Wednesday, December 01, 2004

AP Wire | 12/01/2004 | Committee: Mental disorder did not cause cake incident

Committee: Mental disorder did not cause cake incident

Associated Press

MARIETTA, Ga. - One of two girls accused of making a cake tainted with bleach and other substances and serving it to classmates cannot blame her actions on an autism-related condition, a school committee has ruled.

The girl's - both 13 - face charges including aggravated assault for allegedly baking a cornbread cake made with bleach, glue, Tabasco sauce and other substances that was given to students at East Cobb Middle School last month.

About a dozen students got sick after eating the cake.

The father of one of the girls has said she suffers from Asperger's syndrome, an autism-related condition characterized by deficiencies in social and communication skills.

But a committee of teachers, counselors and administrators at the school met privately Tuesday and ruled against the father's theory, Cobb County school spokesman Jay Dillon said. The committee said there was never an official diagnosis.

The district has a letter from a school psychologist saying the syndrome is simply "suspected," Dillon said. In order to qualify for a special education program, more evidence is needed.

Once her condition is diagnosed, the school district will be able to decide where to place her and what punishment is appropriate, the girl's father said.

The girl's father said he disagreed with the ruling but expected it. If staff at the school agreed that Asperger's syndrome caused the girl's actions, then they would have admitted they could have prevented it by placing her in a special environment, the father said.

"The people who made the decisions about my daughter's place and environment are the ones who made the decision today," he said. "If they found otherwise, they would be admitting they made a mistake."

The other 13-year-old has been released to the custody of her parents, is under house arrest and has been suspended from East Cobb Middle School.

The girl believed to suffer from Asperger's syndrome, whom the school principal testified is the one who actually encouraged other children to eat the cake, is still in custody.

A trial date for both girls is set for Feb. 8.
AP Wire | 12/01/2004 | Committee: Mental disorder did not cause cake incident

Friday, November 19, 2004

Cure Autism Now - Walk Now - Tomorrow in Houston

This Saturday, November 20, my family and I will be participating in a veryspecial event, WALK NOW benefiting the Cure Autism Now Foundation. It is a 5K walk and community resource fair with the proceeds going to further the search for causes and cures for autism. Autism is a devastating disease affected over 1.5 American children and their families. 1 in every 250 children is newly diagnosed with autism.

You may be wondering why Cure Autism Now and WALK NOW are so important to me and my family. My involvement stems from a very personal and deep emotional contact with this complicated disease.

My 5-year-old son, Sean, was diagnosed with a form of Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, two years ago. I am very proud of Sean and impressed with his progress so far thanks to hard work on his part, our part and an excellent program within the Cy-Fair School District.

I strongly feel that I can have a direct impact on finding causes and cures for autism.
I also feel strongly that Cure Autism Now is a wonderful organization which has been instrumental in furthering autism research. In 1995, when Cure Autism Now was founded there were only 12 researches focused solely on autism. Today there are over 300. That is progress. WALK NOW gives us a tangible way to help the nearly 1.5 million other Americans affected by autism and related disorders.

I am asking for your support in helping us raise money for this worthy cause. Any contribution you are able to make would be greatly appreciated, but I ask you to give big as there is a big need for further research. My personal goal is to raise $500.00 for Cure Autism Now and I hope to far exceed that goal.

It is easiest to donate online by going to our personal webpage at Sean's CAN page.

If you are unable to donate online, you can print out a donation form from that page. All checks should be made payable to Cure Autism Now.

I look forward to hearing from you. I thank you very much!


Visit my Autism/Asperger's Syndrome blog -

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Group responds to rising autism rate

Group responds to rising autism rate
By Marjorie Wertz
Monday, November 1, 2004

Fraternal twins Connor and Mackenzie Baker don't understand jokes, sarcasm or the subtleties of social interaction.
Mackenzie didn't speak until he was nearly 3 years old; while Connor was the exact opposite: screaming loud and often.

The Greensburg boys were diagnosed as high-functioning autistics when they were 5 years old.

"It was their behaviors that led to the diagnosis," said Deb Carpenter, the twins' mother.

There is no blood test or screening that detects autism, a spectrum disorder that includes autism, Asperger's syndrome, and PDD-NOS or pervasive development disorders not otherwise specified, said Howard Carpenter, Deb Carpenter's husband and the stepfather of Connor and Mackenzie. Howard Carpenter is the executive director of Aboard Inc., Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders.

"Autism is a neurological disorder. The cause is not yet known and there is no cure," Howard Carpenter said. "Most kids who are diagnosed with autism appear normal. Some time over the course of their early years, they begin to regress, lose their speech and begin to manifest severe impairments. They have social interaction problems and tremendous sensory problems.

"The bottom line is when a psychiatrist or a medical professional diagnoses the child, it is done through visual observation and the behavior history they receive from the parents."

All children with autistic spectrum disorders display deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or interests.

They do not follow the typical patterns of child development. Often, children with autism will have unusual responses to certain sounds or the way objects look. Symptoms will present differently in each child.

"It is the third most common child disability today. It trails mental retardation and cerebral palsy. It is four times more common in boys than girls," Howard Carpenter said. "For every 149 normal babies born, one will have autism. The rate today is 15 times higher than a decade ago."

Connor and Mackenzie, now 11, are in fifth grade. Connor attends Brighton Day School at Pressley Ridge in Pittsburgh. Mackenzie is a student at Bovard Elementary School.

"The boys are obsessive. Mackenzie is a facts kid. He likes facts and likes to read factual books on birds, birthdays, presidents. For Connor, life is very hard. He has a hard time with eye contact and joining with other children even when he wants to," Deb Carpenter said. "They don't know when they are being annoying. Because they don't get subtleties, you have to be very cut-and-dried when speaking to them."

Mackenzie is more socially functional. The youngster learned some social behaviors while attending summer camp. Connor, Deb Carpenter said, does not function as well socially.

"Connor becomes aggressive verbally and sometimes physically. Mentally and emotionally, he is at the second-grade level," she added. "The biggest challenge for us right now, and the most frustrating, is getting them to be like other kids."

In Pennsylvania alone, there are more than 74,000 individuals diagnosed with autism. Aboard Inc. is a Pennsylvania-only organization with more than 10,000 members, most of them from western Pennsylvania. One of the goals of Aboard is to provide training workshops for parents, teachers and therapists to raise awareness of autism.

Rebecca Klaw, director of the Center for Autism at Pressley Ridge, Pittsburgh, conducted a seminar Oct. 23 at Westmoreland County Community College, on Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism.

"In Asperger's syndrome, the child fails to develop peer relationships, lacks spontaneity and has a lower desire to share things with others," Klaw said. "They also have a repetitive pattern of behavior and an abnormal interest in a single subject or object. But this interest could be seen as a characteristic or gift in an Asperger's child. There were many people who were geniuses but socially inept, including Albert Einstein."

Asperger's may not be diagnosed until elementary school because there is no language delay, as is evident in other autistic children.

"Children with Asperger's have difficulty deciphering body language and facial expressions. Playing is very hard for them, because playing involves constant sharing and flexibility," Klaw said. "Playing requires loyalty to friends. Children with Asperger's aren't connected to the friendship, but to the activity itself. Children with Asperger's syndrome don't really care to be like others, so they don't bend to peer pressure. However, they don't want to be ridiculed."

Additionally, Asperger's children appear to lack empathy and can be rude or tactless. They have unusual sounding speech that can be too loud, too soft or lacking inflection. Sometimes Asperger's children use words that are too advanced for their age.

"Ten years ago children with Asperger's used to be diagnosed as schizophrenic, because the children would start talking about something completely irrelevant in the doctor's office," Klaw said.

"We are striving to reduce the length of time before diagnosis," Howard Carpenter said. "Delivery of therapy must begin as soon as possible, so the child can learn to speak and learn how to interact with others. The whole idea is for that child with autism to grow up to be an independent adult."

Anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed if the child's anxiety is so acute that it limits learning. Most professionals agree that children with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized therapy programs.

"There is a consensus within the scientific community that autism has a genetic root," Howard Carpenter said. "What researchers are focusing on is what is triggering that genetic root. There is something triggering the manifestation of autism, whether it's vaccines, diet or the air. This disorder was ignored for so long. There has to be more research and there has to be care while we're waiting for a cure."

Deb Carpenter worries about her boys' future.

"A high-functioning autistic can function in society. There is hope. Mackenzie will be fine. Connor will not," she said.
Group responds to rising autism rate -

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Telegraph | News | Paul Smith, the 'odd' kid' turns killer

Bullied at school for his stilted speech and learning difficulties, teenage killer Paul Smith was always seen as the "odd kid".

Like many sufferers of Asperger's Syndrome, the 18-year-old lacked social skills and hated crowded situations such as the fateful party last December.

He had a fiery temper and when Rosie May Storrie started innocently making fun of the older boy, he lost control and smothered the 10-year-old to death.

His loyal parents, Nigel and Susan Smith, claimed from the start their "vulnerable" son had been blamed for the killing because he was an "easy target".

They said ever since he was a young child he was used as a scapegoat because his condition, a form of autism, made him different from other children.

But he was the last person seen with the ballet star at the party and was incriminated by traces of his DNA found on a can of Guinness at the little girl's bedside.

A common perception of Asperger's sufferers is that they are honest and trustworthy. Smith maintained from the very start that he had not touched the youngster.

In the witness box at Nottingham Crown Court he showed no emotion and spoke in a monotone as he described his version of events on December 28 last year.

The teenager, who left school shortly after his 16th birthday to join his uncle's firm as an apprentice electrician, was only occasionally visibly frustrated as he was accused of attacking the youngster.

But Smith, who was 17 at the time of the tragedy, was polite and controlled despite what defence counsel Mrs Oldham termed his "unusual" demeanour.

Experts have found no link between Asperger's Syndrome and violent crime and traditionally sufferers were said to be more likely to become victims than offenders.

However, a lack of empathy with others and an inability to understand the consequences of their actions could lead an aggressive sufferer to lose control.

Asperger's was first identified as a separate condition in 1944 by a German doctor, Hans Asperger, who spotted similar, odd behaviours in more than one of his patients.

The subtle characteristics which make up the condition often lead to it being missed by doctors who might spot the more noticeable deficits of other types of autism.

Smith was diagnosed at the age of 12 or 13 following a spate of disruptive behaviour at his school.
Telegraph | News | Paul Smith, the 'odd' kid' turns killer

Spectrum Haven

Spectrum Haven

Teen with Asperger's Syndrome Creates Own Website for Everyone on the Autistic Spectrum

PRESS RELEASE: Teen with Asperger's Syndrome Creates Own Website for Everyone on the Autistic Spectrum

Monday, October 18, 2004

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

School program helps students with autism reach their full potential

By Michael Flynn, STAFF WRITER
Oct. 4, 2004 7:33 p.m.

"For the past two weeks, we've been doing conversations," Randles said, including learning how to shake hands, maintain a proper distance from your counterpart and say good-bye. A game called "facial expression bingo" helps students discern the different moods of people they encounter.

The lessons are crucial for the Veritas Christian Academy students in Randles' class, each of whom has Asperger Syndrome or "high-functioning" autism, brain disorders that impair communication and social skills.

In 2000, Veritas established a School Within A School program to provide individualized and structured educational experiences for children with Asperger Syndrome and related autism conditions.

The program's focus, said executive director Mark Muir, is providing specially tailored instruction in communication and other life skills while integrating its students into the school's standard curriculum.

"That's what makes our program distinctive," Muir said. "To be successful in the real world, they need to be taught in the real world." Muir said students with Asperger Syndrome have average or above average intelligence but "need the additional support of School Within A School to be successful in a mainstream classroom."

Mills River's Melanie Hancock, mother of third-grade student Rebecca Hancock, said her daughter is thriving in the school's supportive environment.

"It's made her a different person. They love her here," she said. "And they are helping us help her - the stress is not as great as parents."

The program's leaders hope to double the current 12- student enrollment and turn the program into a template that other educational institutions can follow. "We hope this will become a model program for children with Asperger's," said Veritas Head of School Kay Belknap.

`I do a lot better now'

Autism is a lifelong neurobiological condition that is often diagnosed in early childhood. Individuals with the condition have difficulty understanding verbal and nonverbal communication and learning customary ways of relating to people and events around them.

According to the Autism Society of North Carolina, about 30,000 people living in the state have autism. Nationally, the number of people with the condition grew by 173 percent during the last decade.

One of the reasons for the increasing number of diagnoses is the growing awareness of the range of autism disorders, including Asperger Syndrome, said Catherine Faherty, a psychoeducation specialist in Asheville. But experts suspect there may be other reasons for the rising numbers that are not yet understood, said Faherty, who is with TEACCH, an autism treatment and education group that is a division of UNC-Chapel Hill's school of medicine.

Someone with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism doesn't have the same cognitive difficulties as an individual with classic autism, but faces some similar social and emotional challenges, said Dr. Greg Narron, a psychiatrist with Family Life & Learning Center in Asheville.

"These children can be significant contributors to society, but their developmental path is more difficult," said Narron, who is on the Veritas board of directors. "This program acknowledges their strengths and helps them find success among their peer group," he said.

The program's students receive instruction in social and communication skills each day, and are often accompanied by one of the program's instructors while attending regular classes at Veritas. Students also go home with a daily log that allows parents to follow their child's activities and make their own notations for instructors.

School Within A School seventh-grade student Chris Prechter said the additional guidance has helped him relax and succeed with his schoolwork.

"I was really stressed and didn't get the good grades I wanted," he said about his experience before joining the program. "I'd always get angry and frustrated. I do a lot better now."

Faherty praised the Veritas program for "helping children understand themselves, including aspects relating to autism." Many children with autism disorders are strong visual learners, she said, but don't have the same auditory capabilities. "The challenge for teachers and parents is to understand this unique style of thinking and learning and how the children interact with their environment," she said.

School Within A School Program Director Marlou deVera, a former job coach for adults with autism, said early development of social skills is critical to the student's future academic and professional life. She also has a 16- year-old son with autism in public school.

In Buncombe County, about 135 of the county school system's 25,000 students have autism disorders, said Director of Special Services Jane Stephens. An additional 1,227 students have learning disabilities, she said, such as difficulty with reading or math skills.

"There's a lot of different options just like other exceptional students," she said about how the school system approaches autistic students. "We want kids to be in the right classroom as much as possible. Depending on what level of intervention they need, they may spend all, part or not so much of the day in a regular classroom."

`It's like a gift'

Mark and Teri Muir founded Veritas' School Within A School after searching for a program they felt best served the needs of their son, Christopher, who is now an eighth-grade student in the program. The Muirs, who moved to Western North Carolina from Southern California and are co-executive directors of the program, combined elements of other programs to create School Within A School.

The program's Christian focus is critical to its mission, Mark Muir said. "It allows these kids to be accepted," he said. "And it helps the other kids learn to accept kids with differences."

As with other students enrolling in Veritas, at least one parent must sign a statement affirming his or her Christian faith. There are about 250 students in the entire academy, which offers a classical and Christian education and is in the former Fletcher Elementary School building on Cane Creek Road. Opened six years ago, the academy will have its first senior class graduate in May.

The annual tuition at School Within A School is $17,500, Muir said, though most students receive scholarship assistance. To cover a projected $250,000 operating deficit for the next two school years, the program is hosting a fund- raiser at the Grove Park Inn on Oct. 29.

Muir, the former chief marketing officer of a Fortune 500 company, said the joy of transforming the lives of kids through School Within A School has been a more satisfying endeavor. "That feeling is much more rewarding than the thrill of business success," he said.

Prechter, who said his favorite subjects are literature, math and theology, noted he has learned something special in the program - how to be himself.

"There's nothing bad about Asperger Syndrome or autism," he said. "It's just that your brain functions differently. It's kind of like a gift."

Contact Flynn at 232-2935 or

BOX: First Fundraiser Gala

On Oct. 29, the School Within A School at Veritas Christian Academy will host a special black tie (optional) evening to support scholarships in the school's program for children with Asperger Syndrome and related autism disorders. The goal is to raise $250,000 to cover the program's projected operating deficit during the next two school years. Office Depot is the evening's presenting sponsor. A reception and silent auction will start at 6 p.m.; dinner, entertainment and live auction with honorees Irwin and Betty Helford will begin at 7 p.m. Price is $500 per person; for tickets and more information, call (828) 681- 0546, or visit


What Causes Autism?
Autism is a brain disorder, present from birth. What causes autism in specific cases is still unknown. It is known that the psychological environment in which a child grows up does not cause autism. Some research suggests a physical problem affecting parts of the brain that process language and information coming in from the senses. Other research points to an imbalance of some brain chemicals. Genetic factors are often involved. Some people have suggested that there are environmental factors at work and research is being conducted in that area. Autism may be a result of a combination of several "causes."

How Can People with Autism be Helped?
Autism is treatable. Early diagnosis and intervention is very important. Studies have shown that all people with autism can improve with proper individualized instruction. There are a variety of treatment methods available that may help improve the person with autism's ability to understand information and interact with others. Most people with autism become more responsive to others as they learn to understand the world around them.
Source: Autism Society of North Carolina School program helps students with autism reach their full potential

A new generation of people with disabilities is heading for the work force

Swing for the fences
A new generation of people with disabilities is heading for the work force
Houston Chronicle

Andrew Holton slid out of the car, a sheaf of fliers in hand, and strode into the Executive Inn in Brookshire.

His curly brown hair neatly brushed, his pants and oxford-cloth shirt crisp, the 6-foot-2-inch Holton waved briefly to the preoccupied desk clerk and pulled the previous week's fliers from their plastic stand, replacing them with his updated version.

At 22, fresh out of school, he was on the job and earning a paycheck.

Jobs are the next frontier for Holton and his peers, the generation of young adults who pioneered the movement of people with disabilities into public school classrooms.

When Holton left the Katy Independent School District's vocational training program last spring, his main concern was finding a job.

"A paying job," he said.

Holton has a form of autism and Tourette's syndrome, and although he had a lot going for him -- a Katy High School diploma, a friendly personality and a savvy family who understood the challenges but also believed in the possibilities -- the obstacles were daunting.

The reality of autism, a developmental disability that affects communication and social skills, made job-hunting far more complicated than circling a few classified ads.

In the coming years, U.S. employers increasingly will find people with cognitive disabilities among those looking for work. Diagnoses of autism alone have skyrocketed in the past 15 years, up from about one in every 5,000 births to one in 166.

Holton's résumé lists his accomplishments, including a raft of volunteer positions and the rank of Eagle Scout, but it also acknowledges his differences. "On occasion he will say things out loud that others would only think to themselves, yet Andrew speaks from the heart," one section noted.

His mother, Scottie Holton, knows more about job markets for people with disabilities than most parents; as a counselor whose clients include families with special-needs kids, she has seen too many people graduate from high school onto the living-room couch.

But she also knows this: "People who have a child with a disability want the very same thing everybody wants for their grown-up children: something to do, people who care about them."

Reliable statistics are scarce, but everyone agrees that people with disabilities are less likely to be employed than those without a disability.

That's beginning to change, said Roger Webb, executive director of the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities.

"It's less unusual now to see people with a severe disability, whether it's a person with mental retardation or a person in a wheelchair," Webb said, "so I think employers realize that's just a part of life."

Life nudged forward by the law and practical experience with kids with disabilities mainstreaming in the schools.

`I love my job'
Holton had a head start on work, landing a part-time job before he left school in May.

Every week, he and Karen Henderson made the rounds of businesses in Katy and as far west as Brookshire, delivering an advertising flier called the Coffee News.

For those few hours, Holton was working, aided by the 37-year-old Henderson, who serves as an assistant to several people with disabilities. He doesn't drive, so she acted as chauffeur, waiting in the parking lot while he ducked inside several dozen restaurants and offices.

In between stops, the two settled into an easy camaraderie. The Holtons hired Henderson after meeting her through Special Olympics, where she routinely cheers on athletes and where Andrew Holton competes in several sports. He rents a small suite in her home in Katy, dividing his time between there and his parents' home nearby.

"All right, dude," Henderson said as he climbed back in after a stop one day this summer. "What's next?"

As they headed down Interstate 10, Holton returned to his favorite subject of the day, the 31-inch amberjack he'd caught during a Gulf fishing trip a few days earlier, reeling it in as Henderson was hanging over the side of the boat, seasick.

Holton loves to fish and could have talked all day about the trophy-size specimen, something Henderson bore in good humor.

"Karen, what did you think when I yelled `Fish on'?" he asked.

"I thought you were a nut case," she said somberly.

Henderson is a native of Scotland who arrived in Houston by way of Canada and New Jersey. She had worked at a hospice in New Jersey, and she views the role she assumed after moving here as just another form of helping those who need her.

"It's not work," she said. "It's a pleasure."

Henderson has taken Holton to Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels and to a local pool hall. They listen to country music, watch fishing shows on TBS and cook for friends and family.

Her presence sets Holton apart from the other Coffee News delivery people, said Brownie Shott, who produces the double-sided publication filled with advertising, trivia and lighthearted stories. But that's not necessarily bad, she said.

Shott is active in the Katy schools on behalf of her son, who has multiple disabilities, and after hearing that the district's special-education division needed businesses as training sites and potential employers, she decided to help.

When a route became available, the school recommended Holton. "He's a great people person," Shott said.

Holton files a weekly report detailing how many fliers were left from the previous week and how many he put in their place.

"At least two or three weeks out of the month, when he faxes his report to me, he writes, 'I love my job,' " Shott said. "The fact that he needs a support person is different, but he probably takes better care than my route people without disabilities, because he's incredibly proud of his job."

The family's center
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning some people are more severely affected than others. In general, people with autism have trouble understanding and communicating with others.

Research is continuing into the cause, which is believed to be at least partly genetic. It affects four times as many boys as girls.

There is no cure, and fitting in with society is a lifelong challenge.

Holton recognizes the nonverbal cues most people rely upon -- a narrowing of the eyes, a quick frown -- but he doesn't always know how to interpret them. And while he understands the concept of joking, he tends to take things literally.

As a child, he hated storybooks in which animals wore clothes. As an adult, he likes nonfiction, especially natural history.

Mostly, he likes fishing. Also baking apple pies.

He began baking in high school, and he has given away hundreds of pies. He cooks, too, often with Henderson, although she's more freewheeling about improvising, and he likes to stick with his original plan. (He often develops his own recipes, considering it somehow dishonest to use someone else's.)

Intense interest in just a few subjects is a common trait in people with autism. Holton takes medication to help control his symptoms of Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary motor and vocal tics.

The whole story
But his disabilities are only part of Holton's story.

"We really love it when people appreciate Andrew, because we think he's cool," said his 21-year-old sister, Alison, a junior arts management and museum studies major at the University of Tulsa.

"Our family revolves around Andrew, and that's OK. We've done some really cool things because of Andrew."

The accommodations began early. Scottie Holton had a background in child development, and she and her husband, John, realized that their first child was different while he was still a baby.

"He was doing things, but not quite like everyone else," she said. He had low muscle tone, and problems with balance and movement.

They lived in Beaumont, where John Holton worked for Exxon Mobil. He still works there, commuting to the family's home in Katy on weekends and at midweek.

Andrew was evaluated by a orthopedist when he was 9 months old and by a neurologist when he was 2. Doctors didn't detect a problem. But by then, Andrew had a younger sister.

"When Alison was born, she was so quick to do everything, and we didn't teach her anything," Scottie Holton said. "We taught Andrew everything."

When Andrew was 3, the neurologist determined that he had pervasive developmental delay, a broad term for autism.

"We didn't know if he'd be able to walk," John Holton said. "We didn't know if he'd be able to read."

Each milestone was doubly sweet.

The family moved to Spring Branch and then to Katy in search of opportunities for Andrew.

"We knew Andrew was different," his father said. "We knew he wasn't going to be a star athlete, a star student."

But they were determined that he have a chance.

Scottie Holton attended a conference in Montreal the summer before Andrew entered first grade and returned home convinced that inclusion -- mixing special-education students, often accompanied by an aide, with the other kids in classes and extracurricular activities -- was the answer. That's common practice now, but it was a new concept then.

During middle school, a doctor suggested the disability might be described as Asperger syndrome -- a milder form of autism -- and the family has since used that term.

Mostly, they simply incorporated his interests into the family routine. Fishing trips to Colorado became their standard vacation. Weekends were often spent at Lake Conroe or the fishing lake in Katy's Peckham Park.

"I caught on real early that Andrew needed us," Alison said. "I didn't want to make his life tougher."

School to work
As the number of autism diagnoses rises, experts say the American workplace will face the same challenges that hit public schools more than a decade ago.

Debbie Wilkes, director of developmental programs for the Richardson Independent School District north of Dallas, reaches for a grander analogy.

"I think you need to think about it as a civil-rights issue," she said. "It's going to take time."

But work already is a looming issue, the place where the public investment in education could pay off.

People in their 20s grew up seeing people with disabilities in their schools. As they enter the work force, Wilkes said, they're more accepting there, too.

Cathy Pratt, director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism and a board member of the Autism Society of America, said that employers don't always understand the social accommodations needed by someone with autism.

And people with autism may not understand "the cultural norms of work -- who you go to for supervision, what are the things you can say or not say to co-workers, those things in the work culture that are hidden but make a difference."

In search of success
Andrew Holton started the summer in search of success but unsure whether he would find it.

He had his job at the Coffee News, and he was signed up for three weeks as a volunteer counselor at Camp CAMP, for kids with disabilities.

He had a checking account and a savings account, but other questions were unsettled. He had thought about getting a driver's license and was curious about college, but both made him nervous.

Softball season ramped up at Special Olympics, and Holton assumed his place with the Katy Wolf Pack.

A new opportunity arose in July.

Lennar Homes was about to start its second round of three-month internships for athletes from Special Olympics teams. Lennar began working with the organization in 1998 to build Habitat for Humanity homes, teaching construction skills to the athletes.

Last year, the home builder began an internship program to introduce office skills.

Holton was one of three people recommended for this year's internships, and by mid-July he had a new wardrobe, a company badge, even a desk. With Henderson or a friend covering his Coffee News route, he has worked 25 hours a week at the homebuilder's central region headquarters in far west Houston, sorting and delivering mail, among other duties.

It has been a crash course in independence, but his supervisor said he is learning, including some of the intangible nuances of the workplace.

When the internship ends later this month, Holton's bio should be added to, a Web site reflecting the partnership among Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity and Lennar and advertising athletes to potential employers.

Once more, Andrew Holton will be looking for a job. - A new generation of people with disabilities is heading for the work force

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

WrongPlanet is a web community designed for individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. We provide a forum, where members can communicate with each other, an article section, where members may read and submit essays or how-to guides about various subjects, and a chatroom for real-time communication with other Aspies.

Asperger's Syndrome, a pervasive deveolpment disorder, is a form of autism. People with Asperger's Syndrome usually have normal or above normal IQ's. It is described as an inability to understand how to interact socially.

The Poetry of Jerry Newport

For more information

Autism Society of America
A leading source of information and referral on autism. Phone: 1-800-3AUTISM

National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR)NAAR is dedicated to funding and accelerating biomedical research focusing on autism spectrum disorders.

MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger SpectrumA nonprofit organization dedicated to providing information and advice to families.

Autism TodayAn online source for resources and information on autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

Families of Adults Afflicted with Asberger's SyndromeFAAAS offers support to the family members of adult individuals afflicted with Asperger's Syndrome.

Advocates for Individuals with High Functioning Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and other Pervasive Developmental DisordersA parent support group in Long Island, N.Y.

Autism Facts

What is Autism?
A Definition

Autism is a brain disorder that typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the environment. Some people with autism are relatively high-functioning, with speech and intelligence intact. Others are mentally retarded, mute, or have serious language delays. For some, autism makes them seem closed off and shut down; others seem locked into repetitive behaviors and rigid patterns of thinking. Although people with autism do not have exactly the same symptoms and deficits, they tend to share certain social, communication, motor, and sensory problems that affect their behavior in predictable ways.

What Causes The Disease?

Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in autistic versus non-autistic children. Researchers are investigating a number of theories, including the link between heredity, genetics and medical problems. In many families, there appears to be a pattern of autism or related disabilities, further supporting a genetic basis to the disorder. While no one gene has been identified as causing autism, researchers are searching for irregular segments of genetic code that autistic children may have inherited. It also appears that some children are born with a susceptibility to autism, but researchers have not yet identified a single "trigger" that causes autism to develop. Other researchers are investigating the possibility that under certain conditions, a cluster of unstable genes may interfere with brain development resulting in autism. Still other researchers are investigating problems during pregnancy or delivery as well as environmental factors such as viral infections, metabolic imbalances, and exposure to environmental chemicals.

How Many?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism affects 1 to 2 in 1,000 Americans. Studies done in Europe and Asia since 1985 have found that as many as 2 to 6 of every 1,000 children have an Autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which is a broad array of mental problems that include autism. Many people believe that the incidence of autism is rising. A California study published this fall found that the rise in autism over the last decade was real and has little to do with better diagnosis and awareness.

In The Movies
Rain Man

Many books and films have dealt with the issue of autism. The most famous is "Rain Man," the 1988 film that starred Dustin Hoffman as the autistic brother of Tom Cruise. Cruise must come to terms with the fact that his brother is autistic.

When Was Autism "Discovered"?

Leo Kanner published his first paper identifying autistic children in 1943. Before then, such children would be classified as emotionally disturbed or mentally retarded. Kanner said that these children often demonstrated capabilities that showed that they were not merely slow learners, yet they didn't fit the patterns of emotionally disturbed children. "Autism" literally means "escape from reality." The name was used because Kanner suspected that these children were trying to escape from reality.

Notable Sufferers
Notable Sufferers

Among those who are thought to have exhibited traits related to autism or Asperger's Syndrome (a milder version of the disease) are inventor Thomas Edison (left), novelist Jane Austen, and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Vaccine Controversy
Vaccine Controversy

Some researchers believe that some autism may be related to the use of the certain vaccines on children. These vaccines contained thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. Some believe that the vaccine exposed infants to high doses of mercury, which led to autism. The theory is extremely controversial, and many researchers say it is not backed by scientific evidence.

CBS News | When Jerry Met Mary | September 29

This was a great story. I hope you got to watch it.

(CBS) Jerry Newport and Mary Meinel were brought together by something that usually keeps people apart: autism.

People who suffer from it, as Mary and Jerry do, are usually born with it, and usually grow up unhappy, wary of others, often shutting out even their own parents.

Some autistic people are profoundly retarded; and some are brilliant, like the two people that Correspondent Lesley Stahl first introduced you to in 1996, and then again eight years later.

Jerry Newport always knew there was something wrong with him. But as he was growing up, he didn’t know what it was.

“The one thing I've never had is natural grace. I guess that's the part of me that I've always felt was missing, that everybody around me seemed to have, was this natural sense of when to talk and how,” says Jerry. “What to say and how to say it, and do all those other unspoken things.”

Jerry was always out of step with the rest of the parade. He did well in school at the University of Michigan, but then he spent the next 20 years drifting from job to job. He was a taxi driver, a messenger, a clerk, busboy and deliveryman. He failed at work, and he failed at relationships. He even had trouble, and still does, making eye contact.

”I was just Jerry,” he says. “I was just odd, eccentric … just almost normal.”

But he got so depressed that he tried to kill himself twice. Without friends, he developed a deep bond with animals. He let his pet cockatiels fly loose in his apartment. And then, just when he felt he would never find his way, he went to the movies. He saw “Rain Man,” which starred Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic man who spent his whole life in an institution.

Babbitt had some unusual skills, which Jerry discovered he had, too. When a man in the movie asked Babbitt how much 4,343 times 1,234 was, Jerry knew the answer.

”The answer was 5,359,262,” says Jerry. “I said it before he [Babbitt] said it. People in front of me in the theater just looked around. And then, I realized, ‘Uh-oh.’”

As Jerry watched Hoffman play Babbitt, he said, “That's me.” Babbitt was 40 when he first realized he was autistic. So Jerry set out to learn everything he could about autism, and found his way to the department of psychiatry at UCLA. There, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which most experts say is a distinctive form of autism.

Asperger individuals are often highly intelligent, with unusual skills. But like other autistic people, they suffer from severe sensitivity to light, sounds, smell and touch.

Once Jerry knew what he had, he went looking for others like him. He organized a support group of grownups with autism, and they meet on a regular basis.

Mary Meinel is a savant, considered a genius in some ways. Yet as a child, she was labeled difficult, even retarded. One teacher even thought she might be deaf. But Mary was hearing sounds that other humans couldn’t hear. She cried if the piano was out of tune. She played musical instruments with virtually no lessons. She writes music but goes about it like no one you’ve ever heard of.

She can write music from the last page and do it backwards. She says it’s because the music is already written in her brain. In fact, when she was with Stahl, she was writing four parts for a string quartet.

Like Jerry, Mary has Asperger’s Syndrome. After years of turmoil, including a nervous breakdown and thoughts of suicide, she found her way to Jerry's support group.

”And then I found out that he had cockatiels, and he kept them loose in his house,” says Mary. “And I’m going, ‘Hey, me, too.’”

These two lost souls had found each other, and seven months after they met, Jerry asked Mary to marry him. They couldn’t believe their good fortune. They live in an average house in an average neighborhood. And they’re just an average couple – almost, but not quite.

The Newport household includes one rabbit, three iguanas, and 11 birds.

Every new marriage takes adjustment, but theirs took more than most.

“Jerry will walk in the door, and I'll go, 'Hi, honey. How are you?' Hug. He goes, 'No! [Don’t touch me],' says Mary. “It’s like being electrocuted.”

“The kinds of touches that intimidate me are the ones that are a complete surprise,” says Jerry. “But it's when you want to have sex, and that's what both of us want to do, that's a different story, a good story.”

They both say they have saved each other.

“She's the kite and I'm the anchor. I didn't know how to hope, and all she could do was hope,” says Jerry. “It’s incredible. I mean, it’s a miracle. I wake up and I feel like I’ve won the lottery and I didn’t even buy a ticket.”

But their relationship has taken some twists and turns, as Stahl discovered when she visited Jerry and Mary Newport eight years later.

Their divorce in June 1999 came as a shock for everyone who knew them.

“For me, it was a very, very low point in my life,” says Jerry. “Because I really felt like I’d lost the greatest and perhaps the only opportunity I would ever have to have a relationship with somebody who was really a soul mate.”

Mary moved back to her hometown of Tucson. But a year later, after being lonely for her soul mate, she decided to take a big step.

“I made a phone call. I said, ‘Please, come back. I miss you,’” says Mary.

Jerry missed her, too. Eleven months later, they remarried and held their reception at the local dog track, where a race was named in honor of the occasion.

For Jerry and Mary, life is good once again. Jerry and Mary now live in the Arizona desert, where they dote on their exotic menagerie of pets. Mary no longer writes music, but she’s happy at home, tending to her flock.

Since this story first aired, Jerry has been in demand as a public speaker, demystifying for others the condition of autism. Together, the Newports have written self-help books for people like them. They are now working on an autobiography they hope will appeal to a larger audience.

Hollywood producers had the same idea when, inspired by Mary and Jerry, they made a film based loosely on their lives. The movie, due out later this year, captures the social discomfort that people like Jerry always feel. But at this stage in his real life, Jerry says he’s come to terms with who he is.

“Rather than being obsessed with trying to be in step with the world, I've come to accept the fact that in certain ways I never will be. And I just don't hate myself for it,” says Jerry. “I think that once I started learning how to love myself as I truly am, it made it easier for other people to love me the same way.”
CBS News When Jerry Met Mary September 29, 2004

For Help And Information: Find out more about autism, and also where to get help.

Cure Autism Now
5455 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 715,
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Autism Society Of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 300
Bethesda, Maryland 20814-3067
301.657.0881 or 1.800.3AUTISM
Fax: 301.657.0869

Families for Early Autism Treatment
Families for Early Autism Treatment
P.O.Box 255722
Sacramento, California, 95865-5722
Voice mail - 916.843.1536

Carousel Schools
7899 La Tijera Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90045

National Alliance For Autism Research
99 Wall Street, Research Parkv Princeton, NJ 08540
(888) 777-NAARFAX (609) 430-9163

CDC Autism Information Page

NIMH Autism Information Page