Category Archives: News


Child vaccinations drop in inner-city and bayside Melbourne

Article by Alfred Chan, for The Age

A swath of inner-city, affluent Melbourne suburbs are falling below safe vaccination rates for children, leaving doctors worried about an increased risk of potentially fatal diseases.

Victoria has one of the highest immunisation rates in the country, but Health Department data shows several inner-city and bayside areas, including St Kilda, Fitzroy North, Camberwell, Toorak and Brighton, are below the state average.

Just over 93 per cent of Victorians have received the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine, but pockets of Melbourne are now dipping below this rate, a trend Australian Medical Association Victoria vice-president Dr Tony Bartone says can be problematic.

”We have a cast-iron dogma: anything under 93 is unsafe,” he says.

Health Department data shows just 81.29 per cent of five-year-olds in the City of Melbourne are immunised. The City of Stonnington, which includes Toorak and South Yarra, is at 86.51 per cent, City of Port Phillip (Albert Park, St Kilda and Elwood) 88.13 per cent, City of Bayside (Brighton, Hampton and Beaumaris) 90.36 per cent, City of Yarra (Fitzroy North and Richmond) 90.56 per cent and City of Boroondara (Kew, Camberwell and Hawthorn) 92.31 per cent.

The MMR vaccine is given to children at 12 months and 18 months. To be considered immunised a child must have received both doses and catch-up doses are available on request.

Dr Bartone worries that educated professional parents from ”affluent” suburbs are either underestimating the risk of preventable diseases or not immunising over ”unsubstantiated claims linked to autism”. He said research had proved ”beyond doubt” that was not the case.

New father Dave Hawkes, 37, a Melbourne University virologist from Footscray, said he and his wife Amanda consulted a doctor about the potential risks of immunisation when their first child, Tom, was born in November.

”I think there are risks and benefits, but the benefits far outweigh the risks,” Dr Hawkes said. “The information that is omitted is what is misleading for parents. If you’re reading something about vaccination and it doesn’t give you a risk and benefit, it is probably biased.”

In Victoria, parents are required to provide their child’s vaccination history to primary schools, but there are no requirements for children who have not received the MMR vaccine.

Mother of eight, 42-year-old Tasha David, of Melton West, is a member of the anti-immunisation lobby that was known as the Australian Vaccination Network until it was ordered by a court to change its name last year.

She says she made the conscious decision not to immunise her two youngest children when her first six developed chronic illnesses after receiving all the recommended vaccinations. Three have autism ranging from mild to severe, she says, while her youngest children have no serious health issues.
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Protecting disabled people in group homes



TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: For 30 years, the institutional model for disabled care has been disappearing across Australia. Instead, more and more people with disabilities have moved into small group homes, living in the community.

For many, the change has led to better outcomes, but others have experienced disturbing incidents of abuse and neglect.

Tonight, for the first time on television, one of the victims of a group home worker speaks out.

Social affairs correspondent Norman Hermant reports.

NORMAN HERMANT, REPORTER: This is a trip back in time for Anita Reidy and her son, Martin.

More than a century after it first opened as a psychiatric hospital, the buildings at Peat Island in New South Wales’ Hawkesbury region now sit empty.

Martin Reidy, who has Asperger’s syndrome, lived here for nearly two decade. He was amongst the last to leave in 2010 when the residential centre for the disabled was finally shut. His mother didn’t want that to happen. Anita Reidy helped lead the fight to try to keep Peat Island open.

ANITA REIDY: I remember the years here with gratitude, great gratitude, because I didn’t get any help before Marty accessed Peat Island centre. No help at all.

NORMAN HERMANT: But today, Anita Reidy is happy with her son’s new life in a group home on the NSW Central Coast. Martin lives largely independently in his own room with his own kitchen.

What’s good about having your own apartment like this?

MARTIN REIDY: Um, where I was before at Peat Island, I had to share with a few other people and I had to have my meals in the same kitchen, but now I’ve got my own kitchen and my own TV and own bedroom.

NORMAN HERMANT: That’s your own independence, really.

MARTIN REIDY: Own independence. Yeah, I can do my own thing. That’s exactly right.

NORMAN HERMANT: Australia began to deinstitutionalise care for the disabled more than three decades ago. Inquiries labelled them grim warehouses, rife with stories of abuse and neglect. The minister overseeing the closure of the last big residential disabled centres in NSW says there’s no turning back.

JOHN AJAKA, NSW MINISTER FOR DISABILITY: It’s clearly the appropriate way. The feedback, as I said earlier, is very positive in relation to group homes. The staff that are retained in the group homes are very experienced staff. And the most important aspect of it is the residents at group homes are able to live a life their way.

NORMAN HERMANT: But there are many families who don’t agree.

Jan Cox’s daughter, Samantha, has a rare chromosomal condition and is intellectually disabled. She has lived in a NSW group home for 13 years.

These pictures were taken after a staff member jumped on Samantha to restrain her in 2012. Police investigated, but did not lay charges. The department responsible for disability services told Samantha’s mother that it was, “… deeply saddened someone so vulnerable could be hurt.”

There was more to come. This September, Samantha Cox was locked in the garage at her group home for nearly two hours. Her mother says, for her daughter, it was a traumatic experience.

JAN COX: She used a bucket or something in the garage to go to the toilet and found some paper to actually wipe herself. I think that’s extremely degrading.

NORMAN HERMANT: The ABC has learned of another series of alleged incidents at this group home in Sydney’s south. The parents of three male residents allege a young man recently placed in the home physically assaulted and attempted to sexually assault other residents. The ABC understands the young man at the centre of the allegations has been removed from the home.

The vulnerability of people with disabilities living in small groups with little supervision has been laid bare this year in Victoria. Vinod Kumar, a worker employed by Yooralla, the state’s largest operator of group homes, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for sexually assaulting three residents under his care. For the first time on television, one of his victims, whom we’ll “Sarah”, is speaking out. 40 years old, with cerebral palsy and confined to a wheelchair, “Sarah” was repeatedly assaulted.

“SARAH”: Nearly every shift he was suggesting that he and me should have sexual intercourse. I’d say, “No thanks. No thanks. Not interested.” But then when I needed to go toilet or bed or something and I wasn’t in my chair and couldn’t do anything to defend myself, he would take advantage of that fact.

NORMAN HERMANT: How long did the sexual abuse go on for?

“SARAH”: Too long. It shouldn’t have gone on at all. I’d say – can’t remember exactly because I take myself to another place.

NORMAN HERMANT: Do you hope now, after all that you’ve gone through, that there’ll be a change in the way that group homes are administered?

“SARAH”: Most definitely. Otherwise, what am I doing here? Because I really don’t want anyone else to have to go through the whole ordeal of what I went through.

NORMAN HERMANT: Victoria’s Public Advocate, responsible for protecting the rights of the disabled, says this case is more proof there is still much to do.

COLLEEN PEARCE, VICTORIAN PUBLIC ADVOCATE: International research shows that people are going to do much better in small-scale settings where they have access to a home-like environment and are included in the community. But what sits alongside of that, it’s really important that there’s monitoring of those services, and that’s what we see very broadly is missing from the service system.

NORMAN HERMANT: Back on the NSW Central Coast, Anita Reidy is heading home after another successful visit with her son.

ANITA REIDY: This model works well for Marty and I think has developed his understanding and his tolerance of other people.

NORMAN HERMANT: For Martin Reidy, a group home has meant a better life. Advocates say it will take much more training and regulation to make sure his experience is repeated nationwide.

TRACY BOWDEN: Norman Hermant with that report.


Encountering autism: Police Training DVD

Article by Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On a daily basis, police officers responding to calls for service face myriad questions in sizing up the people they encounter: Are they armed? Injured? Combative? Inebriated? Suicidal? On drugs? Physically ill? Mentally ill? A fugitive? A threat to themselves or others?

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said officers need to add another possibility: Is the person autistic?

To that end, he has commissioned the production of a DVD titled “Encountering People with Autism” for police and other first responders who may come in contact with those diagnosed with some form of the mysterious brain disorder, characterized by social difficulties, communication problems and repetitive behaviors and fixed interests. The project was spurred by Scott Bailey, a part-time Aspinwall and Millvale police officer and a full-time Allegheny County 911 emergency dispatcher, and deputy district attorney Tom Swan, both of whom have children with autism.

The purpose of the 20-minute, professionally produced DVD is to make officers aware of the characteristics, tendencies, behavior issues and other personality traits of persons diagnosed with autism. The hope is to avoid the possibility of officers or autistic persons being injured because an officer misinterprets the actions of a person with autism, which could include fleeing, repeating or not responding to warnings or commands, or throwing a tantrum, among others. Elsewhere in the country, persons with autism have been fatally shot by police officers who reacted to actions they thought were life-threatening but were instead manifestations of the disorder.

The DVD will be distributed in early March to each of the more than 100 police departments in the county as a training tool. Also at that time, departments will receive packets for families of persons with autism that will include stickers for homes and vehicles, information on applying for grants from the DA’s office for its already existing autistic service K-9 project, and for its upcoming GPS tracking device program, as well as other information.

“Throughout the course of my administration, two of my goals have been to make sure that our local law enforcement has the best training possible, and to use this office as a community-based resource, rather than simply an office that reacts to situations,” Mr. Zappala said. “This project will help to forward both of those goals as well as strengthen the relationship between police departments and their communities.

“I am excited that we were able to put together a first-class training program in such a timely and efficient manner.”

Officer Bailey, who helped spearhead a symposium for first responders on autism in November 2012, and Mr. Swan said the need for officer awareness of autism has increased exponentially. As noted in the DVD, 1 in 150 children born in 2000 was diagnosed as autistic. That figure has tripled, to 1 in 50.

“The numbers have increased so much that, sooner or later, anyone in law enforcement is going to be running into someone with autism,” Mr. Swan said. “The idea is to try to make everyone safer, protecting both the police officer and the person with autism.”

“This is long overdue,” Officer Bailey said. “I’m not doing this for my boys but for the thousands of families that don’t have a voice. This is a step in the right direction. I don’t want to hear any horror stories.”

The video, produced by Michael Bartley and Frank Caloiero and co-produced by Mr. Swan, will be discussed on WQED-TV on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. by Mr. Zappala and Mr. Swan on Mr. Bartley’s weekly discussion program “conversations@WQED.”

Shot in June and August, the video includes information from the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and scenarios involving people with autism that Officer Bailey said were inspired by real-life events, some of which he encountered himself. There’s a domestic disturbance with a witness who has autism; a “meltdown” on a school bus by a student with autism; a teenager with autism attracted to a shiny hubcap who runs when police pull up; a teenager with autism who appears impervious to a car accident injury; a child with autism who wanders from her home.

Every autistic person is unique, but the video presents various characteristics some autistic persons might display sensitivity to sounds such as sirens, barking police K-9s and police radios; unusual speech; scripting, or repeating lines from TV shows or movies; echoing or repeating what the police officer says; poor concentration; rocking back and forth; poor eye contact; hand flapping; indifference to the situation; sensitivity to touching or a high pain threshold; non-responsiveness to commands and orders.

Officers are urged to identify themselves, to speak slowly and simply, to make no quick motions, to reassure the person they are not going to harm them, to allow time for responses, to use as few words as possible and to remove sunglasses.

They should be aware that a person with autism can be attracted to shiny objects, which could include an officer’s badge, keys, handcuffs or even their gun.

Most of the roles of persons with autism are played by those with autism in real life, including Officer Bailey’s sons, Trevor, 15, and Trent, 14, and Mr. Swan’s son, Kevin, 17. Officer Bailey and his wife, Tina, and Mr. Swan also play roles in the video, as do a number of other local police officers, first responders and Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John Zottola, who is pushing for statewide police officer training in recognizing autism.

Mr. Swan, who is in charge of the district attorney’s community crime prevention programs, said the video production, duplication and other charges associated with the DVD amounted to about $15,000, all of which was paid for with drug forfeiture money.

Likewise, forfeiture money has been used in funding the autistic service K-9 program over the last few years in which about five dogs, costing $5,000 apiece, have been given to families to keep an autistic child from roaming. That program will continue this year.

New this year will be grants for about 10 GPS devices for children with autism who have a tendency to roam. The cost, about $3,500, will also be paid from forfeiture money.

Information on the grant programs, stickers for cars and homes alerting first responders that a special needs person may be inside and may not understand simple commands, and a voluntary registration for 911 of the residence of a person with autism will be available in March at local police departments.

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Hudson Valley Emergency Department Launch new Autism Friendly Service

Article sourced from News Medical

HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s Broadway Campus Emergency Department is launching a dynamic new program to provide an “autism-friendly” experience for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). With autism affecting 1 in 88 children, according to Autism Speaks®, the commitment to addressing the specialized needs of Emergency Department patients with ASD is timely.

Patients with autism react and communicate differently, requiring a special approach to creating a safe and supportive environment – especially in emergency situations. Recognizing the opportunity to develop a comprehensive approach for this need, HealthAlliance Emergency Department leadership initiated a special training program for medical providers, nursing staff and key hospital personnel, such as security. Training and presentations will also include the regional Emergency Medical Service providers and Mobile Life Support Services to ensure a continuum of care beginning with the 911 response. Scott Serbin, Director of Education and Research at Emergency Medical Associates (EMA), and Suzanne de Beaumont, Assistant Executive Director at the Resource Center for Accessible Living, Inc. and board member of the Autism Society-Hudson Valley, oversaw the development of the program.

“The autism community in the Hudson Valley is excited to have an ‘autism-friendly’ Emergency Department. We congratulate the HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley for recognizing the necessity of the Emergency Department to approach its services from the perspective of the patient,” Suzanne de Beaumont.

The “autism-friendly” program consists of new sensory boxes which allow an ASD patient to select an object, such as a squeeze ball or pinwheel, to aid in relaxation. Additionally, the Emergency Department also acquired two iPads to help with communication. “Communication with ASD patients is being facilitated via iPad devices, donated by EMA, which have special visual and auditory icons to help facilitate dialogue between the staff and patient during a medical screening for emergency treatment,” stated Fareed Nabiel Fareed, M.D., Fellow of American College of Emergency Physicians and Director of the Emergency Department at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley.

“Such communication includes the reason the patient has arrived for care, what will happen throughout their stay in the department, rating pain and discomfort and allowing the patient to identify communication preferences.”

The new “autism-friendly” program aligns with HealthAlliance’s initiative to deliver better patient care and improve the overall patient experience. Through these efforts, HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley desires to provide a service to the ASD community throughout the region that sets a standard for dedication, partnership and dynamic outreach that is central to the Emergency Department experience, and serves not only the immediate residents, but the greater community through innovation.

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A (European) World Of Happy Faces

The Orange Foundation

Shoppers are invited to take part in the happy faces event at Orange shops throughout several European countries by taking a “selfie” at an Orange shop on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Samsung Galaxy Gear watch, then customising the photo and posting it on the happy faces

Once the target of 130,000 photos posted has been reached, Samsung will donate 250 Galaxy TAB 3 tablets to Orange Foundation charities supporting children with autism.

The Orange Foundation has been contributing to autism-related causes for over 20 years, helping build homes and fund training, research and holiday schemes. Samsung chose to support this event as one of its worldwide charitable initiatives for children.

With Happy Faces, Orange and Samsung invite us to discover all the Galaxy Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Gear have to offer, while helping children with autism, as digital tablets have been shown to aid their learning.

Happy faces begins in France on 2 January and extends until 31 January 2014 at more than 600 shops. In Romania, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg and Belgium, the event will run from 1to 28 February 2014.

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About the Orange Foundation.

Founded by Orange, France’s largest telecom provider in 1987, Orange Foundation’s mission is to create links between individuals, and in particular to make communication easier for those who are excluded for several reasons; health, handicap or because of their economical situation.

By fighting against sensory isolation, by promoting a better autonomy in the everyday life and in the professional life and by encouraging social and cultural development, Orange Foundation is mobilized to make the world more accessible.

The Foundation has supported work on autism for more than two decades. In Europe, it works hand in hand with charities to create and develop care, training and research centres and to organise vacations.

It brought parents, support staff and researchers together in 2012 for a conference on the latest progress in research. The Orange Spain Foundation organised the first international conference on new technologies applied to autism. In 2012, the Foundation funded 94 projects which aimed to improve the lives of people with autism by providing centres with better equipment, training families and offering people with autism the chance to enjoy hobbies.

It also develops programmes to support people with other types of disabilities. In Armenia, the Foundation supports the Armenian Eye Care Project’s Mobile Eye Hospital. A truck drives through villages offering diagnostic services and treatment for local residents’ vision problems.

The Foundation’s actions in Africa focus on women.
In Madagascar, it supports the Akbaraly Foundation’s mobile clinic project for rural villages. In addition to offering mother and child healthcare services, the project provides testing and diagnostic services for gynaecological and breast cancers.
In Fianarantsoa, a high speed telemedicine system is now used for diagnoses. Also in Madagascar, the Foundation supports EAST, a charity which won the Women’s Forum “Women for Education” Prize for its work in supporting women and education and improving access to healthcare. It is also committed to working with AMREF on the first telemedicine pilot programme in West Africa: 4 isolated hospitals now enjoy long-distance medical assistance.


Surf dog spends New Year’s Eve helping Wounded Warriors, special needs kids

Article by Marie Coronel,

SAN DIEGO – A surfing dog named Ricochet spent the last day of the year in the water with Wounded Warriors and special needs children.

Ricochet may act like a typical golden retriever. But what dog do you know helps with surf lessons?

Gina Gill, 9, was diagnosed with autism. Her parents say she has since developed a love for the water and animals.

At a surfing camp, she met Ricochet, who was originally trained to be a service dog but convinced her owner that is not all she wanted to do.

Now, Richochet leads tandem surf lessons with friends on board.

But Tuesday morning was different. For the first time, Gina’s father Bradley, a retired Marine, got to see her in action after having been in Afghanistan for the past 11 months. It was a moment that brought a tear to his eye.

Richochet’s owner Judy Fridono says that special moment was worth every second.

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Sensory Friendly Haircuts

Article by Leigh Black Irvin, The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — It’s been two months since the New Mexico Autism Society of San Juan County partnered with Utopia, a Farmington hair salon, to provide stress-free haircuts to individuals with autism and other sensory issues. Since that time, 14 people have taken advantage of the service, and organizers say word of the program’s success is spreading nationwide — and even worldwide.

Sarah Shelby, board member for the local autism group, organized the program, called Sensory Snip-Its, and says so far the program appears to be filling a need in the community.

“It’s been going great, and so far we’ve filled up all the slots,” she said. “Everyone’s been very excited, and many salons have e-mailed me to find out more about it.”

In fact, after a November Daily Times article ran, Shelby said a salon in Rio Rancho has adopted the program, and salons in California and Iowa, and even one as far away as Australia are now either offering Sensory Snip-Its or planning to do so.

Many people who fall on the autism spectrum, as well as other people with sensory issues, can’t handle the hustle and bustle of a salon. The bright lights, loud sounds and chemical smells can create a sensory overload that makes it impossible for them to sit in a chair and get a professional haircut. Many parents of autistic children are forced to do the cuts at home, sometimes while their child is sleeping, to avoid causing them trauma.

The concept behind Sensory Snip-Its is to offer a peaceful, quiet and anxiety-free haircutting experience. The haircuts are “dry cuts,” which means the stylist doesn’t even have to wash the client’s hair, so the cuts can be done more quickly.

The cuts are conducted after normal salon hours, and only two clients at a time are served by Utopia Salon Manager Luca Giovannini and stylist Jessica Radoijits.

“It’s caught on like crazy, and I couldn’t believe the attention (the program) has gotten,” Shelby said. “People are taking the idea and putting it to use. The parents who have used our program have been so grateful because many of their kids had never been inside a salon before.”

Shelby, who is the mother of a 12-year-old son with autism, said the parents are able to sit and rest without worrying about their children, and have been able to talk and share information with other parents of children with similar issues while the haircuts take place.

Pat Zellefrow’s fifteen-year-old son, Matthew, is autistic. Matthew recently had a Sensory Snip-Its haircut at the salon, and Zellefrow says it was the first time since he was 10 months old that he’d had a professional cut.

“That was such a bad experience that I went to Wal-Mart and bought a home haircutting kit,” says Zellefrow. “People could tell I cut his hair, and I wanted my son to look like other kids.”

Even at home, Zellefrow says her husband, Clint, would have to hold Matthew down while she clipped his hair.

Zellefrow says Shelby contacted her about the Sensory Snip-Its, and she saw it as a great opportunity to finally have her son’s hair professionally cut.

“I might have expected (this service) in a bigger city, but I couldn’t believe there was an opportunity like this in Farmington. Since Luca didn’t need to shampoo him, it was done so quickly. The only time Matthew scrunched his shoulders up was when the electric trimmer was on his neck – he didn’t like the sound of it.”

Zellefrow said the lighting was adjusted to be less stimulating. She said it was relaxing to sit and talk to the other mothers present.

“It gave me a good feeling to know that they would do this out of the goodness of their hearts, and take the time to help these kids out,” she said. “It also helped my son’s confidence. When Luca asked how he liked his haircut, Matthew said, ‘I love it!’ Conversation is so rare for him, so that was great.”

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Autistic Athlete has Down Under dream

Article by Greg Little/Standard Journal

TETON — To say Charles Olinger is a special person might be an understatement.

In many ways, he’s a typical high school student and athlete. At 6-feet, 4-inches, Charles is a multi-sport athlete. He’s now playing on the South Fremont basketball team and was a standout on the football team this past season.

Charles, 18, is a senior at South Fremont and now he has a bigger dream — a trip to Australia to participate in the “Down Under Tournament” as a football player.

“This is an opportunity to do something special, to gain experience,” said Charles.

The long road

To think that Charles, 18, even has the chance to go to Australia — as well as Hawaii and New Zealand — might have been unthinkable when he was young.

“When he was real young, he lost his speech,” said his dad, John. “We didn’t know what was going on.”

At a school gathering, someone told John that his son might have autism. The only thing John knew about autism was from the movie, “Rain Man.”

When he heard that, John said he was not pleased. But he actually didn’t know enough about autism to make any judgments.

He had a talk with his mother and they decided to seek medical advice. At the time, they lived in Kansas and traveled to Kansas City, Mo., for a medical evaluation.

“He was diagnosed as autistic,” said his dad.

John said they learned a lot about autism and how important it is to have a proper diet.

Once Charles was put on a proper diet, he said his son’s condition improved dramatically. So much so, his son was able to do many more physical activities.

At one point, the family traveled to St. Louis, where they spent three weeks at an institute dedicated to autism.

“I have learned a lot,” said his father.

Hard work

By the time Charles was a high school sophomore, the family had moved to Teton, where he enrolled at South Fremont High School.

There, he became an athlete — and most importantly, a good student.

“I think I am doing well,” said Charles of his academics.

For one, he has to in order to participate in sports.

But Charles is also looking for challenges, as is shown by his class schedule. He’s taking calculus, astronomy, Seminary, beginning drawing, English and government.

That doesn’t even count all of the weight training and other physical training he does to continue to be a standout athlete.

Asked about his future, Charles said he wants to go on an LDS mission but also would like to play some college football while furthering his education. He’s not sure of a major at this point, but said he does enjoy astronomy.

The present

Right now, though, Charles is focused on the opportunity he has to travel to Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.

He’s been invited to participate in the Down Under Sports program in which American athletes travel to participate in tournaments. It’s a program that began in 1989 as a dream of George O’Scanlon, a native of New Zealand. O’Scanlon fell in love with American football and he had a dream of being able to show it to his fellow countrymen as well as people in Australia, where he lived for several years.

He formed International Sports Specialists and the program began with the Down Under Bowl. Since then, thousands of athletes from the United States have participated in the program, which expanded to include basketball and now includes a myriad of sports.

Charles was suggested as a participant by his coach and was eventually selected and invited to play in the competition.

If he can raise the funds, Charles will travel in late June and have the opportunity to play in several football games as well as spend time in Hawaii.

His dad said it will cost around $5,000 for Charles to make the trip.

“We are looking for people who want to help,” said his father.

The family plans to do various fundraising events starting in the near future. But they also need cash donations in order to build a fund to allow Charles the chance to make the trip. If you are interested in helping, you can call John at 458-0112 or 201-6484.

His dad said the trip will be much more than about football. He said it is a cultural and learning experience which he believes would be good for his son.

Total dedication

Charles said he has always enjoyed playing football and he knew it was the sport for him not long after moving to Idaho.

During his sophomore season, Charles caught his first touchdown pass.

“It felt good,” he said.

But to keep in shape, Charles has to work hard and there’s no question he is dedicated.

At the end of school last year, Charles got to the point where he needed a new bicycle. A group from JCC-St. Anthony, the state juvenile corrections facility, found out about Charles and they took matters into their how hands. The group made a custom bicycle and then presented it to Charles.

What has to be understood is that Charles doesn’t just ride around town on his bicycle. In the summer, he rides to the school each day to workout. That’s riding from Teton to St. Anthony, a distance of eight miles, which totals 16 miles each day.

“He’s worked hard,” said his dad.

Like Charles, that, too, may be an understatement.

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This Artist Uses Emoji to Explore Empathy, Autism, and How We Connect

Article by Devon Maloney, for



Every emoji user has at some time argued about the meaning of at least one character. Is that grimacing face gritting its teeth in pain, or merely smiling hugely? Is that red-faced demonic dude furious, or pouting? Like any digital communication, the 14-year-old pictorial language has more than a few gray areas that can lead to communication breakdowns and misinterpretations.

New York performance artist Genevieve Belleveau is fascinated by these misinterpretations. Her piece,Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy, was one of the most intuitive and thought-provoking pieces at the highly regarded Emoji Art Show in Manhattan. It examines the common misinterpretations people make with emoji and features her Emoji Recognition Chart, a catalog of emoji and their corresponding “emotions” as interpreted by Siri’s accessibility translation (yes, Siri speaks verbal interpretations of emoji characters).

The chart mimics psychologist Paul Ekman’s groundbreaking research in microexpressions — the minute facial movements that convey emotion — that is widely used in, among other things, high-functioning autism therapy. During the Emoji Art Show opening earlier this month, Belleveau sat below the poster, a quasi-therapist hosting impromptu sessions with “patients.” She asked people questions based on their understanding of emoji — How would you respond with emoji if your significant other broke up with you right before you were to leave on a trip with them? – and placed them on an “emoji spectrum” based upon how elaborate or interpretive their responses are.

This being an art show, Belleveau’s placement of people on her self-crafted spectrum is hardly scientific. But it is nonetheless telling. If you chose the red-faced emoji (which, according to Siri, is pouting) to answer that hypothetical question, you would not land as highly on the spectrum as someone who crafted a detailed reply using the pig, the knife, and the broken heart. Your ability to recognize the meaning of each emoji and sufficiently understand the nuances to string them together determines your place on the scale.

“Literal language is one of the indicators of Aspbergers, so people who were very literal in their interpretations, they answered the question exactly [without much detail],” Belleveau says. “They were on the lower end of the spectrum.”

Belleveau studies social psychology and sociology to inform her work. “One of the underlying causes I was trying to champion was to raise the question of autism and the idea of differentiating normal and non-normal behavior,” she says. “There’s a lot of conversation about the autism spectrum and whether we’re all on it or not. Language is a very rigid means of expressing the infinite emotional capabilities of humans. It’s a human rights question: Do we need to create these barriers and differences, and what can we do to even the playing field?”

It might seem insensitive to make pop art out of an incredibly complex and widely stigmatized disorder, even if Belleveau’s “consultations” at the NYC show included a woman who works with autistic children. That impression comes only if you’ve never encountered her other work. Belleveau, who describes herself as a “soft psychologist,” uses performance and social ritual to build an overarching narrative in which she embodies an alter-ego — a spiritual “healer/social media guru”-type called gorgeousTaps – to explore correlations between the traditional and modern ways we interact with one another. Belleveau once orchestrated an all-digital “reality show” that challenged contestants to be her best Facebook friend and prompted emotional breakdowns among participants. Another work consisted of a series of church services that blended traditional religious rites with internet rites we perform daily without thought. Her next project, an experiment called Mobile Monastery that kicks off next month, will “investigate urban asceticism in NYC by modifying and inhabiting an RV with the goals of personal artistic exploration and community outreach.”

Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy examines our difficulty grasping the meaning of emoji, and draws parallels to the difficulty those living with autism have recognizing emotion. In that regard, it asks many of the same questions posed by her earlier works.

“I’m interested in relationships between people,” she says. “Maybe ‘relational aesthetics’ is another way to think of it. At the heart of it, [I focus on] why people want to connect with one another, what they do to connect, and what happens when connections break down?”

In that narrative, Emoji Autism Facial Recognition Therapy connects the dots between our understanding of mental illness and how we use emerging technologies to interact with one another. Turns out, there is a concrete description of each emoji, just as there is a definitive way to read facial microexpressions. So it follows that, in the same way children with autism may use Ekman’s microexpression charts to learn empathy techniques that don’t come naturally to them, perhaps we could use Belleveau’s chart to learn the specific definitions of each emoji character to avoid misinterpretations.

Belleveau’s chart raises fascinating questions about the evolution of instant digital communication, our interpretation of that communication, and how our misinterpretations of it may not be so different from the social traits we often we stigmatize. Belleveau is right alongside us; she says the work only prompted more questions, ones beyond those that birthed the piece in the first place.

“By the end of it, I felt like I was doing rune readings,” she says. “All of this was me interpreting the hopes and dreams and feelings of each participant. It was actually very personal; it didn’t have a cold, clinical psychology. I realized I’m incapable of that.”

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Why IVF parents are choosing girls over boys

Article by  Amy Corderoy: Health Editor, Sydney Morning Herald

Parents are increasingly asking to choose the sex of their children in an attempt to lower their baby’s risk of diseases and disorders ranging from cancer to autism, IVF doctors say.

Figures from one of Sydney’s top IVF clinics show about one in 20 parents seeking embryo screening are looking to have a female baby to reduce their risk of autism.

The question is, what is the best thing for that woman: continuing to try on her own and miscarrying versus doing IVF and testing the embryos? We can’t know for sure that everybody definitely benefits.

Fertility experts say the issue is the tip of the iceberg with a huge range of tests becoming available. Some clinics in the US now offer testing for up to 600 different genetic markers.

The medical director of the fertility company Genea, Mark Bowman, said his organisation had done more than 100 cycles of what is known as “pre-implantation genetic diagnosis” this year, mostly for conditions such as cystic fibrosis, where family members have the condition and a gene mutation is known to be responsible.

“In a way these tests are the ultimate preventative medicine,” Associate Professor Bowman said.

National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines say sex selection is not allowed, except to prevent the transmission of a “serious genetic condition”, although some Australian couples travel overseas to have the procedure for ”family balancing”.

He said in about one in 20 cases parents sought pre-implantation diagnosis simply for sex selection to lower their risk of having a child with autism, after having an autistic child. Boys are about four times as likely as girls to have autism, but there is no genetic test for it.

Some also sought sex selection for conditions where the boundaries between genetic and social causes are mired in controversy, such as depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

University of Sydney senior lecturer in bioethics Chris Jordens said autism had a strong genetic basis, so it was within the guidelines. He said sex selection may benefit children with autism, if their parents were able to have a second child that did not have similar high-care needs. But what constituted a “genetic condition” could be blurry.

“There is no kind of perfect line between a genetic condition and a non-genetic condition,” he said. “All diseases that result from environmental factors have genetic components.”

Another senior lecturer in bioethics, Ainsley Newson, said pre-implantation genetic diagnosis was not undertaken lightly.

“It’s not a frivolous decision: it is expensive, has a low success rate and is not covered by Medicare,” she said. “However, these latest requests are interesting because in this case it cannot guarantee that the child will not develop autism – it will only lower the risk.”

Professor Bowman said other frontiers in IVF testing included “whole chromosome” testing for random abnormalities that can cause miscarriage. Yet all tests carried potential risks to the embryo.

“The question is, what is the best thing for that woman: continuing to try on her own and miscarrying versus doing IVF and testing the embryos? We can’t know for sure that everybody definitely benefits.”

Fertility Society of Australia vice president Michael Chapman said the new frontiers posed a “huge challenge”.

At a recent conference in Chicago, he saw a number of United States IVF providers offering parents without the conditions tests for between 180 and 600 common gene mutations, such as the BRCA ”breast cancer” genes.

“No one in Australia is offering this kind of thing yet, but it’s definitely coming, because the demand is there,” he said.

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