Posts Tagged ‘autism’

Autism advocates, federal officials testify to Congress about autism rates, vaccines, and research

December 2, 2012

Autism advocates and government officials testified in front of a congressional committee Thursday about the federal response to the dramatic increase in autism diagnoses in recent years.

One in every 88 babies born in the U.S. will develop autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a 23 percent increase since 2009 and a 78 percent increase since 2007. In the 1960s, autism was believed to affect one in 10,000 children in the U.S.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee questioned representatives of the National Institutes of Health and CDC about research priorities and subsequent results. A second panel of autism advocates testified about concerns ranging from research priorities to services for people with autism. See the video here.

Some of the committee members harshly criticized the NIH and CDC for a lack of effective results, while agency officials at times struggled to come up with answers.

Some highlights from the hearing:

Congressmen, led by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IL), a longtime proponent of vaccine safety, urged NIH and CDC to get mercury out of all childhood vaccines. Thimerosal, a mercury preservative, was removed from most, but not all childhood vaccines by 2003.

Representatives of NIH and CDC claimed that much, and possibly all of the increase in autism rates can be accounted for by better detection, a claim that was questioned by many congressmen and disputed by Mark Blaxill of SafeMinds.

“Some observers have claimed this rise is not real,” Blaxill told the committee. “That numbers are going up because of ‘better diagnosing.’ While it is true that we now diagnose autism with better tools, that doesn’t mean there is some ‘hidden horde’ of overlooked autism cases. The old surveys didn’t just miss 99% of children with autism. Anyone who reads them will see the obvious: it’s clear the researchers were diligent in finding cases and confident that they found the vast majority of children. It’s horrible but true; reported rates of autism have risen simply because there are more cases of autism.”

Blaxill also urged the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee to focus on environmental causes of autism instead of genetics.

Vaccine critics have also questioned why the government hasn’t conducted studies of vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), asked this very question of Collen Boyle of the CDC.

She talked about vaccines in general, then was interrupted by Posey, who clarified the question: “So clearly, definitely, unequivocally, you have studied vaccinated versus unvaccinated?”

“We have not studied vaccinated versus unvaccinated,” replied Boyle.

“Never mind. Stop there. That was the meaning of my question. You wasted two minutes of my time,” said Posey.

To read the entire article on, click here.


Traffic pollution, air quality linked with increased risk of autism

December 2, 2012

Babies in the womb and during their first year are two to three times more likely to develop autism if exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution and poor air quality, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at USC published the study in the November issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The study compared 279 children with autism and 245 control children with typical development in California.

Metals and chemicals may be part of the toxic stew that affects fetuses and babies, which are more susceptible to toxins in the environment.

To read the entire article on, click here.


Tips to keep children with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse

July 8, 2012

Keeping children and adults with autism and other disabilities safe from sexual abuse is a critical topic that people don’t like to talk about, but warrants more attention than it often receives. Several studies have indicated that children with disabilities face a higher risk of sexual abuse than those without disabilities. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, women with disabilities are sexually abused at a rate at least twice that of the general population.

Children with autism and other disabilities can be especially vulnerable because of communication problems or a lack of fear. Incidents may go unreported because children with disabilities may not be able to convey what happened, may not fully understand what is inappropriate, or may not be seen as credible because of communication problems.

To see the rest of my article on, click here.

Use flashcards to prompt reading and speech for children on autism spectrum

July 8, 2012

One of the most frustrating and heartbreaking problems for children with autism and their families is when kids have poor verbal communication skills, or even an outright inability to speak. Despite trying every therapy under the sun, some children may never communicate verbally. However, for those who do learn to communicate out loud, identifying the words that go with particular items can give them a jump-start to understanding the concept of communication.

One simple intervention that can be accomplished in the home, even without a professional therapist, involves labeling household items. This may make the home look tacky, but the potential gains trump those concerns a thousandfold.

If children see the words that are associated with objects day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, they should eventually learn them. If done in conjunction with a reading program, kids can learn words in a concrete way in a natural environment.

To read my entire article on, click here.

Use Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences for special needs play date activities

May 5, 2012

Learning involves more than just numbers and words, especially for children on the autism spectrum. Harvard researcher Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory states that eight distinct types of intelligences can be developed to help students reach their potential. This is in contrast to traditional approaches that focus solely on logical-mathematical and linguistic/verbal intelligences, which may underestimate the intelligence of students with special needs.

For a well-rounded approach to learning through play dates that may incorporate hidden strengths of students, click here to read an article on

For students with autism and other disabilities, continuity enhances learning

May 5, 2012

Have you ever seen a sports team flounder because it had so many different coaches and systems? The same can apply to special needs students – continuity can improve learning. To read the rest of my article on, click here.

‘Wretches and Jabberers’ autism documentary one of the best movies of 2011

January 11, 2012

A groundbreaking documentary helped debunk myths in 2011 and showed that even – especially – non-verbal people with autism have a lot to say.  On the movie review site, 82 percent of reviewers and 91 percent of the pubic liked the movie.

I included an excerpt of my article about the movie in my wrap up of autism articles from 2011 on Excerpts and the link to the article are below.

‘Wretches and Jabberers’ documentary opens April 1 for Autism Awareness Month

Wretches and Jabberers: And Stories from the Road is a powerful, moving documentary that follows two men with autism as they travel the world, visiting friends with autism and changing attitudes about disabilities along the way.

Many people with autism have extremely limited verbal skills or no speech whatsoever.  It has long been assumed by the general public, and even by many parents, educators, and caretakers that scant speech equals low intelligence.

In Wretches and Jabberers, the movie’s protagonists dispel this myth.  The two men and the four friends they visit show the world that they are in fact exceedingly intelligent, eloquent in their writings, and charmingly funny.  Like Helen Keller before them, the “wretches” in the movie are pioneers, blazing trails for others to follow.  The message of the movie is to show the world that there are others like them who are vastly underestimated and whose potential is untapped.  It is a message of hope.

The central figures in the film are all either non-verbal or possess limited speech, and they also struggle with many of the sensory and motor issues common to others with autism.  What is unique about the stars of this movie, however, is that all of them communicate by typing.  They type on keyboards that speak the words and show the text they type.  The microphone picks up the tapping of the typing, which can be a time consuming process.  But it’s well worth the wait to find out what they say.

In his Wretches and Jabberers blog, Tracy Thresher, one of the stars of the film, exhorts people with autism to keep their heads held high even when they struggle:

“I would like to let everyone know that things do not always meet your expectations. The important thing is to keep plugging along. The world is a tough place and change comes slowly when we are dealing with discrimination that is so entrenched. There are those times when you may struggle and feel down. I know that feeling very well. I have had to push very hard to make change in my life. There have been many heartaches along the way. I have often thought things would remain terrible. The best advice I can give is to keep your chin up and tell everyone your story.”

Environmental autism articles from 2011

January 11, 2012

2011 was another eventful year in autism news. Scientists showed us that environmental toxins play a major role in autism, despite the previously held belief that autism is all genetically based.

Links to the articles are below.

Toxic chemicals found in baby products; some may be linked to autism

Studies: environmental factors during pregnancy may increase risk of autism

Scientists say rise in autism may be linked to toxic chemicals in environment

To see the article on, click here.

Wandering autism articles from 2011

January 11, 2012

2011 was another eventful year in autism news. Parents and advocates continued to raise awareness about wandering safety, a critical issue in the autism community.

Links to the articles as well as excerpts are below.

Preventing autism wandering deaths: Mason Alert, tracking, medical code proposed

Interview with advocate Sheila Medlam on her son Mason and autism wandering

New CDC medical code expected to help prevent autism wandering, raise awareness

To read the whole article on, click here.

Play date activities for kids with autism

November 2, 2011

Here’s another of my articles from It seems lately I’ve been doing a lot on play dates for kids with autism. The other ones are more newsy, involving environmental causes, etc.

Anyway, this is just a sample list of some activities to do to improve social skills – reading, exercises, games, music, imaginary play, etc.

To read the article on, click here.