Saturday, December 22, 2012

Dylan Hockley and Anne Marie Murphy

Autism Lights #247 are Dylan Hockley and Anne Marie Murphy. 

Autism Light is honoring Dylan Hockley and Anne Marie Murphy in the same post because of the special relationship they had in life and in death. Dylan Hockley has autism and he kept a picture on his refrigerator of Anne Marie Murphy who was his special education teacher's aide at Sandy Brook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Both died in the shooting that occurred at the school on December 14, 2012.  When they were found Anne Marie Murphy was cradling Dylan in her arms to protect him.

Dylan Hockley's family had moved to the United States from the United Kingdom two years ago. Here is a video statement that the family of Dylan Hockley released.

Dylan's mother asked him "at one time why he flapped his arms when he got excited. She hadn't expected an answer because Dylan has a form of autism that left him with undeveloped language skills. 'Because I am a beautiful butterfly,' he said (Source)."

A Memorial Service was held for Dylan Hockley, age 6, on December 21, 2012 at Walnut Hill Community Church.  Jennifer Swift of the New Haven Register wrote an article on the Celebration of Life for Dylan Hockley. Dylan Hockley is survived by his parents Ian and Nicole Hockley and his older brother Jake. 

Dylan Hockley Memorials: A social media Memorial Page has been set up to remember Dylan Hockley on Facebook.  

The family created the Dylan Hockley Memorial Fund to honor Dylan. Donations to the fund will be used to benefit children with autism and other special needs. Donations to the fund can be made by check to "Dylan Hockley Memorial Fund," and sent to 34 Charter Ridge Drive, Sandy Hook, CT 06482 (Source). 
You can also donate to the Dylan Hockley Memorial Fund online at this link

Here is a brief video about Anne Marie Murphy honoring her as a hero.

A Memorial Service for Anne Marie Murphy, age 52, was held on December 20, 2012 at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Katonah, New York (Source). Cardinal Timothy Dolan said at her funeral: "Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends. Like Jesus, Annie's life and death brings light, truth, goodness and love to a world often shrouded in darkness, evil, selfishness and death (Source)."
On her Autism Speaks Tribute page it says, "Anne Marie Murphy was a person who loved the arts and taking walks outdoors. She was the daughter of Hugh and Alice McGowan of Katonah, New York, one of seven children raised. Family was the most import part of Anne Marie’s life. Along with her parents, Anne Marie is survived by her four children, Kelly, Colleen, Paige and Thomas and her devoted husband, Michael (Source)."

Anne Marie Murphy Memorials: Anne Marie Murphy had worked with Autism Speaks and her family designated that in lieu of flowers donations in her memory be sent to Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks has set up a page on their website to honor Anne Marie Murphy and to receive donations. Autism Speaks wrote, "We are humbled to pay tribute to Anne Marie, and will dedicate the funds that are donated in her name to a special initiative which will be designated by her family. If you wish to leave a message of condolence, please email them to or post in this thread, and Autism Speaks will pass it on to Anne Marie's family (Source)."

Dylan Hockley and Anne Marie Murphy will be added today to the Autism Light Memorial Roll and also Dylan will be linked on the page of those with autism. Dylan Hockley also has a page on the Autism Rest blog. As the autism community ponders the loss of this autistic child and special education teacher, may those of us left be inspired to be more dedicated, to be more faithful, and to be more diligent in being advocates and light for autism. Rest in peace Dylan and Anne Marie.

Special Note: It is the policy of Autism Light not to include photos of individuals unless they are in the Public Domain or permission from the person or family can be obtained. At this time of tragic loss we have not sought out permission for a photo, so not to disturb the privacy of Dylan Hockley and Anne Marie Murphy's family. If in the future an authorized representative would like to give permission for a photo of Dylan or Anne Marie to appear with this respectful tribute, please email or leave information in the comments to this post.  Thank You.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Josephine Grace Gay

Autism Light #246 is Josephine Grace Gay.

Josephine Grace Gay, age 7, was from Newtown, Connecticut and had autism. She was one of the 20 children and 6 adults who died on December 14, 2012 at the Sandy Brook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Josephine Grace Gay is an Autism Light for the impact her brief life had on those who were blessed to know her and because a charitable fund in her memory will continue to help children with autism.

Josephine Grace Gay was survived by her parents Michele and Bob Gay and sisters, Sophia and Maria Gay. Her obituary said of her, "She lived seven years inspiring friends and family with her beautiful smile, loving heart, and playful spirit (Source)." An obituary for Josephine Grace Gay can be found on

Josephine's parents Bob and Michele Gray wrote a letter about their daughter. This is part of it:
It will help us if others know what a special person she was and how she inspired everyone she met.  Joey was autistic and severely apraxic. She could not speak, yet she touched the lives of so many around her: teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her. Joey was social and affectionate; she smiled, she loved hugs, and she even had a wonderful sense of humor. Her spirit was indomitable. She participated in rigorous therapy and treatment on a daily basis without complaint. She loved to play with her Barbie dolls, iPad, and computer, swim, swing, and be anywhere her sisters were. Josephine loved the color purple (Source).
You may read the full text of the letter that Josephine's parents wrote about her death in an online article at the Framingham Patch called Newtown Family Creates Autism Fund in Memory of Daughter.

Funeral Services: A memorial service was held at St. Rose of Lima Church, Newtown, CT, from 4:00pm to 7:00pm on Friday, December, 21.  A Mass of Christian Burial is Saturday, December 22 at 11:00am at St. Rose's Church.

Bob and Michele Gray have set up Joey's Fund in their daughters memory through the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism in Framingham. Doug and Laurie Flutie were run the foundation were Autism Lights #86. The fund will be used to help families raising children with autism.

Here are the ways you may give to Joey's Fund. 

Online: Visit On the donation page please select “in Memory of” and type “Joey’s Fund” in the box for “acknowledgement/address and comments”.  

By Mail: Send checks to: The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism Specify “In Memory of Josephine Gay” on the check. Mailing address: The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism PO Box 767 Framingham, MA 01701
PBS provided the following silent tribute to the victims of the Sandy Brook shooting. The children are listed in alphabetical order and Josephine Grace Gay is the 4th child pictured in this presentation.

Josephine Grace Gay will be added today to the Autism Light Memorial Roll and also to the page of those with autism. Josephine Grace Gay also has a page on the Autism Rest blog. Bob and Michele Gray explained how they cope with such a tragic loss of a young child, "Although our family is devastated, we are deeply comforted in the knowledge that she is no longer scared or hurting and rests in the arms of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through His sufficient grace that we are able to get through this (Source)." 

As the autism community ponders the loss of this autistic child, may those of us left be inspired to be more dedicated, to be more faithful, and to be more diligent in being advocates and light for autism. Rest in peace Josephine.

Special Note: It is the policy of Autism Light not to include photos of individuals unless they are in the Public Domain or permission from the person or family can be obtained. At this time of tragic loss we have not sought out permission for a photo, so not to disturb the privacy of Josephine Grace Gay's family. If in the future an authorized representative would like to give permission for a photo of Josephine to appear with this respectful tribute, please email or leave information in the comments to this post.  Thank You.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rachel D'Avino

Autism Light #245 is Rachel D'Avino.

Rachel D'Avino of Bethlehem, Connecticut was born on July 17,1983. She was a behavioral therapist who was taking advanced studies in autism and had just recently started working at Sandy Brook Elementary School. Rachel D'Avino was shot and killed along with 25 others at her school on December 14, 2012, while working as a teacher's aide for special needs students at Sandy Brook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Rachel D'Avino is an Autism Light for her dedication to teach children with autism and her inspiration to others who work tirelessly in the field of behavioral therapy for autism.

The Chicago Tribune said, "D'Avino specialized in special education and formerly worked as a therapist for autistic children (Source)." A message on a Facebook memorial page posted in the early morning of December 18, 2012, said of Rachel that, "She loved karate, cooking, animals, baking and photography but her foremost passion was her work in behavioral therapy with children with autism (Source)."

John Molteni, the director of the Institute for Autism and Behavioral Studies at the University of St. Joseph shared on Facebook that Rachel D'Avino had recently finished the requirements for taking her certification exam. John Molteni said of Rachel D'Avino that when she was shot, "She was a paraprofessional working with a student with special needs, something she had dedicated her life to doing (Source)."

Lovetere Stone was a mother whose autistic son had been helped tremendously by his therapy with Rachel D'Avino and the extra effort she took to help him in life. "I think she taught me more about how to be a good mother to a special needs child than anyone else ever had," said Lovetere Stone (Source).

Rachel D'Avino's life was full of hope and promise.  Rachel was unaware of something exciting that was about to happen in her life. Two days before the shooting her boyfriend Anthony Cerritelli had asked her parents permission to marry her and he planned to ask her on Christmas Eve (Source).

The following is the coaches and artists of The Voice singing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah in memory of Rachel D'Avino and all the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Social Media Tributes:  

The Rest In Peace Rachel D'Avino Fund page has been set up on Facebook.

Here are a few Twitter tweets in memory of her.
Here is a YouTube video in honor of Rachel D'Avino.

Words can not express the loss that the autism community feels in losing this promising young educator who was specializing in autism. May Rachel D'Avino's story inspire other young people to dedicate their life to making the world brighter for people with autism by becoming autism behavioral therapists.

An obituary on Rachel D'Avino with more information on her life was published by the Associated Press for Rachel D'Avino will be added today to the Autism Light Memorial Roll and her post here will be updated as more information to remember her by becomes available.

Special Note: It is the policy of Autism Light not to include photos of individuals unless they are in the Public Domain or permission from the person or family can be obtained. At this time of tragic loss we have not sought out permission for a photo, so not to disturb the privacy of Rachel D'Avino's family. If in the future an authorized representative would like to give permission for a photo of Rachel to appear with this respectful tribute, please email or leave information in the comments to this post.  Thank You.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Kyle Coleman

Kyle Coleman is 25 years old and from Gwithian, Cornwall in the United Kingdom. Kyle was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 and while Kyle is noverbal, his voice comes to life when he sings. Kyle Coleman is an Autism Light for how his success in music can serve as an inspiration to others in the autism community and to foster autism awareness.

Kyle's mother said, "It became clear almost immediately that Kyle had a natural affinity with musical elements and could recreate his favourite songs on the keyboard with no prior musical knowledge. It is when he sings though that his songs come to life. His personality and emotion shine through his singing and this has made it possible for us to develop a special relationship and for Kyle's abilities and confidence to soar (Source)."

After finishing school in 2009, Kyle's mother enrolled him at the Cornwall Music Therapy Trust in Redpath and music therapist Carine Kelley has been working with Kyle since then (Source).

2012 Album: Kyle Coleman released his album Therefore I Am on February 20, 2012. It is available for purchase on iTunes or at Amazon. The genre of his music is Rock. The National Autistic Society (NAS) supported it. The song "Just Listen" was written by Lucy Skye and is a song about communicating with autistic people (Source).

Here is the official video of Kyle Coleman singing one of his songs about autism, called "Just Listen".

The Sun reported that "despite being unable to talk, Kyle has the remarkable vocal chords of a popstar. Kyle is the first non-verbal autism sufferer in the UK to release his own record covering songs by some of the greatest vocalists of our generation (Source)."

2013 Album on Autism: Kyle Coleman's Facebook page says, "Just to let everyone know that Kyle will be releasing a new album in 2013 that will portray the many facets of autism. Each track will be quite diverse and experimental in genre and will highlight Kyle's musical versatility. :) (Source)"  This is very exciting news and Autism Light looks forward to this release.

Social Media: You can follow Kyle Coleman's musical career on his official website at or through this social media.

Special thanks to Kyle Coleman for singing and serving as an inspiration to the autism community. Kyle's story is a message that even nonverbal people with autism have something special to contribute to this world, and in Kyle's case it has been his music. We look forward to hearing great things about his music and autism awareness productions in the future.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

The photos in this post were posted on Kyle's Facebook page are used with permission of Kyle's mother Caroline (Source).

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Connecticut Lights

The State of Connecticut is the home currently to 14 Autism Lights. They include parents, grandparents, an uncle, educators, and individuals with autism. Some of the country's most influential autism advocates call the state of Connecticut home. Several who died in the Sandy Brook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 are Autism Lights as well.

Connecticut Autism Lights

Individuals with Autism:
  1. Josephine Grace Gay was a 7 year old with autism from Newtown, Connecticut who died in the school shooting there on December 14, 2012. 
  2. Dylan Hockley was a 6 year old with autism from Newtown, Connecticut who died in the school shooting there on December 14, 2012. 
  3. Eytan Nisizweig is a young adult who has autism and has a gift for art and music. He is from Riverside, Connecticut and his work can be purchased at EytanArt
  4. Ethan Walmark is an 8 year old who has autism and has a gift for music. He is from Westport, Connecticut.
Autism Parents
  1. Darlene Boore is an autism mother from Manchester, Connecticut. She is the co-founder of All Seasons Community, a nonprofit autism organization in Connecticut. 
  2. Gary James is an autism father who is from England but now lives in Connecticut. He is the founder of Apps for Children with Special Needs and has been instrumental in promoting the helpfulness of the iPad for autism families around the world. 
  3. Susan Nisizweig is an autism mother who founded EytanArt to help share her son Eytan's ability to make the world a better place. She is from Riverside, Connecticut
  4. Kim Stagliano is an autism mother from Fairfield City, Connecticut. She has three daughters who have autism and is Managing Editor of Age of Autism
  5. Dan and Carey Tedesco are autism parents from Shelton, Connecticut. They along with Rob Tedesco founded the business HandHoldAdaptive to produce iPad Apps that would help people with autism communicate better.
Autism Grandparents
  1. Bob and Suzanne Wright are from Fairfield, Connecticut. They founded Autism Speaks and are autism grandparents.
  2. Jim Calhoun is now retired but he was the long time men's basketball coach for the University of Connecticut.  He lives in Connecticut and is an autism grandfather. 
Autism Uncle
  1. Rob Tedesco is an autism uncle form Shelton, Connecticut. Along with Dan and Carey Tedesco he founded HandHoldAdaptive to produce iPad Apps that would help people with autism communicate better. 
Autism Teachers
  1. Rachel D'Avino was an autism behavioral therapist in Newtown, Connecticut who died in the school shooting there on December 14, 2012. 
  2. Anne Marie Murphy was the special education teacher in Newtown, Connecticut who died in the school shooting there on December 14, 2012. 
You may reach all these posts by searching the blog through the "Connecticut" Label.

The map of Connecticut is from the Wikipedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Doug and Julie Sharp

Autism Lights #243 are Doug and Julie Sharp.

Doug and Julie Sharp are from Johnstown, Ohio and have two sons, including a 12 year old son with autism named Daniel. Their dedication to make the world a brighter place for those with autism has taken them on a journey to set up an enterprise called the Lettuce Work Foundation (Lettuce Work), which will provide teenagers and adults with autism important work opportunities.  Doug and Julie Sharp are Autism Lights for being visionary autism parents and filling a need for young people with autism to transition into the workplace.
Education: Doug and Julie Sharp are both graduates of Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. Julie Sharp earned her Masters in Teaching from Otterbein University and Doug Sharp earned his MBA from The Ohio State University.

Work: Julie Sharp is a teacher at Oakstone Academy and Doug Sharp serves as a Vice President at Grange Insurance Companies in Columbus, Ohio.

The following are two versions of a production that Jenna Smith and Katharine Egli did for a photo journalism project at Ohio University in 2009 on the Sharp family and how their autism journey with their son Daniel led to the birth of Lettuce Work.

Smith:Egli project4 from Jenna Smith on Vimeo.

Lettuce Work: Doug and Julie Sharp incorporated Lettuce Work in 2007.  Doug serves as the Executive Director and Julie is the Program Director of Lettuce Work. The passion for starting an enterprise like Lettuce Work came from real needs the Sharp's discovered in their roles as autism parents and their involvement in education of autism students at Oakstone Academy in Westerville, Ohio.  Doug Sharp wrote this to Autism Light about their mission.
As we saw our students progressing through high school, Julie and I recognized that there is a significant need for additional training post-high school for many of our ASD kids. Even if they have plans to attend college, many of them still need additional help/training developing their social skills & communication skills outside the school. And of course, there are also students who will not go on to college that need vocational training and assistance finding work and succeeding in a work environment after high school. There just aren't enough programs "out there" to meet this need. We wanted to create a work environment where we could focus on developing these skills for our young adults with autism, and help them find other employment opportunities and live independently to the extent they are able. We worked with Ohio State to create our hydroponic growing business model, and will be selling a pre-packaged salad mix to local restaurants.
According to Doug Sharp the first years of Lettuce Work were "dedicated to market research, creating a business plan, developing a board, and soliciting donations to construct our facility."  A new facility for the business is currently being constructed and should be finished in 2013.  Doug Sharp writes this about the future of the company.
New Home of Lettuce Work
Lettuce Work is best described as a "social enterprise, since it is an actual business, but instead of using profits to reward the business owners, those are used to provide services to our ASD associates. Since we are just getting started and still under construction, we are starting to work with the Vocational Ed. students from Oakstone Academy in Westerville, Ohio. This school is nationally known for their programs for ASD students, and we are working with them to provide work experience for their Voc Ed ASD students. Once construction is complete, we will transition the students over to our growing operation, where they will get involved in all aspects of the business. That not only includes the basics of planting, harvesting and packaging, but also customer interaction via sales & delivery, and a lot of chemistry and math due to our hydroponic growing systems. Also plenty of exposure to computers related to running the business and growing systems.
The Lettuce Work Foundation is a 501c3 organization and has a board of directors made up of professionals in Ohio who bring considerable skill and experience to the organization (Source).  Donations are extremely helpful at this time and one may make a secure online donation to the Lettuce Work foundation through their website.  Lettuce Work is an approved agency provider for the Ohio Developmentally Disabled system. For more information on the mission of Lettuce Work you can contact them in these ways:

The Lettuce Work Foundation
PO Box 217 New Albany, Ohio 43054
PH: (614) 893-8029

Social Media: You can follow Doug and Julie Sharp and the Lettuce Work Foundation at the following social media areas:

Doug Sharp said this to Autism Light about his expectation that programs that offer work opportunities for those with autism will become more widespread.
The most encouraging trend that I see is that more and more businesses are popping up that fit this "social enterprise" model to help employ adults with disabilities. I really believe this business model is the wave of the future versus the "traditional" non-profit organization that relies almost exclusively on donations to keep its doors open. Given the current economy and the extremely high unemployment rate for adults with disabilities (70%+), these small businesses are a bright light on the horizon.
Autism Light asked Doug Sharp how parents can prepare their older children for the day when they may enter the workplace.  This is what he said:
They need get started in High School and let the child work through the change together with their teacher/job coach and employer. Progress is measured in inches, not miles and in years, not days. Finding a patient employer who is willing to work with them is critical. Get started before they are out of high school. So many parents think that somehow their child will be able to go on to college or easily find a job after high school just like they did. Unfortunately, that's just not the case. Be honest and realistic about your child's interests, skills and abilities and get started sooner rather than later. Don't put it off - you'll do yourself and your child a big favor.
Special thanks to Doug and Julie Sharp for making a difference for autism. As children age and the population of adults with autism increases the business concept represented in Lettuce Work can serve as a model for how to create a win-win situation for business and disability services. We expect to hear great things from Lettuce Work as it grows and completes it's facility expansion in 2013.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

The Photos in this post were used with permission of Doug Sharp

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reid Soria

Autism Light #242 is Reid Soria.

Reid Soria is a 25 year old young man who has autism. He is from the Fort Walton Beach, Florida area. Reid Soria is an Autism Light because of how he is using his gift of singing to entertain and encourage others.  "I accept what I am, what I've always been on the inside. I am...a performer," said Reid on his Facebook FanClub Page.

Reid Soria's YouTube Channel provides this introduction to the musician.
"When words fail, autism sings!" Meet Reid Soria, a talented young singer diagnosed with autism at the age of three. At the time little hope was given for any progress in his development; in fact, it was recommended he be placed in an institution. But through years of hard work, faith, and hope, Reid has exceeded all expectations. Now he is pursuing his dream to become a professional singer and to help educate the public that having a disability doesn't mean having a lack of ability. We hope Reid will help to inspire anyone who hears him to pursue their own dreams with courage and conviction (Source).
There are dozens of inspirational videos of Reid Soria singing on his YouTube Channel at We've embeded two of them here.

Here is Reid Soria singing the songs "You Raise Me Up" and "Thankful."

The following is Reid Soria singing the Christmas song, "Mary, Did You Know". 

High School: Reid Soria graduated from Choctawhatchee Senior High School in 2004 (Source/Facebook).

Pyramid Players, Inc.:  Reid Soria has been part of the Pyramid Players of Ft. Walton Beach, Florida and the experience has given him opportunities to develop his talent. The Pyramid Players are a group of developmentally disabled individuals who are using their musical and artistic talents to perform throughout Florida and in Georgia and Alabama (Source). Reid Soria was part of the Pyramid Players as they performed the play, "Taking New York City" in 2012.

Facebook: There are two ways on Facebook that you can follow Reid Soria's inspiring career as an adult with autism.
  1. You can request to join the Reid Soria Fanclub group on Facebook 
  2. You can subscribe to receive public updates from his page at
Special thanks to Reid Soria for sharing his musical talents with us. He is an inspiration to the autism community and his life is a living example that people with autism can accomplish their dreams.  If you like this story you may wish to read about other individuals featured on Autism Light who have autism by going to the "Has Autism" Page. A link to Reid Soria's page will also be placed in the Florida Lights Page and in the Autism Light Music Page.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Billy Booth

Autism Light Classic
Updated on June 18, 2014. 

Autism Light #241 is Billy Booth. 

Billy is a cat who lives with the Booth family at the Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. Billy was a stray and abandoned cat that was taken in by the charity Cat's Protection and then subsequently adopted by the Booth family. Billy is an Autism Light because of the life-changing impact he has made in the life of Fraser Booth, a 6 year old boy with autism who is part of his adopted family. This post on Billy Booth was updated in honor of the book When Fraser Met Billy being published in February, 2014. The book was written by Louise Booth, Fraser's mother, and you can purchase it on

Here is a video about when Fraser met Billy the cat.

When Fraser was 4, his mother Louise said:
"If Fraser is around or playing in the garden, Billy is never far away. It is like he is watching Fraser and calming his behaviour. He always appears when Fraser is getting upset and offfers his head close to Fraser's to reassure him and recently, when Fraser was poorly, Billy sat on his lap all day. They say animals can sense things, but Billy seems to know before anybody else if Fraser is going to get upset (, Liz Hull, June 15, 2012)." 
Mrs. Booth added, "Bill has made a complete difference to our family life, he's taken away the stress, he's added happiness and an air of calm, he's just been amazing (, Liz Hull, June 15, 2012)."

Autism Light first wrote about Billy the Cat in 2012, and now in 2014 their relationship is changing but still important. Fraser's mother says:
Fraser’s relationship with Billy, meanwhile, continues to evolve as he grows less dependent on his furry friend. “It’s a different relationship because Fraser isn’t as intense a person as he was,” says Booth. “Now they really are best buddies. Before, Billy was very much like a minder, looking out for Fraser all the time (, Ruth Walker, 2/8/2014).
Social Media: You can follow Billy and Fraser on the Facebook Page for their book called When Fraser Met Billy.

Special thanks to Billy Booth for being a hero to a boy with autism named Fraser. Billy Booth is a wonderful representative for cats at Autism Light. If you want to read about other cats at Autism Light you can search for them with the label "Cat".

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dave and Mindy Rice

Autism Lights #240 are Dave and Mindy Rice.

Dave and Mindy Rice are from Las Vegas, Nevada. Dave Rice is currently the head coach of the men's basketball team at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dave and Mindy have two boys and their 9 year old son Dillon has autism. In response to the personal way in which autism has touched their lives they established the Dave Rice Foundation on February 9, 2012 (Source). Dave and Mindy Rice are Autism Lights for their work to make a difference for autism as parents and as creators of an autism foundation.

D.J. Allen, Sr., the Associate Athletic Director at UNLV said, "Anyone who has ever been involved in the life of a special needs child at any level understands the amount of love, dedication and sacrifice that goes into that child to maximize his or her potential. What Dave and Mindy have decided to do is personal. They're not doing this for sympathy. They're doing it because it's the right thing to do (Source)."

Education: Dave Rice graduated from UNLV in 1991 with a B.A. and 1993 with an MBA.

UNLV Basketball: Dave Rice was a member of the UNLV Men's Basketball team during the 1989-1990 season, when UNLV won the National Championship. After 11 years as an Assistant Coach for UNLV and one year as an Assistant Coach for Brigham Young University, Dave Rice became the head coach at UNLV on April 10, 2011. In the 2011-2012 season UNLV won 26 games and made it to the 2nd Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Dave Rice Foundation: Here is a video of Dave and Mindy Rice talking about their autism foundation.

Dave and Mindy Rice started the Dave Rice Foundation on February 9, 2012. Dave Rice serves as Chairman of the Board and Mindy Rice serves as Secretary/Treasurer of the Board.  Dave Rice said, "Shortly after we moved back to Las Vegas, we saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others, and to bring about attention to the needs of those who are affected by autism (Source)."

According to the Dave Rice Foundation website they are a "non-profit, tax exempt organization dedicated to the education and support of health initiatives including developmental disorders such as Autism, and other charitable causes. The Dave Rice Foundation will be partnering with the UNLV Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Dave Rice said, "The difficulty with autism is that we would go to the doctor and he would ask us what we thought. And I thought, 'Aren't you the doctor?' That was the frustrating part. And with this foundation, the education and awareness will just benefit everybody (Source)."

Fundraising Events:  On May 4, 2012, the foundation held "An Evening with Dave Rice" as it's first fundraiser (Source). On November 12, 2012, the Dave Rice Foundation held a fundraiser with the support of restaurants in Las Vegas (Source).

The following is a video of the press conference when Dave and Mindy Rice announced their foundation for autism.

For more information on the Dave Rice Foundation visit it's website at
or connect with them through the various methods listed on their website contact area

Social Media: You can follow Dave Rice and the Dave Rice Foundation at the following social media areas:
Special thanks to Dave and Mindy Rice for starting the Dave Rice Foundation and for being inspirational  public figures who are facing the challenges of being autism parents. The autism community in Nevada is blessed to have this foundation working to make the world a better place for families with autism. There will be a link to this post placed under the "Coach's section" of the Autism Light Sports Page as well as on the Autism Light Foundations Page

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Anthony Ianni

Autism Light #239 is Anthony Ianni.

Anthony Ianni is from Okemos, Michigan. Anthony has autism and defied all odds by graduating last year from Michigan State University. While in college he was a member of the nationally recognized Michigan State Spartans Men's Basketball Team. Anthony Ianni has a mission to spread an anti-bullying message to people within and outside the autism community. After graduation, Anthony became the Community Relations Advocate for the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Anthony Ianni is an Autism Light for his advocacy for autism and the example he sets of the success one can have in life even though they may have autism.

Anthony Ianni's biography for the Autism Alliance of Michigan starts out with these words about his remarkable journey through his educational process while having autism.
Anthony was diagnosed with autism at 4 years of age. His parents were told by medical specialists and professionals that he would never be successful academically, that he would likely not graduate from high school much less go to college, and most likely would live in a group home in the future--and that being an athlete was out of the question. HE PROVED THEM WRONG! (Source-Autism Alliance of Michigan).
College: Anthony Ianni received his B.A. in sociology from Michigan State University in 2012.  

Autism Light asked Anthony Ianni if he had any advice for students with autism and he said, 
For kids who struggle in school and they have autism, don't ever quit or give up on yourself or your school work. I struggled a lot in school whether it was homework, quizzes, or tests I still worked very hard to get my degrees from Okemos High School and Michigan State University. If you need help ask your teachers and they will help you in every way possible. I had more than 50 teachers who taught me throughout my life and I stay in contact with basically every one of them because they mean that much to me and without them I would not be the person that I am today. They are in the schools to help you be successful and always take advantage of that. I know I did and they helped me become very successful. Most importantly though, never ever ever give up in school. If things are hard just remember that there's always somebody there to help you.
Basketball Player:  Anthony Ianni played for the Michigan State University Spartans Men's Basketball team for two seasons from 2010-2012. In 2011 he earned the Tim Bograkos Walk-On Award and in 2012 he received the MSU Unsung Player Award.  Draymond Green, a college teammate of Anthony's who now plays in the NBA, said to Anthony, "It doesn't matter if I end up playing for Miami, Boston, Indiana, Cleveland, Detroit, or Dallas, no matter who I go up against in practice, no body will work as hard against me in practice like you did."  You can read more about Anthony's athletic career on his page at the Michigan State athletic website or his ESPN stats page

Autism Alliance of Michigan: Anthony Ianni works as the Community Relations Advocate for the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Anthony Ianni described his goals in life this way, "I want to make a difference in people’s lives, and I want to be able to be that hope and inspiration that people can look at, not just around the state but the nation as well (Source)." One of his roles is to share an anti-bullying message, especially how it relates to bullying towards the autism community. 

Anthony Ianni gave this quote to Autism Light on bullying:
Be careful what you say or do to others because they could be the next President of the U.S.A., a great movie star, or maybe the next Lebron James. If you see something, please say something because you can help prevent the bullying from happening and you could also not only change a person's life but possibly save one. Remember we are all different in many ways, but in the end we are all the same because we are created equally and we ARE all people.
Here is a small segment of Anthony Ianni presenting his anti-bullying message for Howell Public Schools in Michigan. 

To schedule Anthony for your event contact 

Governor's Michigan Autism Council: When Michigan Governor Rick Snyder established the Autism Council in 2012, Anthony Ianni was appointed to join the 12 member council as a representative of the Autism Spectrum Disorder community (Source). 

Autism Light asked Anthony Ianni if he had any encouragement for the autism community and he said,
People ask me all the time if there were days when I wanted to roll over and quit either because things were getting too hard, people always picking on me when I was younger, or if me having Autism was too much. Every time I heard people telling me I can't do something or I wouldn't be successful, I would take that negative energy and I would feed off of it. So I was too busy and very focused on accomplishing the things I wanted to do. Not to mention the words Never or Can't were apart of my vocabulary. I would never use my Autism as a crutch in my life. It's just something I was proudly born with and using excuses are not good things for people to use or say. If you have dreams or goals you want to achieve in life. Go for them, you may have people telling you that you can't, won't, never be good at anything in life. But all you need is motivation, support from great friends and family, and to work hard you'll get to your goals and dream. Reach for the stars because they're not hard to reach for. I've reached and touch the stars many many times in my life and I'm not done reaching for more stars in my life.
Here are some news articles written on Anthony Ianni's success.
Special thanks to Anthony Ianni and all he is doing for autism in Michigan. We believe that with his continued hardwork his impact will continue to be a ever growing light for autism. Anthony Ianni's post at Autism Light will be linked to the page with all those who Have Autism and also the Autism Light Sports Page.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Autism Light #238 is AutismCares.

AutismCares is a consortium of organizations that has been helping individuals with autism during times of both natural disasters and personal crisis since 2005.  They focus on helping anywhere a disaster occurs and recently they have been working to help victims with autism who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy.

According to their website, the mission of AutismCares is this.

AutismCares is a consortium of leading autism organizations who have come together to support individuals with autism and their families during natural disasters and other catastrophic life events (Source).

AutismCares' first national press release was in 2005 as a response to Hurricane Katrina (Source).  Here was a PSA's for AutismCares uploaded in 2007 on YouTube.

Partners: AutismCares 2012 partners include Autism Speaks, Doug Flutie Foundation, Talk About Curing Autism, FedEx, and the Lisa Higgins Foundation.

AutismCares provides information, resources, and grants to individuals with autism who have a need during a time of crisis. One may register online to apply for a grant at the AutismCares application login page.  AutismCares has the following notice on their website where people may go for more information.
The Autism Speaks Autism Response Team is taking calls from families affected by autism and Sandy. Trained staff (both English and Spanish speaking) are available to provide support and to direct callers to information, resources and assistance. Families can call the Autism Response Team at 1-888-288-4762, En EspaƱol at 888-772-9050, or email

If your family requires access to disaster help and resources: please visit or call (800) 621-3362. If there is an emergency, please call 911. (Source)
For more information on the work of AutismCares visit their website at

AutismCares is available not just during a disaster but also during castrophic life events for families with autism. Families facing foreclosure or having emergency needs for things like car repairs have been helped. You can read several testimonies of people helped by AutismCares on their website.  Here is one testimony.
"I wanted to send a note of thanks for giving us much needed help through Autism Cares. It hardly seems enough. The money you sent is going to help us more than you can imagine. We so appreciate Autism Cares and your ability to help those with autism and their families." - LA (Source).
Special thanks to AutismCares and all of it's partners who are helping meet needs for those with autism in times of disasters or personal need. They are truly a light and Hurricane Sandy has reminded us how much they are needed.

Note: There are many other organizations/foundations that have the resources to support people with autism in times of disaster or crisis. They may focus on a specific local, regional, or national area or target a specific group of families, such as military families. In the future Autism Light hopes to share about other organizations that are doing good work and following in the spirit of AutismCares to help those with autism in such needy times.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chris and Ivana LePoer

Autism Lights #237 are Chris and Ivana LePoer.

Today's Autism Lights endured a tragedy that no parent should ever have to face. And their constructive response to their loss will potentially be helpful to the future of autism research. Chris and Ivana LePoer are autism parents from Westborough, Massachusetts. Their 4 year old son Alexie LePoer had autism and tragically died from a pool drowning when he wandered away from his apartment on May 13, 2012--Mother's Day. Chris and Ivana LePoer are Autism Lights because after their son's death they quickly donated his brain to the Autism Research Foundation in time for it to be of use for autism research.

After he was diagnosed with autism and before his death, Alexie's parents were engaged in trying to help find answers to the mystery of autism. Chris LePoer said, "If some stranger came into your house and hurt your child, you'd want to know why. It needs to be understood. It needs to be stopped (Source)."

To help make a difference, Chris and Ivana LePoer enrolled in a research study of autism focused on younger siblings, a project overseen in part by Dr. Margaret Bauman at the Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington. After their son Alexie's untimely death they made the ultimate contribution by donating his brain to the Autism Research Foundation.

Sharon Henderson, a friend of the family said, “The family is dedicated and committed to finding answers to this terrible condition that affects so many of our children (Source)."

The Autism Research Foundation stores brains at the Harvard "Brainbank", formerly called the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center. Alexie's four year old brain is the youngest ever received by the Autism Research Foundation for study. Note that Alexie LePoer's brain was not part of the group of brains from the Brainbank that were found to have tragically thawed and become damaged on May 31, 2012 (Source).

When Chris LePoer learned that his son's brain was not harmed in the Brainbank's tragic loss of a group of autism brains he said, "It's kind of a mixed bag. I'm just grateful he'll be able to continue to help in this horrible situation (Source)."

Special thanks to Chris and Ivan LePoer for donating their son's brain for autism research. We mourn the loss of this little boy with autism along with his parents, but are appreciative that they had the unselfishness to allow their son to be part of autism research after his death.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bernard Marcus

Autism Light #236 is Bernard Marcus.

Bernard Marcus is a businessman and the co-founder of Home Depot. Bernard Marcus was born to Jewish immigrants from Russia and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the years Bernard Marcus has been an Autism Light through his charitable giving for autism treatment and research. In 1991 he founded the Marcus Center for Autism in Atlanta, Georgia, which has helped over 40,000 children and families dealing with autism since it's formation.

Education: Bernard Marcus earned his pharmacy degree from Rutgers University. In 2008, Marcus was given the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters form Emory University. You can listen to his 2008 Commencement address at Emory University at on YouTube at this link.

Home Depot:  Home Depot (NYSE: HD) is the world's largest home improvement warehouse and has stores in all 50 states of the United States. Home Depot was founded in 1978 by Bernard Marcus, Arthur Blank, Ron Brill, and Pat Farrah (Source).  Marcus served as the CEO of Home Depot from 1979-1997. Although they are self-insured, Home Depot has provided the ABA benefit to all it's eligible full-time employees who have children with autism (Source).

Marcus Autism Center: The Marcus Autism Center is a premier organization for the diagnosis and treatment of autism in Atlanta, Georgia. They have received national acclaim through their designation as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Autism Center of Excellence (Source). Significantly, the Marcus Center has merged with the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to meet the unique medical needs of those they serve with autism (Source). For more information on the Marcus Autism Center visit their website at

The following video is Bernard Marcus discussing the work of the Marcus Center for Autism. In the video he explains the amazing work being done but also notes they "haven't even scrapped the surface."

Charitable Giving: Bernard Marcus is Jewish and besides children's causes and autism, he also has a passion for supporting Jewish causes through the Marcus Foundation, and he serves as the chairman of that foundation.  Business Week lists Bernard Marcus as one of the Top 50 Givers in America (Source).

Awards:  The following outstanding recognitions have been given to Bernard Marcus.
  • In May, 2005, Marcus received The Others Award from The Salvation Army.
  • In February, 2009, Marcus was named a Georgia Trustee, by the Georgia Historical Society, which is the highest award given to a Georgian for philanthropy and community service (Source).

More Information: For more information on Bernard Marcus you can visit these biographical websites:
Bernard Marcus' charitable interest in autism is making a difference for children in Atlanta and around the country.  In addition, families with autism who work at Home Depot are fortunate to receive a generous autism insurance benefit. Special thanks to Bernard Marcus for being an Autism Light.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Georgia Lights

The State of Georgia is the home currently to 9 Autism Lights. They include individuals with autism, autism parents, a professional athlete, animals, and a businessman. The Georgia delegation at Autism Light are outstanding examples of the diversity of autism.

Georgia Autism Lights

Individuals with Autism:
  1. Nicholas Bennett is from Gainesville, Georgia. He has autism and served as his high school's basketball team manager from 2011-2015. He gained fame for making 1,000 half-court shots over the years of practicing with the team.
  2. Cortland Hale is from Snellville, Georgia. He has autism and is a former football player with Brookwood High School. He is listed on the Autism Light Sports page.
  3. David Militello is a young singer who has autism from Georgia. He has been honorably nicknamed the "Little Michael Jackson".
Autism Parents:

Tom Herrion is an autism father and assistant coach for Georgia Tech.  He is the co-founder of Coaches Powering Forward for Autism. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
    Golden Retriever Puppies of LionPaws are puppies being trained to be services dogs with students with autism at The Lion School in Alpharetta, Georgia.
      Xena is from Johns Creek, Georgia and is a Pitbull who is a service dog to Jonny Hickey, who has autism.

      1. Jeff Francoeur is from Lilborn, Georgia. He plays Major League Baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies and was recognized for his great attitude toward a fan with autism while playing for the Kansas City Royals.
      2. Bernard Marcus is from Atlanta, Georgia. He is the co-founder of Home Depot and the benefactor for the Marcus Autism Center.
      Memorial Roll:
        Nancy Herndon Cale (1944-2017) is from Sharpsville, Georgia. She was an autism grandmother who spent decades of her life in advocacy and answering phones at the Autism Research Institute call center.

        You may reach all these posts by searching the blog through the "Georgia" Label.

        The map of Georgia is in the Wikipedia Commons.