Month: February 2013

The Best Of Buddies

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A 14-year old, Drew Castle, and his goldendoodle, Buddy, are the best of buddies. But their bond goes far beyond that.

Drew has autism, and this faithful friend is able to help him overcome challenges in a way no one else can.

Drew’s mother, Deb Castle, said that when Drew was diagnosed with autism, getting a dog was not the first thing on her mind. But then the family discovered a non-profit organization called North Star Foundation in Connecticut, which helps match assistance dogs with children who have autism, so they decided to try it.

Drew’s mother said that after years of therapy, Buddy made a sudden difference in Drew’s life; even his younger brother, Ben, noticed it.

“It’s just made him overall happier and better,” he said.

Buddy was carefully selected for this job by the North Star Foundation, which specifically breeds dogs to work with children or selects dogs from a short list of breeders. The dogs are trained for 10 months before being partnered with a child.

Dog trainer, Jenn Lamagro, said these special dogs send a soothing message to the children they work with.

“Their demeanor and their energy is just such a calming source to them,” Lamagro said. “That’s the magic these dogs have on children with autism.”

The Castles can attest to the magic: after four years of unconditional love and companionship, Buddy has given Drew confidence and a sense of well-being. He also helps Drew interact with others.

“It kind of becomes a conversation starter,” Drew’s father, Andrew Castle, said, “whereas they wouldn’t ordinarily approach Drew, or might suddenly be put off by him because he’s a little different. But when they see Buddy, it’s a door opener.”

“Drew doesn’t have a best friend like every other child,” Drew’s mother said, “Buddy is his best friend. He can’t wait to get home and tell him all about his day, tell him something exciting that happened at school; so he has definitely changed his life.”


The Healing Power Of Fun

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by Tom Fields-Meyer, via

One morning 13 years ago, I brought my young son to a storefront children’s gym in Culver City. Ezra had recently been diagnosed with autism, and someone — a doctor or a therapist — had suggested that Dave Rabb could help.

I don’t remember what I expected, but not the man I met: Dave was short and sturdy, in his 60s, with a Brooklyn accent and an attitude to match. I told him I wasn’t sure Ezra would be able to follow directions — at 4, our son was remote and distracted and rarely made eye contact — but that I could help.

Dave didn’t need my help. He told Ezra to leave his shoes in a bin near the door, then led him onto the carpeted gym floor. Over the next hour, I watched from a bench as this man with his gravelly voice directed my son through an obstacle course of ramps, ladders and slides. To my astonishment, Ezra listened. Following Dave’s directions — firm, direct, precise — my son made his way around the perimeter of the room with quiet intent.

My autistic child: Putting Ezra first

For another child that might have been a simple feat. For Ezra, it seemed nearly miraculous.

I thought of that morning when I learned recently that Dave Rabb had died at 78 after a battle with pulmonary illness. People often ask me which doctors or therapists have been the most helpful in raising Ezra, who’s now 17. My answer: What matters isn’t the degree or title but the person’s ability to make a genuine, caring human connection.

I learned that from Dave, who had no advanced degrees and learned his people skills on the streets of Brooklyn’s Sea Gate neighborhood. He was rough around the edges, a onetime drill instructor who playfully shouted commands at kids and routinely cracked off-color jokes for the entertainment of the parents on the sidelines.

Dave Rabb’s Children’s Fitness Center wasn’t fancy. The pads and ladders looked like they dated to the Ford administration, and they did: The gym opened in 1976, long before kids’ gyms seemed as common in L.A. as yogurt shops.

Dave had not a whit of pretense. What he had was heart — and a child’s appetite for fun. Ezra’s occupational therapists would talk about proprioceptive input and sensory integration. Dave? He’d direct a class of kids to lie on the floor, roll a giant, inflatable hot dog over their bodies, and watch them giggle. He would have Ezra scurry up a wooden ladder, ring a bell with his toes and announce “Ta-dah!” He piped in circus music while children practiced on trapeze.

Ezra learned motor skills and gymnastics techniques — how to vault, how to execute a seat-drop on a trampoline. But mostly he learned something the therapists and educators left by the wayside: carefree, silly fun.

One summer Dave invited Ezra to a day camp he ran for a few children with special needs. There were no releases to sign, no medical insurance forms. He just loaded a bunch of kids into his car and drove them to the beach, where they played in the sand and roasted marshmallows.

Dave had spent a dozen years as athletic director of the Los Feliz JCC before he opened the gym, on a block he shared at the time with a gun swap shop, an Army recruiter and a credit dentist. Almost immediately it attracted a following. For a time, his clientele included the kids of celebrities like Michael Landon, Susan Dey and Matt Groening, “The Simpsons” creator. “I didn’t know who half of them were,” he once told me.

More recently, his focus was on children like Ezra, kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. Dave wasn’t much for labels. To him they were just kids, and like all kids they needed to have fun. He taught them, and though he was well into his 70s, Dave seemed to draw energy from playing with toddlers.

It was only in recent months that his illness slowed him down. When I heard in December that he planned to close the gym, I paid a visit just days before he retired. The place hadn’t changed much, nor had Dave. We sat on that same bench where I’d sat that morning years earlier, and I listened to him reflect on his life and work.

He told me that too many parents were afraid of their children, intimidated by the task of raising them. “What I’ve tried to do,” he said, “is give parents the tools to appreciate their kids, to notice the same things that knock me out every day, watching them.”

His retirement plan was to move to Hawaii with his wife, Marilyn, to be near one of his two adult daughters. And he was going to write a book. The working title: “How to Be a Fun Parent.”

I told him he’d already taught that, to me and to countless others.,0,748274.story

Local Musician Doesn’t Let Autism Keep Him From His Passion

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MILWAUKEE – Eric Look proves that autism does not have to silence your passion. Eric loves playing the piano and singing to audiences in Southeast Wisconsin.

“I feel like a good musician,” he said. “Music is what I love. I love to listen, I like to perform. ”

Look’s family discovered early on that he had a musical gift for playing and composing. “We found out about that when he was walking through a store and walked up to a toy piano and played song after song note for note,” said his uncle Joe Banos. “It was incredible!”

Longtime musician and producer Ramie Espinoza is impressed with his musical talent. “I listened to one of his songs and he did it in one take that’s unheard of,” Espinoza said of one of Look’s recording sessions.

Look’s mom Debbie Look feels pride when talking about her son. “I’m very proud of Eric,” she said. “He’s come a long way. He had so many sensory problems growing up. For him to be able to perform for people is quite a feat for him.”

Look’s family wants others to know that those living with autism can make a mark in the world. Like Eric, who’s sharing his gifts one song at a time.

Look plays a variety of songs, including those he’s composed himself.

His favorite songs are by the late Jim Croce.

Music Therapy and Autism

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Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.-VICTOR HUGO

Music happens to be an art form that transcends language.-HERBIE HANCOCK

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.-ALDOUS HUXLEY

Music is well said to be the speech of angels.-THOMAS CARLYLE

Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.-WILLIAM CONGREVE


Improving behaviour in children with autism [research]

Weekly music therapy sessions lasting just an hour can have a positive effect on behaviour in children with autism, reports a paper in Pertanika Journal this month. In a study of 41 children, improvements were seen particularly in inattentive behaviours over a ten month period. The researchers hope that their research will help children and young adults with autism to modify behaviour.

US Centers for Disease Control statistics state that one in every 150 children in United States is diagnosed with autism — that is one new diagnosis in every 20 minutes. And the number is on the increase. Music and movement therapy has been used to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation.

C M See of the Universiti Sains Malaysia divided the group into two age categories — two to ten and eleven to twenty two — and rated their behaviour on a target behaviour checklist developed specifically for the research. Over a ten month period they alternated two different hour-long sessions of music therapy and measured the children on the target behaviour checklist on a monthly basis. For behaviours such as restlessness, aggression toward other children, noisiness and tantrums more than half of each group improved by one or two points on the scale.

Some children showed no changes and a couple regressed. Overall the research suggests that the therapy has positive effects on the children’s behaviours, but particularly with inattentive behaviour.

Purchase College Researchers Recruiting For Autism Intervention

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Researchers from the Auditory Perception and Cognition Lab at Purchase College, SUNY, are seeking volunteers ages 6 to 12 for participation in a new autism intervention.

The intervention targets an auditory perceptual deficit that has been noted in many individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and it is believed that the intervention has the potential to improve emotional communication abilities in individuals with ASD.

The intervention takes place at Purchase College, located in Purchase, NY. If you have a child with ASD and are interested in learning more about the intervention, please contact Dr. Meagan Curtis at (914)251-6645 or by email:

Your Autism-Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Is Coming

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Autismfriendly Spiderman Performance

NEW YORK — The first-ever autism-friendly performance of the Broadway hit “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” will take off this spring and tickets go on sale Thursday.

The Theatre Development Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides access to live theater, said Wednesday it bought all the tickets for the matinee on April 27 at the Foxwoods Theatre and will offer them at a discount for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Tickets range in price from $35-$80.

The Spider-Man musical will be the fifth show in the fund’s autism-friendly program. The first was Disney‘s “The Lion King” in October 2011, followed last year with performances of “Mary Poppins,” a second performance of “The Lion King” and one of “Elf: The Musical.” Each time, the shows got enthusiastic feedback from grateful families.

Lisa Carling, the Fund’s director of accessibility programs, said surveys taken after previous autism-friendly performances showed strong interest for one of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

“We’re grateful to the show’s producers, management and creative staff and crew for accommodating the Autism Theatre Initiative and uniting with us to make the show an unforgettable experience for all,” she said in a statement.

Autism disorders strike one in 100 children, according to U.S. government estimates. Children with the diagnosis are often sensitive to loud noises and harsh lights and find it difficult to sit still or remain quiet. Autism spectrum disorders include both severe and relatively mild symptoms.

The Broadway shows have been slightly altered to make those with autism more comfortable, including cutting jarring sounds and strobe lights. Quiet areas with beanbag chairs and coloring books, staffed by autism experts, also will be created inside the theater for those who might feel overwhelmed.

The Fund, which has consulted an advisory panel of experts in the field of autism, has also made itself available to consult with other theaters attempting their own autism-friendly performances. It also publishes downloadable guides telling children with autism what to expect during the show, including the plot, what ushers do and what to do during a curtain call.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to share our production with those affected by autism,” said “Spider-Man” producers Michael Cohl and Jeremiah J. Harris in a statement.

T-Shirts By Autistic Teen Entrepreneur

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Combining her love of fashion, the alphabet, and the color green, 15-year-old Hannah Greenberg is creating a new T-shirt line. But it’s not your typical clothing line: the teen has autism, and the goal of the project is to help others with the same disorder. The shirts will be created by Spectrum Designs, a company composed entirely of employees with autism.

Hannah describes herself to the Huffington Post as a “teenage girl with autism who loves fashion.” But she’s also an entrepreneur. Using, Hannah is reaching towards her goal of $5,000 to cover start-up costs for the T-shirt line.

“I created the A-Z series; it’s characterized by my zany curly hair coupled with my love of the alphabet and my favorite color green,” she tells HuffPost. “I always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer and a portion of the sales from each T-shirt will help employ adults with autism.”

Click through the slideshow below for photos of Hannah’s project, and click here to donate to her business.