Prism: Thoughts on Memorial Day, Summer Activities and Siblings The National Autism Information and Resource Center

From the Director

Memorial Day, Fun Traditions for All!

By Tonia Ferguson
Director, Autism NOW Center

Every Memorial Day, families and communities across the nation take time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation. It was originally known as “Decoration Day” as graves were often decorated. Today, the tradition continues by having parades, concerts, displaying a flag, or visiting the National Memorials. But, for some Memorial Day may be a day set aside for picnics and outdoor activities.

No matter what your family’s tradition is, it should be a fun occasion for all, including, your loved one with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities. Often times, as families we think we cannot participate in holiday activities because of what we view as limitations. We hear families say they cannot attend parades or concerts because their child cannot deal with crowds or that the event is over stimulating. Or we hear a sibling saying, “My family cannot attend a concert because the large crowd is too overwhelming for my brother.” Recently, we heard from a mom who said she could not attend a friend’s cook-out because her daughter has celiac disease and only eats gluten-free, casein-free foods.

In order to help encourage the inclusion and participation of people with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities, it’s important to consider what accommodations that person on the spectrum may have when participating in an event or activity. For instance, did you know that you have the option of calling ahead of time when attending a parade or concert to ask for special accommodations, including special seating arrangements? If you visit, we have resources that can provide a comprehensive picture on understanding common supports needed for individuals on the autism spectrum and other developmental disabilities. Sometimes for an individual with a disability, a common support at an event may be a “sibling”; and we have an inspiring article from that unique perceptive on what it means to support and grow-up with an individual on the autism spectrum.

For this Memorial Day, what could be better than a picnic? Don’t deprive your family from grilling out or attending a picnic in the park if your special way of celebrating involves a gluten-free, casein-free or other special diet. Check-out the article from our Co-Director, Amy Goodman, for tips for guests and hosts of picnics and cookouts and how to create a perfect gluten free menu in celebration of the holiday.

Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer, so take time to remember, reflect and have fun during the long weekend. 

From the Co-Director
Who’s ready for BBQ?

By Amy Goodman
Co-Director, Autism NOW Center

Memorial Day is coming up and your child is invited to a cookout with lots of food; however, if he/she has certain dietary restrictions, this may be a source of stress and anxiety. If your child has special dietary needs, what do you do? Should you or your child not attend the cookout because there won’t be anything for him/her to eat? Bring special food to eat during the party? Or should the host make sure to provide something your child could eat? Here are some tips and information to help both party guests and part hosts feel more at ease regarding people who have special dietary needs. 

Tips and Ideas for Cookout Guests with Special Dietary Needs

One tip to help make a cookout go smoother would be talking to the host of the party about your loved one’s dietary needs in advance. Make sure that the host knows if your child has autism or another developmental disability, what the dietary needs are, and what may happen if he/she consumes foods that are not in the diet. This way, the host is prepared for any challenge that may arise. Having this conversation will also allow you to determine whether or not you will need to bring additional food for your loved one.

Information for Memorial Day Party Hosts!

If you are a Memorial Day Party host, and you are unfamiliar with some common dietary restrictions that people with autism and other developmental disabilities have, we have included some general information and cookout tips for you below!

What is the Gluten-Free and Casein-Free diet?
The Gluten-Free and Casein-Free diet is a diet that eliminates all gluten and all casein products. Gluten refers to all wheat products, or products with wheat in them and casein refers to all dairy products. So what can an individual on this diet eat? Some examples may include fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, dried fruits (without sulfites), coconut (without sulfites), potato chips (read labels-some have wheat or starch), potato sticks, popcorn (no butter), rice cakes (read ingredients, some are not GF), rice crackers, fresh meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and game. Other foods include corn, millet, teff, rice and rice products, potato (fresh, starch, flour), beans, eggs, nuts, and much more.
Tips for Hosts
If you decide to plan your own BBQ and you know one or more of your guests are on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, here is a tip to help make the process go smoother for all parties involved. Make sure there are gluten-free potato chips, hot dogs and hamburgers without a bun and a variety of condiments. Most condiments are gluten-free, casein-free; however, be sure to check the labels on food items to be certain. Places to find gluten-free and casein-free food include organic sections of most major grocery stores, as well as health food stores.

Remember, communication between attendees and hosts about food restrictions, diets, or intolerances will make everyone feel more at ease in participating and enjoying fun holiday activities! I hope that all of you have a Happy Memorial Day and enjoy all of your summer fun!

Things My Sibling Taught Me

by Nicole R. Rivera, Ed.D., MT-BC
Northern Illinois University

Growing up with a brother or sister with autism creates the potential for a unique family experience. During an interview study with young adult siblings of people with autism spectrum disorders, participants were asked to reflect on what they gained from their sibling experience. Overwhelmingly, the sibling participants described feeling a sense of maturity. One woman described “having to grow up faster and realize that it’s not all about me.” Learning to focus on the needs of their sibling fostered a sense of inner strength that the participants did not observe in their peers.

The ability to recognize the needs and perspectives of others is a skill that several siblings felt transferred to other parts of their lives. One woman snickered as she confessed that she was very adept at getting her brother to do what she wanted him to do. Another man in the study claimed that, “I’ve been very good at reading people.” The siblings described a level of sensitivity and awareness of the needs of another that translated into other relationships and their work life. The sibling experience exposed them to differences in learning and a greater appreciation for the strengths of others.

Having a sibling with autism gave the participants opportunities to engage in different roles. The participants described being a teacher, friend and advocate. Engaging in these roles transformed the siblings. One man shared: “I couldn’t afford to not have strength. It made me really actually tough. I feel like I’m a lot different because of it. I feel like I’m unique. I’m creative. You get to see things differently. You have a different set of knowledge.”

Family experiences shape development. Growing up with a sibling with autism taught these individuals about understanding the perspectives of others, negotiating relationships, and appreciating different approaches to life. Most importantly, the siblings described a sense of transformation and ego-strength that they carried into other parts of their lives. 

Sibling relationships are often full of ups and downs. In the moments of challenge, it can be important to embrace the potentials. What has your sibling taught you? How have you changed? What do you carry with you into other parts of your life? These things are the gift of the experience.

New Forums, Videos and More

By David A. Kennedy
Online Communications Manager, Autism NOW Center

We've added a lot of new content and a few new features to the site in the past month. Check out this list:
Starting with the Forums
To get started with the Forums, you can Visit and create an account by clicking register. Fill out the info and you're good to go. That way you can post topics and reply to them.

Feel free to 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.

Next Webinar

By Jennifer Sladen
Program Associate, Autism NOW Center

Don't forget next week's webinar: The Autism Society’s Safe and Sound™ Initiative

Time: Tuesday, May 29, 2012, from 2:00 to 3:00 PM EST
Speakers: Jennifer Repella, Vice President of Programs, Autism Society of America Sergeant Jimmy Donohoe, Pensacola Police Department Captain Bill Cannata, Westwood Massachusetts Fire Department

Join us for this webinar to learn more about the Autism Society’s Safe & Sound™ initiative, which provides resources to communities about general safety, emergency prevention and preparedness. Speakers will discuss how this initiative provides information and trains first responders such as police, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians and others, on how to interact with and assist individuals with autism in times of an emergency. Listen in to find out how this initiative can help you promote safety for individuals with autism, their families and professionals in your community!

Space is limited. Reserve your seat now for the May 29, 2012 webinar.

And remember, you can always give suggest a topic for a webinar by visiting our submit a resource form and selecting "An idea for a webinar topic."

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