Thursday, April 23, 2009


Dear Friends,

I have been a part of this social network since July 2008 and already I have thousands of friends and followers - I think it really shows how eager people are to connect with others around the globe who are sharing a common experience, my experience is with autism. I have a grandson named Zackary who was diagnosed with low functioning autism from a young age. I wanted to use this website to stay connected with my family, my friends, and people who I have met that are affected by autism in their lives.

One day I sent out a question about autism and to my surprise I received a lot of replies, which I really appreciated! I was amazed at how many strangers wanted to help me find the solution to an issue I noticed in my Grandson, these strangers really touched my heart. A few weeks later I came across some very interesting world news about autism and posted it on my page, it also got a huge response. Not only were people interested in giving me their personal help, but they were hungry for new sources of information about the autism spectrum. From that point until now, I continue to be shocked at how quickly my circle of friends and followers has grown - in these few months I am almost half way to the limit of friends in FaceBook.

There was something very interesting about this phenomenal response in my social network. Everyday, through my web page, I receive two basic types of private messages. The first type of message relays stories of how parents are benefiting from information I provide on my web page. The second type of message is from people who cannot understand English very well, but they really want to understand what everyone else is chatting about. They need this information to help them deal with their personal challenges with the autism spectrum. Personally I don't like to leave people behind when I know they need help - I wasn't left behind when I posed my first question about autism, and I really needed the help too. Even though I am a computer programmer, and my company (People CD, Inc.) developed the first and only web browser designed specifically for use by children with autism (ZAC Browser), I still have many questions about living with autism in my family.

Once again, just as I was compelled to develop ZAC Browser, I was feeling like my computer skills could help others who's lives are touched by the autism spectrum. So, after a lot brainstorming I am extremely excited to announce the creation of The Autism News - the ideal place to find information, news, open discussions and build friendships with other parents in touch with autism. All of the information found on The Autism News website ( is translatable into many languages to make it extremely user friendly to parents globally. Just like ZAC Browser, The Autism News, is a completely free service - and the registration process is simple and quick.

Big hugs to you all,

Quick Q & A

- What is the benefit of The Autism News?

All the information in contained on The Autism News website is accessible to readers in as many as 40 different languages. This way more and more families will access the information, news and open discussions.

- How do I register to use The Autism News?

Registration is 100% FREE. You can register at: Once you add your username and e-mail address you will receive your password by e-mail. It's that easy and will require only a few seconds of your time. This is our way of filtering spam

- How will the questions of the day and open discussions will be handled from now on?

We will send the information from Facebook, MySpace, and other social network, and you will reach the questions or open discussion on You will be able to send your comments to others when you are registered with The Autism News.

- Where do I submit questions, request help or open discussions ideas?

Visit: and select: The Autism News department. Add your name, e-mail address, question or open discussion in the message area and click send. We will send you an e-mail when your question is published in The Autism News.

This website will no longer submit new article - We are moving all our news to -

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Complaint filed against RNC after autistic teen jailed

Dane Spurrell was taken into custody this weekend, after Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers assumed he was drunk. (CBC)

By CBC News

The mother of an autistic teenager from Mount Pearl has filed a formal complaint against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, accusing the police of wrongfully jailing her son this weekend after mistaking symptoms of his autism for drunkenness.

Diane Spurrell discovered her son Dane, 18, had been put in the local lock-up Saturday night after she called 9-1-1 at 5 a.m. to report him missing.

Dane Spurrell said he was returning home from the video store in Mount Pearl when police approached him on a stretch of Topsail Rd. and told him to get onto the sidewalk.

Spurrell said he explained there was no sidewalk in that area, and soon after, the police asked to smell his breath.

"Because of the way that I am, they just assumed … I was drunk — [because of] the way that I was walking and speaking," he said.

Spurrell admits he resisted the police because he felt he hadn't done anything wrong.

Mother Diane Spurrell says she has been told the deputy chief of the RNC will visit her later this week. (CBC)

"They were like, 'Get in the car.' They were grabbing me and tossing me around and shaking me, and eventually, they got me down on the ground," he said.

Diane Spurrell said when she heard the details of the incident, she knew they had mistaken his autistic behavior for drunkenness.

"From what he told me, they just didn't listen to him at all," she said. "They didn't give him an opportunity to explain himself. They denied him the opportunity to phone me."

Diane Spurrell said she has been told that the RNC's deputy chief will visit her at home on Thursday.

An RNC spokesperson said the police are investigating the incident.

As for Dane, he said he is not traumatized by the misunderstanding or by his unexpected night in jail.


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Nobody gives you a manual: Experimentation key as Destin family grapples with autism

By Jennifer Rich, Destin Log

When little Skylar Watson gets off of the school bus at her Indian Bayou home in the afternoon, she does what many six-year-olds do.

She gets a snack, plays in the back yard, watches Hannah Montana or plays with her special friend, Karen.

It has taken more than a year to reach this seemingly normal routine, since parents Ray and Tina Watson received the news early last year — news that Skylar has autism.

“It’s a lot of extra work,” Tina said. “It’s a whole lot of things that you can’t really imagine until you live through it.”

Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs social interaction and communication skills, and is characterized by repetitive behavior. Symptoms can be mild to severe, making it a spectrum disorder that one in 150 children are diagnosed with.

The diagnosis sounds gloomy, but the Watsons have mastered the old cliché of turning lemons into lemonade. Skylar’s autism has taught the family how to embrace healthy living.

“As a baby, she was a normal thriving infant,” Tina said, as she shuffled through Skylar’s baby photos.

Before the age of two, the couple noticed that Skylar did not seem to be processing what was said to her. They realized that the “terrible twos” were something more when Skylar was not expressing pain or fear, and her younger brother Kruz, now 5, began transcending her in development.

“She didn’t engage in toys,” Tina said. “She would just throw them.”

Skylar was 16-months-old when Ray and Tina really suspected something was not right. It occurred one afternoon when Skylar was not cooperating well with gym play at U.S. Gold Gymnastics and Cheerleading.

The pair began researching Skylar’s behavior and taking her to see doctors. It was still early for an autism diagnosis at the time, but their suspicions were confirmed just over a year ago.

As Ray and Tina have educated themselves about their daughter’s disorder, they have adopted the ideals of the DAN project, a protocol to “Defeat Autism Now” through biomedical factors.

DAN doctors preach that an autistic child’s environment plays a key role in how well he or she copes with the disorder.

The Watson’s have taken the beliefs to heart.

Ray has ripped out almost all of the carpet from their home, and furniture is mostly leather to rid the home of allergens. Tina ensures that

Skylar’s diet is completely organic and free of gluten and casein (wheat and dairy products), another tactic for coping with autism.

Skylar has also been receiving ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, sessions with a board certified behavior analyst, Karen Reid, three days a week since January.

“We work on language skills, potty training, behavioral difficulties and attention,” Karen said.

Karen uses toys called “reinforcements” and flash cards to help Skylar learn basic principles of speech and counting.

“They (behavior analysts) have the patience of saints,” said Myra Fowler, president of the Emerald Coast Autism Society. Fowler immersed herself in autism when her son was diagnosed and has since become acquainted with the Watsons through her organization that is hosting the Walk 4 Autism Awareness on Saturday in Niceville.

Much controversy exists on what causes autism. Many believe the cause is genetic and others say environmental factors play a role. The proper treatments get just as much scrutiny, but the Watsons have found that experimenting is necessary to find out what works.

“Nobody really knows the cause, and nobody really knows the cure,” Myra said.

Ray and Tina credit hyperbaric chamber treatments, where pressure is increased in an attempt to boost the amount of oxygen in the child’s brain, for the most dramatic change in Skylar’s progress.

The couple splurged on a Vitaeris 320 hyperbaric chamber that came with the whopping price tag of $23,000, but the couple said “we have seen a return on Skylar.”

They made the investment in January 2008 after making monthly trips to Miracle Mountain, a hyperbaric treatment facility in North Carolina. Ray said that treatments in a hyperbaric chamber can cost $300 an hour. They now do them at home for a fraction of the cost.

“It’s no miracle pill,” Tina said, stressing that early detection is the key.

However, her enthusiasm for the chamber’s effects is undeniable.

Tina said they are blessed to have the hyperbaric chamber, Karen and the support of other parents of autistic children.

“Nobody gives you a manual,” Fowler said.


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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Man Convicted of Hurting Boy with Autism During Exorcism

By the Associated Press

A man who says he tried to cast demons from a 14-year-old autistic boy from southern Indiana has been convicted on charges that he injured the teen during the exorcism.

A Monroe County jury on Tuesday found 24-year-old Eddie Uyesugi guilty of felony charges of battery and criminal confinement.

Uyesugi testified during his trial that he genuinely was trying to help the Bloomington boy and punched him in the face and chest to restrain him during the 2007 ceremony.

He was a minister in training at Cherry Hill Christian Center in Bloomington, but its pastors testified that Uyesugi's actions were inappropriate. Testimony showed the boy's grandmother sought the exorcism for the teen, who sustained bruises and two black eyes.

Uyesugi faces prison terms of two to eight years on each count.


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Guide dogs excel in new mission: autism

By Brian J. Howard by LoHud

OSSINING - There were a few secrets being kept the day Tricia Zarro invited a guide-dog trainer to her home in January 2008 to talk about finding a canine companion for her son.

Zarro hadn't yet told her husband, Ernie, or their three children that the meeting was about getting a specially trained dog for Danny, 6, their youngest, whose condition was diagnosed as autism.

Meanwhile, the trainer Caroline McCabe-Sandler of the Yorktown-based Guiding Eyes for the Blind, didn't tell Zarro she had the perfect dog in mind.

After the meeting, as Zarro walked McCabe-Sandler to her car at the end of the driveway, she turned and made a heartfelt plea.

"I just want this dog to help my family heal," Zarro said.

That's when McCabe-Sandler confided in her about Shade, a 2-year-old black Labrador who had essentially flunked out of guide-dog training.

Yet "flunked" might be too harsh a word for a dog who displayed nearly every trait necessary for providing the assistance and companionship needed by those without sight.

She was just too tentative in situations that call for split decisions.

By any other measure, Shade, who joined the Zarro family March 28, 2008, is the perfect dog.

"I never even let Ernie or the kids in on this," Zarro said. "It was such a dream."

Heeling Autism, a fledgling Guiding Eyes program, has since placed six more autism-service dogs with families.

The dogs' purpose is to provide safety and therapeutic companionship to children with autism, a neurological disorder marked by delays in speech and social interaction.

Each dog's training costs roughly $45,000. As with the guide dogs that the nonprofit Guiding Eyes trains and places, its autism-service dogs are provided free, with the cost entirely offset by private grants and donations.

While autism-service dogs are becoming more prevalent, many organizations that provide them require families to pay $10,000 to $15,000.

From a therapeutic standpoint, the dog serves as a point of focus for autistic children, enabling them to maintain calm.

From a safety perspective, the dogs wear a service vest to which the child is tethered while in public places.

Zarro described seeing Danny and Shade walk through Manhattan, with her holding Shade's leash as Danny walked safely alongside.

The result is freedom for both parent and child.

Routine outings to stores or to the sports events of older sisters Madeline and Kylie are made more manageable and more enjoyable with Shade's help.

On family hikes, Danny no longer straggles or needs to be carried.

The Guiding Eyes program emphasizes the entire family's acceptance of a service dog, a key benefit, Ernie Zarro said.

Despite his worries, he said his daughters have become both protective and proud of Shade.

"You always think about Danny and the dog, but you don't think about how attached the girls would become," he said.

Shade sleeps in Danny's room, keeps a watchful eye on him around the house, and is there with him during doctor's visits and therapy.

On a recent afternoon, the 65-pound dog gamely hopped up on the family's backyard trampoline, looking unsure of her footing but determined to stay near Danny, who bounced spryly while belting out "Hound Dog."

Little about Danny suggests autism. He smiles, laughs and is quite verbal.

Much of his progress is attributable to his tightknit, adoring family and a constant whirlwind of therapies: speech, physical and occupational.

And then there's Shade, who is there for Danny, helping him reach his potential.

When Tricia Zarro wrote to Guiding Eyes about obtaining a dog who hadn't completed guide-dog training, Heeling Autism didn't yet exist.

A year and a half passed before she heard from McCabe-Sandler, who in the meantime had attended an Assistance Dogs International conference in Toronto in 2007.

There she heard a talk by Maureen Morin, the mother of one of the first children to receive a trained autism dog.

McCabe-Sandler said the idea just clicked.

Guiding Eyes was seeking ways to expand its community mission and to make the most of the training given to dogs who don't become guides.

"We had this incredible group of dogs that we could do more with," she said.

Mary Jo Jacobs' family was the last in the Heeling Autism's pilot program, which placed seven dogs in the greater New York area. Jacobs' son Andrew, 9, received Iota, a 3-year-old black Labrador, on Feb. 20.

"Andrew's getting so much affection," said Jacobs, a New Rochelle mother of four. "He's relating so much to the dog. He always wants to be with him, and he pulls him up close."

Like Danny, Andrew does not take his dog to school, though autism-service dogs merit the same full public access as guide dogs.

One of Iota's benefits to Andrew has been the way the dog fosters communication. Andrew eagerly shares an array of details and stories to others about his dog.

"For him to use the dog to talk about the dog so that he's got a conversation starter is a huge plus," Jacobs said. "Anything else is icing on the cake."

McCabe-Sandler has observed the change the dogs she trains make, not only on the children, but also on their families as a whole.

The best example is the way the dogs can simply make the children laugh.

"I'm a mom, and it's so easy to get my children to laugh," she said. "For those parents, it's not. So to see these spontaneous bursts of laughter, it's just magic to me."


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Monday, April 20, 2009

Pupil with Asperger's syndrome rejected by school

Alex Goodenough, who has Asperger's syndrome, with his mother, Joan, after winning a place at Cambridge University. Photograph: Graham Turner/Guardian

By Haroon Siddique - The Guardian

A teenager who was refused a place at his local school because he has Asperger's syndrome has won a conditional offer to study engineering at Cambridge.

Alex Goodenough, 17, taught himself at home from textbooks after Hertfordshire and Essex high school and science college (H&E) rejected his application to study there.

A special educational needs and disability tribunal ordered the school to apologise to Alex for treating him less favourably "for a reason related to his disability".

According to the National Autistic Society, children with Asperger's syndrome face "huge battles to get the education support that should be theirs by right, often at considerable emotional and financial expense".

More tribunal cases concern autism, of which Asperger's is a type, than any other type of special educational need.

The schoolboy said he used the school's refusal as motivation and achieved As in three maths subjects and some physics modules. Now he is at another school, studying for the practical physics exam, which he could not take while learning from home and is a condition of his offer from Trinity college, Cambridge.

He said: "Maybe my story at least shows people that even if institutions put this bar up and won't help you and give you an environment where you can be comfortable, at least with enough work and luck you can still do well." Jan Goodenough, Alex's mother, said: "If somebody causes damage to another human being in terms of injury or damaging their career there's compensation, but for special educational needs people there's nothing. It took an enormous amount of time and effort. The only reason I did it was I knew it was so wrong and I wanted justice."

Alex completed his first year of A-levels a year early at another school where his mother, now an educational consultant, was teaching at the time. But after she left the school she contacted H&E in June 2007 to enrol Alex there because the specialist science college was walking distance from their home in Bishop's Stortford.

Over several months she had contact with five different school officials.

H&E initially rejected the application on the basis that Goodenough could not guarantee Alex's "regular attendance", a result of his condition.

While the tribunal panel accepted that there were "misunderstandings" between Goodenough and the school initially, it found that H&E refused to send her an application form and on three separate occasions incorrectly told her the sixth form was full, which "may have been intended to discourage Ms Goodenough". It said Alex's education was "probably adversely affected".

Alex said he was denied social interaction through studying at home.

"If I am at school I have got people around me, if I am not allowed to attend I don't have that connection," he said.

Goodenough said: "When he was sitting at home after being rejected he went through a really bad time. It almost amounted to agoraphobia because he was missing out on social contact."

The school, closed for Easter, was unavailable for comment, but has written a letter of apology to Alex.

• This article was amended on Monday 20 April 2009 to remove the phrase "suffered from Asperger's" as the Guardian stylebook discourages the uses of such phrases in stories about disability.


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Tug of War Over Costs to Educate the Autistic

By AMANDA M. FAIRBANKS - The New York Times

The eight children, ages 5 to 11, who attend the Brooklyn Autism Center Academy need intensive individual instruction to cope with a neurological disorder that can make achieving academic progress slow and grueling.

During the course of the day, one teacher is paired with each child. After successfully completing a task, students are rewarded with a spoonful of vanilla pudding, time on a piano or a few minutes in a bouncy castle. The system repeats itself, interspersing work with small breaks.

“Every child with autism can learn,” said Jaime Nicklas, 32, the school’s educational director. “If they are not learning, it is our responsibility to change our teaching procedure, so they can make the progress they are capable of.”

But this type of focused instruction comes with a high price: The academy’s annual tuition is $85,000. The parents of one of the students, Ruby Kassimir, 5, the only girl in the school, took out a home equity line of credit on their home in Queens to help pay the tuition. “There just aren’t that many options available,” explained Ruby’s mother, Sue Laizik, a project coordinator at Columbia University.

As the number of autism diagnoses has risen, the extraordinary cost of educating the children has become a growing point of contention. In 2001, the city’s Department of Education listed 3,278 students with autism; by 2008, that figure had more than doubled to 6,877.

The public school system is required by law to provide an appropriate education for such children, even if it means paying for private school tuition if there is no public school option (although, as Ruby’s parents found, getting the school system to pay is not always easy).

“The crux of the matter is that we need to have a public debate about how much are we willing to invest in making individuals who are disabled, and sometimes profoundly disabled, have a meaningful level of membership in society,” said Gil Eyal, a sociologist at Columbia University who has done research on autism.

Of the more than 6,800 children with autism recorded by the city’s public schools, 4,200 are enrolled in special education classes with a small student-to-teacher to ratio, 285 students are part of a program where children with autism are taught alongside regular education students and 28 are in a charter school with a one-to-one ratio between teachers and students. That school, the New York Center for Autism Charter School, is the only public school in New York City offering intensive one-on-one instruction.

Other autistic students attend private schools from a list of those approved by the state, and their tuition, which ranges from $30,800 to $48,100, is paid by the city’s Education Department. Finally, if parents are dissatisfied with any of the options offered by the public schools, they can choose another private school, one not on the list, at their own expense and seek to have the cost reimbursed by the city.

For all special education students, the department paid $88.9 million for private school tuition last year, compared with $57.6 million in 2007. “Private school tuition claims are a growing burden for us,” said Michael Best, the Education Department’s general counsel.

Ms. Laizik, Ruby’s mother, entered her daughter in the lottery for the New York Center for Autism, and said she broke into tears when she learned that Ruby had not gotten one of the spots on the waiting list. “That’s when it really hit me, how hard it’s going to be,” Ms. Laizik said.

Three separate evaluations of Ruby, between the ages of 2 and 5, emphasized the need for one-to-one instruction.

So when she was not able to enroll Ruby in the public charter school, Ms. Laizik sent her to the private Brooklyn Autism Center Academy and filed a claim with the Education Department seeking tuition reimbursement.

After a hearing, a departmental judge ruled in March that Ruby’s parents were entitled to a 30 percent tuition reimbursement because the city had failed to offer Ruby appropriate placement. They are now appealing to the New York State Education Department’s Office of State Review for the remainder of the tuition.

For the parents of autistic and other special-needs children, springtime is usually when they hear back from the city’s Education Department about their claims for private school tuition reimbursement.

During the 2007-8 school year, there were 4,375 reimbursement hearing requests for special education students, 462 of them for children with autism.

“We are concerned that some parents see this as a way for us to pay for private school,” Mr. Best said. “It’s not supposed to be a vehicle to get private school tuition if there’s something appropriate available in the public schools.”

But parents of autistic children and their advocates argue that any hope for progress requires the kind of concentrated intervention that the public schools cannot always provide.

“The giant elephant in the room, if one in 150 children are being diagnosed with autism, is that they have the same life expectancy,” said Gary S. Mayerson, a lawyer who has represented more than 1,000 families, including Ruby’s, making claims for tuition reimbursement. “Either invest the money now for effective programming or find that your efforts are inadequate.

“At some point you may be staring at the prospect of an even more expensive residential placement — and the state will be footing the bill.”

Despite the onerous financial burden they are confronting, Ruby’s parents are pleased with their decision, having seen that their daughter has made significant progress since she started at the school in September.

Ultimately, the goal is for Ruby to be able to learn in a mainstream classroom.

“The thing that stays with me the most is what kind of life she will be able to have,” said Ruby’s father, Ron Kassimir, 51, an associate provost at the New School.

His wife, Ms. Laizik, added, “When you have a child like Ruby, you realize how much of a role you have to play in that outcome, how involved you have to be to affect that outcome — especially early on, when the stakes are so very high.”


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