News and special articles designed to inspire your journey through the world of Autism, Asperger's and other Special Needs. Check back often for additions to my collection.

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Training Dogs helps Autism

Every once in while someone comes along that just "gets" it. 
Dr. Debbye Turner reports that dog trainer Kathy Santo teaches children with autism how to train their dogs. This helps the children develop social bonding skills such as eye contact.


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Rain may heighten risk of autism

But U.S. researchers don't know why the wet weather could be a factor

Jack Keating, The Province; with a file from Reuters

Published: Wednesday, November 05, 2008 -

Wet and rainy weather may increase the risk of developing autism in children, but it is unclear why, U.S. researchers reported yesterday.

"Autism prevalence rates for school-aged children in California, Oregon and Washington in 2005 were positively related to the amount of precipitation these counties received from 1987 through 2001," Prof. Michael Waldman of Cornell University wrote in the November issue of Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

A Vancouver doctor who specializes in autism said the findings are no cause for alarm even given B.C.'s wet weather, and should be used, if at all, primarily in stimulating further research into autism's causes.

Max Harding, 5, who has moderate autism, and his mom, Kim, walk Forest, a two-year-old yellow Lab, recently. Forest is the first autism service dog trained by B.C. Guide Dog Services. Wet and rainy weather may increase the risk of developing autism in children, but it is unclear why, U.S. researchers reported yesterday.

Max Harding, 5, who has moderate autism, and his mom, Kim, walk Forest, a two-year-old yellow Lab, recently. Forest is the first autism service dog trained by B.C. Guide Dog Services. Wet and rainy weather may increase the risk of developing autism in children, but it is unclear why, U.S. researchers reported yesterday.

Les Bazso file photo - The Province
He urged caution in interpreting the preliminary results.

"I don't think this is cause for widespread alarm or people deciding they need to move to a drier climate," said Dr. Steve Wellington, clinical director of the B.C. Autism Assessment Network.

"I would not want anyone to take that away from what is really a very preliminary and initial result."

The findings were based on autism rates from state and county agencies for children born in California, Oregon and Washington. The researchers paired them with daily precipitation reports.

Counties with more than 685 millimetres of precipitation annually tended to be the same areas with higher-than-average autism rates, while those with less than than 558 mm a year of rain tended to have lower-than-median rates, the researchers found.

Metro Vancouver's average annual rainfall is 1,117 mm.

"The relationship of rain in of itself has so many possible interpretations," said Wellington. "I think it's going to need some time for the research community to sort of sift through that."

It is not clear what causes autism. The symptoms range from severe social avoidance to repetitive behaviours and sometimes mental retardation.

The majority of good research over the past five to seven years has increasingly shown links that support a genetic component to the development of autism, said Wellington, a developmental pediatrician with Sunnyhill Health Centre For Children.

The U.S. researchers speculated that in rainy climates, infants and toddlers are kept indoors, perhaps in front of the TV. That, they said, might cause brain changes or the children may breathe more harmful chemicals while indoors.

Vitamin D deficiency caused by insufficient time in the sun might also be a trigger for autism, the researchers said.

"Finally, there is also the possibility that precipitation itself is more directly involved," the researchers wrote.

"Perhaps a chemical or chemicals in the upper atmosphere are transported to the surface through rain or snow."

The researchers cautioned that their findings were not definitive and that further research is needed.

Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, a London physician who wrote Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion, doubted the report's findings, noting that autism diagnoses are on the rise in all climates.

"In recent years autism has been blamed on everything from discarded iPod batteries to mercury from Chinese power stations, from antenatal ultrasound scans to post-natal cord clamping, from diet to vaccines," he said.

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Autism Speaks - Walk Now for Autism

Autism Speaks - Walk Now for Autism coming soon to a community near you! Find the date for your local event on the website.

During the next couple of months and throughout the year many cities throughout Canada, the US and the UK will have team representation at the Autism Speaks - Walk Now for Autism Marches. These walks are a fantastic way to raise awareness throughout communities about Autism Spectrum Disorders, make connections with other families, network, and raise funds for research into the causes, prevention and treatment of Autism.

Come out and show your support!

Join an existing team or start a corporate, school or family team today!

Walk Now for Autism offers everyone a fun-filled experience with entertainment, refreshments, an autism community resource fair, and much, much more. Be sure to raise $100 to earn your commemorative Walk Now for Autism t-shirt.

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Conductive Education is Amazing

a•maz•ing [ ? máyzing ]

1. causing amazement: so extraordinary or wonderful as to be barely believable or to cause extreme surprise
  an amazing escape
2. outstanding: outstandingly good, skillful, or admirable ( informal )
  an amazing concert

Conductive Education is amazing.

For the past six weeks K and I have been attending a program for children with cerebral palsy called Conductive Education. The program has been amazing, the kids are amazing; the conductor is amazing, the parents are amazing, K is amazing! All of the little bits of things that have been taught over and over and over are sticking. You can see the progress in each child. Everyone has different goals to achieve yet the same exercise for all serves a multitude of purposes. K has tight spastic muscles while the others are loose. When we bend one knee and keep the other straight the emphasis for K is on keeping his leg straight while for the rest of the group it is holding the bent knee in center and keeping the foot flat. For some making any mark on the page is significant while for others practise with identifying shapes, size or same and different is the goal. For K, printing has been a challenge that he eagerly anticipates each day. There have even been some successes with using the potty. All of the children are encouraged to answer yes and no questions and using the voice is a goal for each. K has become very vocal, especially this past week, and has discovered the “echo” microphone and “sings” long renditions of "baba-babababa-ba-baba" all in varying intonations. Such sweet music to my ears.

The summer program has ended. Our conductor has moved on to live out her life’s dreams. We will miss her encouraging words and optimistic attitude. Good luck to you in your own special journey ZZ.

Where do we go from here? The goal will be to maintain the gains we have made. With a growth spurt K’s muscles will tighten as the bones lengthen. Through attending the conductive education program I now have a solid stretching program that I can follow. With dedication I am confident that K will be able to continue to straighten his legs and gain confidence with his standing skills. Looking toward the future, we need to get a program up and running that will offer all children with mobility issues the opportunity to meet their full potential. We will work towards raising funds for further Conductive Education sessions for K. We pray that a conductor will become available to us in short order.

Amazing is my word of the day. What's yours?

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Conductive Education - Little things mean a lot

I thought I would update everyone on the Conductive Education program that I have been taking K to this summer. If you don’t know what CE is take a look here.

Our commitment is for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Prior to the start of the program I was excited at the promise of progress and dreading being cooped up and committed to this schedule for the summer. As it turns out, we are having a great time! Meeting other parents with similar thought processes and goals for their kids has been wonderful. So much of the time I feel isolated but now I have made some contacts and I hope we can maintain that after the program finishes.

Each day I am amazed at how hard these kids work. They are all troopers. Sure there are tears. Sure there is hollering. Sure there is resistance. But this is HARD work for these kids. Any muscle stretching and strengthening program is going to be hard if you are putting effort into it. These kids don’t get away with slacking. When given a task they are expected to complete it. You don’t give up just because it is hard. You don’t give up just because you are tired. You stop when the task is completed. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just completed. It’s a great work ethic to be teaching.

Now for the yummy stuff!

Before we started the 6 week intensive program the conductor approached me and said she had discussed K’s situation with some other conductors. The consensus was that what is holding K back from successfully standing and walking (his desire to be upright is very evident) is tight Hamstrings and Achilles and that we should spend this time really concentrating on stretching those muscles. So that is what we have been focusing on and we are seeing good results. K has now started to stretch his legs out without assistance while lying on his back. He is able to make a bridge independently on demand. (That really helps with diapering) He is imitating when we are singing songs and when a task is demonstrated to him. His focus has improved immensely. He is printing letters with minimal help and completing work sheets independently. He sat cross-legged today without support for the length of story time. He has learned to play catch with a ball with other children. He kicks the ball while seated on a stool. He can push himself from squat to stand with help for balance. He can pull himself along the length of the plinth with his arms. He can push himself down the length of the plinth with his arms. He can push himself up the length of the plinth with his feet. He can wiggle feathers out from between his toes. (when we were at the spring session he couldn’t even wiggle his toes) He waves with his foot. I’m sure that is not everything. The little things add up to big things. K knows the routine and if something is done out of order he is quick to point out the task that has been missed.

Today we used K’s new Swash brace for the first time. K has had the ability to sit independently for a long time now but with the Swash his sitting posture was greatly improved. His back was nice and straight, knees apart and it was much easier for him to keep his feet flat on the floor. Very nice to see. We have also ordered some custom knee braces. These should help with maintaining the improvement to the hamstrings and will also aid in standing and walking tasks. Right now K’s tone is so powerful that we can’t control his foot and leg position for standing with our hands so the braces should free us to work more effectively on those tasks. The goal at this point is standing skills and side stepping with support. I am excited to work on those goals.

I’ll be sure to update you when we get to the end of this session. There are actually some physical benefits for the parents too. All of this crawling around really loosens up the old joints!

For more information about this particular program, contact [email protected] or view the website at

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Researchers pulling back the veil on Adult Autism
Sharon Kirkey, Canwest News Service
Published: Sunday, July 20, 2008 in the Vancouver Sun newspaper

Was the young doctor autistic?

He didn't think so: "I don't walk on tippytoes or get hypnotized by Wheel of Fortune," he explained.

But he did get upset when people didn't say what they mean. He loved math. "And then there's this odd thing I do with my hands and my nose when I'm excited and I think nobody's looking," he once wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

He thinks he may be on "some distant end" of the autism spectrum. At the other end are people like the man who organized his wife's CDs by the composer's date of birth and fell asleep on the floor during social events; his wife thought he was eccentric.

Or the office clerk who beat up a woman on his way to the bus stop one morning for the simple reason she was in his way. He was obsessed with not walking on the cracks between the tiles on the sidewalk.

Autism in children has never been more in the news. But few are talking about the adults, experts say, and few therapists are available to treat the illnesses in adults just as more are seeking help.

The official criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders apply to children. Some adults only recognize autism in themselves when their child is diagnosed.

On the high-functioning end of autism is Asperger's disorder, "and that's the group that's coming to people's attention," says Dr. Deborah Elliott, assistant professor of psychiatry in the division of developmental disabilities at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.

Even Asperger's is listed under the category "usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood or adolescence" in psychiatry's official guidebook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it was only in 1994 that the syndrome was added.

Adults with Asperger's have normal or above normal intelligence, but their social skills are disastrous. They avoid eye contact, have difficulty forming relationships and can't pick up on normal social cues, signs and facial expressions.

They may be able to get an advanced degree, but once employed they can't interact with their co-workers in a normal way. There's no normal coffee chit-chat, Elliott explains. They sometimes ask embarrassing questions and easily lose their tempers.

"A disagreement with a co-worker or a boss, or someone looked at them wrong, or it was a cloudy day instead of sunny like the weather man said, or you gave them the wrong sandwich," says Karen Rodman, founder and director of Families of Adults Affected by Asperger's syndrome, Inc., or FAAAS. "There's no rhyme or reason. And the problem is with everyone else around them. It's never their fault."

Some are diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, bipolar or depression. "You treat the depression but then you're left with somebody who still is a bit odd and eccentric," Elliott says. "That may be the first time they actually come to somebody's attention. Yes, he's depressed, but the reason he's depressed is because he can't develop relationships. Even though we've treated his depression, he's still stuck with disability."

Far more men than women are affected. Asperger's and high-functioning autism has been described as the extreme of male thinking, says Dr. Rutger Jan van der Gaag, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Radboud University Nijmegen in The Netherlands. "Very much detail, very little empathy."

Famous people from Isaac Newton to Einstein exhibit Asperger-like traits. "When you think of the rigidity and scrutiny you need to accomplish some of the big scientific achievements and inventions, if you're distracted by the beauty of life outside the lab, you're never going to have the perseverance to do so," van der Gaag says.

Many adults with autism recognize something is wrong, Elliott says. "They know they're not 'getting it.' They're not getting cues from people, they know they're being marginalized, they're aware they're different." But they often don't come to the attention of mental health experts until they're reprimanded at work for making an inappropriate comment, or charged with harassing or stalking.

"You can help them understand that they have a syndrome that makes them different," Elliott says. "That somehow relieves them from feeling that they're doing something terribly wrong."

[email protected]

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There Goes My Heart

Cerebral Palsy
 is a non-progressive condition caused from damage to certain areas of the brain usually occurring before or shortly after birth.

My son has Cerebral Palsy.

It affects all four of his limbs, his hands, his trunk, his neck, his mouth. In fact, I don't think there is much of him that is not affected to some degree. At least on the parts of him that we can see. The parts we can't see, we have to guess but the reality is that if it has a muscle that impacts the function there no doubt is some effect on the muscle from the CP.

My son is my HERO.

He is my heart, out there for the entire world to see and feel and interact with. Every day, in every activity that he attempts, he struggles for control of the movement of his body through space. Yes, he has equipment that helps him to sit in proper alignment, stand in proper alignment, and move through his environment in a safe manner. He has many people that work with him to maintain his safety and oversee his ability to function with as much success as he is capable of. I appreciate the efforts of all of these people. He will be successful. He will have independence.

There goes my heart...

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Autism: The Musical

I love to see activities and events that push our kids to step outside of their comfort zones.
This account of "life with Autism" was both heartwarming and heartfelt. Seeing the struggles and challenges dipicted of everyday life in these families and then to experience the success of the final performance was incredible.

Autism: The Musical premiered in March on HBO.

"This uplifting documentary explores one woman's pledge to lead a group of autistic children in defying diagnosed expectations by writing, rehearsing and performing their own full length musical."

Watch a preview and some behind the scenes footage here.

Buy the DVD!
Autism - The Musical

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Conductive Education has arrived in the
Lower Mainland of British Columbia

In a few weeks we will begin a new chapter in our Journey. The opportunity has come for K to attend a Conductive Education program in our local community. This is truly a dream come true for me. I first read about conductive education when K was a baby and I thought the whole program made so much sense. I searched the internet for information about location and costs. The closest program to us was in Ontario and would require being away from home for a minimum of 5 weeks. Travel and living expenses alone were well beyond our budget not to mention the cost of the program. Being the firm believer that I am that everything happens for a reason I knew that someday, somehow, this would happen for us. I had the knowledge; I just needed to keep my eyes and ears open for the opportunity.

About 2 ½ years ago I came into contact with a man that has been trying to set up a CE program in our area. He has a tremendous challenge getting this going but has a dream and is working hard to make it happen. His driving force is his own child but he truly believes that this is the best program to train these kids towards independent living. He held a fundraiser for the cause. We spent a wonderful evening meeting other parents of children in similar circumstance to us and being entertained by Tyler Fortin, a stand-up comedian who uses his experience of life with CP as the basis for his routine.

Last spring we were contacted by Little Leaps inquiring if we still were interested in having K attend a CE program. Things have been moving along in a positive direction. A conductor has been hired, space is available to use and clients are registering. This will be an exciting new beginning indeed.

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Let's talk about sleep, baby!

When I started out as an expectant parent some 25 years ago I thought it was going to be so nice to waken in the middle of the night, snuggle with my warm, sweet smelling babe as she suckled herself back to sleep and drift off myself. After a few months of this, reality swept in right along with sleep deprivation and I realized how much I REALLY enjoy a good nights sleep. Uninterupted sleep. Gosh, how long has it been since I had a full nights sleep without being woken up by someone for some reason?

My two boys (15 and 6 years old) are both on the Autism Spectrum. J has a diagnosis of Asperger's and K has a diagnosis of Autism, Auditory Neuropathy and Cerebral Palsy. Bedtime has been a challenge with J, my older son, since he was small. The kicking and screaming, in and out of bed, tantrums until exhausted he would fall asleep on the floor. It was a horrible experience for both of us. If I had only known then what I know now, perhaps we wouldn't be dealing with the issues that we are. Bedtime is still horrible with him. At least he doesn't tantrum anymore but he drags out the process well into the wee hours claiming he just can't fall asleep. I do know that if he would run a really warm bath with epsom salts in it and take a melatonin he would fall asleep. We are at a standoff. He doesn't want Mommy suggesting anything that seems even the least bit controlling and resists even the slightest suggestion of what we both know would help him fall asleep. He also knows that this is the tactic that I use with K at bedtime. K has a bedtime routine of 20 minute epsom salt bath, melatonin, and by the time he is dressed in his PJ's he is nodding off. I tuck him in bed with a book and our good night ritual, leave the room and he is asleep often before the door is latched.

There is a wonderful post on
Speechville express written by Susan Owens on the subject of Epsom Salt Baths. This is quite an indepth explanation of why they work, how they work, as well as some alternate ways to use Epsom Salts to obtain good results.

Another great resource for information on Epsom Salts is contained in the book
Enzymes for Autism and other Neurological Conditions written by Karen L. DeFelice.

Wishing you all a good nights rest!

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How to beat computer time tantrums

In our house computer time is a huge issue. I am sure many of you can relate. My elder son (15 years old, Asperger’s) is deeply attached to the computer. On a daily basis we would go through the tantrums and arguing over when he could use the computer and for how long etc. It is very hard and you know you will deal with the same issues everyday.

About a year ago we installed a program called Kids watch, Time control. This is has been a fabulous solution for the computer “control” issues. You can set the control so that the child cannot “log in” to the computer until the time you select in the settings and you set the amount of computer time, internet time, shut down time. Each weekday can be set up with individual settings and you are able to adjust settings through the administrator account whenever needed. This has been an amazing tool to reduce the difficult behaviors that we see in our home. It takes the personality out of the situation and now it is the “stupid computer shut me out” not Mom or Dad being “in control”. Try it out. There is a 15 day free trial period before you have to purchase.

Click here for KidsWatch Standard Edition V4.0 download