Entrepreneur Creates Opportunites for those with Autism

Entrepreneur Thorkil Sonne has discovered that individuals with autism make exceptional employees in the IT sector. As a father whose son was found to be on the autism spectrum, Sonne was initially in despair over the diagnosis until he quickly realized autism has its advantages. People with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) possess the ability to grasp ideas and perfectly execute certain functions. Well suited to testing tools, they are adept at following structures and repeat functions.

These revelations inspired Sonne to change his career from social entrepreneur to leading an IT consulting business in Denmark that almost exclusively recruits individuals with autism. He has placed many of these workers where they do double-the-work in the same amount of time as their neurotypical counterparts, with fewer mistakes. 

Sonne has started an organization called the Specialist People Foundation. Their logo is a dandelion to invoke their management philosophy called the “Dandelion Model." Known as a pesky weed to be eradicated in order to create a uniformly green lawn, the dandelion also has superb healing and nourishing properties when planted specifically and used for its positive qualities. So it is with individuals with autism. When carefully placed, they are invaluable assets to companies. It’s a win-win situation for employer and employee and an exciting trend. A quote on the Specialist People Foundation Web site sums it up, “Innovation needs variation…placing value on differences creates innovation. That’s the key for 21st century management."

The Specialist People Foundation recently hosted a global conference of parties representing twenty-five different countries united for the purpose of promoting career opportunities for individuals with autism. The conference helped further the foundation’s ambition of creating one million jobs globally for people with ASD and similar challenges. Teams are planning chapters of the foundation in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, USA, Turkey, Singapore, Dubai and many other countries. 

Thorkil Sonne’s awesome work is creating a wave of the future when individuals with autism are recognized and rewarded for their considerable gifts.

For more information, visit http://www.specialistpeople.com

Neuroscientist Links Autism with Internet Use


Neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield of Oxford University has created a firestorm of controversy by correlating autism with increased computer use amongst children. She contends that the use of social networking Web sites is altering children’s brains, creating shorter attention spans, an expectation of instant gratification and a lack of empathy (i.e. “autistic-like traits").  She proceeds to point out that individuals with autism are particularly drawn to using computers speculating, “Of course, we do not know whether the current increase in autism is due more to increased awareness and diagnosis of autism, or whether it can – if there is a true increase – be in any way linked to an increased prevalence among people of spending time in screen relationships. Surely it is a point worth considering,’” she added.

Her notions are irksome at best. The real threat of social networking sites is not an inducement of “autistic-like traits," but the encouragement of passive aggressive behavior amongst young people who use the medium for cyberbullying purposes, effectively creating a world of real human interaction and an environment where anything goes. Numerous tragedies have unfolded in which teens have committed suicide after their personal lives were invaded and shared exponentially through someone hitting the “send” button on a computer or cell phone. 

But none of this has to do with true autism. And I grow tired of the phrase “lack of empathy” being ascribed in a blanket manner to individuals with autism. We have already heard from Cambridge professor Simon Baron-Cohen that autism is tantamount to evil because evil is a lack of empathy. He attached qualifiers, yet the message remains. 

Granted, people on the autism spectrum have trouble reading social cues and can inadvertently ride roughshod over people’s feelings, not out of malice, but out of obliviousness. But we also know that their affective empathy is so keen as to be overwhelming. It’s not that they don’t feel for others, they feel too much. 

Greenfield backtracked about implying that Internet use induces autism after scorching criticism that it was actually more awareness and better diagnoses that account for the surge in cases (that theory’s too facile as well). But no one zeroed in on her implication that “normal” teens can regretfully become “autistic-like” from computer overexposure. 

Facebook has actually been shown to be a positive for teens with autism, providing a kind of social crib sheet and helping them track names and faces of other kids at their school. I have teen twins on the spectrum and while neither of them use Facebook, they are active members in online communities centered around their special interests. One of them maintains a blog about politics and philosophy that connects him to very heady thinkers, while the other participates in science discussions. They both have incredibly long attention spans when it comes to their special interests.

Yes, there are dangers and drawbacks to the Internet. Yes, it requires an effort to balance on screen time with real world interactions and experiences. But there’s a baby in that bathwater that need not be thrown out.


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit http://SusanMoffitt.com

Drum Therapy for Autism

Courtesy: Studio10.asia

When I recently took my fifteen-year-old son with Asperger’s to his weekly therapy session, I was thrilled when he was offered the chance to participate in drum therapy. Instantly, I recalled the days when he was a toddler throwing a spectacular meltdown, beating himself with his fists until I set a drum in front of him and he pounded it instead. A broad smile came across his face as his frenetic energy transformed from self destructive behavior to music. 

Drum therapy is gaining in popularity as a means of reaching children with autism. For instance, The Drumming for Autism Project in New Jersey started as a “School Peacemaker” program to address the needs of youth through creative self expression then expanded to specifically address autism. The stated objectives of the project are increased and improved socialization and the reduction of anxiety and behavioral problems. Additional, some experts contend that drumming helps individuals access their right-brain which controls emotions, intuition, artistry and relaxation. This is of particular benefit to the child with autism and can provide a type of neurological re-patterning for a concrete thinker. 

Drum therapy encompasses hand/eye coordination, vestibular movement and visual perception. How to hold sticks, where to strike the instruments and necessary body movement are all part of an occupational therapy lesson come to life in a meaningful way.

Drumming also provides a functional activity that supports language skills such as categorization, sequencing, predicting, turn taking, listening, problem solving and following directions. The complexity and “call and response” action of drumming mimics and encourages human speech. The structure and repetition of drumming appeals to individuals on the autism spectrum and gives them an outlet for their emotions and a means to channel their energy. 

In starting your child’s drum therapy, be sure to give the teacher the heads-up about his or her particular strengths and deficits. learning style and triggers. One-to-one sessions are recommended as a starting point for them to garner the skills to later join a drumming group. Being part of an ensemble is a valuable experience for anyone, but especially for the child with autism challenged by social skill deficits. Finding people who share their special interests is the surest path to friendship for those with autism spectrum disorders.

While formalized drum therapy has its place, so does simply having a drum at home for your child or playing drums with them. How many times has it been said that children with autism march to the beat of a different drummer? Drumming helps them find and keep that beat.

Food Safety and Autism


In my opinion, the search for “the cause” of autism is a misnomer, because in our modern world there is no single cause, but a complex of environmental factors that trigger a genetic predisposition. While our technological advances have aided us, they have also hurt us in terms of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the stress we absorb on a daily basis.

In the last twenty years, America as seen a 400 percent increase in allergies and ADHD, a 300 percent spike in asthma and skyrocketing cases of autism. Obesity is a national health crisis and we have the highest cancer rate on the planet. Those two decades correspond to at least three trends: an intensified childhood vaccination schedule, increased births by c-section and the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) into our food supply. 

Driven by profitability, genetically modified foods now account for as much as 80% of our food supply. GMOs have yet to be tested as safe for human or animal consumption and represent a perpetual criss-cross of bacteria and virus contamination from a myriad of genetic versions of multiple crops and animals. 

American GMO crops are subsidized and deregulated. If a bio-tech company merely says its products are safe, that is currently sufficient for approval. While over 40 nations have either banned genetically engineered (GE) food or required labeling of it, the United States has not joined their ranks. Prolific use of pesticides compound our food safety hazards.

So what can you do on a personal level to address the sorry state of our food sourcing for you and your family? 

Certified organic food is a good path to take, but outrageously expensive. But you need not forego safety entirely for cost. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out that while commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue, vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables.

Here are five strategic organic foods that Dr. Alan Greene, author of “Raising Baby Green,” has identified as making the biggest impact on the family diet:

1. Milk: “When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,” says Dr. Greene. People who switch to organic milk typically do so because they are concerned about the antibiotics, artificial hormones and pesticides used in the commercial dairy industry. One recent United States Department of Agriculture survey found certain pesticides in about 30 percent of conventional milk samples and low levels in only one organic sample. The level is relatively low compared to some other foods, but many kids consume milk in large quantities.

2. Potatoes: Potatoes are a staple of the American diet. A simple switch to organic potatoes has the potential to have a big impact because commercially-farmed potatoes are some of the most pesticide-contaminated vegetables. A 2006 U.S.D.A. test found 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the EWG. 

3. Peanut butter: More acres are devoted to growing peanuts than any other fruits, vegetable or nut, according to the U.S.D.A. More than 99 percent of peanut farms use conventional farming practices, including the use of fungicide to treat mold, a common problem in peanut crops. Given that some kids eat peanut butter almost every day, this seems like a simple and practical switch. 

4. Ketchup: For some families, ketchup accounts for a large part of the household vegetable intake. About 75 percent of tomato consumption is in the form of processed tomatoes, including juice, tomato paste and ketchup. Notably, recent research has shown organic ketchup has about double the antioxidants of conventional ketchup.

5. Apples: Apples are the second most commonly eaten fresh fruit, after bananas, and they are also used in the second most popular juice, after oranges, according to Dr. Greene. But apples are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. The good news is that organic apples are easy to find in regular grocery stores.

A complete list of Dr. Greene’s organic choices is available at Organic Rx on his website. Another simple guideline proffered by Dr. Mark Hyman is to never eat anything that has ingredients you can’t pronounce and nothing with more than five ingredients. 

As parents of children with autism, we are especially mindful of our children’s dietary needs, knowing that it lays the foundation for their health and well-being. It’s heartening that we can find ways to balance our awareness of the importance of pure food and our family budget.


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit http://SusanMoffitt.com

Update on Child with Autism Removed From Home

Derek Hoare

Courtesy: John Van Putten

An Autism Key reader named Laurie wrote in to update us on a heartbreaking story involving Ayn Van Dyk, a nine-year-old Canadian girl seized by authorities after being safely recovered from an autism wandering episode. 

Derek Hoare, Ayn’s father, briefly lost sight of her while she was playing in their backyard, which is surrounded by a six-foot fence. He immediately called police and a frantic search found her safe over at the neighbor’s pool. Four days after the incident, Hoare’s daughter was removed from her home by authorities, who maintained they were lightening the load of the single father of three. Ayn has been held in a psychiatric facility and Derek’s nightmare has lasted nearly two months.

Laurie’s note stated the following:

"Derek is cautiously optimistic that she will be coming home. He has been asked to give details of his support team and plan that will be in place if/when she is returned to him. The autism specialist also recommended that she not be given the 6 week psychiatric assessment that was mentioned [in your article]. This is good news. You may also follow on Twitter @AynComeHome or @Justice4Ayn. I am not family — I am a volunteer trying to help raise awareness about the situation."

It seems that pressure upon the authorities by the autism community and other concerned parties may be forcing a resolution that restores this little girl to her father and brothers. May it be so.

The video below gives an overview of this story. Some adult language is included, so viewer discretion is advised.

Autism Mother Objects to Beauty Pageant Award

Tahnee Myles

Tahnee Myles (Courtesy: Fiona Hamilton of the Herald Sun)

Melbourne, Australia brings us a bizarre story about a mother of a little girl with autism who entered her daughter in a child beauty contest with neurotypical fellow contestants and is now protesting its outcome.

Leonie Myles was shocked and furious when her nine-year-old daughter, Tahnee, won a prize for best personality, despite her autism. She contended that her daughter’s lack of social skills could not possibly qualify her for best personality and was offended by the prize, as if it were some sort of cruel joke.

The judges maintained the contest was about making children feel good about themselves and stood by their decision.

One look at a picture of Tahnee shows a radiant little girl, full of exuberance and warmth. 

Are good social skills really necessary to have a great personality? I think not. 

The unfiltered exuberance of a child with autism, their spontaneity and presence in the moment are true gifts. Yes, they can meltdown, yes they can careen through social situations without a clue, but personality is an inner light shared with the world. This mother is sending a negative message to her daughter by objecting to this award.

My personal feelings about child beauty pageants are entirely negative and a very vocal segment of Melbourne’s population is of the same mind.

There is a pageant for special needs children that operates out of Arizona and perhaps the mother of this little girl could channel her energy towards creating something similar in her own country.

Autism Insurance Breakthroughs Called Into Question


Recent reports from Disability Scoop confirm the old adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is." In early July, California officials announced deals with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of California under which the insurers said they would provide coverage for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for individuals with autism. 

Sounds like a fantastic breakthrough until you read the fine print. The ABA must be administered by a state-licensed provider and to date, California has no mechanism for even licensing ABA therapists. Outraged advocates from the Alliance of California Autism Organizations, Consumer Watchdog and other groups charge that the requirements “will lead to delays, interruptions and continued denials of treatment.” It could take up to two years for a licensing system to be established, two years in which children with autism languish without treatment. 

As autism advocates press for ABA coverage nationwide, the issue of who licenses therapy providers is emerging as the flashpoint of dispute. Lawmakers in Virginia recently approved legislation requiring insurance coverage for ABA starting in 2012, but a last minute amendment by the governor added that same proviso that the ABA therapist must be licensed by the state. Again, no state licensing agency exists, so the reality is that the 2012 start date for coverage is a cruel joke. Further requirements of pre-authorization and independent evaluation of services slow down delivery of services even more.

Even if a fast-tracking clause was added to the Virginia law to speed up the creation of the state regulatory agency, only 10 objections are needed to thwart the effort. The unsurprising opponents include the National Federation of Independent Business, Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Virginia Association of Health Plans. All have balked at the potential costs. A spokesman for the insurance lobby pointed out that insurance companies are free to cover ABA if they wish, yet realistically none will without a mandate to do so.

The Behavior Analyst Certification Board was established in 1998 as a national entity and set rigorous standards for certification of ABA therapists. An international association of behavioral therapist also exists. Adding another laying of bureaucracy at the state level seems designed to forestall needed coverage while still appearing responsive to the crisis of autism.


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit http://SusanMoffitt.com

Military Families Confront Autism


Every family affected by autism experiences stress, but try to imagine the burdens of a military family coping with the disorder. Not only is the father or mother at risk in a foreign land, but military families have to move frequently as they are reassigned to new bases. These disruptions and uncertainties would be a struggle for any child, but for one with autism, can be overwhelming.

Recent statistics indicate that one in eighty-eight children of active duty service members are affected by autism and less than ten percent of these children are receiving the care and attention they so need and deserve. Military insurance or TRICARE, currently has an overabundance of red tape that takes months and even years to negotiate — precious time lost in the quest for early intervention. And existing ABA coverage is capped at half the number of recommended hours of treatment per week.

The Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act seeks to rectify this situation by eliminating this cap and streamlining access to services. It also extends autism services to dependents of military retirees. 

Congressmen John Larson (CT) and Walter Jones (NC) introduced the bill in June after a grassroots effort by wives of servicemen brought this crisis to the attention of Congress. These staunch advocates point out that challenges of autism, coupled with the lack of access and cost of treatment, can push their families to the edge. After years of active duty, no one wants to tell their spouse they can’t retire and must return to the war zone in order to pay for their child’s autism treatment.

To find out how you can support the Caring for Military Kids with Autism Act go to http://cmkaa.wordpress.com/


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit http://SusanMoffitt.com

Psychiatrist Deems Autism “Fashionable”

The DSM-IV is the diagnostic manual that defines all psychiatric disorders. After much controversy, Asperger’s Syndrome is now being included in the DSM-5 (2013 edition) as an autism spectrum disorder, relinquishing its once separate diagnosis. Language delays are no longer among the criteria for the new ASD and questions remain as to how mental challenges such as Fragile-X syndrome will be treated.

Dr. Allen Frances pioneered the diagnostic “bible” and is unhappy about the pending changes, going so far as to claim that the autism epidemic is a by-product of over-diagnosis. According to Frances, autism is now a “fashionable” disorder popularized by movie stars like Jenny McCarthy, Internet advocacy, support groups and media coverage. He went so far as to say: 

"Autism is no longer seen as an extremely disabling condition, and many creative and normally eccentric people have discovered their inner autistic self.

My hackles went up at that, because he seems to be confusing acceptance of autism with its glorification. If he perused the newspapers and kept pace with the ongoing cases in which individuals with autism are discriminated against and even persecuted, I think he’d lose that tone. It’s not like a diagnosis ushers someone into a magical world in which all their needs are addressed and they are then considered cool. On the contrary, services are scant and schools are ill-equipped to handle the disorder. 

One thing that really gets to me as the mother of high functioning twins is the characterization of Asperger’s as "mild" because it makes it sound innocuous and not the heartbreaking ordeal that it actually is. The Catch-22 is that while individuals with Asperger’s are more functional, their competency qualifies them to feel more vulnerable and isolated. Mainstreamed, they still live apart and know it.

Not wanting to believe that this is all there is to his story, I did further research on Dr. Frances and found a piece by him that cast him in a more thoughtful light. For example, he points out that the proliferation of diagnostic labels is a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry, who get to peddle more drugs for every articulated condition in the manual. It lead me to appreciate the timing of the drug companies now eager to market once off-label anti-psychotic drugs to everyone on the autism spectrum, as I wrote about in a previous article. For instance, Frances indicated that the proliferation of new and unnecessary labels in behavioral problems leads to over-medication that culminates in medically induced, full-blown conduct disorder.

The diagnostic manual was Dr. Allen’s baby and he’s now upset that a new wave of clinicians have taken custody of it. That’s understandable. He also has valid objections. But those objections aren’t going to be heard and appreciated if he doesn’t craft his words more carefully.


Susan Moffitt is the mother of high functioning twin sons with autism. When not advocating for them, she pursues her multiple creative passions of fine art, piano composition and writing. She is the author of "Upstream," a compilation of poetry, fiction and anecdotal tales that deal with raising twins with autism. For more information, visit http://SusanMoffitt.com

Syracuse University to Host Free Neurodiversity Conference

Neurodiversity is both a concept and a movement that maintains autism to be a variation of human brain wiring rather than something to be eradicated. Proponents seek to improve the quality of life of those with autism and to promote their civil rights as individuals.

Syracuse University is hosting a regional symposium on neurodiversity and autistic self-advocacy on August 5, 2011. The conference seeks to raise public awareness of neurodiversity and dispel myths about what it means to be against curing autism, the most controversial aspect of its platform. To wade into the debate about to cure or not to cure is like the issue of vaccinating vs. not vaccinating, a quagmire of vociferous opinions on both sides. 

Having become more and more aware of the prejudices and at times, persecution that individuals with autism face, I applaud the work of the neurodiversity community in championing autism civil rights and expanding employment opportunities for individuals on the spectrum. I don’t think their attitudes about a cure are black and white and I would like to find out what is said at the symposium on this topic as a battle between the high and low functioning end of the spectrums is futile – we just need to encompass the needs of everyone affected by the disorder, no matter how mild or severe. 

Among seven other topics of the symposium will be self-empowerment through facilitated communication and other non-verbal forms of communicating, expanding neurodiversity beyond autism into other conditions such as ADHD and Tourette’s. Ari Ne’eman, founding president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the Vice Chair of Engagement on the National Council on Disability will be presenting as the keynote speaker. 

Registration is free and space is still available. More info can be found at http://neurodiversitysymposium.wordpress.com

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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