Asperger’s: My life as an Earthbound alien


Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was “other,” not quite like everyone else. I searched for years for answers and found none, until an assignment at work required me to research autism. During that research, I found in the lives of other people with Asperger’s threads of similarity that led to the diagnosis. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the “otherness.” It only confirms it.
When I talk to people about this aspect of myself, they always want to know what it means to be an “Aspie,” as opposed to a “Neurotypical” (NT). Oh, dear, where to start . …
The one thing people seem to know about Asperger’s, if they know anything at all, is the geek factor. Bill Gates is rumored to be an Aspie. We tend to have specialized interests, and we will talk about them, ad infinitum, whether you are interested or not. Recognizing my tendency to soliloquize, I often choose silence, although perhaps not often enough. Due to our extensive vocabularies and uninflected manner of speaking, we are called “little professors,” or arrogant.

School For Autistic Children Raising $250,000 For Operational Costs


WISC-TV first told the story of Common Threads back in October when the school opened.
Common Threads is a place where children can learn to overcome some of the communications challenges of autism.
It also provides support and services for families who aren’t able to get it anywhere else.
“I don’t know what else we’d do,” said mother Krysia Braun. “Honestly I’d probably have to go to preschool with him in order to make sure that he was getting the most out of it. If you’re going to spend money to go to private school, the kids need the support, and we find it at Common Threads”
On Sunday, the school held a fundraiser hoping to raise the $250,000 needed for the school’s operational costs.
“It’s necessary to help with our operating expenses during the first year of startup,” said Common Threads executive director Jackie Moen. “We are assimilating the children in slowly so they are fully supported and then they feel comfortable and understood and then we’ll bring in perhaps one to two children a week.”

The Genetics of Language:
Researchers are beginning to crack the code that gives humans our way with words.

Jon Cohen:

Daniel Geschwind reaches up to his office bookshelf, takes down a three-dimensional puzzle of the human brain, and begins trying to snap the plastic pieces together. A neurogeneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles, Geschwind hopes the puzzle will help him describe the parts of the brain that control speech and language. But for the life of him, he can’t figure out how the left and right hemispheres attach. “I’m really bad spatially, so don’t make fun of me,” he pleads. “It’s like I’m having a little stroke or something. I’ll get it together, and then I’ll figure it out.”
The plastic model may have momentarily flummoxed Geschwind, but when it comes to the genes that govern the brain’s development and functions, he excels at putting the pieces together. Over the past few years, he has emerged as one of the leading geneticists in a nascent field that aims to spell out which genes are related to speech and language development–and how our intelligence and communication skills evolved beyond those of our ape relatives, giving us the unique ability to speak.
Research like Geschwind’s sits at the intersection of two fields: behavioral genetics and evolutionary bi­ology. Each field depends on the other to make sense of the flood of studies on the genetics of language now pouring out of labs around the world. To peer into the human brain and see how it typically stores, uses, and comprehends words, Geschwind investigates not only normal human brains but also those where the process goes awry, studying the genes of families afflicted by autism, dyslexia, schizophrenia, and other conditions that can involve speech and language disorders. This research may help make diagnosis and treatment of language-related disorders more precise, but it also has a more basic purpose. “Studying disease is really a fundamental way to understand normal function,” says Geschwind. “Disease has given us extraordinary insight to understand how the brain works or might not work.”

A school where autistic kids aren’t alone

James Walsh:

A charter school that will serve students with autism-spectrum disorders in grades 6 to 10 is being hailed as a haven for teens with special needs — and their families.
You can see the ache in Tamara Phillips’ eyes.
As her autistic daughter, now 14, has grown, so too has the loneliness: her daughter’s loneliness in school, but also the parents’ loneliness — because having an autistic child can seem a solitary climb up a very long hill. “There’s a lot of pain,” Phillips said.
Tired of it feeling alone and weary of years of pushing public schools to better educate their kids, a group of parents of autistic children is starting a charter school specifically for older students with the disorder. When Lionsgate Academy opens, scheduled for the fall of 2008, it will be the only public school in Minnesota — and one of only a handful in the country — designed for children with autism-spectrum disorders.

The Next Attention Deficit Disorder?

Claudia Wallis:

With a teacher for a mom and a physician’s assistant for a dad, Matthew North had two experts on the case from birth, but his problems baffled them both. “Everything was hard for Matthew,” says Theresa North, of Highland Ranch, Colo. He didn’t speak until he was 3. In school, he’d hide under a desk to escape noise and activity. He couldn’t coordinate his limbs well enough to catch a big beach ball.
Matthew, now 10, was evaluated for autism and attention deficit hyper-activity disorder, but the labels didn’t fit. “We filled out those ADHD questionnaires a million times, and he always came out negative,” Theresa recalls. “When we found this place, I cried. It was the first time someone said they could help.”
This place is the Sensory Therapies and Research [STAR] Center, just south of Denver, which treats about 50 children a week for a curious mix of problems. Some can’t seem to get their motors in gear: they have low muscle tone and a tendency to respond only minimally to conversation and invitations to play. Others are revved too high: they annoy other children by crashing into them or hugging too hard. Many can’t handle common noises or the feel of clothing on their skin. A number just seem clumsy. Adults can remember kids like these from their own childhood. They were the ones called losers, loners, klutzes and troublemakers. At STAR Center they wear a more benign label: children with sensory processing disorder (SPD).

Study maps brain abnormalities in autistic children

Susan Kelly:

Autistic children have more gray matter in areas of the brain that control social processing and sight-based learning than children without the developmental disability, a small study said on Wednesday.
Researchers combined two sophisticated imaging techniques to track the motion of water molecules in the brain and pinpoint small changes in gray matter volume in 13 boys with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome and 12 healthy adolescents. Their average age was 11.
The autistic children were found to have enlarged gray matter in the parietal lobes of the brain linked to the mirror neuron system of cells associated with empathy, emotional experience and learning through sight.
Those children also showed a decrease in gray matter volume in the right amygdala region of the brain that correlated with degrees of impairment in social interaction, the study found.

Group files lawsuit for disabled students

Maureen O’Hagan:

Jacob, a former Issaquah student with severe disabilities, used to love it when other students visited his special-education classroom.
His mother said it helped him learn how to talk to other kids.
So when Jacob, who has been diagnosed with autism and mental retardation, went to live at the state-run Frances Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton, his mother expected similar success. For years, school-aged Morgan Center residents had attended Bremerton public schools.
But this year the district decided it no longer has the classroom space to accommodate them. Recently, the district reached an agreement with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the Morgan Center, to open a classroom on the institution grounds.
On Wednesday, Disability Rights Washington filed a lawsuit saying that taking these youths out of public school violates state and federal laws against discrimination.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of eight youths ranging in age from 14 to 20, names the school district, the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and DSHS as defendants, saying each played a role in the decision.

Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes

Robert Tomsho:

Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.
Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others — at one point giving a teacher a black eye.
“She did not learn anything that year,” Ms. Travis recalls. “She regressed.”
As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.
Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments — including separate schools.

More on from the Wall Street Journal on Mainstreaming.
Joanne has more.

Site Posts Videos of Autistic Behaviors


What’s so unusual about a baby fascinated with spinning a cup, or a toddler flapping his hands, or a preschooler walking on her toes?
Parents and even doctors sometimes miss these red flags for autism, but a new online video “glossary” makes them startlingly clear.
A new Web site offers dozens of video clips of autistic kids contrasted with unaffected children’s behavior. Some of the side-by-side differences can make you gasp. Others are more subtle.
The free site, which makes its debut Monday, also defines and depicts “stimming,” “echolalia” and other confusing-sounding terms that describe autistic behavior. Stimming refers to repetitive, self-stimulating or soothing behavior including hand-flapping and rocking that autistic children sometimes do in reaction to light, sounds or excitement. Echolalia is echoing or repeating someone else’s words or phrases, sometimes out of context.

Family Wins Suit for Autistic Son’s Health Care

NPR (Larry Abramson): Two years ago, Jacob Micheletti was diagnosed with autism. His parents say Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has transformed their son from a boy who was retreating into darkness into a precocious, gregarious kid. Jake’s father, Joe Micheletti, who works for the state of New Jersey, assumed the family’s insurance company would cover … Continue reading Family Wins Suit for Autistic Son’s Health Care

What Autistic Girls Are Made Of

Emily Bazelon: Caitlyn & Marguerite sat knee to knee in a sunny room at the Hawks Camp in Park City, Utah. On one wall was a white board with these questions: What’s your favorite vacation and why? What’s your favorite thing about yourself? If you could have any superpower, what would it be? Caitlyn, who … Continue reading What Autistic Girls Are Made Of

Schools Beat Back Demands for Special Ed Services

Daniel Golden: Paul McGlone, an iron worker, and his wife, Tricia, became worried in 2006 that their autistic son knew fewer letters in kindergarten than he had in preschool. When the East Islip school district refused their request for at-home tutoring by an autism specialist, they exercised their right under federal special-education law to an … Continue reading Schools Beat Back Demands for Special Ed Services

Using a Robot to Teach Human Social Skills

Emmet Cole: Children with autism are often described as robotic: They are emotionless. They engage in obsessive, repetitive behavior and have trouble communicating and socializing. Now, a humanoid robot designed to teach autistic children social skills has begun testing in British schools. Known as KASPAR (Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics), the $4.33 million … Continue reading Using a Robot to Teach Human Social Skills

When Discipline Starts a Fight: Pressured to Handle Disabled Children, A School Tries Restraints

Robert Tomsho: When Eva Loeffler walked into her daughter Isabel’s classroom at Waukee Elementary School on Dec. 15, 2004, she says a male guidance counselor was trying to contain the shrieking 8-year-old by wrapping his arms around hers in a restraint hold. Isabel, suffering from autism and other disabilities, had a history of aggressive behavior, … Continue reading When Discipline Starts a Fight: Pressured to Handle Disabled Children, A School Tries Restraints

Key Special Education Legislation & School Climate

Click for a larger version The recent Wall Street Journal article “Mainstreaming Trend Tests Classroom Goals” by John Hechinger included some useful charts along with a look at Key US Special Education Legislation: 1966—Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Amendments): Creates Bureau of Education of the Handicapped. Establishes federal grants to help educate special-needs students with … Continue reading Key Special Education Legislation & School Climate

Students’ rights versus limited means: Special Needs Children and School Budgets

Susan Brink: The public school enrollment of autistic children, whether born into privileged or impoverished circumstances, has gone from a trickle to a flood. Their legal rights are crashing up against strapped school budgets. Under two federal laws — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both passed in the 1970s and … Continue reading Students’ rights versus limited means: Special Needs Children and School Budgets

Strangling Wisconsin Education With Underfunded Special Ed

Paul Soglin: I met with some special education teachers on Tuesday and wish to share my observations about the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). These are my observations and conclusions, not theirs. For the 1996-97 school year the State of Wisconsin paid 40.223% of the cost of special education. For 2006-2007 the state paid  28%. … Continue reading Strangling Wisconsin Education With Underfunded Special Ed

Virtual Schools Are Right for Some Families

Nichole Schweitzer: As principal of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), the state’s first virtual K-8 school, I see on a daily basis the benefits a standards-based virtual education provides for students from around the state. Every student has unique learning needs. Some students learn best by reading, others by listening and still others by doing. In … Continue reading Virtual Schools Are Right for Some Families

World’s Oldest Organization on Intellectual Disability Has a Progressive New Name

AAMR’s name change draws applause from professional community and people living with a developmental disability Washington, DC (November 2, 2006)-The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), a 130-year old association representing developmental disability professionals worldwide, has changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), establishing a new standard in disability … Continue reading World’s Oldest Organization on Intellectual Disability Has a Progressive New Name

‘Special education’ label covers wide variety of students

Karen Rivedal: Madison educators said people must be careful not to label all special education students as violent just because the suspect in Friday’s shooting of a rural Wisconsin principal was in special education classes Special education is broadly defined, they noted. It can be any kind of mental or physical disability that affects a … Continue reading ‘Special education’ label covers wide variety of students

Mother Hopes to Educate School Board on Special Needs Students

Channel3000: When it comes to educating children, parents play a crucial role outside of school. But Rose Helms, whose child, Michael, has autism, wants to take her influence inside the classroom. This is why there was a special guest in Michael Helms’ special education class on Wednesday. The guest was Art Phillips, an Evansville school … Continue reading Mother Hopes to Educate School Board on Special Needs Students

Neenah schools add staff to special ed, gifted-talented program

The following story from the April 13, Appleton Post-Crescent reports on a school district in Wisconsin that is actually adding staff to both gifted and special education. News-Record staff writer NEENAH � The equivalent of four teachers will be added to the Neenah Joint School District next year to enhance its special education, and gifted … Continue reading Neenah schools add staff to special ed, gifted-talented program