Month: April 2013

Keep Autism Awareness Alive: Help Prevent The Reality Of Falling Off A Cliff

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These are two stories that typically merit separate posts, but they clearly share a central theme and so I decided to put them together.  Growing up on the Autism Spectrum is difficult; for the individual, for parents, educators, siblings and friends.  It is made (relatively) easier by the degree to which that individual has support; financial, emotional, institutional or otherwise.  The harsh reality of new-found adult status can be jarring, if not entirely all-consuming and down-right depressing at times.  Gone are many of those supports that each individual has literally needed to make the progress that they have.  Gone also are many of the dreams of childhood; that unique innocence that sparks each autistic child to work towards something off in the distance.  

As a society, we need to have a plan to integrate young adults on the spectrum into that same civilized society.  Assistance with job placement? Yes!  Easier access to (more) Day Habilitation Programs? Yes again! Autism insurance reform? Hell yes! 

Autism awareness efforts can no longer be a grass-roots effort.  It must be a concerted, unified attack that has the full backing of local, state and federal agencies.  No autistic child who grows into adulthood should ever have to fend for himself to receive the same considerations that their neuro-typical peers get.  

On this last day of Autism Awareness Month, let’s all give our kids (children and adults alike) a hug, a kiss and a promise to keep their hopes and dreams, as well as their rights, alive.  -Ed


PHOTO: Janet Mino has taught her class of young autistic men for four years at Newark's JFK High School. But as they age out of the system, they have few options.

Janet Mino has taught her class of young autistic men for four years at Newark’s JFK High School.
But as they age out of the system, they have few options.

For four years, Janet Mino has worked with her young men, preparing them to graduate from JFK High School, a place that caters to those with special needs in the heart of one of the poorest cities in America, Newark, N.J.

All six of them have the severest form of autism, struggling to communicate, but Mino’s high-energy style evokes a smile, a hug and real progress.

Much of the work that she does may ultimately unravel because after these young men earn their diplomas, their future options are bleak — lingering at home, being placed in an institution or living on the streets.

New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the nation and some of the best intervention resources. But after graduation, programs are scarce.

“They are adults longer than they are children,” Mino, 46, told “We need to give them a light. It’s up to us and up to me.”

“There’s nothing — nothing out there,” she said.

Mino, a whirling dervish of enthusiasm and warmth, is the subject of a documentary, “Best Kept Secret,” that recently premiered at the Independent Film Festival in Boston and will be shown at this weekend’s Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey.

Mino’s efforts to find resources for her students are Herculean in a school that is touted as the state’s “best kept secret.” Her efforts are exacerbated by poverty and lack of funding, but her classroom is a happy place as she finds ways to reinforce that they are capable and worthy.

“I look at it as a challenge — if I can get them as independent as possible,” she said. “They are so wonderful. They make you laugh. … They just think differently.

“Some people think that because they are nonverbal and can’t communicate, they can’t understand, but that’s not true. From my experience, they read us better than we read them.”

Director Samantha Buck [“21 Below”] and producer Danielle DiGiacomo, who is manager of video distribution at the Orchid, follow Mino and her students in their hardscrabble lives for 18 months leading up to their 2012 graduation.

“Autism is part of who we are as a society,” said Buck, 30. “Across the country, young adults who turn 21 are pushed out of the school system. They often end up with nowhere to go; they simply disappear from productive society. This is what educators call ‘falling off the cliff.'”

This year alone, 50,000 children with autism will turn 18, according to Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who has sponsored federal legislation to provide funding for adult programs. Within two years of high school, less than half of those with autism spectrum disorder have paying jobs, the lowest rate of any disabled group.

“Meanwhile, adults with ASD run the highest risk of total social disengagement,” Menendez told in an email. “By the time they are in their early 20s, they risk losing the daily living skills they developed as children through supportive services.”

“Their families still need support,” he said. “The challenges they face will not disappear but only grow greater, and ultimately we will all pay the price for that.”

Today, an estimated 1 in 50 U.S. school-age children are diagnosed with some form of autism, a number that has been on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But the filmmakers said they did not want to focus on the “causes of autism and why.”

“Here are these human beings and they live in our world and are part of our society,” said Buck. “How do we integrate this huge population into our society?”

While on the festival circuit, Buck noticed the industry’s interest in films about autism.

“I pretty much cried at every single one,” said Buck. “They were predominantly centered around young Caucasian families with money.”

The filmmakers looked for an inner-city school that would tell a different story. With the help of Menendez, they found JFK High School, where they followed Mino’s students.

But funding is just part of the problem. Many of her students come from dysfunctional families that are challenged by poverty and lack of support.

Erik, the highest-functioning student in the group, is smart, talkative and great at following directions. He may be the most likely to make it in the real world. But his biological mother is too sick to care for him and he relies on a dedicated foster mother.

Robert’s home life is chaotic and it is reflected in his classroom work. He can read and spell, but is frequently absent. His father home-schooled him until dying four years ago. Now, an aunt, a recovering drug addict, looks after him.

Quran is the only one being raised by both his parents. He is able to read and control all of his behaviors, but his family doesn’t know where to turn for help.

“His parents spend every minute of the day thinking about him and his life,” said film producer DiGiacomo. “But they have to put food on the table and there is no time to access information on places where he can go.”

Parents work full time and need placement for their children when they go to work. Programs are costly and navigating the bureaucracy is difficult.

After-school recreation centers only operate from 10 to 1, impractical hours for working parents. And some families don’t even have cars.

“These are the simplest things that we don’t think about that can make or break families,” said Buck. “But they don’t have a woe-is-me [attitude]. This is their life and they love their children.”

Erik works hard when given direction and takes on a part-time job cleaning at Burger King.

“Everybody loves him,” said Buck. “They are good workers. This is not charity.”

But students need work coaches to help with the transition into a job, and Erik’s coach has 100 other clients.

Some will find part-time work or activities at a recreation center. Most of what is available resembles piecemeal factory work.

The filmmakers see Mino as the “heroine,” fighting to create meaningful lives for her students.

Mino said the intensity of filming the search for her students’ placements, she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream: to create her own center for young adults with autism.

She has now written a grant application to open the Valentine Center, which she calls the “center with a heart.”

Mino said she hopes to provide parent-friendly hours and transportation, as well as a variety of therapies and activities — “the basic things they need to survive.”

Until then, Mino continues to teach at JFK High School, where it’s all about her students.

“I fall in love easily,” she said.

“They are people,” director Buck said of Mino’s students. “If an audience can feel emotionally connected to Eric or Quran or a Robert, that might be an impetus to do something. It’s a first step.”

Buck said the making of the film was “kismet, in a way” and her hope is that viewers “watch the film they stop seeing these guys as young men on the autism spectrum and really get to know them. … It’s a first step.”


Sarah Still has Aspergers and has spent years working a variety of jobs that don't seem to fit her needs.

Sarah Still has Aspergers and has spent years working a variety of jobs that don’t seem to fit her needs.

(CNN) — Smiling is something 30-year-old Sarah Still constantly has to remind herself to do, especially when she is going into a job interview.

Still has Asperger’s, a high-functioning form of autism. For the past 10 years, she has experienced the highs and lows of being on the autism spectrum while trying to work in professional settings.

It is not as though Still cannot get a job — in fact, her resume is full of them, ranging from room attendant at Yellowstone National Park to receptionist at a massage parlor. It’s keeping the jobs that has been the issue.

“Some days it is really hard to function … things like fluorescent lighting can even bring my systems down,” she said, meaning the lighting depresses her mood easily.

Still is not alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says as many as one in 50 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

Many of those children will grow up and eventually try to enter the workforce.

Still said she’s had a range of job experiences. Her worst, she recalls, was working as a room attendant at Yellowstone National Park, because she had a hard time remembering her tasks. She has memory issues because of her Asperger’s, she said, and often loses track of time.

“It was really hard for me to remember how they wanted me to clean the rooms. They were really fast and I had an awful time keeping up,” she said. She only stayed at that job for two months.

I have Asperger’s; I am just like you

Ann Cameron Williams, chief research and innovations officer withThe Arc, a national organization of and for people with intellectual and related developmental disabilities, asks what will happen to those one in 50 children once they enter adulthood.

Should insurance cover autism therapy?

“How will these children impact our schools, our offices? It is something that we have to open our eyes to. It is something that we really have to embrace,” she said.

“We don’t have a choice of turning away — we have to employ these people.”

One of the main challenges The Arc faces is educating employers about the benefits of hiring those on the autism spectrum, according to Williams. She said some employers are hesitant because they are unfamiliar with how such workers will perform on the job.

“When it comes to questions from businesses, it is just communicating to them the facts. Giving someone with autism a chance to work, many employers will discover that those on the spectrum are great at working with numbers, computers and spreadsheets,” she explained.

I hired someone with Asperger’s — now what?

Besides advocating for those with autism disorders, The Arc and other national organizations have work-training and placement programs. One company that specializes in job placement for those on the spectrum is Nobis Works, a nonprofit organization based out of Georgia.

Becky Ketts, the director of rehabilitation services at Nobis Works, finds jobs for people on the autism spectrum while they go through the organization’s training program. These training programs last anywhere from three months to a year, and teach everything from anger management to customer service.

These “soft skills” are essential for success in the workplace, Ketts explains, especially for those with autism disorders.

“Even the thought of interviewing for a job can be overwhelming for someone on the autism spectrum. That is such an intimate setting. That alone can keep people from finding a job,” Ketts said.

Still can relate. “I don’t tell employers I have Asperger’s,” she said. She worries that employers will be immediately turned off from hiring her. “But I think when I do interviews I seem a bit strange and people don’t hire me.”

She also has difficulties “being social,” she said. It is those little things that ultimately build stress for her in the workplace.

Social interaction is a common challenge for those with autism disorders, Ketts said. “We all interact with so many people, co-workers, bosses, it can all be very overwhelming for those on the spectrum,” Ketts said.

Still said positive reinforcement was lacking in some of her previous jobs. “I had one boss who I would hear yell at other employees — that really affected me,” she said. “And sometimes, I feel people staring at me and it makes me uncomfortable.”

Ketts adds the key to overcoming those overwhelming feelings can be as simple as having a support system. A positive work environment and internal support can help increase retention rates at jobs for those on the spectrum. Nobis Works said it offers external support for individuals on the spectrum and reports an 84% retention rate, where employees stay longer than 90 days at their placement jobs.

“We can set someone up on the autism spectrum at a good job, but things can change. Keeping a job can be the hardest part,” Ketts said.

Music exercise class for adults with autism

More employers are becoming aware of the needs of people on the autism spectrum. There also are companies actively seeking to hire people on the spectrum. Aspiritech, a nonprofit Chicago-based company, launched a program to train high-functioning people on the autism spectrum to test software for tech development companies.

Even companies like Walgreens are taking a stand to hire more people on the spectrum. The company’s CEO announced in 2012 that it would try to fill 20% of its distribution center jobs with people of different disabilities.

Williams said companies are starting to see not only the business benefits of hiring someone on the spectrum, but also the ethical and public relations benefits. “It is hard to measure it with a dollar, but it is the right thing to do. When you have a company that is willing to hire someone with a disability, it’s a positive reflection on that company,” she said.

Karen Carlisle, vice president at Nobis Works, said the most important thing for employers to remember when hiring someone on the spectrum is that they are always going to have autism, no matter how much training a placement program provides for them.

“We don’t fix people with disabilities, we help people work with those disabilities and we work with managers and employers to help them understand these people,” she said.

“There is hope for people on the autism spectrum in terms of finding work.”

Still said she wishes employers would be aware that some people on the spectrum tend to be more sensitive. “And it may take us a bit more time to learn how to do something, but once we get it, we are very helpful. Many of us are dedicated to helping others, we just learn and show our dedication differently,” she said.

She said she hopes that if and when she does find a job she can start telling her employer about her needs with Asperger’s.

Despite not having a job since May 2012, Still said she isn’t discouraged. Ideally, she hopes to work with animals in the future and be out in nature. She said she’s hopeful because she knows she and others on the autism spectrum have a lot to offer.

“We are very intelligent,” she said. “We are very focused if we are doing something we love.” And that thought keeps her smiling.


Rapping With Autism

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At 21, Rio Wyles still displays all the classic signs of autism.

Click this link to view the video:

He avoids eye contact with a stranger who tries to initiate a conversation with him, and seems eager to run away from the situation. It’s an expected reaction because autism is strongly associated with social, verbal and nonverbal communication problems.

Rio Wyles is a rapper with autism who performs with the Performing Arts Studio West. The group is doing an original musical featuring classic rock songs reinterpreted and performed by people with development disabilities.
The PASW studio is in Inglewood. 

But then the young Playa del Rey resident puts on his black sunglasses, grabs a microphone and, suddenly, he turns into Soulshocka – an ambitious rapper who “reps” Venice Beach for more “street cred. ”

“I started rapping when I was 8 or 9,” Rio says as he sits on a couch in an Inglewood recording studio.

“I was at Tower Records. The first song I really heard was ‘Can’t Touch This’ by MC Hammer. ”

The recording studio is part of Performing Arts Studio West, an entertainment company that caters to adults with developmental disabilities, including Asperger’s syndrome, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and others.

Rio has been part of the company for the past two years and is prepping to perform in its May 3 show “Recovered” at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance.

The founder of the company, John Paizis, has been an adult special education teacher since 1980. In his spare time, he also was an entertainer and realized great benefits could come from combining the two, especially for those with autism.

“Being able to look somebody in the eye and effectively communicate is super important for these guys,” Paizis said.

His entertainment company puts performers into situations “where the curriculum kind of forces them to do that by doing acting scenes where they need to have eye contact with people, where they need to vocalize, where they need to be heard. ”

The company offers a variety of classes, including singing, song writing, music production, dance and all styles of acting. And each offers something different.

Students with the Performing Arts Studio West rock to a rap version of “Dazed and Confused” by Led Zeppelin.


For example, Paizis said, dancing helps autistic adults learnbody language and how to become more aware of how much space their body takes up. Music lets them see a sequence of events that ends with a finished product.

“Music classes are fabulous for them,” Paizis said. “And a lot of the population has a proclivity toward music since they were kids, especially some of our high functioning kids – so communication, body language, being able to put their best foot forward in any kind of social situation, that really helps. ”

Video: Soulshocka performs “Yonkers”

Rio knew he wanted to be a rapper since the time he was about age 4. In fact, after he was diagnosed at 3 years old, a doctor at UCLA told his parents to find something he enjoys doing and to let him follow that path.

“Fortunately for us, he loved music, and so music is his way back into the world,” said Rio’s father, David Wyles.

Since finding his passion, Wyles said, Rio has become more comfortable with other people and with himself.

He writes his own raps, drawing inspiration from his diagnosis and writing lines like: “Who’s the guy on the short bus causing a fuss?” And another: “The doc said I couldn’t do it, but now they have to face the music. ”

He performed an original song at the United Nations Headquarters for World Autism Awareness Day earlier this month, as well as at a March benefit for Autism Speaks at Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

Rio Wyles is a rapper with autism who performs with the Performing Arts Studio West.


But despite his willingness to perform for autism organizations, he said he’s trying to stay away from it.

“He wants to be known as a rapper and not an autistic rapper,” said his dad. “And that’s true. He is a rapper first and foremost, and autism is the back story. ”

In a striking moment, when asked where Rio would be today if he hadn’t found music as a young boy, his father softly says “lost. ”

Rio, on the other hand, is more blunt.

“I’d either be in a group home, or … yeah,” he said. “Music has the potential of getting me out of the hole. So pretty much, it got me out of the grind. ”

And he doesn’t plan to stop.

One day the family was returning home from a doctor’s appointment where they learned Rio might not mature any further.

When they stopped at a record store to browse, Rio’s mom asked him if he would like to work there someday.

“No, I want to be a rapper and own my own label,” he said. “You gotta dream bigger than that Mom. ” @stephiecary on Twitter

Want to go?

What: Performing Arts Studio West presents an original musical featuring performers with developmental disabilities.

When: 8 p.m. Friday May 3

Where: James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance

Information: Tickets are $25. Call 310-674-1346 , Ext. 202, or go to

Just Walking The Dog

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It started out as a way to get some exercise.  We worked out at home the day before; me on the elliptical machine and Mike on the recumbent bike.  We had discussed getting the bicycles out for the first time, but they’re still in storage and need to be inflated, etc.  But today we took our 7 month old puppy for a walk around the block; despite his nearly full-grown size, technically he’s still a puppy.  It was Mike’s idea to walk him, since he wrote that we would in his daily journal for school.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries: asked how each other’s day was and what we did today (we do this every day after I get home).  He told me about his music class and that they learned about guitars and ukuleles.  I asked if he wanted to learn to play the guitar and he said yes.  I was surprised at this, but now that I think of it, I shouldn’t be; one of his favorite things when he was much younger was listening to guitar melodies  as he would go to sleep.

He brought up a recent conversation we had from last week: how I ‘hate zombies’.   I explained that I don’t really hate them but they’re “freaky” because they’re all dead but are still walking and are trying to eat you.  He proceeded to allay my fears by telling me there are no real zombies and that they only exist in movies and TV.  Whew!

In what I thought was another re-cycled conversation, Mike asked me if I missed my father.  Mike has known that my parents passed away years ago, and occasionally brings it up; asking more about me missing my father than my mother.   He did know my mother; one of his favorite vacation destinations is Florida, in part because he likes Disney and Universal, but also in part because we stayed in my mother’s home the few times when we did go to Florida.  Thinking back, I remember my mother, after understanding what Autism was, and understanding that Mike was on that Spectrum,  in particular asking how he did in school and his progress in general.  One time I remember her telling me that she always said a special prayer for Mike, and that she knew he would improve.  That memory always comforted me.

Mike never knew my father; he passed away years before Mike was born.  I think we have shown pictures of him, but most of those are from my wedding album, when he was already older and frail.  When he asks, I never try to embellish: some days I do, but most days I don’t; I emphasize that mostly when I miss someone, it’s because I remembered something that person said or did.  I emphasize that I mostly I miss him, his brothers and mommy because my mind is filled with many more memories about them, especially when I’m at work or when we’re not all together.

Mike knows, and has known, his Nana and Grandpa, my wife’s parents, all his life; in fact he and Tom hung out with them when we took Nick to a nearby college event this past weekend.  He has made many of his own memories of them, and has heard many recollections told by my wife and her siblings.  I don’t talk about my parents much if at all; usually only when we see one of my sisters, all of whom are scattered across the United States, as compared to my wife’s brother and sisters, who are clustered on Long Island.

Mike makes visual associations, which imprints upon his memory, and I think, is the key to his learning.  I remember over this past winter, I gave Mike an old red L. L. Bean fleece robe to wear; it was the one my father gave me many years (possibly 30???) ago.  I think he liked that fact.  I think sometimes he asks me about my father to provoke a lasting memory for himself, and certainly to reinforce my own memories.  Maybe that’s why he brings it up every now and again.

We talked some more about how those who have passed away are looking down on us, and how we keep them in our heart.  I told him how his brother Thomas was named after my father, his brother Nicholas was named after his mom’s Grandpa Nick, and how he himself is named after his mom’s Uncle Mike.  I told him we did this to honor some of the people we love, and that is one way we keep our loved ones in our heart.

Suddenly our walk ended.  It wasn’t the distance; 4 long blocks around, probably more than a quarter-mile and less than a half-mile.  We probably could have walked and talked for miles.  I wouldn’t mind it at all.

Join Us On Facebook

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If you haven’t checked it out yet, please take a look at the Facebook page dedicated to this blog, which also has posts from great contributors like, Autism Speaks, and many more resources.  You’re sure to find something that will touch your heart, connect with others, give you another resource and see the wonderful work that your peers are doing in the Autism community.  It’s located at

If you are already with us on Facebook, thank you for your support and tell your friends.


A Perfect Strike…And The Crowd Goes Wild!

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Saturday was Autism Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and as part of those proceedings, a youngster with autism named Joseph Dever trotted out to the mound with his oversized glove and threw one of the best first pitches we’ve ever seen.

First, he does the old glove to the face trick to communicate with someone about pitch selection (we assume), then he gets into a serious pitching position before balking to get the crowd pumped up. What a showman! Finally, after delivering a pretty decent pitch to the Phillie Phanatic, the kid makes your heart melt by imitating Brad Lidge‘s legendary fall-to-his-knees celebration following the Phillies winning the World Series in Game 5 in 2008. But the cuteness doesn’t stop there, as one of his little lady friends runs out and tackles him to the ground. Amazing.

Thanks for that, Joseph. We all needed it. You rule.

Click on this picture to view the video:

The Financial Strain Of Autism

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Between therapy sessions and at-home care, parents struggle to earn a living and provide the necessary help for their autistic children.
A boy sitting on grass
Adriana Lara, a mother in Hutto, Texas, is not able to work because her 5-year old son Joshua has autism. Lara must stay home to give Joshua the care he needs, and to drive him to his therapy sessions five days a week.
“It’s just impossible for me to be able to hold a job and do all these things with Josh,” Lara, 31, said. The family depends on the salary of Lara’s husband, a psychologist at a Veteran’s Affairs hospital.
Joshua’s therapies, including speech, music and occupational therapy, cost about $5,000 a month. Eighty-five percent of the cost is currently covered by a government grant, but the grant will run out this summer, and the family’s insurance policy won’t cover Joshua’s therapies, Lara said.
“We don’t know how we’re going to afford it,” Lara said. While public schools offer autism therapies, Joshua’s school does not offer the type of intensive therapies he needs, Lara said. For instance, the therapies provided by Joshua’s school are not one-on-one, Lara said.
A new study highlights the unique financial burden faced by families of children with autism, like Lara’s. The burden is particularly significant for mothers, the study finds.
On average, mothers of autistic children earn $14,755 less per year than mothers of healthy children, and $7,189 less per year than mothers of children with other health conditions (such as asthma and ADHD) that limit their ability to engage in childhood activities, according to the study.
Despite the fact that they tend to have completed more years of education, mothers of autistic children are 6 percent less likely to be employed, and they work on average 7 hours less weekly than mothers of healthy children, the researchers say.
“We don’t think that autism creates more of a strain on the family per se than other chronic conditions of childhood,” said study researcher David Mandell, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “I think the reason these mothers are leaving the workforce is because the service system for children with autism is so fragmented,” Mandell said.
Health care and workplace policies need to recognize the full impact of autism, and alleviate costs for the families with greatest needs
Health care and workplace policies need to recognize the full impact of autism, and alleviate costs for the families with greatest needs, the researchers concluded, writing in the March 19 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Higher bills, lower salaries
About 1 in 110 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder, a developmental disability that can cause language delays, impaired communication skills and social challenges, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new study results are based on yearly surveys of U.S. households conducted between 2002 and 2008. The study included 64,349 families with healthy children, 2,921 families of children with other health limitations and 261 families of children with autism.
While fathers’ salaries, by themselves, were not affected by having a child with autism, total family income was, the study showed. On average, families with autistic children earned $17,763 less than families with healthy children, and $10,416 less than families with children with other health limitations.
As Lara’s story shows, having a child with autism may limit the parents’ abilities to work because these children require more care. Finding quality, specialized childcare for autistic children may be difficult and costly, the researchers say.
“A traditional daycare setting really is really not conducive,” for children with autism to thrive, said Carolyn Price, whose 7-year old son has autism. Autistic children are very sensitive to sights and sounds, and may be overwhelmed at a day care, Price said.
When Price’s son was in daycare — before he was diagnosed with autism — he would bite other children because he couldn’t cope with the environment, Price said. In addition, autistic children need one-on-one interaction that is generally not feasible at day care, Price said.
When Price’s son, also named Joshua, was young and had to be at home, she and her husband felt uncomfortable having anyone beside themselves or close friends look after him.
“It’s really challenging when you have a child with special needs, to really turn that responsibility over to someone else and feel like they are getting the best care,” Price said. Price’s husband Joel still works only part time, so he can drive his son to therapy sessions.
Financial support
Children with autism need to be immersed in their therapies in order to benefit, Price said. Providing therapy one day a week, when a child needs five sessions, won’t have the same impact, Price said.
In 2010, Price and her husband started a non-profit organization called Imagine a Way to provide financial assistance to families with autistic children. The organization focuses trying to provide funds to support for children for two years.
While other nonprofits and government subsidies offer support to families of children with autism, it’s often comes in the form of a little bit at a time, Price said.
“There’s a recognized need for it, I just don’t think there’s a consolidated organization like Autism Speaks, that’s able to do something on a major scale,” Price said. While any source of funding is valuable, “For the magnitude of what these kids need, a little bit is just not enough,” Price said.

The Art Of Autism, On Display In Lexington, Kentucky

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Teal, Orange, White by Nancy Sexton, part of Discover the Art of Autism.

Courtesy of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel


Children and adults with autism often experience impaired communication and social interactions, but there is at least one inexpensive activity that has been shown to help: art.

“It’s a way to express themselves,” says Kay Wright, who, with Donna Pizzuto, organized an exhibit called The Art of Autism, on display at The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

“A lot of people who have autism have a hard time expressing themselves and a hard time making social connections, so this is one way they can communicate and express themselves,” she says.

Wright, a real estate agent and retired teacher, is a volunteer for EAGLE (Embracing Asperger Gifts and Life Experiences), a social support group for adults with autism.

“Several of them are really art- oriented,” Wright says of EAGLE members, “so this exhibit just kind of came out of all that.”

Wright and Pizzuto reached out to groups including EAGLE, Latitude Artist Community, the Autism Society of the Bluegrass and Fayette County Public Schools to spread the word out about the exhibit.

“We weren’t sure what kind of a response we were going to get,” she says of the call to artists.

But submissions kept coming in right up until Sunday, when the exhibit opened.

The exhibit features more than 25 works. The 16 artists range in age from 6 to 47, and they work in media ranging from acrylic paints and watercolors to digital photography and wood carvings.

One of the artists is Jade Finley, 12, a Bryan Station Middle School seventh-grader who has three acrylic paintings in the exhibit, includingTo Haiti With Love.

The painting was Jade’s way of dealing with the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation of Haiti.

“I wanted to make it to honor them,” says Jade, whose two other paintings, Flutter Flies and Spring Break, feature brightly colored nature themes.

“I paint all the time,” Jade says. “Art inspires me.”

This year’s success means the exhibit probably will become an annual event.

“We had several artists who submitted pieces say they would like to submit more for next year,” Pizzuto says.

For Wright and Pizzuto, both members at St. Michael’s, there is also a spiritual aspect to artwork.

Wright facilitates and Pizzuto is a member of an Artist’s Way group at St. Michael’s, based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which focuses on connecting more fully with God through creativity.

“It is our belief that we are all born with creative talent,” Wright and Pizzuto wrote in the exhibit’s brochure, “and to use that talent, embrace it and celebrate it is to honor God.”




‘Discover the Art of Autism’

When: Through April 28. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.

Where: The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel, 2025 Bellefonte Dr.

Learn more: (859) 277-7511,