Prism: The Holidays are About being Thankful The National Autism Information and Resource Center

November Prism

Holidays are about being Thankful

By Tonia Ferguson
Director, The Autism NOW Center

The holidays are upon us. For some, that means spending time and catching up with friends and enjoying family. For others, it might be the most miserable time of the year. Lack of basic needs, personal tragedies and loneliness are among the many factors that may contribute to feelings of dread during the holiday season. And this year, on top of potentially stressful gatherings and heart-breaking reminders of lost loved ones that can creep up around this time, there are also many people who are still recovering from the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Needless to say, 2012 has been a rough year for many people, and you might be one of them.

So if you are one of those people having a rough time and not looking forward to this holiday season, here are five tips that might point you in the right direction.

1. Perspective
Having a diagnosis of autism or other developmental disabilities may bombard your thoughts with a lot of negative perspectives. However, when you start to see each day as a blessing, you automatically begin to see life with a more valuable perspective. Seize the moment!

2. Victories
Any kind of positive results are victories. Be grateful for each step that gets your loved one with autism or other developmental disabilities closer to their dreams. Whether it is successful employment, graduating from high school, or just a “good day”, rejoice in these victories and be thankful for the hope they provide.

If victories seem hard to achieve, think outside the box and try something new! Check out Co-Director Amy Goodman’s article on service animals and how these dogs (and even miniature horses) can benefit an individual with autism!

3. Moments Shared with Loved Ones
Holidays can be stressful, but they are also one of the biggest opportunities to spend quality time with loved ones. Be grateful for the time that you will be able to spend with the people you love. Whether it is taking your children on a shopping spree, baking holiday cookies, or singing holiday carols, these are all moments to be grateful for.

4. Support System
Whether you have a disability or have a loved one with a disability, having a reliable support system is one of the biggest blessings and coping mechanisms. Being able to talk openly to someone and experience the feeling that someone “gets it” can be an incredible reason to be thankful. Don’t forget about the importance and role of your support system in your life.

With advancements in technology and the way we communicate, people are often seeking this support system through social media.  Unlike decades before, parents and caregivers can now connect with one another online, creating a community that fosters support and understanding. Check out Eric Peacock’s article to learn how a one social media website has helped 30,000 parents of children with autism.

5. Gratitude
Each person’s journey is unique - no two are the same. However, there will always be people going through similar experiences. Being a caregiver or having a disability may sometimes be discouraging and exhausting. But finding reasons to be grateful this season will increase your quality of life, make you stronger, and change your outlook on the new year.

In the spirit of this holiday season and being grateful, we are so thankful for all of you. You continue to support our webinars, join our social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, and most importantly, visit the Autism NOW website- a dynamic and interactive virtual center that serves you in being EMPOWERED.

Thank you and happy holidays!

Service Animals for Individuals with ASD and Other Disabilities 

by Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center

Recently, during a train ride on my way to work, I noticed an individual with a service dog. I asked her about her dog and as the conversation continued, she said that even miniature horses may be considered service animals for individuals with disabilities. This conversation inspired me to focus this month’s article on the benefits, regulations and other important considerations relating to service animals.

What is a service animal?
Service animals are animals that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. It is important to note that service animals are working animals and not a pet. The work or task that a service dog has been trained to do is directly related to the person’s disability. A dog whose sole purpose is to provide comfort and emotional support will not qualify as a service animal.

What are the benefits associated with having a service animal?
  • Provides emotional stability and consistency
  • Keeps an individual from wandering or fleeing
  • Helps an individual perform daily tasks safely such as crossing the street
  • Warns an individual of dangers
  • Provides deep pressure and sensory stimulation, which can have a calming effect on individuals with autism
What are the regulations regarding service animals?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), service animals must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered, unless these devices interfere with the service animals’ work or the individual’s disability prevents them from using these devices. In that case, the individual must keep the animal under control by voice, signal, or other effective controls.

An individual with a disability cannot be asked to remove their service animal from the premises unless: 1) the animal is out of control and the handler does not take effective action to control it or 2) the animal is not housebroken.  Allergies and fear of animals are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing individuals who use service animals. Although asking an individual to show documentation for the service animal is prohibited, limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions when it is not obvious what service an animal provides: 1) Is the service animal required because of a disability?  2) What work or task has the animal been trained to do or perform?

For more specific regulations, visit the ADA's web page on service animals.

What does the law say about miniature horses?
In addition to provisions about service dogs, the revised ADA regulations contain a new, separate provision about miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities. Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that service the public generally must allow animals to accompany the individual with a disability in all areas of a facility where the public is allowed to go. Other examples include airplanes, restrooms, trains, buses and hospitals.

Considerations that need to be taken into account when permitting miniature horses into facilities are as follows:
  1. whether the miniature horse is housebroken
  2. whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control
  3. whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight. Miniature horses are typically about 24 inches high and weigh about 70 to 100 pounds.
  4. whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility.

If you are interested in learning more about service animals and what trainings are required prior to obtaining one, please visit the following websites:

Social Networking for Parents of Kids with Autism

By Eric Peacock
Co-Founder & CEO, MyHealthTeams

Laura Shumaker’s son Matthew has autism.  When he turned 22 and moved from his special school in Pennsylvania back to California, she needed to find him a new doctor, a new psychiatrist, a social skills professional, a dentist and a barber who “got” him.   A writer and autism advocate, Laura wrote, “I'd worked so hard since he was first diagnosed to build a team of specialists that I could trust, and to fine tune his treatment through his many stages. The idea of starting from scratch once again seemed daunting.”

Kristina Matthiesen’s son was 3 when he got diagnosed in Texas, just ten days before the family had to move to Georgia. “For the first 5 months I didn’t know where to go, or who to network and connect with,” she explains. “I knew my son needed help, I just didn’t know where to get it.”

This is a familiar dilemma for all parents of children with autism. It was the story for my brother and his wife when their son was diagnosed with Asperger’s several years ago. They described the 2 years after the diagnosis as “lonely and frustrating – like we were re-inventing the wheel.”  They wanted to connect with other parents just like them and learn from them.

Screenshot of home page showing woman and main menu

These stories, and those of the other 1 in 88 children diagnosed with autism, are the inspiration behind MyAutismTeam ( a free social network for parents of children with autism. Since it’s launch with 30 families in June 2011, MyAutismTeam has grown to more than 30,000 parents of kids with autism from all across the country.

Find Other Parents Like You
Most parents are familiar with social networking on Facebook and like using it. But when it comes to autism, they don’t want to share all the details about their child’s ups and downs on the spectrum with all of their Facebook friends. They want to be in an environment with other parents who “get it.”

You can think of MyAutismTeam as a combination of Facebook, Yelp and Pinterest, rolled into one site specifically for parents of kids on the spectrum.  On this website, you can find and connect with other parents just like you – who have children just like yours.

An Autism “Team”
Parents also share their “team” of providers – so it’s easy to get word-of-mouth referrals from other parents who understand autism, and have first-hand experience working with the providers they recommend. An “autism team” includes everyone who helps your child thrive and develop, from the ABA therapists, OTs, SLTs, and developmental pediatricians, to the every-day life providers such as autism-friendly dentists, barbers, eye doctors, school districts or even swim instructors and piano teachers. The searchable provider directory has over 35,000 autism-friendly providers listed from all across the country.

There is also a Q&A section where you can ask and answer questions with other parents. The community of parents is so supportive that over 98% of questions asked get answered by other parents. In addition, the Pinboards section allows you to share photos of things you like to do with your child.

We believe it should be easy for parents to find the best providers for their children, not a lonely process that feels like you’re re-inventing the wheel. We’ve been thrilled to see the outpouring of recommendations, support and advice parents are giving each other on the site, and hope that all parents will feel free to try it out.

You can check out MyAutismTeam at

Introducing the Autism NOW Answer Series

Introducing the Autism NOW Answers Series! Ask our experts a question, and we’ll select two questions to answer every month. Simply visit our question form and fill it out. You can also read more about the series and view our videos on our YouTube channel.

Amy's Book Corner

Selected books that you might find helpful, curated by Co-Director Amy Goodman.

Wrights Law: Special Education Law  
This practical book teaches skills and provides real life examples that make these skills easier to understand and use. Because this book teaches information and skills, included in it are sample letters, logs, check lists, worksheets, and agendas that can be reproduced and edited to meet the unique needs of your child.

Author: Peter W. D. Wright
Link to Wrights Law: Special Education Law on Amazon.

A Friend’s and Relative’s Guide to Supporting the Family with Autism: How Can I Help?
This book provides an efficient, complete pathway to understanding mealtimes, sleep schedules, going out in public, finances, and intra and inter-family relationships to name just a few of the facets of life that can be affected when a family has a child with autism. She gently provides guidance and explanations as to what is not helpful- even if what you are doing seems supportive at the time. Finally, the “Top Ten tips for Family Members and Friends is a must read for those not having sufficient time to read the entire book and for those who wish to buttress the contents inside.

Author: Ann Palmer
Link to A Friend’s and Relative’s Guide to Supporting the Family with Autism: How Can I Help? on Amazon.

Get Involved with Autism NOW!

You can participate in many ways. Each time you engage with the center, you help us work toward our mission of being a dynamic and interactive, highly visible and effective central point of quality resources and information for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, their families, and other targeted key stakeholders. Find out how to participate.

Learn More About our Site

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Post new topics or reply to current ones if you have relevant information, or can help in some way. Each time you visit the forums page, you can login by clicking the login button. You can navigate to the Forums by visiting the Participate section.

Interesting Reads

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