study was conducted by Brian Freedman of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders
(CARD) at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, dispelling the popular notion that the
divorce rate among autism families was near 80%. The study found that despite
high stress among families facing autism, 64 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder
had two married biological or adoptive parents, while 65 percent of children who do not have an autism spectrum disorder had two parents.
The findings seemed to contradict previous theories about divorce and autism,
offering little comfort to those within the autism community who have been
impacted by divorce. For these families (including mine), their rate is 100%.
Divorce involving families of children with autism leaves millions of children
in situations that will be detrimental and will certainly cause a child’s progress to be severely impacted.
So, what can be done?
The key is to focus on the big picture. A child’s best interest must be put first and personal battles have to be let go.
Years after arguments and disputes are over, a child’s growth will be obstructed because of the now-forgotten fight.
Putting a child and a relationship at the helm will keep ships sailing back into smooth waters following the rough seas.
A family’s goal after a divorce must be healing the child with autism. Anything and everything beyond that is secondary. Remember, these kids have impeccable memories and think in pictures. Mommy is mommy and daddy is
daddy and the images and painful memories of a divorce will remain for many
years to come.
I have personally chosen that I would rather be alone and respect my child’s relationship with his daddy then to ever try and substitute.
A child does not directly cause the break up and should never have the door
closed to both parents.
A marriage and family counselor of the courts once explained, "When you
break up and see each other again, it’s like sitting on the curb in front of
your house that has just burned down…you are so euphoric to be alive and in
each other’s arms knowing that there’s still a chance."
Many couples have tried reconciliation but cannot avoid breaking up again
because a house needs to be rebuilt and if you don’t correct the things that caused it to burn down in the first place, it will burn down again.
It is always wise to bring counseling in, but it is also important to remain cautious.
Counseling for parents of children with autism has to be extremely specific. Ideas like having
a child get used to two different homes or regularly changing his or her routines may seem like textbook fixes for the
parents and the courts, but can be disastrous for children with ASD. The many years of guidelines set down for children in the court systems are based solely upon
neurotypical children and not children with autism.
Our children’s best interests must become our own if they are going to have a
fighting chance. When a father’s interests are purely those of his son or
daughter, he too will want to come back and fight alongside with you.
The factors that contribute to a divorce in couples facing autism do not
necessarily include the diagnosis itself. It can be related to many other
things, including the lack of resources and support in the schools and community, the sense of worthlessness at helping
a child, the severity of the ASD (which increases without resources) and knowing that there’s more that can be done, but not knowing what that is.
If at all possible, dads need to return home. Their children need them more than
ever. A child’s progress and potential cannot be fully realized unless both
parents are tag-teaming TOGETHER in the battle. Single mothers most likely have sacrificed
everything they have and a father coming home will be like the cavalry showing up in the 23rd hour.
If a spouse never returns, they will be missing out on the many miracles that
occur on a daily basis involving children with autism.
Reconciliation may be a tall order, but children with autism need both their
mommies and daddies and sometimes we must be willing to live for something
greater than ourselves to ensure the best possible outcome.
Last year, Holly Robinson Peete appeared on the hit reality show, Celebrity
Apprentice, where she competed against 13 other contestants in hopes of
benefiting the charity founded by her and her husband. Peete eventually placed
second in the competition, losing to
Poison front man and "Rock of Love" star Bret Michaels.
As part of
their season finale challenge, Peete and Michaels were both assigned to create a new drink flavor
for Snapple, along with a corresponding ad campaign. Michaels, who has diabetes,
came up with the Trop-A-Rocka flavor, while Peete, who has a son with
autism, created Compassionberry Tea. Peete’s drink benefited
the HollyRod Foundation, a non-profit organization that assists those with autism and Parkinson’s
disease, while Michaels’ flavor supported the American Diabetes Association.
Public response to both drinks after the finale was overwhelmingly positive.
However, in a not-so-compassionate move, Snapple has apparently pulled the plug on
Peete’s drink, just one month before Autism Awareness Month.
Earlier last week, she tweeted the following:
"Disappointed 2 hear that @snapple is discontinuing my #compassionberry tea flavor which is not only yummy but spreading #autism awareness…"
were no further details as to why Snapple decided to discontinue Peete’s
Compassionberry flavor, however, in a subsequent tweet, she noted that despite
the move, Snapple
was still continuing to carry the competing tea created by Michaels:
"@Snapple is only discontinuing my #compassionberry supporting #autism happy they r keeping Bret’s tea 4 #diabetes but room 4 both"
Presumably, this was strictly a business decision by Snapple based on sales and/or demand.
However, nixing the drink so close to Autism Awareness Month, while at
the same time keeping Michaels’ flavor, is the kind of move that would be worthy of a hot-seat in Trump’s board room.
Admittedly, I have not tried the drink, however, there have been many who
have commented on its great taste. Compassionberry ingredients include passion
fruit and strawberries, along with traditional tea flavors.
For those who would like to see the Compassionberry Tea make a comeback, a note
can be sent to Snapple’s consumer affairs division here.
Those of you who’ve read my previous articles already know that I was on a quest to make my son’s high school a safe, viable place for him to be. He has Asperger’s, an anxiety
disorder and Crohn’s, so he is facing multiple challenges simultaneously.
Last month, I
posted an article about “Intricate Minds," a video designed to help teachers and classmates appreciate what it’s like to have Asperger’s. I thought
the video would be good for those who my son encounters at school to have a heads-up about his condition.
The thinking was this might cut down on the snickering when he’s having a bad
day or even help modify a teacher’s approach to him. Having shared this video with my son’s principal, she thanked me and said she’d look into it. I’ve heard nothing
My son’s special education teacher is untrained in Asperger’s and has a habit of engaging in verbal
confrontations with him. There used to be a long running skit on Saturday Night Live about a guy who goes to a restaurant, orders a fruit
cocktail and an anvil comes down on the table, yet time and time again he still orders the fruit cocktail. The way my son’s teacher communicates with him is definitely a fruit
Recently, my son became upset by having to do a math worksheet he had already done. Instead of shifting his attention or guiding him to a self-calming activity,
this teacher took him out into the hall to talk about it, which only flooded him with more
anxiety. Pained by the gaping strangers, he totally lost it, whereupon she chastised him for being rude to
his teacher. She then called to inform me that he has had yet another “behavioral
Thinking the CAT-kit might help her find a way to access my son’s emotions without inflaming him, I sent her a link about it.
Once again, no response.
Increasingly exasperated, I recommended that she read up on Dr. Tony Attwood and avail herself of my considerable expertise because the school was not accommodating my son and he was being set up to fail.
An IEP meeting that was set for six weeks ago out suddenly got moved up by five-and-a-half weeks. That meeting was
this past Tuesday and I can only describe it as an invitation to my own beheading. They invoked my son as being a behavior problem, since
this absolves them of all responsibility. I countered that he’s fine when he’s in the appropriate
environment but the principal told me that my son needs to develop coping skills to deal with his environment as it is. I’ve been in this
scenario one-too-many times, even being forced to take the district to court over their desire to put my son in a behavior program that would only turn him into a behavioral problem. I ultimately prevailed, but it took years of turmoil and instability.
I can’t count the number of IEP meetings I’ve been to for both my sons. They range from being gratifyingly productive to an
absolute horror show. This past meeting fell in the latter category. I ended up abruptly walking
out and now I’m poised to sign yet another “Intent to Homeschool” form.
It’s very disheartening that with all of the autism awareness out there, a school system
can be so backwards. Improving special education would take money but they are millions of dollars in the hole.
However, simple steps such as requiring special education teachers to attend educational conferences
on autism would not cost that much financially.
Undoubtedly, my story is not unique and these struggles are being played out
across the country. Despite a lot of progress in the area of autism acceptance
and awareness, my personal experiences are demonstrating that we still have a
long way to go, particularly in our school systems.
Much attention has been given to the accomplishments of individuals on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum.
We hear of gifted savants such as Daniel Tammet or Kim Peek who defy imagination
with uncanny visual, mathematical or historical recollections and abilities.
However, in a category all his own is Tito Mukhopadhyay, a native of India who has been described as “the Rosetta
stone of autism." Despite being non-verbal and in need of constant care, Tito is able to describe and illustrate thoughts about the world he lives in with incredible detail and insightfulness.
Normal brain functioning is described as the combination of numerous processes and systems seamlessly working together. While neurotypical
individuals process sights and sounds immediately, current research indicates that this information is processed at different speeds in our brains, but so rapidly that they seem simultaneous to us.
Mukhopadhyay has described his world as a kaleidoscopic, where he is forced to select a single sense at a time in order to keep
a flood of visual and auditory senses at bay. These descriptions confirm recent theories
about autism and are helping scientists grasp the inner workings of the autistic brain.
Tito’s ability to share his amazing insight is in part due to the tenacious efforts of his mother,
Soma, who was undaunted by his heartbreaking diagnosis at the age of three and insisted upon teaching him to read and write. Untrained in autism, she dedicated herself to reaching her
son and single-handedly developed the Rapid Prompting Method for Autism, a
communication technique that she is generously sharing with others ( http://www.halo-soma.org
Simply put, she trained her son to focus, point and spell using an omnipresent writing
pad and later on through a keyboard. Tito has now evolved into a prolific and gifted author and poet, shocking the world with beautiful stories and poems he began writing between the ages of eight and eleven.
Now in his early twenties, Tito Mukhopadhyay has already written a book entitled “How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move? Inside My Autistic Mind,” an unparalleled look into the heart and mind of a tortured, yet joyous soul. In it, Tito describes how his mind works and the ways he views the world and its neurotypical inhabitants. He also shares his unique perception of speaking stories to a mirror and then having the mirror speak the stories back to him as if it was an entity separate from himself and non simultaneous with his own speech.
Tito once wrote, “With the help of my imagination, I can go to places that do not exist and they are like beautiful
dreams. But it is a world full of improbability racing toward uncertainty.”
The improbable accomplishments of this remarkable young man bring hope to the uncertainty of living with
low-functioning autism. Everyone on the autism spectrum and their loved ones can take heart from this
soulful and accomplished young man.
We recently received a comment by someone who noticed the excessive coverage of
American Idol’s James
Durbin on our site. My response was that we have not covered him nearly enough.
James Durbin is currently shattering many misconceptions and stereotypes about what
special needs are capable of and is raising a tremendous
amount of awareness for both Asperger’s and Tourette’s. The positive feedback we have received about Durbin has been nothing short of
remarkable and he has been responsible for giving hope to many affected by autism and other related disorders. As a result, I feel it’s necessary to
continue reporting on James as much as possible so people will continue to learn
about his story and discover just how far he’s come to get where he is.
A few days ago at an American Idol Top 13 party in Los Angeles, James was
interviewed by HollywodLife.com and opened up about his family, personal
life and even addressed the many comparisons being made to Season 8 American Idol
runner-up, Adam Lambert. The interview, which can be seen below, is fascinating for several reasons.
First of all, it is one of the first times we have seen James in an
unscripted, unedited environment. His facial tics are overwhelmingly
noticeable and while watching the interview, I couldn’t help to think about the horrible
teasing he must have endured while growing up. In fact, a reader posted the following to our site yesterday:
I am from Santa Cruz, California. I know several people who know James, or who have kids who went to school with James. As the story goes, James was bullied horribly for his afflictions. I am not sure if he is on medication or what his deal is. But I know that the tourettes
(sic) and Aspergers (sic) (which was not even named until 1994) were very visable
(sic) in James while he was in school. I have heard stories from too many people.
I wish James well.
And despite his talent and accomplishments, James has received some harsh
criticism online, mostly because people think he’s not "autistic
enough" and others who are die-hard Adam Lambert fans who claim that he’s
only a knock-off version, with a narrower vocal range.
In his interview, Durbin addresses these comparisons and also mentions that he
had auditioned for American Idol several years ago and did not make the cut.
With all of the obstacles and challenges James has overcome over the years, his
accomplishments so far have been truly inspiring. Additionally, judging from the
interview, James appears to be a very genuine and grounded individual and it’s
highly likely that as he continues to advance in the competition, his fan base
will only continue to grow, increasing his chances to become the next American
A few weeks ago, many in the autism community observed "Autism
Sunday," also known as the International Day of Prayer for Autism and Asperger Syndrome.
The annual event, which takes place during the second week of February,
encourages people from all denominations across the globe to pray for those
affected by autism spectrum disorders. The response to this year’s event was
extremely heartening, knowing that so many other people were committed to
praying about something that is responsible for affecting over 67 million people.
As a person of devout faith, one of the most difficult things I’ve had to
deal with during my Christian walk was learning of my son’s autism. When he was
first diagnosed at the age of three, some of the many questions I posed to
myself included why me?, am I being punished? and how could this have happened?
Since that time and after many highs and lows, I’ve not only been given the answers, but I’ve also been able to encourage others who posed these difficult
Let me begin by saying that I believe God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and the Creator
of all things. He does not make mistakes, never needs a plan B and will never be
caught off-guard. As such, I am comforted in knowing that my son’s autism did
not happen by accident nor did it take God by surprise.
When we first received his diagnosis, I remember initially feeling angry at God and my faith was tested in
a major way. After all, it took me over two years to get pregnant and I felt as if my child was a direct answer to prayer.
The questioning and doubting that ensued is something that most parents struggle
with at some point in time during their autism journeys. For those who do not
share the same beliefs as me, the questions may come in different forms, but I think at some point, we all ask why we’ve been dealt such a difficult lot in
I did not choose autism — it chose me. It came and kicked in our door as an unwelcome
guest. With that in mind, I know that God has entrusted me with my child’s autism, knowing it was something I and my family could bear. Not only has this been proven
correct, but we have been able to witness and experience many miracles, joys and
triumphs in the past six years. Our child is a gift and I would not change a hair
on his head. His uniqueness, talents and personality were all created the way
As a believer, perhaps the best answer to the question of "why me" can
be found in the ninth chapter of the book of John.
When encountering a man who was blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus
said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the
works of God might be displayed in him."
Whenever my family faces challenges associated with my son’s condition, we are
encouraged by knowing that despite our struggles, he is being used by God
to impact other people’s lives and glorify Him in the process.
Additionally, my son’s condition is not a "curse," nor is it an affliction, but rather a gift that is being used to enrich and bless those around him, beginning with me.
There is an amazing autism documentary on the horizon that will be released
just in time for Autism Awareness Month in April. Directed by Gerardine Wurzburg, “Wretches & Jabberers” follows two grown men with autism as they embark on a world quest to change attitudes
and perceptions about their disorder. Tracy Thresher, 42, and Larry Bissonnette, 52, travel to Sri Lanka, Japan and
Finland, deliberately challenging people’s attitudes and assumptions about their
intelligence and capabilities.
Thresher and Bissonnette were both presumed “retarded” as children and excluded from normal schooling. Because of their limited speech, they each faced lives of social isolation and despair in institutions. When as adults they learned to communicate by keyboarding, their lives improved dramatically. The message of their world tour is the life-altering power of communication that ushers in hope for everyone on the autism spectrum.
The film records their emotional and transformative encounters with young men and women with autism, parents and students, as well as their delightful reactions to the local sights and sounds of the cultures they are encountering for the first time.
Wurzburg, who won an Oscar in 1993 for "Educating Peter," a
documentary short about Down syndrome, appears to have outdone herself as there
has already been significant buzz generated about this film. Additionally,
Wurzburg is no stranger to the subject of autism, directing and producing the
2004 documentary short, "Autism is a World."
"Wretches & Jabberrers" opens for a one-week run in New York City on April 1 at the AMC Empire 25. After that, it will be sent on a forty city tour
in top markets, including Los Angeles,
Houston and Chicago. The Autism Society of America will receive an undisclosed portion of ticket sales and help promote the film.
It’s rare for any documentary to receive a multiplex showing, but AMC Theatres
has long been on the forefront of accommodating moviegoers with autism. In sixty-two cities, they host a program where Hollywood films are screened
in theatres that cater to those with autism. Auditorium lights are brighter and the volume is lower as guests are encouraged to move about,
sing or shout in reaction to the movie.
Hats off to AMC for giving “Wretches & Jabberers” the theatrical run it
deserves and for their commitment to the autism and special needs communities.
Based on the trailer, it looks to be a very powerful film.
Last week, the Science Channel (a division of Discovery) aired an episode of
"Ingenious Minds" and took a closer look at the life and mind of John
E. Robison. The show gave a fascinating glimpse into Robison’s trials and triumphs
growing up with both Savant Syndrome and Asperger’s Syndrome.
At the age of 16, Robison dropped out of high school and pursued a career in
engineering, where he excelled in many areas, despite his lack of a formal
education. Robison didn’t require schooling because his mind can quickly master
subjects that take neurotypical individuals years to learn. However, in exchange
for those technical gifts, he has suffered from crippling social skills,
which severely inhibited his ability to fit in both as a child and as an
In his early years, Robison racked up an incredible resume that included work in
the areas of sound technology, special effects, toys, nuclear testing devices and
Robison is yet another example of a long list of individuals with autism that
have greatly contributed to our world through their unique gifts. For the most
part, he has overcome many of his earlier challenges and is now a New York Times
best-selling author, speaker and autism advocate.
If you missed "Ingenious Minds" on the Science Channel last week, you
can view the episode in its entirety below.
In a tense moment Thursday evening on live television, James Durbin was
placed on stage in front of millions of viewers, pitted against his Hollywood roommate,
Stefano Langone, for a spot in American Idol’s "Top 13." Host Ryan
Seacrest eventually delivered the news to Durbin, that he earned a position in
the elite group that will move on to compete next week.
The decision by viewers, who cast over 40 million votes, has placed Durbin in an
excellent position to vie for the coveted crown to be the next American Idol.
However, it was bittersweet for Durbin, who was clearly elated about his
advancement, but saddened for his good friend, Stefano, who was sent back to the
elimination stools. Although visibly nervous on stage, there was little doubt
about Durbin’s moving on, even before his name was called.
James Durbin has become a fan favorite, particularly among those in the autism
and special needs communities. At an early age, Durbin was diagnosed with a
comorbid condition that includes both Tourette’s and Asperger’s Syndromes. In
addition to Durbin’s challenges, he lost his father at the age of nine due to a
drug overdose. He is also currently unemployed, with a young child at home and
even noted that before his appearance on ‘Idol,’ it was often difficult to
purchase diapers for his youngster.
By the end of the show, Durbin learned that his good friend, Stefano, earned a
spot as a "wild card" contestant.
As Ryan Seacrest and the other judges noted, it was one of the most difficult
nights in the history of American Idol. And indeed, there were some contestants
who were sent home tonight that could have won the entire competition in
previous years. Because of this fact, Durbin’s accomplishments are
James has also become an emblem of hope for parents of children with
high-functioning autism and other special needs, proving that despite physical
or emotional challenges that exist in one’s life, they can be overcome.
As parents of children with autism, we are always searching for useful ways to help
our kids communicate their thoughts and feelings, and thereby achieve greater self-regulation. How many spectacular meltdowns could be averted if a child was capable of
properly conveying a powerful inner feeling in lieu of kicking or screaming?
With self-awareness, viable alternatives to destructive and repetitive behavior become
accessible and grievous misunderstandings
a child encounters with adults and other students at school would be diminished. Teetering connections could become new friendships when
a child is able to engage in communication towards those beyond family members.
Asperger’s Syndrome expert Dr. Tony Attwood has long seen Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) as an excellent tool for helping children
with autism come to terms with their condition. CBT maintains that self-awareness of thoughts and
emotions and how they affect
a person lead to greater command of situations that would normally be overwhelming.
Previously, Dr. Attwood has published workbooks for children on the autism spectrum to help them learn about their feelings and developed a “toolbox” of strategies for dealing with them. I remember going through such a workbook for anxiety with my
son a while back. He ranked stressful situations on a visual thermometer, thought about how his body reacted to them, then came up with his own self-calming strategies. This exercise actually lead me to having new accommodations written into his IEP. Because he
was the one that came up with them, they proved very effective.
Now, Dr. Attwood, in conjunction with Dr. Kirsten Callesen and Dr. Annette Moller Nielsen of Denmark, have created a Cognitive Affective Training (CAT) kit designed to help children and young adults with developmental disabilities communicate with adults and
one another. Essentially, he has taken his workbook and has made it three dimensional,
making it more engaging to use and share.
Appropriate for all ages, the CAT-kit was years in the making and has now proven to be effective as an easy, hands-on program designed to promote awareness of how thoughts,
feelings and actions intersect. Through the process of using various visual components, children and adults have the opportunity to understand their emotions and share newfound awareness with
The CAT-kit’s website describes some of the product’s benefits:
Therapists and other professionals consider the CAT-kit an easy, hands-on adaptation of the cognitive-behavioral strategies they are already familiar with. The kit allows professionals to obtain valuable information regarding the thoughts and feelings that exist behind students’ behaviors, while providing a non-stressful environment where professionals can work on students’ self-awareness and self-control. The CAT-kit elements can easily be integrated into comprehensive CBT programs.
I plan to ask my son’s special education teacher to acquire this kit for his classroom as part of
an ongoing campaign to improve his school life and will report back on its
All information in this site is presented for support and educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for medical treatment or visiting a licensed medical physician. Visitors who desire to apply or use any information listed herein are urged to consult with licensed healthcare professionals first. All information is deemed reliable but its accuracy can't be guaranteed.
Autism strikes a family’s heart, soul and wallet. Estimates by The Autism Society puts a lifetime of care for an autistic child at $3.2 million. Autism parents know firsthand the brutal toll to the family coffers of therapies that can run $40,000 to $50,00 per year. Families tangle with insurance companies, invariably ending up with […]