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Autism, Awareness and Acceptance

From the Co-Director

By Paula C. Durbin-Westby

Autism Awareness Month is a time for learning about autism and introducing others to new concepts and ideas. It can also bring about mixed feelings for people on the autism spectrum and for our families and friends.

For many of us, it’s a time of heightened focus on cures, prevention, and treatment, some of which we find misleading, or frightening, or offensive. Recently, as a statement that something additional is needed, I posted a Facebook event called “Autism Acceptance Day.” My description of the event said, “Acceptance, not ‘cures’, not ‘tolerance’, not ‘yes, but...’, just acceptance!” I was surprised that in less than half an hour, almost 100 people signed up. The event draws parents, family members, and people on the spectrum and with other disabilities. These people want something positive to look forward to during a month when sometimes the focus seems to be all about the negatives.

At the Autism NOW Center, we also believe strongly in acceptance. The basis of all our activities is the Developmental Disabilities Act. The principles of the DD Act are inclusion, integration, independence, and self-determination. Everything we do at the Center is informed by these principles. Acceptance of people on the spectrum as we are should be a very important part of any autism awareness activities. With acceptance comes the kinds of responses and approaches that help us live fulfilling lives in school, home, and community. It is the Autism NOW Center’s intent to bring you important, and positive, resources and information about autism.

Alyssa and Anne Alexsonshk image

Focus on Where You're Heading

Success Stories

By Jennifer Alexsonshk, mother of two girls on the spectrum
The feeling of success for my family varies from day to day. My heart soars on days like last Friday, when my daughter is singing in front of a full gymnasium with a smile on her face. This is very different than the Christmas concert earlier this year, where she stood arms crossed with a frown on her face. Our family life has been a journey with many ups and downs; however, it is important to focus on where you are heading and not where you have been. I see my family on a path to a bright future of success!
My husband (Rick) and I are very proud of our two daughters. Alyssa and Anne were both diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2006. Having been a special educator before becoming a stay home mother, I noticed some issues with my daughters. However, I thought I was just being super-sensitive due to my profession. Once they entered preschool, though, many of my concerns became apparent. Knowing the importance of early intervention, our family began the diagnosis process immediately. I attribute early intervention to many of the successes of my daughters today. Additionally, we were fortunate to be in a school district that had a preschool autism program to give them a good foundation.

We have our daily struggles, but we have come so far since that diagnosis. The many hours of occupational, speech, physical and vision therapies have provided my children with a strong foundation. They have such beautiful minds, when you take the time to listen. I envision Alyssa one day being a great inventor, artist or archeologist. I dream of Anne working with animals, biologist, or being an entomologist. However, I want to measure our family success by raising happy and healthy girls, helping them embrace who they are – enjoying our family’s journey through life no matter how bumpy the ride.

This column chronicles the successes of people on the autism spectrum, families and friends, and professionals in the developmental disabilities field in dealing with the everyday challenges that occur in their lives. We welcome any who are interested to contribute to this section. You can do so by sending an email to

News Items

'Parenthood’ Named TV With ‘Conscience’ For Asperger’s Storyline
The pilot episode of NBC’s “Parenthood” is among eight television shows that will be honored this spring by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for serving up “television with a conscience."

Feds Step In After School Refuses Autism Service Dog

After almost three years, an Oregon school district has agreed to allow a 10-year-old with autism to bring his service dog to class following a meeting with Justice Department officials.

Parents of Children with Disabilities can Prepare for their Adulthood Now

As many parents do, Curtis Green and his wife have already begun planning for their 10-year-old daughter's life after high school.

Parents: Autism Cuts Could Ruin Children's Future
Richard's mother Toni attributes her son's success to assistance through Nevada's Self-Directed Autism Program, which serves 174 children and faces an uncertain future as the governor's proposed budget shifts the program to cash-strapped counties.

Jobs Program for People with Disabilities a Model to Follow

Sometimes a plan just comes together, and at Lowe’s Distribution Center the association with The Arc of Luzerne County continues to grow.

Project Update from the Univ. of Maine

Project Update on Family-Centered Transition Planning for Students with ASD
A number of practices have been associated with improved adult outcomes for students with disabilities.  These include the active parent involvement in transition planning, knowledge of post-school options, student-centered planning, student self-determination, and the opportunity to work and explore career options while in high school.
The Center for Community Inclusion and Disability Studies at the University of Maine is collaborating with The Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire to conduct a two-year research project examining the effects of a comprehensive family-centered planning intervention on the transition process for students with ASD and their families.

Read more.

Calendar of Events

Full Calendar Listing

Approaches to Recreation and Social Activities for Adults with Autism: Towson University’s Center for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Thursday, March 17 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM EST
Speaker: Dr. Lisa Crabtree, Director of the Center for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Towson University
To register, please go to this web address.
Key Disability Organizations: The National Disability Rights Network
Tuesday, March 22 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM EST
Speaker: Ms. Amanda Mays, National Disability Rights Network

Health Insurance Options for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Developmental Disabilities
Thursday, March 24 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM EST
Speaker: Meg Comeau, Project Director, Catalyst Center
To register, please go to this web address.

Key Disability Organizations: National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
Tuesday, March 29 from 2:00 to 3:00 PM EST
Speaker: Mr. Mike Brogioli, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Council on Developmental Disabilities
To register, please go to this web address.

Autism NOW Regional Summit: Prince George’s County, Maryland
Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and May 15
This event will include opportunities for relationship-building between stakeholders, families, and people who identify as having an autism spectrum disorder or intellectual/developmental disability; for sharing information and resources; and for celebrating the local and regional autism and intellectual/developmental disability community.
For further information, please go to our page about Regional Summits.

Resource Spotlight

Throughout the month of March, the Autism NOW Center has been celebrating the return of spring with a Recreation Webinar Series. This series has included wonderful speakers like Imagination Stage, an inclusive theater in Maryland; Dr. Dawn Sandt, a University of Toledo professor who researches exercise and recreation for people with developmental disabilities; NARHA, the national organization for equine therapy; and representatives from Camp Fairs and residential camps that have inclusive programs throughout the country. These webinars have presented a vast array of resources on recreation opportunities for people with autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities.

Here are some of the resources highlighted in this series:
Kids Included Together’s National Training Center on Inclusion (
The Kids Included Together (KIT) National Training Center on Inclusion specializes in creating and disseminating best practice information and tools for community-based organizations. The training and tools provided by NTCI are designed to create positive change in the program environment through increased knowledge of accommodations and supports, building of relationships with program stakeholders and an understanding of how policies and procedures affect inclusion.
National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities (
The National Consortium for Physical Education and Recreation for Individuals with promotes research, professional preparation, service delivery, and advocacy of Physical Education and Recreation for individuals with disabilities. The Consortium has been active in promoting legislation and personnel preparation programs that improve the quality of physical education and recreation for individuals with disabilities

Partner Updates

AMC Theatres and Autism Society Present Sensory Friendly Films 

AMC Theatres (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other disabilities a special opportunity to enjoy their favorite films in a safe and accepting environment on a monthly basis. During these screenings, movie auditoriums will have their lights brought up and the sound turned down; families will be able to bring in their own snacks; and no previews or advertisements will be shown before the movie. Additionally, audience members are welcome to get up and dance, walk, shout or sing - in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced unless the safety of the audience is questioned. Tickets are $4-6 depending on location and can be purchased on the day of the event.
The next film will be “Hop” on Saturday, April 2.
To find a participating theater new you, please visit the Autism Society's website.
Massachusetts Act Early Summit and LEND ASD Seminar Series
The Institute for Community Inclusion at UMass Boston and Children's Hospital Boston LEND program is co-sponsoring the MA Act Early Autism Summit on April 6th. Sixty people representing a cross section of providers, family members, and administrators from across the state will meet to further the goals and objectives of the MA Act Early strategic goals working on one of three task forces: Outreach, Training and Screening.

The LEND program will also hold a 12 hour seminar series on ASD for LEND fellows focused on diagnosis, research, and treatment. This series reviews current state of the art diagnostic criteria, de-bunks popular myths, provides information on differential diagnoses, reviews current research, and presents.

For more information contact David Helm via email.
Copyright © 2011 The Arc of the United States, Inc and Autism NOW, All rights reserved.
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The Autism NOW Center is a national initiative of The Arc.

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