Month: June 2012

Good-Bye Training Wheels!

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He did it! In 5 days’ time, Mike learned to ride a 2 wheeler.  Not only that, he came home with a certificate, a gold medal and a new Schwinn bike!  Quite a week for Mike!


I really have to hand it to the wonderful folks at Lose The Training Wheels for giving Mike the encouragement and tools he needed to have a successful week.  Also to his brother Nick, who served as his ‘spotter’ running alongside him as he rode his bike.

I wrote about Lose The Training Wheels last week when Mike started his camp.  To top  off the week by winning a bike was just the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. He was so proud of his accomplishment, which only mirrored our pride in him.  My worries about Mike not doing well with a 26″ bike were unwarranted; now it will go to Nick as sort of a ‘thank you’ gift.  I can’t wait for the next beautiful day to hit the road with the family.  Thank you Lose The Training Wheels!


Play “Zuma Blitz” This Weekend To Support Autism Speaks

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PopCap Games is excited to have an opportunity to partner with Autism Speaks and help drive autism awareness. From June 29 to July 1, we’re donating proceeds from sales of Idols in our game Zuma Blitz (available on Facebook) to Autism Speaks.

We met a few members of the Autism Speaks team at an event sponsored by Facebook last year and were really impressed with the organization and the way in which it was using social media to increase awareness and advocacy for its cause. At PopCap, we really appreciate opportunities to support people and organizations in our communities and – since many of our players and our team members have young families – Autism Speaks seemed like a great partner and an important cause to help bring attention to.

We hope that everyone involved has fun with Idols for Autism in the same way that we’ve tried to combine fun with community support in the past. One great example that we hope you’ll check out is our game Allied Star Police which we built in partnership with a very inspiring guest producer, Owain Weinert.

On a more personal level, the entire Zuma Blitz team has really gotten behind this partnership. For the first time ever, we’ve built a new, special game board incorporating the Autism Speaks logo. This is something we didn’t even ask the game designers to do – they just built it. Todd, the head of the Zuma Blitz development team, writes:

“I am personally very happy to partner with Autism Speaks. I had the privilege of serving the autistic community for over 3 years. I wish this organization existed back then. I know from personal experience the huge difference that advocacy and community support can have for individuals with autism and their families. Raising social awareness about the effects of autism and teaching local communities to have empathy for the hardships that this disorder causes on the families and individuals with autism are required for an autistic individual to successfully integrate into their community.”

Thanks again to Autism Speaks for helping us put together this partnership. We’ll do our best to support you and the autism community.

Meanwhile, we hope you’ll play Zuma Blitz this weekend and have some fun while supporting Autism Speaks.

PopCap Games
PopCap Games

Exceptional Minds: A Bridge For Young Adults On The Spectrum

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Hollywood, Autism Pioneers Answer “What’s Next” For Autistic Kids Aging Out Of The System

Monday, 25 June 2012 As an estimated half-million autistic kids begin to come of age in the United States, the world is watching a group of producers, writers, actors and community leaders who gathered together Friday to address the next uncharted frontier in autism.

Few introductions were needed as they filled the small studio at Exceptional Minds, a nonprofit vocational school and working animation studio being lauded as one solution for young adults on the spectrum who have aged out of the system. Exceptional Minds is the brainchild of Hollywood visionaries and other leaders, many of whom gathered at the studio for an open house Friday, June 22, to mark Exceptional Minds’ first successful year.

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Cover Photo


Exceptional Minds from Exceptional Minds on Vimeo.

Among those present were Ed Asner, legendary actor and autism activist; Yudi Bennett, recipient of the Directors Guild Frank Capra lifetime achievement award and co-founder of Foothill Autism Alliance; Barbara Helfing, former principal of the Frostig Center for Educational Therapy; Cathee Weiss, who works for Hebrew Union College; Susan Zwerman, Grammy Award winner visual effects producer; Ron Burns, previously President of Global Business for J. Walter Thompson ad agency; Ivan Rosenberg, who has consulted for USC’s School of Cinematic Arts Entertainment Technology Center; and Molly Burns Keith, previously Vice President of Christie’s Jewelry, Los Angeles.

Most had met before, many times, and in many different scenarios as they each navigated the complex, often painful world of parenting or grandparenting a child on the autism spectrum. These are the founders of the grassroots organizations that anyone with an autistic child knows well, the very pioneers who started schools and raised funds for autism research. They had moved along the same trajectory of circumstances as their kids grew, solving problems as they arose and setting off a huge tidal wave of autism practices, research and services that benefit so many others today. Now, as their ASD children and grandchildren – and thousands of others like them across the country — move into the adult world with limited social services and few job prospects, they are charting the next frontier in autism services.

“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to these people for their time, their dedication and most of all, their vision of Exceptional Minds and what this school and others like it mean to the future of those on the spectrum,” said Exceptional Minds Program Director Ernie Merlan on Friday.

Exceptional Minds is the brainchild of these pioneers, who established the school in 2011 as a bridge between high school and the working world for ASD individuals. It is one of the first vocational schools and working studios to prepare visually-gifted young adults on the spectrum for employment. The three-year Exceptional Minds program includes technical training for Adobe (ACA) certification, job readiness skills and a professional reel/portfolio that graduates can use to seek employment in the fields of animation, computer graphics and visual affects.

“These students are excited about what they are doing here. Most of them would be on the computer anyway. We’re just taking what they are already interested in and helping them make a career out of it,” added Merlan.

As a working studio, Exceptional Minds students worked on three film projects in the past year, including closing credits for The Weinstein Company movie Lawless, which was accepted into the prestigious 2012 Cannes Film Festival competition.

With an impressive list of successes its first year, Exceptional Minds is being lauded as one example of how to integrate into society more than 500,000 ASD individuals about to come of age in the next decade. One in 88 children is diagnosed with autism today.

The school started with 11 students its first school year ending Friday and will expand to more than 15 students for the school year ending in 2013. In addition, Exceptional Minds offers summer workshops for high schoolers and others on the spectrum interested in developing short takes, animations and short video games.

About Exceptional Minds:
Exceptional Minds is a non-profit vocational center and working production studio for young adults on the autism spectrum. Chartered in 2011 to provide the training necessary for visually-gifted ASD individuals who may not otherwise be able to make the transition from high school to the working world, Exceptional Minds offers technical proficiency and work readiness skills that prepare students for careers in graphic arts, animation, web design, visual effects and rotoscoping.

A Special Breed of Parent

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Special Needs Parents are a special breed.  Parents of typical children don’t get it, and probably never will.  We revel at every inch of progress our child makes.  We know our child may quite possibly be forever delayed intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically, as compared to their peers.  This knowledge also imparts upon us the beauty and fragility of our child.  “There but for the Grace of God go I” is the quote we have heard many times.  We marvel at their progress and exult in their attainments because we realize their potential.  That potential is virtually limitless.  As parents on the Spectrum we have learned about many famous historical figures, geniuses and icons who were (actually or likely) autistic.  That next step, that complete sentence, that piece of art, that next thing they do (we hope) will unlock that little section of his brain, and bring our child closer to reaching that potential.  We are, as described in the exerpt below, ever vigilant of our child’s milestones because, more than anyone else they encounter,  we provide comfort and reassurance; essential components of nurturing parents.  We commit every verbal and visual nuance to memory; knowing the difference between crying and really crying.  No one taught us how to be Special Needs parents.  For all the how-to books and blogs, we know our path is as unique and individualized as our child is; hopefully along the way we intersect with other parents who have a shared experience that will help us on our way, and vice versa.  Special Needs parents are indeed a special breed: tenacious, patient, strong of will and backbone, educated, passionate and compassionate, and ever-present.  This is our figurative cross, and we bear it gladly.  Please click on the links to view the full article.  -Ed

Mom, Watch This!

I don’t tell her that I will never forget the first time that I heard, “Look, Mama.” I don’t tell her that my baby girl was just three weeks shy of her 6th birthday when she pointed to the blue house — the one I’ll never forget — and said those words.

Losing the Training Wheels

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One of the few things that Mike has not yet been able to master is riding a 2-wheeled bike. He has been understandably derailed, more often than not, by his fear of falling and scraping his hands and knees.   He has ridden behind me on a tandem trike (just like a tandem bike that attaches to my mountain bike, but with 2 wheels on his end instead of 1) many times.  We had asked his school to help him with this but they only got as far as him riding an adult trike (the famous ‘blue bike’), which he enjoyed, and rode at every opportunity during gym class.  I managed to find him his own ‘blue bike’ in decent condition from a Craigslist posting about 2 years ago, but now it’s time to tackle that 2-wheeler. 

Today Mike is starting at Lose The Training Wheels camp; a week-long camp for children with disabilities with the goal of mastering, to some degree, riding a 2-wheeler.  Along with learning how to build their confidence, they want to instill a sense of fun, which is what bike riding is all about; instead of mastering an academic or domestic skill, they want riders like Mike to want to hop on a bike and spend some time with family and friends.  He will also learn about helmet safety and little things like using the bike stand, which can be tough for special needs kids at times.  I wish we knew about this years ago!

I’m psyched about this possibility and I wish I could be there to see him succeed; but I’m sure my wife will send me pics and videos while I’m at work.  My only trepidation is that I hope the bike I picked out for him is a good one; I got him a 26″ Schwinn Hurricane single speed cruiser bike in black and red, but I wonder if a 24″ would have been a better choice.  He fits on both, but projecting forward, he will outgrow the 24″ very, very soon and don’t want it to be obsolete. 

His brother Nick will be on hand for part of the camp to be his ‘spotter’ so hopefully Mike will have a successful week, and we see more pictures like these.  I can’t wait for him to say, “Look Dad, no training wheels!”

Glowing With Autism

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This is an absolutely wonderful blog post by Pia who writes over at a blog called ‘The Crack and The Light.’ Her son has autism.  It is such a heartwarming description of how a mom sees her son and his potential.  In doing so, she has discovered her own unique path, with him, dealing with all the issues of being on the Spectrum.  Unknowingly, she probably describes how we all feel about our own children.  Enjoy. -Ed


Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It’s that you’re destroying the peg.”Paul Collins

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free” Michelangelo
Michelangelo could have used many methods to create his sculptural masterpieces. He could have taken a piece of marble, crushed it up into powder, mixed it with a combination of sand, cement, water, poured it into a mold, and TA-DA ….He could have made something like this:
But he didn’t. Instead he made this:

He could have claimed that he created the angel out of the marble. But he didn’t. What he says is that the angel was there all along. He saw it in there. He let the marble guide him, and in doing so he helped reveal what was there already. He didn’t claim ownership of the internal beauty. He just helped set it free.

Did he have a hand in its creation? Sure. But if he had not respected the nature of the marble… if he not used proper methods and techniques and respect and care for that which nature provided… he would not have been the instrument in the creation of such beauty. Such beauty is not the product of ego or self focus. 

It is the result of careful refinement of the senses to that which you are trying to reveal. It is about being sensitive to the nature of that which you work. It wasn’t wood. It wasn’t glass. It was marble, imbued with its own special properties… imbued with“marbleness”.

Have you ever seen one of the true masterpieces close up? They glow. They capture the light in such a way that it seems like they burn from within. They are ethereal in beauty, as if God touched life into the stone. It is amazing to see.
When I think about raising a child with autism, I think of Michelangelo. I think of how he saw the angel in the marble. The beauty and truth of the child is already there, ready to reveal itself. The child is unique onto himself. You cannot look at the child and wish him to be other than he is. All you can do is see the true beauty that is the nature of this child. And with careful refinement of your own senses, you guide that child into revealing their very best. That is what being child-led is. Imposing your will, imposing ‘compliance’, imposing your adult expectations and vision of what the child “should be” will only get you this:

But by following the child’s lead, and by using your own sensitive engagement and guidance, you can help the child reveal their true essence. Their true beauty. The neurodiversity movement stresses the idea that autism is not a disease. It is not an illness to be cured. Rather, it is a difference. A different way of seeing the world. A different way of being. And this difference deserves respect and understanding. I love this perspective, and yet I have often felt conflicted about it. How do I… J-man’s neurotypical parent… help him learn to live in this world without trying to make him like his peers? How do I help him fit in and function here… in this world as it exists today? How do other parents of autistic children teach their child the ways of the world and how to make their way?  When the way they ARE is so very different? When their world can be so confusing and scary and fundamentally different than the one I understand and know…???For me, the right approach seems to be the child led one. I will meet him where he is. I will appreciate his talents and excellence. I will sensitively understand how he sees the world (well, to the best of my ability) and I will hopefully be able to guide him to the next developmental step. I will allow for his quirkiness… cherish it even! And yet …. like all parents…. I will teach him how to channel his energy and communicate his thoughts.  Wherever he is at in the course of his life, he will know he is amazing. 

And that he glows.


New Yorkers: Call Albany Now to Stop DSM-V

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New Yorkers: Keep Calling Albany to Stop DSM5!
Two days left in session.                                                                                                               

Take Action! 

     There are only two days left in this year’s legislative session so please keep the phone calls going to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to allow a floor vote on Assembly Bill A9983 and Senate Bill S7072, our two bills to stop the DSM5 in New York. Both bills have been voted out of the Mental Health Committees in each house, that means the only barrier keeping them from a floor vote, which we are confident we will win, are Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.
     We need you to call Speaker Silver and Majority Leader Skelos and politely ask them to allow the bills, S7072 in the Senate and A9983 in the Assembly, to go to the floor for a vote, and we need you to click on the Take Action link to send an email to their offices asking them to allow the bills to go to a vote.
Here are their numbers:
Speaker of the Assembly Sheldon Silver
(518) 455-3791
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos
(518) 455-3171
     Why do we want this? Because losing a diagnosis can threaten the most basic services people with autism need: educational placements, health insurance coverage, medicaid waivers, early intervention and other vital services.
     Three studies have been done on how implementing the DSM5 with affect the number of people with autism. Here are the results: A study from Yale found a 55% percent reduction, including a 30% reduction among people considered severe, a study from LSU found a 48% reduction in the number of toddlers, and an Australian study released last week found a 23% reduction.
     Please share this message with friends and family and post to Facebook and other social networks.