Thursday, April 27, 2006

Post-production problems with "Mozart & the Whale"

An article about actor Josh Hartnett mentions that the producers of "Mozart and the Whale" fired the director after the movie was shot and re-edited it. Hartnett now refuses to promote the finished product.

"Hartnett's less thrilled with what happened to the true-life drama "Mozart and the Whale," slated for release last year. He plays the lead in a romance involving a man with a rare type of autism.
The indie film was launched in part because of his ardent support, something he withdrew when the producers fired director Peter Naess ("Elling") and re-edited the movie. One reason it has yet to be released is that Hartnett, the only "name" actor involved, refuses to promote it.
"I feel terrible for Jerry Newport," the person on whose life the movie is based, he said. "He was mad at me at first (for blocking the release), although now I think he understands. This is one of my favorite roles of all time, but I want to see the movie done correctly."

Full article here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Autism Doc Featured on Today Show

Check out the Today Show this Sunday April 30 to see Taylor Cross, Keri Bowers and a glimpse of their new movie "Normal People Scare Me" produced by Joey Travolta (John's Brother). "Normal People Scare Me," a feature-length documentary based on an award-winning short film of the same title kicks off its world tour in Canada. The film, which is produced by Joey Travolta, is co-directed by17-year old filmmaker, Taylor Cross, a high school student with autism, and his mom, Keri Bowers, a long-time advocate in the disabilities community. The film, which features over 65 interviews with quirky, brilliant and colorful individuals having autism reveals expected and unexpected challenges and stereotypes in autism, according to the filmmaker.

-from the Faces Autism Yahoo Group

OT Web Site

An Occupational Therapist is creating a web site and is looking for input. There is not much content available yet, but this looks like it could be interesting. I think it is great that OTs are looking for ways to connect with parents and educators. Here's her message:

I am creating a website as an occupational therapist geared towards children with autism and sensory processing issues. I wanted to ask the group if there are areas in particular you feel I should include to create a really really thorough site parent and educator friendly. One of my main goals is to help educators understand sensory needs so kids aren't labeled as "behavior kids"... and for parents to be able to better understand and identify a sensory need and apply sensory input to combat it. ALL input is much much appreciated.
Andrea Berger, OT

Saturday, April 22, 2006

PDAs for Kids With Asperger's

A school for kids with Asperger's in Massachusetts has begun a unique program giving autistic students personal digital assistants -- PDAs -- to organize their schedules, rate their own performance in the classroom and provide cues that remind them to perform everyday tasks.

The students periodically make entries into their PDAs, giving themselves demerits for interrupting or chalking up positive points for being attentive and answering questions. The students also use PDAs to manage their personal belongings and time. Melissa Fitzpatrick, an occupational therapist at the school, checks to make sure the students accurately record whether they have completed those tasks. She also is teaching them how to use the PDA to track their schedule of classes and appointments.

The PDA software also allows students to catalog their emotions, like whether they feel happy or sad, peaceful or angry, calm or nervous. This can help determine whether medication changes are affecting them.

One advantage of PDAs is that the commonly used device would not make the autistic person appear different than anyone else.

While looking over data from the League School project, Ron Calvanio, chief scientific officer of SymTrend, the company that provides the PDA software, said the Asperger’s students are quickly learning how to properly act in the classroom and maximize their learning experience.
"We’ve found this is a very powerful tool," he said. "They’ve learned in nine weeks what has eluded them for a good number of their adolescent years."

Full article here.

Baron-Cohen's Theory

There is an article here that distills Simon Baron-Cohen's theory of the male and female brain and how it relates to autism. It also inlcudes a link to online self tests.

IEP Workshop

Janet Kimble of SPAN (Statewide Parent Advocacy Network) &
Melanie O'Dea of the NJDOE (NJ Dept of Education)
NJDOE Learning Resource Center Workshop
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
7:00 - 9:00 PM
Temple Beth Shalom
Corner of Whitty Road & Old Freehold Road
Toms River (direction are on
then click on Ocean County Chapter link)
$5.00 non-members
2 CEU credit for professionals
attending the meeting
For more information contact
Meeting topic:
"Parent-Educator Collaboration in the IEP Process - Working Together to Improve Student Outcomes"
Melanie O'Dea, Special Education Consultant, New Jersey Department of Education, OSEP, Learning Resource Center - Central
Janet Kimble, START Project (Statewide Technical Assistance Resource Team - a partnership between NJDOE and SPAN to address areas in need of improvement in special education), SPAN

In special education, collaboration between parents and educators is essential to ensuring that the student is the central focus. Join us in learning how you can begin to build that important bridge in your district.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Siblings of Children with Special Needs

Siblings of children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities are two to three times more likely than their peers to experience psychological adjustment problems. Young children in particular are at high risk for experiencing these kinds of problems. To address this concern, a report published in the December 2005 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology finds that family-based group intervention can help improve the self-confidence and knowledge of young siblings (ages 4 to 7) of children with special needs.

The authors found that the siblings' knowledge of the child's disorder and sibling "connectedness", or the feeling that they are not alone, increased significantly regardless of the nature of the brother or sister's condition. Siblings' feelings of competence also increased. The improvements in sibling knowledge and connectedness maintained at follow-up three months later.
Full article here.

Autreat 2006

Autism Network International presents
Autreat is a retreat-style conference run by autistic people, for autistic people and our friends and families. It is an opportunityfor autistic people and those with related developmental differences, our friends and supporters to come together, discover and explore autistic connections, and develop advocacy skills, allin an autistic-friendly environment. Autreat focuses on positive living with autism, NOT on causes, cures, or ways to make us more normal. We have an exciting lineup of presentations on a variety of subjects of interest to the Autistic community, including communication, relationships, daily living aids, travel, effects of prejudice, and more. Autreat has been approved to offer Continuing Education Units through the Center on Human Policy at SyracuseUniversity.
Autreat 2006 will take place on June 26-30 at a small university campus in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. The campus has plenty of open space for walking, recreation, and enjoying the outdoors. Lodging is in a residence hall with two to four people per room. Registration includes a supervised activity program forchildren and teens under 18. For fee information, registration form, a list of workshops, and further autreat information, check out ANI's website at:

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Autism Podcasts

Autism for Parents continues to grow. It's got a great new page listing podcasts and other multimedia resources.

Service Dog Helps Boy with Autism

This article tells about a trained service dog who has helped a 7 year old boy with Asperger's. The dogs are specifically trained for a child's needs. The family needed to raise $5000 and go to Ohio to get the dog.

"It's really amazing. If Aaron is having a meltdown, Georgia is trained to chill him out. She climbs on top of him so he can pet her."
Georgia is more than a pal. She helps Aaron break repetitive behaviors or patterns by bumping him or distracting him with her paw.
Georgia follows Aaron wherever he goes, and she knows she's "working" whenever she is wearing her vest.
"Georgia helps Aaron learn social behaviors," Sara said. "She gives him a way to interact with his peers. Kids can come up to him and say, 'Can I pet your dog?' or, 'What's your dog's name?'"
While Aaron isn't able to bring Georgia to school with him because he is young enough that he requires a second handler when he is with the dog, Georgia goes everywhere else.
"She's phenomenal," Sara said. "She's done wonders for him in the short time we've had her. He seems to want to interact more with people."
And Aaron loves Georgia, whom he calls his new best friend.
"She's my friend but I would like a people friend," Aaron said.
Aaron said having a buddy like Georgia is a great boost.
"She's the best dog ever," Aaron said. "I just think the people in Ohio trained her well. She's perfect. It's awesome."

The organization is called 4 Paws for Ability.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Face Recognition

Two articles in recent days discuss what's happening in the brain when people are looking at faces.

This one from the BBC refers to a study from the University of London of 32 people - 16 with ASDs - that suggests that in people with ASDs "the face-processing areas of the brain are not well connected to those parts of the brain that control attention - such as the frontal and parietal regions. " The headline is "Weak BrainLinks 'Explain Autism'"and refers to "abnormalities".

Another article from Science Daily refers to research at Georgetown University which "adds new evidence to the debate over how the brain understands and interprets faces, an area of neuroscience that has been somewhat controversial. Because the process of facial perception is complicated and involves different and widespread areas of the brain, there is much that remains unknown about how humans perform this task...Maximilian Riesenhuber hopes that integrative research of this kind will help scientists better understand the neural bases of object recognition deficits in mental disorders, such as autism, dyslexia or schizophrenia. People with autism, for example, experience difficulty with recognizing faces, which might be caused by a defect on the neural level. Breakthroughs in this kind of research could someday lead to targeted therapies for the millions of people who suffer from these disorders.
“The findings are exciting because we are now going to apply this technique to probe the neural bases of face perception deficits in autism,” Riesenhuber said.

The Science Daily article also has links to related articles on this subject.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Support for Siblings

COSAC (NJ Center for Outreach and Services to the Autism Community) has a Sibling Pen Pal Program: a great and easy way to connect siblings so that they can share their stories, successes and challenges of living with a brother or sister with autism. To participate, email Suzanne Buchanan at

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Five Year Study of Children with ASDs

This article chronicles an interesting study that followed 91 children with ASDs for five years. Here's what was found [I added italics to what I found most compelling]:

"One central finding of the study, said Dr. Coplan, is that children in the normal range of intelligence (an IQ of 70 or above) show significant improvement in their ASD symptoms over time. "We can offer the hopeful message to parents that many children with autistic spectrum disorders will improve as part of the natural course of the condition," he said. This finding reinforced impressions by Dr. Coplan and many previous researchers about clinical outcomes for children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Dr. Coplan cautions that although the model has predictive value for clinical outcomes when looking at average outcomes for groups of children, it will not necessarily predict a course for each individual patient. Rather it would provide a "roadmap" on which to plot a child's progress over time.
The model still must be confirmed in larger studies of populations of children with autistic spectrum disorders, not just in a sample from one clinic, according to Dr. Coplan.
If larger studies validate the model, he adds, it may become a benchmark to help researchers evaluate the effectiveness of particular autistic spectrum disorders treatments. "Many currently popular therapies may be capitalizing on the natural history of ASD, and claiming such improvement on their own behalf," he writes in the paper. If patients improved more than would be anticipated from the model's outline of the natural course of ASD alone, that might provide evidence for a treatment's success.
Additionally, the model might shed light into causes of autistic spectrum disorders, as yet unknown. Children with ASD from different causes may follow different developmental paths," says Dr. Coplan, and studying those patterns may help researchers to better identify causes for the diseases."

The study appears in the July 2005 issue of Pediatrics.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Is It an Epidemic or Not?

And why should it matter?

A University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher has a study published in the current isssue of Pediatrics that disputes claims that there is an autism epidemic. Here's an excerpt of a newspaper article about the study:

"Before the early 1990s, the Department of Education didn't have an autism classification for children with special needs. Therefore, children who would now be considered autistic were often diagnosed with other disorders, invalidating direct comparisons of data collected from the early 1990s and now."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Disability Resource Fair

Disability Resource Fair

April 20th, 2006
6:00 – 9:00pm
Crawford-Rodriguez Elementary School
1025 Larsen Road
Jackson, NJ 08527

Sponsored by:
Jackson Special Education Advisory Council Parent MembersJackson Parent to Parent Support Group

*Exhibition of provider agencies!
*Refreshments will be served
*Door Prizes
*Find out about: specialized camps, social skills groups, life organizers, financial planning, advocacy resources & information

Exhibitors will be available to answer questions and give out information on their services. Resources for disabilities such as autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Attention Deficit Disorder, Specific Learning Disabilities and many others will be available.

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC Parents, Caregivers, Educators, and Providers are invited.

**Children are welcome and activities will be provided!**

If you have any questions, call Pattie Carollo at 732-886-9584 or visit the website at and click on the Special Education link for directions and more information.

Assistive Technology Expo

The Ocean County (New Jersey) Educational Technology & Assistive Technology Training Center and The Ocean County College Disability Resource Center will hold the 5th Annual Educational Technology Innovations Conference & Assistive Technology Expo at Ocean County College in Toms River, NJ on May 19th.

One of the breakout sessions will be "Assistive Tech for Autistic/PDD Students" - Special considerations for the needs of autistic/PDD students in choice of software, environment, ergonomics, stimulus control, and input options will be addressed.

Pre-registration before May 5th is $45.00.
For more information, call 732-240-7601.