12/1 - Latest in Autism News

Sensory-friendly Santa coming to town to meet children on the autism spectrum

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A sensory-friendly Santa is coming to the Grand 14 movie theater to give families with children on the autism spectrum a chance to participate in the holiday tradition. 

The Autism Community Awareness, or the ACE Program, is teaming up with SOS Healthcare to bring the holiday tradition to families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Program Coordinator Becky Large explains that more than not, families with children living with autism won't be able to wait in long lines at the mall to see Santa, because their child becomes overwhelmed with the wait, loud noises, and everything going on around them. 

Large says meeting Santa is something every parent wants to see their child do, and believes this event will provide families with that opportunity, without the stress factor. 

"They can do it in an environment where you're not going through a cattle chute, and you get to see Santa, and then you're up on his lap and you've got to smile for the picture, and you know to just have the child really kind of settle into the experience, and the parents be able to settle down," Large said. 

Large found a way to remove all of what she called "barriers" associated with going to see Santa at a shopping mall. She says this event will be low-key and laid back. There will be no line, and children will be able to approach Mr. and Mrs. Claus when they feel comfortable, and parents there will be understanding of one another. Large says there won't be a photographer, allowing parents to take their own pictures as many times as they would like. 

Large says these events allow children "to do things that they've done with their family. Have a normal,  family experience. Whether it's a sensory-friendly movie, or a sensory-friendly Santa, to do things that meant something to them as a child, and every parent wants to see their kid on Santa's lap." 

The event will be Saturday, December 5, at 9 a.m., followed by a $5 sensory-friendly movie showing of The Good Dinosaur. Large says popcorn and refreshments will be reduced to $1, and there are free tickets available for first-time families. 

By Lisa Gresci, Nov 27, 2015 5:53 PM EST






11/25 - Latest in Autism News

MIA Launches Program for Special Needs Passengers During Thanksgiving Travel Week

As Miami International Airport prepares to welcome millions of families traveling for the winter holiday season, the airport launched today the MIAair (Airport Instruction and Readiness) program, designed to give South Floridians with autism-related disorders and other special needs the confidence to enjoy air travel.

MIAair is the first U.S. airport program to partner with a major university and medical institution to offer guided travel rehearsals and materials to those with special needs. The program was developed in partnership with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and the Ear Institute at UHealth -- the University of Miami Health System. After a press conference by MIA officials, UM experts and UHealth physicians, MIAair participants and their families received a simulation of the airline check-in and TSA checkpoint screening process, followed by the grand finale -- boarding an actual airplane.

"We want to ensure that anyone can experience the magic and wonder of flight, regardless of their disability," said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. González. "Air travel allows us to discover new places and cultures, and the MIAair program helps to make this possible for all South Florida residents with special needs. We are extremely excited to partner with the University of Miami -- another global leader in our community -- in this service to their patients and all special needs residents, and we look forward to opening new doors of opportunity for them." 

MIAair's materials, which include travel checklists and tips in both English and Spanish, storyboard the entire travel experience for participants. The resources provide families with step-by-step photos and instructions of airport procedures, from getting a boarding pass to passing through security and boarding a plane.

"CARD decided to partner with Miami International Airport for MIAair because this project provides families of individuals with autism and related disabilities with tools to prepare their loved ones for air travel," said Dr. Diane Adreon, Associate Director of the CARD program at the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences. "Today, CARD provides free services to more than 9,000 families in South Florida. This project will expand our reach and touch the lives of many more individuals with autism around the world." 

"MIA and CARD have done a wonderful job launching MIAair for patients and families living with autism related disorders," said Dr. Fred Telischi, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at UHealth. "The Ear Institute at UHealth looks forward to further expanding the reach of MIAair to include those with hearing conditions such as hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders. Our combined efforts and resources will ensure that an even-greater number of individuals can experience the joy of a family vacation."

To learn more about MIAair, visit www.miami-airport.com/miaair.asp

About CARD

Housed in the Department of Psychology at the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences, UM-NSU CARD is a state-funded free resource and support program dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism and related disabilities including deaf-blindness and pervasive developmental disorders. 

About the Ear Institute

The Ear Institute at UHealth - the University of Miami Health System is a global leader in diagnosis and treatment of all ear conditions and disorders, including hearing loss, tinnitus and concussion, annually caring for more than 40,000 patients from around the world. 

Miami International Airport offers more flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than any other U.S. airport, is America's second-busiest airport for international passengers, boasts a lineup of 100 air carriers and is the top U.S. airport for international freight. MIA, along with its general aviation airports, is also the leading economic engine for Miami-Dade County and the state of Florida, generating business revenue of $33.7 billion annually and welcoming 70 percent of all international visitors to Florida. MIA's vision is to grow from a recognized hemispheric hub to a global airport of choice that offers customers a world-class experience and an expanded route network with direct passenger and cargo access to all world regions. MIA is committed to sustainable practices. Learn more at www.MIAefficiency.com.

Marketwired,  November 25, 2015

11/16 - Latest in Autism News

Autism rate doubles in US to one in 45 kids: survey

 Autism affects one in 45 children in the United States, almost twice the rate from a few years ago, said a survey Friday that uses a new approach to assess the frequency of the developmental disorder.

The latest figures may reflect a more accurate picture of autism spectrum disorder, said the report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics, and so does not necessarily mean that there is a ballooning autism epidemic. 

In fact, the study found that while autism spectrum diagnoses are more frequent than in the past, the overall number of people affected by neurodevelopmental problems has not risen, but has remained steady over time.

"What we call an autism spectrum disorder now is a much wider group of symptoms than what we called autism in the past so I think that captures a larger number of children that might have received other diagnoses in the past," said Katie Walton, an autism researcher who was not involved with the CDC survey.

"There have been some significant changes in the way that they are asking the questions," added Walton, a psychologist at the Ohio State University's Nisonger Center.

The report found that in 2014, one in 45 children had autism spectrum disorder, or 2.24 percent.

There is no known cure for autism, but early intervention can be beneficial (AFP Photo/Joel Saget)

When the survey was given in 2011-2013, one in 80 children was diagnosed with ASD (1.25 percent).

The prevalence of autism in the United States was just one in 5,000 in 1975, and has been rising steadily in recent years. 

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability that may cause a person to have difficulty behaving, learning, communicating and interacting with people. It is believed to be influenced by genetic and environmental factors, though scientists do not fully understand all its causes. 

There is no known cure, but early intervention in toddlers as young as two can sometimes help.

Officials changed the order of the questions posed in the latest survey, completed by more than 11,000 parents, a process that may have resulted in more of them acknowledging a diagnosis of ASD.

"The question wording was expanded to include more specific details on what constituted an autism spectrum disorder," said the report.

Since the United States does not maintain national health registries, telephone surveys are among the ways that experts assess the rate of autism. 

School and medical records have also been used to project a nationwide autism rate of one in 68 children, according to another CDC report issued in 2014.

- 'No epidemic' -

Some experts agree that these surveys do not suggest there is a worsening epidemic of autism in the United States.

A study out earlier this year led by Santhosh Girirajan, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and of anthropology at Penn State, found that the rising rate of autism seen in recent years resulted from reclassifying individuals with related neurological disorders.

His study analyzed 11 years of special-education enrollment data on an average of 6.2 million children per year, and found "no overall increase in the number of students enrolled in special education."

Asked for comment on Friday's figures, he told AFP that the CDC's latest approach is an improvement.

"When people say (there is an) epidemic of autism, I am not really sure," he said.

"It is true that they are identifying more individuals with autism because autism is occurring with other disorders," he added.

Better diagnoses -- and improved strategies for estimating prevalence -- may be useful to parents who want to get improved treatment for their children at an early age, added Walton.

"I think people should understand that autism is a relatively common condition at this point and if you are concerned about your child... there are an increasing number of services out there," she said.

By Kerry Sheridan, November 13, 2015 1:12 AM

11/10 - Latest in Autism News

Girl Scout creates playground for South Middle students with autism

Lucia Morris, a freshman at Lambert, expanded a playground used by students with severe autism at South Forsyth Middle School. The effort was part of her project for her Girl Scout Silver Award.

SOUTH FORSYTH — Two swings. That was all there used to be on a playground used by students with severe autism at South Forsyth Middle School.

Thanks to a former student now in high school, the swings are no longer lonely.

“Last year, there were about 15 students, and that wasn’t enough. Even though sharing is a good quality to learn,” said Lucia Morris, a freshman at Lambert.

Morris organized and carried out a project for her Girl Scout Silver Award that led to the expansion of the playground into one specialized for children with autism. A ribbon cutting ceremony Friday signaled the opening of the sensory-sensitive outdoor leisure area.

Morris participated in the school’s peer buddy program during seventh and eighth grade, which pairs students in regular education classes with those in autism classes.

“The peer buddy program had a really big impact on me as I watched how much they’re working to overcome challenges, and I just decided I wanted to give back to them and help spread awareness,” Morris said.

Becoming eligible for the silver pin requires at least 50 hours toward a project. Morris clocked at least 70.

Those hours accumulated by researching equipment designed for children on the autism spectrum, pitching the idea to community businesses for funding and scheduling the installation of each playground feature.

Students now can hit two sculptures — one being the Chime-asour — that are tuned on a musical scale, with each section producing a different note.

They can explore the sand table, which Morris said helps with sensory and tactile barriers.

Or they can sit in the therapy hammock, a single-person chair that is “like a big hug. It wraps you up because sometimes they get overstimulated and want to be along.”

A balance beam hones in on motor skills and confidence, she said.

A storage shed is full of brightly colored toys and games. Some are squishy stress relievers. Others promote motor skills. Most are designed for the autism spectrum. All are fun.

Brenda Booker, a special education teacher who leads one of the classes, said she didn’t have to do anything for the project except “say OK.”

“She put a lot of thought into the sensory aspect and the idea of the space,” Booker said of Morris.

Booker has eight peer buddies in her class each year, each of whom work with two students at a time. The same goes for the other class.

“They’re on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Some of them are non-verbal, and they have sensory issues. They don’t go out for other classes,” Booker said.

Still, she said, not everyone who is a peer buddy goes as far as Morris.

“She has a compassionate heart. Some of them are just drawn to doing this,” she said. “She would come in and see I’m with these students, and she would scan the room and just go to the students who needed it, without me telling her what to do.”

Morris did not skip a beat Friday, encouraging her buddies to sit in the therapy hammock or to play music on the Chime-asour.

“Students like me are supposed to help them learn,” Morris said, “but I think they had the biggest impact on me.”

November 10, 2015, By Kayla Robinskrobins@forsythnews.com