It’s been another busy year, with lots of news coming out for the autism community and from the autism community. From new research and discoveries, to raising awareness, to stories of hope and inspiration, here is our list of top stories of the year.
Celebrities unveiling their autism diagnosis. A few household names chose to step out this year to bring light to the fact that they had been diagnosed with autism and/or Asperger’s. This may have come as a surprise to some, particularly since those celebs included people like Daryl Hannah (known for Splash! and Kill Bill) and Dan Aykroyd (from SNL, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, among many others).
New diagnostic criteria. A new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – known as DSM-5 – was released, which impacted the way an autism diagnosis is now made. It was met with both positive and negative reactions, particularly because they put previously-separate diagnoses of Asperger’s and PDD-NOS under the larger umbrella of autism spectrum disorder.
Amazing acts of kindness. Thanks in large part to social media, some small acts of kindness have been shared online, allowing all of us to take great joy in them. Take for example a Utah-based Chili’s waitress who made a young girl’s day by “fixing” her broken cheeseburger; or a high school teen who befriended a boy with autism and escorted him to his junior prom. (If you haven’t seen either, we suggest you check them out!)
New research & discoveries. There was a lot of new research conducted throughout the past year, hopefully giving us more clues on this often-baffling disorder – from the potential cause(s) to new treatment methods. (Check out a few here, here and here…).
And, finally…chickens. Yes, chickens. Earlier this month we talked about the Hart family who found that their pet chickens (used originally to give the family fresh eggs) had a profoundly beneficial impact on their 3-year-old autistic son. The family was allowed to keep the chickens as part of a pilot program (since keeping these chickens as pets was not typically allowed in their Florida town) – but that pilot program was ending, and the town wasn’t going to let the Harts keep their chickens – which was their son’s true therapy. But thanks to a lot of support on behalf of the Hart family, the town changed their decision, and now, just in time for the holidays, the Harts got the great news they can keep their chickens!
A wonderful way to end the year!
And we know that much more is ahead in 2014! Wishing everyone a healthy and happy New Year!
Huffington Post just unveiled a short list of people in the public eye who have spoken out about their Asperger’s and autism diagnosis – helping to shed a positive light on it. Some of those on the list are not surprising – like Temple Grandin (who has professor, advocate and author as three of her many titles) – but most, I think you’llfind, are people you may not have known about. Although you may have recently heard that Daryl Hannah (actress from the movie Splash!) talked about her Asperger’s diagnosis – and singer Susan Boyle was also diagnosed with Asperger’s–you may be surprised to know that Dan Aykroyd– yes, that Dan Aykroyd from SNL, Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, and about a million other movies) – has been diagnosed with both Tourette syndrome and Asperger’s. In fact, his Asperger’s actually inspired the movie Ghostbusters – he said that one of his symptoms was an obsession with ghosts and law enforcement and that he “became obsessed by Hans Holzer, the greatest ghost hunter ever. That’s when the ideal of my film Ghostbusters was born.
Some others include Alexis Wineman – who served as Miss. Montana, the first Miss. America contestant with autism; James Durbin, a past American Idol contestant who found music to be a therapy; and, Heather Kuzmich, a former contestant on America’s Top Model. (Check out the full list and article here.)
Interesting list, and noted that the majority of those listed have an Asperger’s diagnosis. Granted that these members of the autism community are on the more high-functioning side, and recognizing that the spectrum is broad; however, I’m glad that all of these people have come forward to talk about their diagnosis because this can only continue to help increase awareness, and maybe even more acceptance of it as well. Whether it’s talking about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome (and/or continue to deal with), the therapies they’ve found, or even serving as a role model, utilizing their platform to share their experiences is, I’d agree, inspiring.
Yes, the title of this is correct – a family is fighting for their beloved chickens! Why?, you might ask. Well, Ashleigh and Joe Hart, and their 3-year-old son, J.J., who has autism, live in DeBary, FL., a small town near Orlando. A while back, Ashleigh and Joe bought a few chickens in an effort to add fresh eggs to their meals. But they got much more than fresh eggs from the experience. What they found is that J.J., who barely spoke and had temper tantrums – and who had limited success with occupational, speech and other related therapies – had an amazing response to the chickens. He connected with them, and has brought out an outgoing boy who loves to chase after the chickens and hold them.
So that was the good news. The bad news is that their town of DeBary, as noted by the Today Show that did this segment on the family, limits the kinds of animals that can be kept in residential homes. Its city council had approved a one-year pilot program that allowed the family to keep the chickens, but that pilot program is coming to an end and city has decided to not allow it to continue. Not surprisingly, this decision was met with a lot of negative feedback, considering the great benefit these chickens have had on J.J. Many people have noted their support for the Hart family on the town’s Facebook page, and, as reported, the family has hired a lawyer to try and figure out how they may be able to keep their treasured feathered friends – plus they have created a Change.org petition.
Facing autism can be so daunting, and as parents, we would do anything and everything to help our children. How wonderful is it that the Harts found something that truly connected with their child and brought out such happiness in him. And how sad that J.J. and his family may have that taken away. Hopefully this family and their town can come to a favorable resolution.
Lynsey, Community Manager
UPDATE! Good news – it’s been reported that the City Council has scheduled a vote for Dec. 18 that will hopefully determine a resolution that would let J.J. keep his chickens as a reasonable accommodation under the Federal and Florida Fair Housing Acts.
In the past we’ve talked about different places – such as museums and movie theatres – that have made special arrangements for those with autism in order to make visits more sensory-friendly. Some malls across the country are doing something similar this holiday season by offering special Santa visits. This is a time where, in some cases, the lights are lowered, store music is turned off and lines are short, eliminating some of the distracting and/or upsetting environmental factors that may impact an autistic child during a trip to see Santa.
Two malls currently offering “sensory-friendly” Santa hours include Maine Mall – which offered four ‘Caring Claus Sundays’ – and Lynnhaven Mall in Virginia – which provided the Autism Society of Tidewater a chance to visit with Santa before the mall opened (check out this article).
This is yet another great example of how businesses and local organizations are giving families the opportunity to enjoy time together – it’s just a little adjustment for these businesses, but a world of difference for families touched by autism.
I’m sure there are more malls and locations that may offer something similar this holiday season, so if you know of one, please share it with us here!