Month: March 2013

Robots For Autism

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Researchers have helped create apps and online platforms to assist children with autism. But one team at Vanderbilt University is introducing something which may have a leg up on capturing kids’ attention: humanoid robots.

Mechanical engineers and autism experts constructed an adaptive system using NAO, a fully-programmable robot. Paired with cameras, sensors and computers, the friendly robot is designed to help children develop basic social learning skills. (Check out the video above for more).

The system structure, called ARIA (Adaptive Robot-Mediated Intervention Architecture), uses the robot to give verbal prompts and gestures to the child to attract their attention. While eye contact is a natural skill for most developing children, those with autism may find it more difficult to maintain with other people and surrounding objects.

The team’s study found that those with an autism spectrum disorder spent significantly more time looking at the humanoid robot than a typically developing child.

Children engage more with NAO compared to its human therapist counterpart because of less intimidation and anxiety

Children engage more with NAO compared to its human therapist counterpart because of less intimidation and anxiety, says Nilanjan Sarkar, a Vanderbilt professor of mechanical engineering.

“Children experience anxiety dealing with people because they think they have to live up to expectations,” Sarkar tells Mashable. “Here, they know the robot doesn’t expect anything and so they’re not intimated by demands, whereas a human therapist may get annoyed or impatient.”

Prompt levels increase with the child’s reaction, and the robot will work with screens around the room to introduce songs and videos to trigger interest. When the participant performs responsively, NAO gives encouragement. If the child doesn’t respond, it provides additional support by combining prompts and gestures.

Socializing robots like Keepon may also help children with autism to communicate and interact, but the ARIA system can serve as a supplement to early therapy.

Oftentimes there are waiting period of weeks or months for treatment, but with further study Sarkar says the robot can serve as an interim learning tool.

“Some children are diagnosed but there’s no immediate therapist available,” he says. “If it proves effective, it can be used at home or along with a therapist so they can monitor multiple children during a session.”


The More Things Change…

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A quick scan of the most recent news and articles about Autism really reinforces the fact that there is no common denominator to solving this puzzle: 

-Having Older Grandfather May Raise Child’s Autism Risk: Study
-Misregulated Genes May Have Big Autism Role
-Brain Circuitry Yields Clue To Autism, Researchers Say
-Abuse Tied To Autism

This doesn’t include other very recent studies that show Autism is ‘closely tied to’: maternal folic acid levels, maternal obesity, infection during pregnancy, pollution, maternal age, paternal age, paternal testosterone levels, thimerosal in vaccines, twin pregnancy, psychiatric diagnoses, etc., ad infinitum.  

As the number of Autism Spectrum Disorders diagnoses skyrocket, so too do the possible causes.  Are we closer to narrowing this list down? No freakin’ way; just the opposite it seems.  While this is going on, parents must fight tooth and nail in every state to get insurance reform that includes, among others, ABA treatment for their autistic children.  

Disheartening? Yes!  Like a slap in the face that wakes you up and gets you mad.  Mad enough to fight.

World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month are coming.  Keep fighting.  -Ed

Bringing Autism Awareness To College

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Nick Lombardi, an incoming freshman class of 2017, will continue his dedication to helping others understand autism here at Manhattanville. Since a young age, Lombardi has worked to spread understanding and knowledge about autism to the larger community.

Growing up Lombardi’s younger brother Joey was diagnosed with non-verbal autism. Since the young age of five years old, Lombardi was always trying to watch out for his younger brother. Autism has often been called the “invisible diagnosis”, people with the condition have no outward appearance, yet are unable to function on a day to day basis. In an effort to end the misunderstanding, Lombardi created a pin stating “I’m not misbehaving I have autism, please be understanding”.

“My thought was if I was able to give Joey a way of letting others know he was doing the best he can, that he had a disability, folks would be more understanding,” said Lombardi. “My pin has done just that. When Joey wears the pin it explains his challenges and like magic, folks are more sensitive to my brother.”

Through the sales, Lombardi has helped to raise over $75,000 for autism awareness and hopes to remove the barriers between those diagnosed with autism and those unacquainted with the condition. The pins are also distributed by Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy program. To honor his continual work Lombardi’s home town of Greenburgh, NY declared January 23, 2013 “Nick Lombardi Day and presented him with a citation of achievement.

“I realized the more folks know about autism, the kinder this world would be for my brother and kids like him,” Lombardi stated. “I gain the pride of knowing I am doing something, even if it’s only one person, to change their view of my brother and others like him. To know that, is the best feeling you could ever have. There is no real word for it.”

Nick Lombardi at zoo

Lombardi believes that beginning Manhattanville in the Fall will provide him with the opportunities and resources to continue his efforts for autism awareness. Having visited the campus before applying to colleges, Lombardi got his first glance at the pride of a service-orientated college. Planning to major in Special Education and anticipating to continue his work with autism awareness, Manhattanville’s continuing dedication to community outreach and service is the perfect match for Lombardi.

“Manhattanville gives me the best of all worlds,” Lombardi said. “It’s a beautiful school, with respected programs in the career I desire, and has its heart and priorities in the right place. Where can I find a better fit?”

Build-A-Bear Supports Autism Speaks

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Build-A-Bear Workshop

Build-A-Bear Workshop®, the interactive entertainment retailer of customizable stuffed animals, today announced the launch of a special bear to support Autism Speaks® and its Light It Up Blue campaign during Autism Awareness Month. Throughout the company’s history, Build-A-Bear Workshop has supported causes that are important to its Guests, especially in the area of children’s health and wellness. The company is continuing its relationship with Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, for the ninth consecutive year.

“As the prevalence of autism grows, we know how increasingly important this cause is to Build-A-Bear Workshop Guests,” said Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Workshop founder and chief executive bear. “With this new Autism Speaks Bear, we hope to raise awareness and make a difference for children and families impacted by autism.”

The Autism Speaks Bear ($18) arrives on March 27 and $1 from the sale of this bear will be donated to Autism Speaks. An Autism Speaks bear-sized Tiny Tees® shirt ($7) will also be available, with 50 cents from every tee sold going directly to the charity. Throughout April, Guests can also donate $1 (or more) to Autism Speaks when they check out at Build-A-Bear Workshop stores in the United States or online at

“Since 2005, Build-A-Bear Workshop and its Guests have raised more than $545,000 to support Autism Speaks,” said Alec Elbert, chief strategy and development officer at Autism Speaks. “Build-A-Bear Workshop has always been a strong supporter of our organization and families impacted by autism, and we are honored that the company and its customers are raising funds with this adorable bear to support our efforts.”

Over the years, Build-A-Bear Workshop has launched several special limited-edition bears to raise funds and awareness for various charitable causes. Since its inception in 1997, the company has shared the hug of a teddy bear wherever needed in local communities and abroad. Build-A-Bear Workshop gives Guests opportunities to support the causes that are important to them and through its corporate donations and foundation grant programs, has given more than $32 million to children’s health and wellness, animals, literacy and other important causes.

Music Therapy At Molloy College’s Rebecca Center

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We have seen first-hand the great work at the Rebecca Center; Mike was enrolled in music therapy sessions there years ago, and did really well; able to participate with therapists and peers.  I think it also lay the ground work for his appreciation (both likes and dislikes) of music.  Music therapy rocks! -Ed


Molloy College researchers involved in an international study testing music therapy as a communication tool for children with autism are looking for participants.

The Rebecca Center for Music Therapy, a clinic and training program on the Rockville Centre campus, is the only place in the United States participating in the collaborative study, which this week enters its second phase.

The trial, said to be the largest to explore a non-drug therapy for autism, includes sites in seven other countries: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Israel, Italy, South Korea and Norway.

Autism therapy study seeks participants

To be considered for the study, children must be between 4 and 7 years old with an autism diagnosis and have had little or no music therapy.

The study, funded with a $2.5 million grant from the Research Council of Norway and in-kind donations from the sites, is expected to include more than 300 children around the world.

“There’s emerging research now that shows music can increase a child’s ability to socialize, engage and relate,” said John A. Carpente, the study’s U.S. site manager and founder-executive director of the Rebecca Center. “These are the core deficits of autism.”

Autism spectrum disorders, known as ASDs, are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.

Children diagnosed with autism often have difficulty making eye contact, pointing at an object or beginning or sustaining interaction with others.

With improvisational music therapy, the child is given an instrument, often a drum or other percussion instrument, which he or she uses to relate or “speak” with a therapist.

On a recent afternoon at the Rebecca Center, Arielle Goldman, 9, of Bellmore, who is on the autism spectrum, used a drum in such an exercise.

For the first 15 minutes of her session, Arielle stood apart from her therapist, clinging to the wall of a music therapy room. Eventually, she was persuaded to sit at a drum set.

Her therapist played a blues tune on the piano. Arielle, holding drumsticks, was expressionless and did not move.

But when the therapist stopped playing, Arielle began banging on the drum. When the therapist started playing again, Arielle stopped. She was clearly waiting for her next cue.

Their “conversation” with the instruments went on for several minutes.

Several smaller studies have been done on the efficacy of music therapy as an early intervention for autism, but nothing of this scope and size, Carpente said.

“The most important remaining challenge is to demonstrate generalized effects of music therapy – to what extent children are able to transfer the acquired skills to new situations and environments – and how many sessions are needed to achieve this important goal,” Christian Gold, the study’s lead researcher, said in an email interview from Norway.

Gold, a professor of the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Center of the University of Bergen, said he and others want to build on a 2006 Cochrane Collaboration review published by John Wiley & Sons that found music therapy worked better than a placebo with respect to verbal and gestural communicative skills.

The National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in every 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder – a prevalence figure that is rising.

Music therapy has gained in popularity over the past decade as a treatment for children with autism, said Al Bumanis, spokesman for the American Music Therapy Association, a Maryland-based professional organization representing about 4,000 practicing music therapists.

“Parents discover that music does hold their interest and intrigue the kids,” Bumanis said.

A Second Chance Prom

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Autism is a barrier that often traps it’s victims in a cold, lonely world. Autism restricts communication leaving patients frustrated and unable to express their true emotions.

Second Chance Prom begins April's Autism Awareness Month

April is Autism Awareness Month. Events will take place in the Tri-State area as well as all over the country during April that will bring people together to work together to find a cure.Increased awareness will also help break down the communication barriers that isolate innocent victims and lock them in their own world. Autistic individuals are often pure and very intelligent. But their inability to communicate their needs,wants, and dreams cut them off from the rest of the world and leaves them feeling left out. Events are planned during April with the goal of showing our Autistic friends that they do truly belong.

Autism Awareness Month will also make information available that will help people further understand just what Autism is. With more understanding perhaps we can have more empathy and we can learn more about our Autistic friends.

I have worked with Autistic clients for over four years. I have learned perhaps as much as I’ve taught. I have developed relationships that I hope I’ll treasure the rest of my life. I hope to work within the Autistic community for the rest of my life either as a career or as a volunteer.

Several events are planned to increase awareness of Autism and/or rip down the barrier by making Autistic individuals feel like they belong.

One such event is March 29, 2013. Huntington councilman Rick Simmons and Angela Clay have organized a free second chance prom. The event will be held at the Big Sandy Superstore Civic Center from 7 to 10. The theme will be Almost Paradise.

City officials will attend and music will be played by ex-WKEE disc jockey Jack O’Shea. Mayor Steve Williams and his wife Mary will dance the first dance.

Although the event is open to anyone over 14, it is a perfect chance for Autistic teenagers or adults who may never get a chance to attend a prom or never have been to one to feel beautiful and special and to have that precious memory in their lives. Rick’s daughter has Autism and it is his wish that other Autistic individuals get the chance to attend and have the time of their lives.

According to the Herald-Dispatch: “The 12th Annual Rally for Autism awareness event is scheduled for Saturday, April 27, at Ritter Park and will be hosted by Autism Services Center, the West Virginia Autism Training Center at Marshall University and the Autism Society River Cities.
This year’s event will feature the 4th Annual Seaton & Moira Taylor 5K Walk, a 5K Run and a 25-mile Bicycle Tour. More than 1,000 people are expected to participate. The Rally for Autism will begin at 8 a.m.
All funds raised at the event stay in the area to benefit the three local hosting organizations and the families they serve.”

Please help make Autism Awareness Month a success and help raise money for Autism organizations to serve the Autistic community, to increase understanding of Autism and better understand its’ victims, and to bring new experiences into the lives of our friends with Autism. More people are diagnosed with Autism every year, let’s come together to stop Autism and let’s help our Autistic friends reach their fullest potential and help them have the type of fun and experiences that enrich all of our lives.

Henry Ford Museum Partnering With Autism Alliance

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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — The Henry Ford museum is joining forces with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to provide a welcoming environment to families with autism.

As part of the partnership, the Dearborn museum plans to include a link to pre-visit information on its website that describes environments and sensorial experiences to the families, provides varied dietary options, areas for noise reduction and other hospitality services. And the Autism Alliance will provide training in basic aspects of autism for Henry Ford staff members.

Autism Alliance of Michigan President and CEO Colleen Allen says she’s “proud to be partnering with The Henry Ford to give families living with autism the same experiences as those enjoyed by others.”