Month: May 2013
A group of 15 will travel to Spain to help The AutistiX on their first tour
A group of north London musicians who have overcome extraordinary obstacles are about to embark on their first international tour.
The members of The AutistiX, as the name suggests, all have autism, but they have not let any of their disabilities get in the way of a tour in Spain and recording their first album.
Luke Steels, 17, electric guitar and bass, Jack Beavan-Duggan, 18, electric guitar, and Saul Zur-Szpiro, 20, on the drums, practice at least once a week and have played gigs including the Beatles Day in Hastings, but this will be the first time they have gone on tour.
Saul’s mum, and band manager, Susan Zur-Szpiro, said: “They started producing their own music and creating these very beautiful, quite biographical songs.
“It’s not about getting the sympathy reaction, they just happen to have their disabilities which makes them interesting and quirky as an act.”
Jack, the lyricist, penned songs including The Good and Bad in All of Us and Hard to Reach and says music is about “writing songs and showing who I am”.
Carol Povey, the director of the Centre for Autism, said: “Autism is a social and communication difficulty and affects the way people interact with other people and the world around them.
“Some people will have very high support needs, no language or communicative ability and challenging behaviour, right the way through to people who have very high IQs but may struggle to relate to other people.
“You wouldn’t normally think of people working together [like The AutistiX] and I think it’s fabulous and it really blows apart most people’s expectations.”
The Camden-based group who are joined on stage by Jack’s father John, Saul’s dad Michael and musician Jim Connelly, will play three gigs with Spanish group Motxila 21 who all have Down’s syndrome between 24 and 30 May.
But The AutistiX have come a long way to get there.
Mrs Zur-Szpiro said: “My son could really do nothing, he was blind, he couldn’t move, he was really very low-functioning so we just took it a step at a time and he’s way beyond anyone’s expectations.
“He can’t dress himself, he can’t feed himself and can’t look after his own basic needs but he’s the drummer and it’s mostly learning through his auditory skills, he hears something and he knows it.”
Before The AutistiX set off on tour there were a lot of things to consider including the fact that they would be relocating each day.
“Change is an issue because they like the familiar and they can be thrown by anything changing”, Mrs Zur-Szpiro said.
“I’m very aware of the sensitivities and so we’re doing all the major transitions during the day so they adjust and see it [each town], each of them have a parent or carer with them so they have that continuity and we’ve looked at YouTube so they know what Motxila 21 look like.
“We are embarking a little bit into the unknown and it’s going to be hard work but it should be amazing.”
As well as musical experiences there are other benefits for The AutistiX too.
The manager said: “They lack a normal peer group and this band has been amazing in providing a social network for them, they’re the centre of each others lives.
“And there’s no drinking and drugs going on, that just doesn’t happen.”
Butterflies and DemonsThe AutistiX also have a natural ability on stage which many performers might be envious of – they do not get stage fright.
Mrs Zur-Szpiro said: “Sometimes they’ve performed in front of several hundred people, but they don’t have any concept of being judged. He [Saul] loves being up on the stage and has music in every cell of his body.”
The band will play their gigs in Pamplona, Durango and Getaria and once they return to London they will be looking forward to releasing their first EP, Butterflies and Demons, which they recorded at EMI Roundhouse in February.
And although they might be a “quirky” rock band Mrs Povey, added: “The important thing is the audience is not looking at the disabilities and not looking at what they can’t do, but looking at what they can do.”
C.J. Jackson, 10, of Milwaukee smiles after completing an exercise as part of the Islands of Brilliance program at Discovery World in Milwaukee.
Program gives children career skills in multimedia, print.
Enter C.J Jackson’s world and you’ll find a lot of Mario Kart. The 10-year-old has been fixated on the go-kart style racing video game for years.
For Gabe Hailer, 10, it’s elevators. Sometimes when he worked on his graphic illustration of elevator levels at Discovery World this spring, he took breaks from class to go ride one for a while, up and down, up and down.
C.J. and Gabe are part of an increasing number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, a group of neural development disorders characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulty communicating and interacting socially.
Some parents struggle to imagine a future where their child with autism disorders will be able to function independently and pursue a career. And at present, there’s a dearth of programming that caters specifically to their children’s needs.
With intelligences in splinter areas, children on the spectrum can feel out-of-place in programs for kids with significant physical or cognitive disabilities. But their social challenges make it equally difficult to thrive in programs for traditionally developing youth.
The experimental Sunday morning academy for children with autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome fosters creativity through technology while teaching basic skills in programs such as Illustrator or Photoshop. Each child with autism is paired with a professional mentor from Milwaukee’s creative community, who volunteer their time for a few hours on five Sundays to help work with the child on a project.
A key feature of the program: having each child’s illustration, design, comic or animation focus on one of his interest areas.
“This is teaching skills that are marketable,” said Mandy Chasteen, Gabe Hailer’s mom. “Gabe struggles in art class in school because there are so many variables. Here he knows exactly what to do, and he can control it better.”
The Sunday lab academy was conceived by Mark Fairbanks, the co-founder and chief aesthetic officer of Translator, a brand design agency in the Third Ward that hosts open-house style idea-share labs on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Fairbanks and the Translator team partnered with Discovery World for lab space. They developed a curriculum for two tracks for participants to explore: multimedia or print.
Fairbanks’ wife, Margaret Fairbanks, is a special education teacher who helped design the curriculum. They engaged volunteer paraprofessional educators to help the student-mentor teams. Professional mentors came from their connections in the design industry.
“The way the creative community gives back is that they do pro bono ads to win awards,” Mark Fairbanks said. “We see this as a much better way to be creatively involved in a cause that actually connects with children, regardless of whether they go on to be a designer or developer. They get to engage with not only like peers, but also a mentor who might be able to unlock an area of potential.”
Islands started small with a handful of students and mentors in the first class in fall 2012. The spring’s session that just finished included 11 students between the ages of 9 and 14, paired with 11 mentors.
At the end of the five weeks, the students and their mentors present their work during a share session.
The program is free so far. The Translator team and Discovery World would like to see it grow, but they’re intent on keeping it highly personalized for each child and mentor.
Few models exist for how to design meaningful programming for children on the spectrum. Given their social difficulties, it can be hard to engage the children in an activity adults prefer them to work on, rather than on one the child prefers.
Tim Kabara, center director for the Maplegrove Treatment Center, a West Allis company that creates year-round and summer programming for kids and adults with autism spectrum disorders,said independent programming has not kept pace with the number of new diagnoses.
“We started nine years ago and we found the benefits of the groups being homogenous,” Kabara said. “They feel more comfortable, and they’re more likely to have similar interests. We found that’s a huge step toward getting them to let their hair down and be willing to engage in an activity.”
Islands of Brilliance has personal roots. The Fairbankses have a 14-year-old son, Harry, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age 3.
One day, Harry peered over his father’s shoulder while Mark was working in Illustrator.
Mark showed him a few basic concepts, then left Harry to play around in the program. Thirty minutes later, he said, his son had drawn Thomas the Tank Engine — a cartoon the boy loved — using the program’s more sophisticated features.
“He had figured out how to use the pen tool and apply colors and gradients, things I had not shown him,” Mark Fairbanks said during a presentation about Islands of Brilliance. “In a digital age, he can contribute content and make connections for the rest of his life.”
During the most recent Islands session, Harry worked with Justin Hutter, a web designer, to develop a comic series and website.
The spring Islands session wrapped up May 19, and the nature and range of the children’s disabilities makes for a nontraditional share session.
One student presented his poster by holding the illustration directly in front of his face as he spoke, muffling his voice and obscuring his head.
Another jumped up from the audience and started pointing things out on the other child’s work.
When it was C.J. Jackson’s turn, he was so excited to show off the Mario Kart storyboard he created with mentor Simmi Urbanek that he read each and every word on the board, tracing his pointer finger over the letters as he went.
Instead of applause, which unsettles some children on the spectrum, audience members slapped their thighs in encouragement.
Kimlon Jackson, said her son was still nonverbal six months ago. When he was 3 1/2, she said, he only knew five words.
“The program combines CJ’s passion for design in an environment that understands his social challenges, and in a way that could lead to gainful employment in the future,” Kimlon Jackson said. “It’s like a breath of fresh air.”
BEIRUT: The sounds of children playing reverberated from almost every room at Sesobel, a school for children with disabilities.
At one point, a 13-year-old boy torpedoed into the play area on a bicycle and boisterously announced “I’m Gregory!” holding out his hand to a newcomer. Before the latter had the chance to return the introduction, the vivacious teenager had already lost interest and sped away on his three-wheeler.
“He’s one of the artists,” Mugay Moudawar, a specialized teacher at the school, turned to tell The Daily Star.
By most accounts Gregory’s behavior deviates from the norm of basic social interaction. However, an impaired ability to communicate is one of the hallmarks of autism, which often tests the patience of parents, therapists and sometimes, the specialized teachers at Sesobel.
While autistic children tend to perform poorly with basic verbal communication tasks, they often excel in visual and spatial tests. Through the special education program at Sesobel, autistic children are given the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings through painting classes.
“These children are unable to [verbally] communicate their desires to other people,” explained Moudawar, “So in school at times they draw on the board what they feel, their fears, sorrows and joys. … These are all captured in the paintings.”
The finished products have not only granted parents and teachers a glimpse into their complex inner worlds, but now the general public can have this opportunity too as a collection of the children’s paintings are on display at the Phoenicia Hotel.
“We were the first school in Lebanon that dared to start a special program for autistic children,” said Sesobel’s President Fadia Safi, “because it’s very challenging, because every child with autism is unique.”
In 1989, after witnessing the trials of the mothers that were largely left without adequate resources to raise their autistic children, the school began a special education program for the preschool level. As the children grew into youths and then young adults, the school’s board realized it not only needed to build on the program, but construct another center to house its activities.
The proceeds collected from a silent auction of the children’s paintings will contribute to building this center.
“Autistic children and youth are real artists and they make really beautiful paintings, which will help them acquire the funds to build their new center,” Safi said.
As with many spectrum disorders, autism manifests through a triad of symptoms that include impaired social interactions and communication, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, such as head slapping and hand flapping, compulsive behavior and an obstinate and at times volatile resistance to change.
Most children show symptoms of the disorder before they reach 3 years of age. Neurologically, autism affects how information in the brain is processed, but how exactly this occurs is not entirely understood by scientists.
Depending on the gravity of the disorder, some who are mildly afflicted are able to integrate with society and even enjoy successful careers, but for moderate to severe cases of autism, most cannot live independently.
Given the challenges of having to engage with severely autistic children – let alone teach them how to communicate – the special education program at Sesobel adopts an adaptable approach that makes use of each child’s particular propensities, often by stimulating his or her heightened visual processing capabilities.
The teachers at Sesobel begin giving instruction around the preschool level. “We have to focus our efforts in improving their ability to express their needs, so we begin with actual objects,” said Moudawar.
To teach a child how to express thirst, for instance, Moudawar will place a glass of water on the table and, using gestures accompanied with simple language, will instruct the autistic child to show her the object whenever in need of a drink.
“In time we move on from objects to photos of the objects, then words that correspond to them … so the tasks become more and more complicated,” the teacher explained.
Because of the typical communicative barriers of the disorder, instructors said they have to be able to empathize with a child to understand their needs.
“A child with autism needs to feel secure at all times, because he is terrified of change,” Moudawar said, adding that this fear can be incited by simple habitual adjustments, from being instructed to stand up from a seated position to simple changes in the season.
“He needs to be prepared well before a change in his routine will occur. If he isn’t prepared in advance he will have an outburst.”
Sometimes these outbursts are resolved easily, once Moudawar explains what gave rise to the change with drawings. For instance, Moudawar recounts a time when a child once threw a fit because the teacher that normally handed out chocolate after a lesson was absent.
“So I took a piece of chalk and explained to him ‘Listen, the teacher is not here today, she is sleeping and the key to the chocolate box is with her,’ and I drew the key and put an ‘x’ through it, and he understood,” she said. Without this visual explanation, the outburst would have continued.
The upstairs room where the children sometimes spend hours on a single canvas shows signs of their furious creativity: A white table is splattered with paint in the art room, as are the chairs, walls and the floor. Piles of canvas are strewn on the ground along with brushes stiffened with remnants of acrylic paint, their tips thinned with overuse.
The hours the children spend on a single canvas is a rare investment, as most are unable concentrate for long in other activities.
On display in the room is a bright-red medium-sized painting of a geranium that itself contains a darker flower. On the right-hand corner is the signature, “Walid.” Only the large and wobbly handwriting gives away the artist’s young age.
Gregory’s subdued and intricate paintings, one of the many on display at the Phoenicia Hotel’s exhibition, show no sign of the energetic boy that had burst through the playground earlier. The discordant arrangement of colors in his work “Ulysses 1,” for instance, suggests an emotionally complicated inner world.
The children at times paint dark colors in a very narrow spaces on the canvas to express their anger, which sometimes leads to interventions from the supervisors.
“But sometimes they would invade the space of the canvas, with all kinds of colors. And that’s how we saw their joy,” said Moudawar.
- Painting gives children with autism a chance to shine (dailystar.com.lb)
In honor of Memorial Day, please remember to support our military by thanking them for their service and support their fight against autism. Please contact your representatives to lend their support for the Caring For Military Kids With Autism Act, so that military kids receive the TRICARE benefits they deserve. Have a happy and safe holiday weekend. -Ed.
Book Exerpt: THE AUTISTIC BRAIN by Temple Granding and Richard Panek
I’ve given a great deal of thought to the topic of different ways of thinking. In fact, my pursuit of this topic has led me to propose a new category of thinker in addition to the traditional visual and verbal: pattern thinkers
Reading an interview with Steve Jobs, I came across this quote: “The thing I love about Pixar is that it’s exactly like the LaserWriter.” What? The most successful animation studio in recent memory is “exactly like” a piece of technology from 1985?
He explained that when he saw the first page come out of Apple’s LaserWriter — the first laser printer ever — he thought, There’s awesome amounts of technology in this box. He knew what all the technology was, and he knew all the work that went into creating it, and he knew how innovative it was.
But he also knew that the public wasn’t going to care about what was inside the box. Only the product was going to matter — the beautiful fonts that he made sure were part of the Apple aesthetic. This was the lesson he applied to Pixar: You can use all sorts of new computer software to create a new kind of animation, but the public isn’t going to care about anything except what’s on the screen.
He was right, obviously. While he didn’t use the terms picture thinker and pattern thinker, that’s what he was talking about. In that moment in 1985, he realized that you needed pattern thinkers to engineer the miracles inside the box and picture thinkers to make what comes out of the box beautiful.
I haven’t been able to look at an iPod or iPad or iPhone without thinking about that interview. I now understand that when Apple gets something wrong, it’s because they didn’t get the balance between the kinds of thinking right.
The notorious antenna problem on the iPhone 4? Too much art, not enough engineering.
Contrast this philosophy with Google’s; the minds behind Google, I guarantee you, were pattern thinkers. And to this day, Google products favor engineering over art.
Temple Grandin & Richard Panek
One of the world’s most well-known adults with autism, Temple Grandin has a Ph.D. in animal science from the University of Illinois and is a professor at Colorado State University. She was most recently named one of Time Magazine‘s 100 most influential people of the year, and has an HBO movie based on her life that starred Claire Danes and received seven Emmy Awards. Dr. Grandin is a past member of the board of directors of the Autism Society of America. She is the author of four previous books.
A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Science Writing, Richard Panek has written frequently for The New York Timesas well as Smithsonian, Natural History, Discover, Esquire, Outside, and numerous other publications. He is the author of three previous books.
After I gave a talk at one high-tech firm in Silicon Valley, I asked some of the folks there how they wrote code. They said they actually visualized the whole programming tree, and then they just typed in the code on each branch in their minds. I recalled my autistic friend Sara R. S. Miller, a computer programmer, telling me that she could look at a coding pattern and spot an irregularity in the pattern. Then I called my friend Jennifer McIlwee Myers, another computer programmer who is autistic. I asked her if she saw programming branches. No, she said, she was not visual in that way; when she started studying computer science, she got a C in graphic design. But she did think in patterns. “Writing code is like crossword puzzles, or sudoku,” she said. (Crossword puzzles involve words, of course, while sudoku involves numbers. But what they have in common is pattern thinking.)
Once I realized that thinking in patterns might be a third category, alongside thinking in pictures and thinking in words, I started seeing examples everywhere. (At this point, this third category is only a hypothesis, though I’ve found scientific support for it. It has transformed my thinking about autistic people’s strengths.)
I’m certainly not the first person to notice that patterns are part of how humans think. Mathematicians, for instance, have studied the patterns in music for thousands of years. They have found that geometry can describe chords, rhythms, scales, octave shifts, and other musical features. In recent studies, researchers have discovered that if they map out the relationships between these features, the resulting diagrams assume Möbius strip-like shapes.
The composers, of course, don’t think of their compositions in these terms. They’re not thinking about math. They’re thinking about music. But somehow, they are working their way toward a pattern that is mathematically sound, which is another way of saying that it’s universal. The math doesn’t even have to exist yet.
The same is true in visual arts. Vincent van Gogh’s later paintings had all sorts of swirling, churning patterns in the sky — clouds and stars that he painted as if they were whirlpools of air and light. And, it turns out, that’s what they were! In 2006, physicists compared van Gogh’s patterns of turbulence with the mathematical formula for turbulence in liquids. The paintings date to the 1880s. The mathematical formula dates to the 1930s. Yet van Gogh’s turbulence in the sky provided an almost identical match for turbulence in liquid.
Art sometimes precedes scientific analysis, and the relationship can go the other way too: Scientists can use art to understand math.
Even the seemingly random splashes of paint that Jackson Pollock dripped onto his canvases show that he had an intuitive sense of patterns in nature. In the 1990s, an Australian physicist, Richard Taylor, found that the paintings followed the mathematics of fractal geometry — a series of identical patterns at different scales, like nesting Russian dolls. The paintings date from the 1940s and 1950s. Fractal geometry dates from the 1970s. That same physicist discovered that he could even tell the difference between a genuine Pollock and a forgery by examining the work for fractal patterns.
“Art sometimes precedes scientific analysis,” one of the van Gogh researchers said. And the relationship between art and science can go the other way too: Scientists can use art to understand math. The physicist Richard Feynman revolutionized his field in the 1940s when he devised a simple way to diagram quantum effects. Equations that took months to calculate could suddenly be understood, through diagrams, in a matter of hours.
And then there’s chess. There’s always chess. For a century now, chess has been the petri dish of choice for cognitive scientists. What makes a chess master a chess master? Definitely not words. But not pictures, either (which is what you might think). When a chess master looks at the board, she doesn’t see every game she’s ever played and then find the move that matches the move from a game she played three or five or twenty years earlier or from a nineteenth-century chess match that she’s studied closely. The stereotype of a chess grand master is someone who can think many moves ahead. And certainly, many chess players do strategize that way. But the grand masters retrieve from their memories not more possibilities but better possibilities because they are better at recognizing and retaining patterns or what cognitive scientists call chunks.
Michael Shermer, a psychologist, historian of science, and professional skeptic – he founded Skeptic magazine — called this property of the human mind patternicity. He defined patternicity as “the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data.”
What all these examples tell me is that in society, the three kinds of minds — visual, verbal, pattern thinkers — naturally complement one another. When I recall collaborations in which I’ve successfully participated, I can see how different kinds of thinkers worked together to create a product that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Yet society puts them together without anybody thinking about it.
But what if we did think about it? What if we recognized these categories consciously and tried to make the various pairings work to our advantage? What if each of us was able to say, Oh, here’s my strength, and here’s my weakness — what can I do for you, and what can you do for me?
Let’s apply this same principle to the marketplace. If people can consciously recognize the strengths and weaknesses in their ways of thinking, they can then seek out the right kinds of minds for the right reasons. And if they do that, then they’re going to recognize that sometimes the right mind can belong only to an autistic brain.
We have a lot farther to go, of course. Ignorance and misunderstanding are always difficult to overcome when they’ve become part of a society’s belief system. For instance, when the movie The Social Network came out, in 2010, the New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks wrote this assessment of the onscreen character of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook:
“It’s not that he’s a bad person. He’s just never been house-trained.”
The “training” of the fictional character, however, would have had to somehow accommodate a brain that can’t process facial and gestural cues that most people easily assimilate and that finds its greatest fulfillment not in the fizzy buzz of forming a personal relationship but in the click-clack logic of writing code.
A local elementary student wants to help children understand autism. Ashley McNeal has several siblings with the disorder, so she decided to write a book with the hope of raising awareness.
Ashley is a third grader at Reynolds Elementary School. On Monday she read a book she wrote called The Wacky World of Autism.
Please click this link to view the video about Ashley’s book: http://www.13abc.com/global/category.asp?c=210531&autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=8899346
“She came to me and said, ‘I think we should write a book about autism,’ says mom April Sepulveda. “She said ‘There are a lot of kids who do not understand about autism, and I think they need to know.'”
Ashley has a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Four of her five siblings have autism.
“My mom and dad told me autism is something that happens to Ike which makes him act different. At first, I was scared,” says Ashley.
Her brother Isaiah, also known as Ike, is the main character of the book
“My favorite part of the book is when I try to give my brother a hug before I leave for school,” she says.
Although Ike doesn’t like to be hugged, Ashley now understands why.
“He seemed to live in his own world,” she says. “Now I know the reason is autism.”
She wrote the book so that other children could understand as well.
Her mother couldn’t be more proud.
“God gave her to me in the perfect order, because she is patient, and she is the oldest. Very patient and very understanding, and she is the type of person that can see the good in everything,” says April.
Ashley says you have to learn how to treat children with autism.
“Be respectful, and don’t stare at them, because it might make them nervous,” she says.
She hopes her book will help.
- Family life with autism (hannahraphy.wordpress.com)
SAP partners with Specialisterne to employ people with autism in tech jobs
Software company SAP is joining forces globally with Specialisterne to employ people with autism as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists following pilot projects in Ireland and India.
Specialisterne’s focus is on employing people with autism in technology-oriented roles.
Under the partnership with SAP, Specialisterne will extend its operations to support SAP’s global expansion of the programme over the next several years.
The partnership follows successful pilot projects in Ireland and India that empowered people with autism to excel in their areas of strength.
At the moment, the Ireland pilot project is completing the screening phase for five positions to be filled this year.
“By concentrating on the abilities that every talent brings to the table, we can redefine the way we manage diverse talents,” said Luisa Delgado, member of the executive board of SAP AG, human resources.
“With Specialisterne, we share a common belief that innovation comes from the ‘edges.’ Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”
Thorkil Sonne, founder of Specialisterne and chairman of the board, Specialist People Foundation, said SAP is the first company to partner with them on a global scale.
“We are very excited by this opportunity to enable SAP’s global access to a huge pool of untapped talent,” Sonne said.