April is Autism Awareness Month: 4 Great Reads from Parents in the Know

WAA-DayApril is Autism Awareness Month, a time when the public pays attention to autism – something parents and teachers in the special education and autism community live with every day.

One in every 50 children has an autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And because it is Autism Awareness Month we are seeing a plethora of wonderful articles – filled with sensitivity, insights, wisdom and first-hand knowledge – written by those who are the true experts on the subject. Here are four great reads on the topic.

Ellen Seidman @LoveThatMax shares her take on autism awareness through the prism of her son Max. In her blog in the Huffington Post, World Autism Awareness Day: The Problem With Labels, she writes why stereotyping her son and other kids with autism prevents others from experiencing their uniqueness as human beings.

“But here’s the thing about labels: they whitewash the uniqueness of the child,” she wrote. “When people figure that Max has autism because he looks or acts a certain way, or when people think that kids with autism are like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, they presume to know what our children are like — which does our kids a major disservice. That’s where we, their parents, come in.”

All of us can do the following:

“…Help people understand that kids with special needs are distinct individuals with definitive preferences, likes and dislikes. You know, like any kids. Help dismantle the stereotypes that accompany the labels. Help people see the ability in disability.”

To read the whole article, go to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ellen-seidman/world-autism-awareness-day_b_3001124.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

Dennise Goldberg @SpecialEdAdvice, who writes the Special Education Advisor blog, says in her article, April, a Time for Autism Awareness……a Time to show Compassion, that April may be the only time of year when the entire society discusses autism. Believing that there are many who have yet to be diagnosed, she calls for compassion for all those who struggle with the disorder:

“We’ve all seen other children or adults who struggle with autism-like behavior, but for whatever reason they are or were unable to receive early intervention.  We all know the importance of early intervention to assist anyone with special needs; the reality is that not everyone who needs it will be given the opportunity to benefit from it.

“My hope is that as a society, we not only look at all those who have been diagnosed but we do not ignore those who haven’t.  Don’t forget about those you might see in your child’s school, in the market, at a sporting event, the mall and the list goes on and on!  If you see a child or an adult struggling to navigate in a social situation show some compassion for them.  Maybe they are having a bad day or they have yet to be diagnosed with a disability and receive the necessary help they desperately need; we can offer assistance instead of judgment.”

To read the entire article, go to:


In another Huffington Post blog, Saint Judy, Leda Natkin Nelis writes in praise of her mother who has provided her and her autistic son consistent and loving support from day one. She writes that every parent of a child with special needs should have support and an advocate like her mother.

“Raising a child with special needs has been challenging to say the least. Convincing the medical community that my concerns about my son were valid, and then attaining a proper diagnosis, was a gruesome battle. My mother has been right there in the trenches with me from day one. My gorgeous and successful Asperger’s son would not be where he is today without Judy’s belief and support. From the day he was born, I struggled to understand why this tiny baby was clearly in pain. Family members judged me as a parent and judged my child. Mothers at the playground whispered and pointed at the non-functional displays of behavior. Throughout it all, Judy’s belief in me and in my son never swerved. She insisted that together we would find answers, and always asserted that she could see in his eyes that my son was a genius.”

She goes on to urge all mothers of special needs children to not feel ashamed to seek support:

“We all, as vulnerable mothers of special needs children, need an advocate. Your advocate can be a parent, a spouse, a friend, or a charity worker. Do not be afraid to ask for support. Do not feel ashamed.”

To read the entire article, go to:


In his blog, Autism from a Father’s Point of View, Stuart Duncan @autismfather presents the facts about the disorder to strip away the fear. He says that while awareness is “mandatory,” the facts and figures can often lead to fear. He urges parents who have received an autism diagnosis for their child to “embrace the fear.”

“What I mean by `embracing the fear’ is that some parents fight against the autism and thus fight against their own child, pushing them to not be themselves, to not be autistic at all and take that fight outward as they try to find someone or something to blame and forcibly share more and more information that they find in an attempt to perpetuate the fear onto others so that they can fear autism as well.”

To read the whole article, go to:


Education News and Views

Fat Letters to Parents Spark Controversy

The North Andover (Mass.) Patch recently reported that parents there received letters from their schools alerting them to the weight status of their children. Selectman Tracy Watson called attention to the letters when she got one indicating that her son Cameron was classified as “obese.” The letter explained BMI (Body Mass Index) standards and suggested that she and her husband contact Cameron’s pediatrician.

Watson was bemused because her son is engaged in sports and participates in martial arts. He’s a member of a wrestling team, wrestling club, and plays football. A child’s BMI is calculated with a BMI-for-age chart established by the Centers for Disease Control, and a percentile (compared with age and gender) is determined for classification. The classifications are: underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. Cameron was in the 95th percentile so he was classified as obese, although he looks – and is — fit.

Massachusetts Department of Public Health has required public schools to adopted a “BMI initiative” since 2009. The initiative requires schools to calculate the BMI of elementary and secondary students of specific ages and send the results to the children’s parents.

The letters have sparked controversy in the town, with some saying they are damaging to kids’ self-esteem and that school suggestions should focus on healthy living and eating.


Good News for Parents of Kids with Autism

There’s some good news for parents of children with autism who have been told that if their child isn’t speaking by four or five-years-old he/she may never talk. An article in Autism Speaks reports on a new study of more than 500 children with autism. The study in the journal Pediatrics indicates that some children with autism develop language skills as late as elementary or secondary school. Scientists at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, Md., studied 535 children ages 8 to 17 who at age four were diagnosed with autism and with severe language delays. Their language delays ranged from not speaking at all to using single words or phrases without verbs.

Researchers discovered that most of these children later developed language skills. Forty-seven percent became fluent speakers and 70 percent were able to speak in simple phrases.

“These findings offer hope to parents that their language-delayed child will go on to develop speech in elementary school, or even as teenagers,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. “By highlighting important predictors of language acquisition – especially the role of nonverbal cognitive and social skills – this also suggests that targeting these areas in early intervention will help to promote language.”


Personal Notes: In the Family

bookCongratulations to my daughter-in-law, Beth Ain of Port Washington, N.Y., on her new children’s book, Starring Jules (As Herself), which was just published by Scholastic. This is the first in a series and is geared to the 7 to 10-year-old set. It got a great review from Publisher’s Weekly and I, of course, loved it too! It brought me back to the days of reading Judy Blume books with my kids!


Kudos to my friend Mark Wasserman of Boca Raton, Florida, on being named an “Unsung Hero” by the Sun Sentinel for his award-winning project, Houses for Change. After retiring as a senior economist for the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C., he has put his heart and soul into helping the homeless with this endeavor.

Since the end of 2010, 25,000 kids have raised more than $375,000 in the Houses for Change collection boxes they created for homeless organizations. Mark has been nominated by Congressman Alcee Hastings for the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian award in the nation. He is looking for more schools and youth organizations throughout the country to participate in this great community service project. For more information on Houses for Change, visit: Family Promise


NEWS YOU CAN USE – High Stakes Testing, Halloween, Autism Play

Parents and teachers, already frustrated with high stakes testing, should know that New York State standardized exams are about to get more difficult next spring! Newsday reported this week that the 2013 state tests for third-through-eighth grade students will be based on new Common Core academic standards, according to NYS Education Department officials. Common Core is a nationwide initiative of the nation’s governors and national education groups. The tests will feature reading questions based on advanced nonfiction and math questions that require more in-depth analysis.

Newsday reports that school officials and teachers on Long Island are preparing for harder tests.

The Common Core is different and, on the surface, looking to be more difficult until our kids and teachers get used to it,” said William Johnson Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent, told Newsday.

We’re anticipating the kids will be expected to read longer, more complex and, perhaps, more interesting passages,” he added.

One bright light is that exams for children in third and fourth grades will be shorter. The Education Department shortened the exams for younger students in response to complaints from Long Island and other regions that the lengthy tests wore out younger children.

Halloween Costumes Banned in Seattle Elementary School

Speaking of the impact of high stakes testing, an elementary school in Seattle has banned Halloween costumes this year. Although there are some parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools, that’s not the reason children at Lafayette Elementary School will not be celebrating Halloween at school this year, according to district spokesperson Teresa Wippel. She said the decision is not based on political correctness, but on academic concerns.

That discussion did come up … that we have to be sensitive to the fact that there are kids from different cultures, different religions (who are offended by Halloween), but that wasn’t the reason for making that decision,” she said.

Both parents and kids are disappointed with the ban, which the administration said it would reconsider next year.

There`s a lot of pressure on teachers and principals to make sure the kids are academically competent, and we prioritize that here,” Wippel said.

Has the high stakes testing grinch destroyed yet another childhood pleasure or are the days of school Halloween celebrations rightfully numbered? What’s your school doing for Halloween, and what do you think?

A New Play About Autism and the Family

I haven’t seen this play, but the theater review caught my interest. “Falling,” a play about autism’s impact on a family, is currently at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, Greenwich Village. Here’s the New York Times review.

News You Can Use

If you follow me on Twitter @DrMerylAin, you know that I’ve been trying to tweet the education news that has been coming fast and furiously since 2012 began. There’s so much of importance that it’s hard to keep track. The economy has still not recovered as school districts grapple with their 2012-2013 budget process. The following news items deserve to be watched as they unfold, both as local and national trends. The key is to read the fine print and ask lots of question.

1.         The Half Hollow Hills (N.Y.) Board of Education voted unanimously to freeze salary increases of district administrators for two years as a result of negotiations between the board and the administrators’ union. While it sounds idealistic, note that included in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no administrative terminations due to budgetary reasons. Is this just an attempt by administrators to save their jobs at the expense of teachers, librarians, nurses and others? Will the salaries of non-union administrators, such as the superintendent, also be frozen? 

2.         School districts throughout the country are looking to save money and school libraries and librarians have become targets. Nowadays – librarians or library media specialists — do so much more than encourage reading, which is certainly important enough. They teach cutting edge online information skills and collaborate with teachers. Is your school district threatening to cut librarians and libraries? Let the school board and district administration know that this is unacceptable. There is also a petition drive to ensure that all U.S. students have access to an effective library program. The petition asks that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provide dedicated funding to support library programs. 


3.         We all know about the harm that has been done to young people with cyber-bullying. The National School Boards Association and other educational groups requested “clear guidance” from the Supreme Court about the power of school officials to mete out consequences to students for electronic misbehavior. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court recently decided to stay out of this maelstrom by not hearing two cases involving students’ use of their MySpace accounts to belittle other students and a school principal. By not hearing the two cases – one in West Virginia and the other in Pennsylvania — the issue of whether school officials throughout the U.S. can regulate online behavior that takes place off school grounds is still unresolved. Check to see if your school district has policies and practices in place to deal with cyber-bullying.

 4.         A measure being presented in the Indiana House of Representatives would let 51 percent of parents vote on turning public schools into charter schools. The “parent trigger” almost made it through the Indiana General Assembly last year as a part of a package of education reforms that included the creation of the nation’s most expansive voucher program and an expansion of the groups that can approve new charter schools. In its place, legislators approved an abridged version of the bill, which left the ultimate decision with school boards and limited it to schools that have underperformed for at least two years in a row. Proponents are attempting again this year to pass a full “parent trigger.” 

The idea is part of a national trend that began in California in 2009 and has been debated in a number of states over the last two years. The proposal would also let parents petition the state school board to have the state take control of their schools. The “parent trigger” leaves out the school administration and school boards from the decision. Although the California law has given parents this power, the parents of one school who attempted to use it now find themselves in court. The “parent trigger” has also been used as a vehicle to push for removal of incompetent teachers and principals. Two other states, Texas and Mississippi, approved the “parent trigger” last year. Other states, including Arizona and Florida, are considering the measure this year.

 5.         Proposed revisions to the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of autism would exclude about three-quarters of those now diagnosed with milder forms of autism called Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. These are people who have difficulties with social interaction but do not share the most severe impairments of children with classic autism. The proposed revisions, which would take effect in 2013, have alarmed parents of children with special needs and special education advocates. The changes, coming at a time when resources are shrinking, may reduce the number of students who will qualify for services that will ultimately improve their ability to learn, socialize, and succeed in school and beyond.

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