiration, as is his equally divine twin sister, Jordan.

It’s that time of year again.  Time to reflect on the past twelve months and count my blessings. 2011 was a strange ride, full of jarring twists and turns. I’ve lost a few marbles but added a dress size. My son, Josh, a low-functioning but charming fifteen-year-old, is still in the throes of puberty. (Geez, will it ever end?) Despite some cognitive regression, his social skills have improved greatly. He knows more restaurant managers than I do. Good thing, because I’m a lousy cook. So, I will give thanks for my son’s growing sociability, his love of school and family, and recognize a few more of the year’s blessings:

*I’m grateful that Josh likes the cafeteria as much as I do. We try to arrive around 4:00 to miss the dinner rush.

*I’m grateful that Josh’s limited vocabulary is becoming more age-appropriate.  Gus, one of his longtime aides, has taught him how to say, “I want to drink beer at Hooters.” It doesn’t matter that Josh doesn’t understand what he’s saying. Gus is still delighted.

*I’m grateful that only chemicals give me headaches instead of the pubescent odors that assault my nose every day.

*I’m grateful for Josh’s laugh.

*I’m grateful–thrilled actually—that my son and his twin sister, Jordan, are going to the same school for the first time in their lives. Schlepping them to and fro every day is a pleasure. Really.  I tear up sometimes when I watch them walk in together.  Jordan hugs her brother goodbye and shakes hands with his classmates before beating the bell to her own class.

*I’m grateful that I don’t pull my hair out over Josh’s seizures.  It falls out painlessly.

*I’m grateful that we haven’t given up on Josh’s speech.

*I’m grateful that Josh is obsessed with “sook.”  With school.  Every morning he shouts the word deliriously in the shower, and at the table, and from the rooftops. “SOOK!  SOOK!!”  It’s only a problem on weekends and holidays.

*I’m grateful that the thickening hair on Josh’s legs is finally covering his bug bites.

*I’m grateful that homecoming weekend was more sweet than bitter.  I allowed myself to cry only for a minute when nobody was around.  I always thought my twins would be double-dating in high school. But I was thrilled for my daughter, who looked radiant, thrilled about her very sweet boyfriend, and thrilled that my son didn’t care one bit about what he was supposedly missing.

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

%d bloggers like this: