Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nathan Pustka

Autism Light #157 is Nathan Pustka.

Nathan Pustka is a student from Spring, Texas. He is a musical savant who has autism. Nathan Pustka is an Autism Light for the gift he has in music and how utilizing that talent blesses others and may open the door for other people with autism to focus on music.

Nathan Putstka has perfect pitch and can play songs on the piano after he hears them on his iPod. Only 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch. He taught himself to play the piano and doesn't read music. Both of Nathan's parents are deaf.  Julie Hansen a music teacher said, "I've been a piano teacher for 15 years and I've never seen anybody like Nathan (Source)."

The following is a news story done on Nathan Pustka's talent in 2010 when he was 16 and attended Klein Collins High SchoolFor more information on this visit Katie McCall's written report on this story.

The following is another news story done on Nathan Pustka's talent in 2009 when he was 15 and was attending Brenham State Supported Living Center

In January, 2012, the YouTube user scharlesdecker left this comment on the above video that demonstrates how Nathan Putstka's talents continue to inspire new people in the autism community who learn of his story.
As the father of two sons with autism, one non-verbal, I just wanted to say thanks. Your video was so inspirational. While most with autism are not savants like Nathan, everyone....regardless of their abilities has something to share in this world. Sometimes it's as simple as the change for the better that they make in their caregiver or the people who take the time to know them (scharlesdecker). 
Special thanks to Nathan Pustka for sharing his musical talent with the world. A piano teacher named Julie Hansen said it best, "The fascinating thing about Nathan is we really don't know what the limit is. It's just a matter of sitting down with him and just exploring (Source)." We expect to hear great things from Nathan Putstka's musical performance in the future. 

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dan, Carey, and Rob Tedesco

Autism Lights #156 are Dan, Carey, and Rob Tedesco.

Dan and Carey Tedesco
Rob Tedesco

The Tedesco's are from Shelton, Connecticut. Dan and Carey Tedesco are the parents of a son named Evan who has autism. Rob Tedesco is Evan's Uncle. In August, 2008 the trio founded a family business called HandHold Adpative to help provide mobile app needs for autism and special needs. Dan and Carey Tedesco and Rob Tedesco are Autism Lights because of the way in which HandHold Adaptive is meeting communication needs in the autism community.

HandHold Adpative has created several important apps that are available for the autism community. According to their website the mission of HandHoldAdaptive is to "'bridge the divide' between the special needs community and a dynamic world, by innovating technologies that make life easier for people with disabilities and their caregivers."

The following is a news story done about HandHold Adaptive's creation of the iPrompts App.

Carey Tedesco uses a mobile phone with her son Evan
HandHold Adpative has created the following Apps for mobile phones and the iPad that may be of interest to the autism community:
  • Autism Track--their newest app is a journaling tool that allows caregivers of people with autism to track interventions, behaviors, and symptoms.
  • iPrompts--their original app is a visual support tool that allows people with autism to communicate better. Wade Wingler of the INDATA Project with Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana did a demonstration of iPrompts for the iPad in a video on YouTube
Dan Tedesco said the following about the potential importance of mobile apps to people with autism.
We believe that the autism community needs mobile apps to enable better integration in society. Managing anxieties, communication, data tracking, and ultimately real-time job coaching are all things that can be accomplished in discrete, non-stigmatizing, dynamic and adaptable ways by employing mobile devices (Rob Tedesco).
Partnerships: Handhold Adaptive has partnerships with Autism Speaks, Els for Autism, Southern Connecticut State University's Autism Center. In addition, some exciting new partnerships are being planned as well with some Ivy League schools.

Dan and Carey Tedesco came up with the ideas for their autism Apps because of needs they encountered during the every day care and education of their son Evan who has autism. Rob Tedesco writes,
Dan and Carey are inspired to create tools based on real-life needs in the household in the ordinary course of caring for Evan, who has autism, e.g., we need to track data more efficiently, so we invented Autism Track. We worked with our developers to prototype and test, and also secure grant funding. Under grants and research contracts, we work with universities to study efficacy and improve the apps.
Social Media: Dan and Carey Tedesco and HandHold Adaptive can be followed on the following social media areas:
Special thanks to Dan and Carey Tedesco and Rob Tedesco for creating a business that provides mobile technology apps that are making a difference for people with autism. We are grateful that the love they have for their son and nephew inspired them to share a resource with other parents and people with autism as well. If you liked this post you may wish to read the other Autism Light posts with the label iPad on them.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post are used with permission of the Tedesco Family.

This post went into syndication on Autisable.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Kendrick Brinson

Autism Light #154 is Kendrick Brinson. 

Photo of Kendrick Brinson and prom date
Kendrick with his lovely prom date (2011)
Kendrick Brinson is an 18 year old from Soledad, California located in Monterey, County. Kendrick has autism and demonstrated tremendous success as a student athlete in his high school career. Kendrick Brinson is an Autism Light because of the inspiration his accomplishments in high school provides to those associated with autism. His character continues to be forged in a notable way as a college student.

While Kendrick was nonverbal until the age of 7, he received intensive speech therapy that helped him.  The record of his academic achievements defy the expectations of many who knew him back when he was first diagnosed with autism at age 3. In 2011 Kendrick Brinson graduated from Soledad High School with a 3.67 GPA. In addition to participation in standard social events such as Prom, he was a critical part of his Varsity Basketball team. 

Basketball: Required by his parents to step out of his comfort zone and to take up the challenge of at least one club or sport during school, Kendrick selected basketball early on because of his interests and gifts in the sport. It's something that he is grateful he experienced, and he encourages other students with autism to "try something you've never done" while you are in school.  His record in basketball prior to his senior year is an example of discipline, growth, and achievements.
  • In 5th grade he received the Male Student of the Year for his entire school district.
  • In 7th grade he didn't make the basketball team, but he didn't give up on his goals.
  • In 8th grade, he was on the basketball team and won the Most Improved Player.
  • In 9th grade, he played center on the Freshman Basketball team and received the Coaches Award.
  • In 10th grade, he moved to Monterey County, California and made the Varsity Basketball Team in his new school. He was one of only two Sophomores to make the Varsity team.
  • In 11th grade, he was the starting center for the Varsity Basketball Team at Soledad High School and received the Defensive Player of the Year Award.  He was named in the Alverez Eagle Classic as the All Defensive Player. 

Senior Basketball Star: In his Senior Varsity Year in 2011, Kendrick Brinson averaged 18 points per game on offense and was was nicknamed the "BEAST" because of his tenacious defensive play. Fans use to chant "UNLEASH THE BEAST" when a tough defensive stop was needed. Kendrick received the Most Valuable Player Award that year and he was ranked #6 in the Mission Trails League. He was selected to play in the Monterey County All Star Basketball Tournament. 

Basketball's Lessons: Autism Light asked Kendrick Brinson how basketball prepared him for life and this is what he said,
I think the most important thing I learned from playing basketball, was to always try to look outside of the box in certain situations. So often, people like me, with the autism diagnosis have such difficulty looking at situations from a different/more proactive perspective. Basketball taught me that even if you feel like your loosing the battle, you've actually won the fight to overcome symptoms of your negative self. Whether you win or lose, is irrelevant...You must give everything in life--100% (Kendrick Brinson).
Shared Dreams and Feelings: Kendrick Brinson offers the following perspective on the feelings and dreams of people with autism and in doing so demonstrates that what people with autism have in common with others is greater than any differences.
I don't mind having Autism, but I do mind being singled out and defined by it. Autism doesn't define me, because I want the same things every person at my age wants, to live my life, to be understood for who I am, to find love, have a rewarding career, and continue to do the best I can. Every person on this earth has something great to contribute. I'm no exception. People with autism are just like you. We want to be included, we want to know you get why we react to certain things, either good or bad, we want you to know we aren't stupid...We think differently but most of the times arrive at the same answer. Take the time to learn and educate yourselves. Trust me, it would make us ALL happier! (Kendrick Brinson).
Parents: Much of Kendrick Brinson's success is because of his parents involvement in his life. His mother Andria Brinson is a full-time autism advocate. You can read about her work at this news story by the Soledad Bee. Kendrick Brinson said, "I personally think that what made me so very successful in school was my mother and fathers ability to advocate for me, their continual support, and my innate drive to overcome my Autism obstacle."

College: Today Kendrick Brinson attends San Jose State University, where he is majoring in Accounting with an interest in Global Finance. He also has had the opportunity after high school to experience the thrill of working (and paying taxes).

Special thanks to Kendrick Brinson for being a light that other students with autism can follow. Kendrick has shown that significant achievements in academics, athletics, and social activities can be obtained by people with autism.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with permission of Andria Brinson.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mark Yeager

Autism Light #153 is Dr. Mark Yeager.

Dr. Mark H. Yeager is from Smith County, Mississippi. He is often referred to as the "Father of the Mississippi Autism Movement." Viewed as the top authority on autism in the State of Mississippi, Mark Yeager has provided services to people with autism since 1975. "His experiences range from being a classroom teacher to program developer creating new and innovative based programs (Source)." Dr. Mark Yeager is an Autism Light for the dedication he has had for over 35 years to improving the quality of life for people with autism in Mississippi. The effectiveness of his work is an example to the autism field across the United States and world.

The following is a video of Dr. Mark Yeager speaking on "The Hidden Part of Autism" on May 5, 2010 at The Institute for Disability Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Autism Light asked Dr. Mark Yeager how he felt we could best help improve the quality of life for those with autism. He shared the following:
I think that one of the most misinterpreted issues within the ASD community is that people with ASD prefer not to do many things.  This often leads to them being left out of so many opportunities.  My years of experience has taught me that it is not the lack of interest or desire but the lack of opportunity that keeps autistic people away from so much.  It is our collective responsibility to provide as many opportunities as possible for our autistic friends and family members so that they can enjoy participating in life with everyone else --Dr. Mark Yeager. 
Adjunct Professor: Dr. Mark Yeager is a 1998 graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, where he earned his Ph.D. in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr. Mark Yeager serves as an adjunct professor at both the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University.  Dr. Mark Yeager created and taught the first classes in the state of Mississippi exclusively dedicated to autism (Source). He has also delivered autism lectures to the Minister of Education in India.

Autism Bill of Rights: One of the ways in which Dr. Mark Yeager's autism work has been felt outside of Mississippi is related to the Autism Bill of Rights.  He created the Autism Bill of Rights and the document can be viewed at this link.

Autism Camps: Mark Yeager also serves as the Camp Director for Autism Camps in Mississippi known as TEAAM'S Adventure Based Programs. The programs allow people with autism inclusive opportunities to experience a camp program.  In this past year 190 campers and 140 volunteers were involved in the Kamp Kaleidoscope and Camp Walapei at their Center Ridge Outpost.  The Center Ridge Outpost is about 6 miles south of Raleigh, Mississippi.  The website for more information on these Autism Camps is at www.autismcamps.org.

Yeager Group: Dr. Mark H. Yeager is co-founder of the Yeager Group. The Yeager Group provides "assessments, quality training, assistance in the classroom, teacher and family support, IEP recommendations, behavior programs, student counseling and more (Source)." If you are interested in their services contact them at The Yeager Group, PO Box 37, Mize, MS 39116 or through other channels listed on their website.

Social Media: You can follow Dr. Mark Yeager at the following social media areas.
For more information on Dr. Mark Yeager vist his biography at this Website.  Special thanks to Dr. Mark Yeager for shining your light for over 35 years to improve the life of people with autism in Mississippi.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with permission of Dr. Mark Yeager.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sam Wessels

Autism Light Classic
Updated on May 6, 2013. 

Autism Light #152 is Sam Wessels.

Sam Wessels is from Rock Rapids, Iowa. Sam is 11 years old and was diagnosed with autism on March 25, 2004 at 26 months of age. Sam Wessels has been taught from an early age to be an autism advocate. On the United States' President's Day  2012, we first introduced you to this young man with autism who interacted with the candidates with aspirations of being elected President of the United States in 2012. In the year since then Sam continues to shine his light for autism. Sam Wessels is an Autism Light for the way his self-advocacy for autism resonates and influences others, whether it is through his CNN iReport, his role in an autism documentary movie, or his political advocacy that has resulted in keeping the issue of autism alive on the campaign trail in both the State of Iowa and the United States for two Presidential campaigns so far (2008 and 2012).

CNN iReport: In 2013 Sam Wessels had an iReport nominated for the 3rd Annual CNN iReport Awards.  Called I can help others with autism because I have autism, it was one of just 36 chosen out of 11,000 iReport videos. Sam's  iReport has had over 10,000 views as of May 5, 2013. Watch Sam Wessels iReport at this link.  Sam Wessels' iReport was selected #1 by voters in the category of "Personal Story" for his advocacy work. 

United States of Autism (Released in 2013):  When Sam Wessels was 8 years old, he and his family were one of 21 families featured in the documentary movie called the United States of Autism (Source). For more information on the United States of Autism project see the post when it's Director and Producer Richard Everts was named Autism Light #29. Here is a video of Sam's role in the film and it's public release in 2013. You can also read Beth Rickers article published in the Worthington Daily Globe for written information on Sam Wessels family being featured in this documentary.

Lin Wessels (Sam's Mother) said that, "Sam's out there speaking for kids that have no voice. He's giving a voice to the voiceless (Source)."  Lin Wessels was Autism Light #278 if you wish to read about her autism advocacy.

Sam Wessels and President Barack Obama
2012 Political Advocacy: Sam Wessels met President Barack Obama on September 1, 2012. In a brief meeting with the President, Sam asked, "President Obama if he would please join him in standing up for people with autism. He further explained that he himself stands up for people with autism because he has autism, and although he is able to speak for himself, too many people with autism are not and someone needs to stand up for them as well (Source)." For more on this meeting read Lin Wessels complete article on this event written originally for the Age of Autism.

Sam Wessels also met 7 of 9 Republican primary candidates for President in 2012. During the Winter campaign leading up to the critical Iowa Caucus, Sam was able to ask the question "What Will You Do For Autism?" to Presidential Candidates Michelle Bachman, Herman CainNewt GingrichRon Paul, Tim PawlentyMitt Romney, and Rick Santorum (you can listen to the responses on YouTube at the links next to each candidate's name). The Iowa Caucus was held on January 3, 2012. In a closely contested race the certified results showed that Sen. Rick Santorum had 34 more votes than any other candidate in the Republican Iowa Caucus (Source). Incumbent President Barack Obama won the Iowa Caucus for the Democrats.

Sam's mother Lin Wessels explains on her Facebook page about how they went about trying to ask questions at various campaign meetings.
...it is no easy feat to first attend any political event with a child with autism in tow, let alone hitting the campaign trail. We have had to drive substantial distances. It takes a good deal of preparation. We try very hard to get there a fair bit in advance to ensure we can get optimal seating. A lot of waiting is involved. It is often crowded, sometimes even overflowing. There is no guarantee of who will get picked to ask a question, if any are even taken. It is a crap shoot. If you are called on, you had best be precise and calculating in your question and even then, a real and true response is rare. BUT, when your child with autism does get called on and NAILS IT, it is exhilarating!! To see him (or her) learning to advocate for himself and others, teaching them about the political process while bestowing in them a sense of something bigger than oneself, it makes me proud beyond measure (Source). 
2008 Campaign Advocacy:  Sam Wessels' first Presidential Election to be involved in political advocacy for autism was in 2008 when he was 5 years old. He met Sen. John McCain when he was in Sioux City, Iowa in April, 2007.  As a result of this advocacy, Sam's mother, Lin Wessels, was asked to meet with Sen. John McCain in Washington DC about autism advocacy (Source). Pictures of Sam Wessel's 2008 political advocacy are available on Lin Wessel's "Our Political Advocacy" photo album on Facebook.

Other Blogs: Other blogs and Websites have featured Sam Wessels' story of autism advocacy during the 2012 Presidential Campaign. Visit these posts for more information.
Social Media: To follow Sam Wessel's advocacy on Facebook join the group Something for Sam that is administrated by his mother Lin Wessels.

Sam Wessles seems empowered in his efforts by the realization that he functions higher than some of his peers on the autism spectrum who are unable to speak and need an advocate to speak for them. It is an inspiration to see a young man with autism who is involved in advocacy at the highest political levels. Special thanks to Sam Wessels for spreading his autism advocacy message whenever the opportunity arises through the media or in encounters with influential leaders. Something tells us that in the years ahead we will be updating this page again as we track Sam Wessels autism advocacy and growth as an individual who cares deeply about the range of diverse people on the autism spectrum.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photos in this post is used with permission of Lin Wessels.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Felecia Rozansky

Autism Light Classic
Updated on July 26, 2012.

Autism Light #151 is Felecia Rozansky

Felecia Rozansky is from East Meadow, New York. Her teenage son Eric has autism.  She became a special education teacher because of an obsession with autism born out of a love for her son. When Eric was older, she decided to go after her dream of starting a business known as Felecia's Fabulous Cookies. Felecia Rozansky is an Autism Light for all she has done as a mom, special education teacher, and how she used her business to continue to raise awareness for autism.

Teacher: Felecia Rozansky received her Master's Degree from Hofstra University. She spent 5 years teaching in New York and her skill had been acknowledged by the granting of tenure.

Felecia's Fabulous Cookies (2011-2012): Felecia Rozansky put her dreams to operate a cookie store on hold when she discovered her son had autism (later diagnosed as Aspergers), but she realized her life dream when she opened her cookie store on September 15, 2011. She used the business to raise awareness for autism, and it was a place people could talk about autism. Some people visited Felecia's store because they heard of her connection to autism through either her son or her donations and wanted to support the efforts, but others came for the delicious cookies and share that their life is also touched by autism. A portion of the proceeds from cookie sales were donated to the Autism Society of America.

Selling Store: On July 25, 2012, Felicia Rozansky shared with the Patch that she had sold her cookie store. Felicia Rozansky said, "My reason for selling the shop is entirely due to family obligations. In order to really start a new business it has to be your number one priority (For more information read the Patch Article).

Eric Rozansky Fund for Accepting People with Autism: Felecia Rozansky started the Eric Rozansky Fund for Accepting People with Autism and has her sights set on raising $10,000 for the fund.  Felecia Rozansky said, "I use the word accepting because I don't want to be tolerated. The money will be used to help educate the people on Autism (Source)."

Felecia Rozansky wrote to Autism Light that she is most passionate about educating the world about autism. This is is what she has learned after meeting so many people associated with autism.
We always agree that you don't 'outgrow it, get or cure it'...and that's not what anyone seems to want. We all seem to want someone else to talk to and people to just understand. We all seem to want to make the world a little easier for our loved ones to belong to...as we try to educate those with autism about the world, we also want to educate the world about autism.
Website: At the present time, you can still learn information on the former Felecia's Fabulous Cookies at their website at www.feleciasfabulouscookies.com. The story of her journey with autism and those yum-yum cookies is also on her website. You can also follow her blog.

Special thanks to Felecia Rozansky for being an Autism Light. She inspires the autism community by how she always put her family first. Her story is a reminder to all of us that business and work will come and go, but family is forever! We are confident that whatever the next step is in Felecia Rozansky's life, it will always involve being an Autism Light.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photos in this post is used with permission of Felecia Rozansky.

This post went into syndication on Autisable.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jason McElwain and Coach Jim Johnson

Autism Lights #150 are Jason McElwain and Coach Jim Johnson.

It's difficult to think of an event from years ago still being talked about on social media?  But search the name "Jason McElwain" on Twitter or Google+, especially this time of the year, and your likely to experience some shares, tears, and smiles about an event that happened in 2006. Jason McElwain is a graduate of Greece-Athena High School in Rochester, New York and Jim Johnson is the Varsity Boy's Basketball Coach for Greece-Athena High School. Jason McElwain, who has autism, and his Coach Jim Johnson are Autism Lights for bringing hope to the autism community. What started with an amazing 4 minutes at the end of a basketball game continues today as they shine a light for hope both on and off the court.

On February 15, 2006, with the game's outcome no longer in doubt, Coach Jim Johnson sent his high school basketball manager, Jason McElwain (J-Mac), in to play the final four minutes of the senior night game. What happened next would be an amazing feat for the most veteran player, but considering Jason McElwain has autism and was coming in cold off the bench to play his first ever minutes of competitive high school basketball, it is considered truly a miracle.   In just four minutes of game time, Jason McElwain dramatically scored six three-pointers and one two-pointer to score 20 points in the game and end up being the high scorer of the game. This event raised awareness for the capabilities of people with autism and inspired countless numbers of parents and people with autism to strive to reach their dreams. Embed here is one of the many news stories on J-Mac's game. This one was shared at the 2006 NBA Finals. The video shows how Jason McElwain's accomplishment gave hope to Terry and Kerri Connolly, whose son Eric has autism.

  • The performance of Jason McElwain in this basketball game quickly made him a household name. Jason McElwain was listed #8 on the toptenz.net Top Ten list of people known to have autism (Source).
  • Jason McElwain won a 2006 ESPY Award for the Best Moment in Sports that year.
Here is a news story recorded a year ago for the 5th anniversary of Jason McElwain's historic game that reveals how time has afforded both J-Mac and Coach Jim Johnson opportunities to continue to reach for their dreams.

Coach Jim Johnson Today: Coach Jim Johnson continues to coach the Boy's Varsity Basketball Team at Greece-Athena High School in Rochester, New York. He has been on the sidelines for 25 years and has over 335 wins. A complete biography is available at this link.  Jim Johnson also has become a published author and is a widely used professional speaker. His services have been utilized by corporations, educational institutions, religious institutions, and diverse organizations as a motivational trainer and speaker.  You may visit  his website to find out how you can book Coach Jim Johnson to fill your need for a great speaker. Coach Johnson will talk about the miracle of coaching Jason McElwain and also has other stories stemming from a career of 25 years of coaching young men in the game of basketball and life. His motto in his speaking is "Dreams Really Do Come True."

In 2011 Coach Jim Johnson published his book "A Coach and a Miracle" that talks about the Life Lessons that he learned by believing in an autistic boy named Jason McElwain. You may purchase the book at this website or click on the book to purchase it.

Jason McElwain Today: Today Jason McElwain works two jobs and when he has opportunity to speaks utilizes the motto: "Sometimes Dreams Do Come True".  J-Mac is also a volunteer assistant basketball coach for the Junior Varsity team at Greece-Athena High School, where he continues to work with Coach Jim Johnson. Several follow up articles have been written on Jason McElwain over the years, including Linder on Preps in 2007 and a Clay Travis article in 2009. Jason McElwain's dream is to become a college basketball coach.

Movie: The rights were sold long ago to make a movie on the life story of Jason McElwain, but there is no timetable for its production. Magic Johnson is going to be a co-producer of the film. Maybe they can get Kevin Costner to play Coach Jim Johnson and Luke Schroeder to play Jason McElwain.

Social Media: Jason McElwain has a Wikipedia page you can visit and also has a Facebook page.

Special thanks to Jason McElwain and Coach Jim Johnson for bringing a moment in sports that we can replay over and over whenever we need to find our dreams again. I think the reason this story has touched so many people's lives is that parents are often told to give up on their dreams when they have a child with autism. Jason McElwain's story reminds us that dreams for our children with autism don't have to end even if the take a different road. Those dreams may still be reached in a manner that goes beyond our wildest imaginations.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photos in this post are used with permission of Jim Johnson.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Mushers

Autism Light #149 is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Mushers.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is an annual sporting event that is one of the most popular in Alaska. The great race coves over 1,000 miles in sometimes sub-zero or blizzard conditions from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. It takes 9-15 days for participants (called mushers) to complete as they drive teams of about 12 dogs. The Iditarod Race mushers are an Autism Light because in 2010 they helped provide $15,000 in support to make it possible for a boy with autism, Logan Erickson, to receive an autism service dog.

Logan Erickson is a 10 year old boy with autism who is chiefly nonverbal. He has been a fan of the Iditarod Race when he experienced it coming through Unalakleet, Alaska. Dee Dee Jonrowe is a musher and family friend of the Erickson's. Logan spoke his first word in seven years when he said, "Miyagi", the name of one of Dee Dee Jonrowe's race dogs. Dee Dee Jonrowe and other mushers of the Iditarod Race decided to take up Logan's cause and in 2010 donated almost $15,000 to help pay the expenses to bring an autism service dog to Logan Erickson.

Juke Erickson is the name of the yellow labrador dog who now lives in Unalakleet, Alaska with the Erickson family, thanks to the generosity of the Iditarod Race mushers. He has been trained by the 4 Paws for Ability organization to be an autism service dog for Logan Erickson. Juke is trained to find Logan in the event that he wanders, as children with autism do.

4 Paws for Ability completely trained Juke to be able to provide autism service. In the video when it speaks of Juke being trained by the Erickson family, it refers to the steps they took to help Juke apply his new skills specifically to the service of Logan Erickson. 

For more information on the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race visit these websites.
Special thanks to the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race Mushers for being an Autism Light and helping bring Juke Erickson to Alaska. The Mushers become the first Autism Light from the State of Alaska. If you liked this post you may want to read about the other Autism Lights who have the label, "Animal".

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post was acquired from the Wikipedia Commons.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mike Frandsen

Autism Light #148 is Coach Mike Frandsen.

Mike Frandsen is a coach. But he presides over a unique team that doesn't measure their success in wins and losses. You see he is not the kind of coach you'd find working in loud arenas and under the bright lights.  Instead he devotes his time to individually coaching people with autism to reach their next goal. Mike Frandsen offers in-home tutoring and therapeutic services in the Bethesda, Maryland and Washington D.C. area geared to improve the skills of children and adults with autism in academics, social skills, sports, and life skills. Coach Mike Frandsen is an Autism Light because of the valuable help he gives to those impacted by autism.

Authentic Happiness: When Autism Light asked Coach Mike what made him want to be an Autism Coach, he said, "I believe children with autism have great potential to learn. Autism is also increasing faster than most other disabilities, so the need is there. I like the unfiltered honesty and authenticity of the kids. I like to answer kids' questions about how the world works, help them learn how to make friends, and develop a sense of humor."

Coach Mike Frandsen speaks affectionately about his work:
How could you not enjoy reading books with children, running play dates, taking kids swimming, sledding or jumping on a trampoline, coaching them in soccer, and using puppets to make them laugh? How could you not like answering their questions about how the world works? How could you not get a tremendous amount of authentic happiness from teaching a child to multiply, divide, and do word problems when at one point he couldn't add two plus two? (Source)
To read more about Coach Mike Frandsen's love for his work read an online article at the  examiner.com.

Education: Mike Frandsen earned his MBA from American University and has an MS in Education and Graduate Certificate in Autism and other Pervasive Developmental Disorders from John Hopkins University.

Methodology: While most of our Autism Lights who provide therapy do so either through the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) or through DIR/Floortime, Mike Frandsen uses an eclectic approach. On his website he writes:
I believe a combination of ABA and DIR methods is optimal because ABA provides structure and repetitive learning based on behavioral objectives, while the DIR model focuses on relationships and interests, and teaches skills based on emotional development. Children with autism need a combination and balance of both structure and meaningfulness when they learn (Source).
Advice to Parents: Coach Mike offered this advice to Autism Light for all parents of children with autism:
Find out what your kids are most interested in and build around those things. Don't focus on the past or the future, but take things day by day. Don't set limits, but accept your kids as they are. Build friendships between your kids and their peers, and between yourselves and other parents.
Website: There are several websites for additional information on Coach Mike's life and work. would

Social Media: You can follow Coach Mike's work and life at the following social media areas.
Kidney Transplant: Coach Mike has a Kidney disease and after a long pursuit of a suitable kidney donor, he received a transplant of a kidney on November 1, 2012. He is doing well in his recovery and hopes to return to his work in January, 2013.

Special thanks to Coach Mike Frandsen for being an Autism Light. The autism community is cheering and pulling for you to win your battle with kidney disease. You are awesome!

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with permission of Mike Frandsen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Nora Baladerian

Autism Light #147 is Dr. Nora Baladerian.

One of the constant worries that parents have is keeping their children safe every day in every way. While the challenge impacts all parents, it weighs especially heavily on those who have children with disabilities, such as autism. According to Chantal Sicile-Kara, "those who specialize in the field of abuse & disability believe that for both children and adults, increased victimization is more likely 10 times the rate than for those without disabilities (Source)."  Today's Autism Light is a courageous light who has spent 40 years in an emotionally charged field, to which she has made priceless contributions with her outstanding professional expertise. 

Dr. Nora Baladerian, Ph.D lives in Los Angeles, California. Dr. Nora Baladerian is the Director of the Disability and Abuse Project in Los Angeles. She is a licensed psychologist who also has her own private practice.  Dr. Nora Baladerian is an Autism Light because of the key roles she has had in the field of sexual abuse of the disabled, including making a difference in areas of prevention and training, healing and therapy, and forensics and justice. To find out more information beyond what is mentioned here you may wish to view Dr. Nora Baladerian's complete online resume found in a section of her professional website.  

Dr. Nora Baladerian began her journey that has led to her life's work in 1972 when as a sexuality related counselor one of her clients revealed they were an incest victim. She recounts how she found out there was a need in this area:
I had taken all the educational courses I could at UCLA and USC under Regional Center about people with developmental disabilities when I worked there...none mentioned anything about abuse, crime victimization, sexual assault. I figured where there was one, there were many. I set out to learn all I could about crime victims with disabilities, but there was nothing, literally, that I found at that time. I began to attend any child abuse seminar/workshop/class/meeting that I could all the while asking, 'how does what you are teaching relate to kids/adults with disabilities?" No answers."  
Dr. Nora Baladerian then set out to learn all she could about sexual assault. She is a Certified Sex Educator, Certified Sex Therapist and  founding member of the California Committee on Sexuality and Developmental Disabilities. Through her gifts and passion to never stop learning, she has become a leading expert in the field of sexual abuse of people with developmental disabilities.

Conferences: Dr. Nora Baladerian has given presentations at numerous important conferences over the years. She convened 10 national/international conferences on abuse and disability from 1986 to 2005, plus in 2005 held the first professional online conference on the topic. She put these first 7 conferences on with no outside funding but the last 3 she had the support of the Arc of Riverside County, the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, and the California Governor's Office under the Children's Justice Act. A partial list of those conferences can be found on this website

And there is a very special free opportunity coming soon to hear Dr. Nora Baladerian give an online presentation. 

On Saturday, February 11, 2012 from 8:15-9:45 Pacific Time, Dr. Nora Baladerian will give a free online presentation on "How Can Parents Reduce the Risk of Sexual Abuse of Their Child or Young Adult?" as part of the Autism Safety and Crisis Prevention Conference being presented by the Autism College and the National Autism Association (NAA) with sponsorship by The Social Express.  Go to this link to register today.

National Crime Victims Service Award (2008):  The Attorney General of the United States presented Dr. Nora Baladerian with the National Crime Victims Service Award in 2008, recognizing her pioneering work on behalf of persons with disabilities and in the furtherance of the mission of the Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice. A list of other recent awards and recognition that Dr. Nora Baladerian has received is at this website

Disability and Abuse Project: Dr. Nora Baladerian has served as the Director of the Disability and Abuse Project since 1991. The mission of The Disability and Abuse Project very much mirrors the three pronged approach of prevention, healing, and justice that Dr. Nora Baladerian has taken with her career.  According to their website, the mission of the Disability and Abuse Project is "to identify ways to reduce the risk of abuse, to promote healing for victims, and to seek justice for those who have been victimized."  You can find out more information about the work of this organization at www.disabilityandabuse.org

Prevention: Autism Light asked Dr. Nora Baladerian to share some practical things that parents could do to prevent abuse of their children with autism. Here are five action steps.
  1. Communicate with children what sexual abuse is.
  2. Ask children to use their sixth sense around people, and to share with them (parents) any "weird words or behavior" by adults or other kids.
  3. Work with the child to interpret behaviors and determine if something inappropriate is taking place such as grooming.  
  4. Believe the child if they share something has happened to them.
  5. Take immediate action as parents in the situation. 
Author: Dr. Nora Baladerian has written several books/guidebooks for the field of sexual abuse of the disabled. You may view them and order them from the Disability and Abuse Project of Spectrum Institute at this website. You may also view her author page on Amazon for additional sources for some of her books.

In addition, she developed two law enforcement training videos with the ARC of Riverside County. One was for training first responders and the other for how to conduct the forensic interview with children and adults with intellectual disabilities. These training videos are available free from the Office for Victims of Crime of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Social Media: You can follow Dr. Nora Baladerian's work at the following social media areas:
Special thanks to Dr. Nora Baladerian for being a leader in the prevention and healing of sexual abuse on those with autism. I work as a Research Analyst and Webmaster for Prevent Child Abuse Michigan. It is my experience both as a parent of a child with autism and as one working in the field of abuse prevention that Dr. Nora Baladerian's specialization and expertise is very much needed today. 

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with the permission of Dr. Nora Baladerian. 

This post went into syndication at Autisable.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ivan and Charika Corea

Autism Lights #146 are Ivan and Charika Corea.

Charin Corea
Ivan and Charika Corea are from London, England in the United Kingdom. Their teenage son Charin has autism and inspired them to become autism advocates. They are responsible for launching Autism Awareness Year in the UK in 2002 and founding Autism Sunday, which has grown into an international observance of autism awareness in the religious faith community. Ivan and Charika Corea are Autism Lights for their influential advocacy for autism. Their groundbreaking autism awareness work has not always been easy, but with hearts of true heroes they are compelled to fight for those that have no voice.

Ivan Corea wrote this about Autism Sunday: 'We want to thank God for the life of our son Charin. He is a wonderful son and has been such a blessing. Charin made me get out of my comfort zone and campaign on autism. He is the inspiration behind Autism Sunday. We have done all of this - not for money - but for love. Autism Sunday has become a global event because it comes from the heart - it's all about love.'

Autism Sunday:  2012 will be the 10th anniversary of Autism Sunday. It also known as the International Day of Prayer for Autism & Asperger's Syndrome.  This year it will be observed on Sunday, February 12, 2012. Cathedrals, churches, and religious organizations are being encouraged to remember in their worship the over 67 million people worldwide who are living with autism. In concert with Autism Sunday there will be a Autism Sunday 2012 Twitter Storm. People are encouraged to use the hashtag #autismsunday when they tweet on Twitter during February 12, 2012.

Here is a video featuring a poem by Janice Cox and a song by Kirk Franklin from the worship service in London for Autism Sunday in 2010. Families are being encouraged to upload their personal autism videos like this one on YouTube to mark Autism Sunday 2012.

Supporters of Autism Sunday:  Hundreds of organizations and dozens of dignitaries in the United Kingdom are backing Autism Sunday. According to the press release on the event sent to Autism Light, "Among those who have wished Autism Sunday well are HRH Prince William and HRH Prince Harry, His Holiness the Pope, Sir Cliff Richard, Pastor Rick Warren, Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, the Bishop of London Rt.Rev Richard Chartres and the Archbishop of York, Rt. Rev. Dr. John Sentamu." British Prime Minister David Cameron also is supportive of the initiative.

For more information about Autism Sunday visits these websites and social media areas:
UK Autism Foundation: The UK Autism Foundation is a charity for autism in the United Kingdom. Ivan Corea continues to lead the work of the foundation that he started. The UK Autism Foundation has information about their work on their website.

The following is Ivan Corea speaking about the UK Autism Foundation's mission of encouraging help for the poor who have children with autism.

Special thanks to Ivan and Charika Corea for being Autism Lights. The autism community is very blessed to have their leadership in a project that calls us to pray and ask God to help give mercy in dealing with autism. Autism Sunday is needed now more than ever as autism is impacting millions of more people now than could have ever been imagined on that first Autism Sunday ten years ago.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photos in this post are used with the permission of Ivan Corea.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cathy Dionne

Autism Light Classic
Update Under Construction: January 25, 2023

Autism Light #145 is Cathy Dionne.

Cathy Dionne is the Executive Director of the Autism Society of Maine, located in Winthrop, Maine. Cathy has worked for the Autism Society of Maine since 1997. She has two adult children and her son Ben has autism. Cathy Dionne is an Autism Light for being an autism mother and for her years of service to provide programs that help meet the needs of those with autism in Maine and those who care about them.

Cathy Dionne said even though there's still "almost that pity look" when people hear a child has autism she has this message for parents.
"Autism is very treatable. There is a lot of hope out there. There's a lot of services out there too. There are a lot of people who care about these children and adults."
Over the past several years The State of Maine has been either #2 or #3 on the list for the highest prevalence of autism rates in the United States, based on percentage of population. The programs and services that Cathy Dionne provides through the Autism Society of Maine are a potential blessing to the over 2,500 families in Maine who have children with autism. The Autism Society of Maine is also able to assist with the needs of adults with autism as well. Cathy Dionne mentions three important services that the Autism Society of Maine does for autism. They are as follows:
  1. Lending Library--Over 900 media materials are available and they can be shipped out upon request.
  2. Autism Information Specialist--This allows people to get referrals for local specialists that they can talk directly with about autism related needs.
  3. Summer Camp--This is a free Summer Camp for children in Maine who have autism.
Cathy Dionne currently serves on the Public Policy Committee of The Autism Society.  She explains about the services of The Autism Society of Maine in the following conversation she had for the Bangor Public Library.


Social Media: You can find Cathy Dionne on LinkedIn.

Special thanks to Cathy Dionne for the work she is doing to reach the people in the State of Maine on behalf of Autism. It is a well deserved recognition that she is the first Autism Light from the State of Maine. 

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with permission of Cathy Dionne. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Camille Proctor

Autism Light #144 is Camille Proctor.
The signature line on Camille Proctor's email says, "Autism Doesn't Discriminate!" Behind the tagline exists a warrior mother who is keeping a promise to remind others that help for autism doesn't have to discriminate either.

Ari Joseph
Camille Proctor lives in Detroit, Michigan. She is a self-employed business consultant and works full-time as the Director of The Color of Autism Foundation. Camille's son Ari Joseph has autism. Camille Proctor is an Autism Light because of the understanding and awareness she is bringing to autism within the African American community.

Camille Proctor's contribution to autism includes being the director of The Color of Autism Foundation, which she founded in 2009. In her role as the director she receives many opportunities to help people by listening to their story and shining a light on positive options that may fit various situations. The website for the foundation is at www.thecolorofautism.org. If you would like to assist the foundation with its work you can donate at www.thecolorofautism.org/#!donate.  On The Color of Autism website Camille Proctor shares this about the beginning of her journey with autism:
I was forced to leave my career and care for my son living off my savings and retirement (which I would do all over again, if I had to). As I made my journey, I didn't find very many organizations that spoke specifically to me an African American parent raising an African American Male with ASD. I noticed their were huge disparities in at risk communities. Even worse many misdiagnosed and undiagnosed children in at risk communities end up in the criminal justice system each year.  I made a promise that once I got a handle on our situation, I would help others (Source).
Advice to Parents:  Camille Proctor told Autism Light that she feels parents of special needs children need "to build a strong foundation. They also need to be able to express themselves, because sometimes things become overwhelming." She encourages parents to seek out professional counseling if they develop anxiety.

Autism in African American Community: Camille Proctor said this to Autism Light about the unique needs related to autism in the African American community.
It is important for the African American community to understand how critical early intervention is. Autism is not isolated to whites and it's not behavioral. Autism is not a death sentence, it's a manageable disorder for many. With early intervention, your child could live a very amazing life! African Americans have to get over the stigma and fears of all things neurological and physiological. African Americans need to get a better understanding of what the autism scale is so they can better advocate for their child.
Movie: Camille Proctor is currently working on a film called "Screaming in Silence: Autism" with filmmaker Sonya Dunn (Source). The autism community looks forward to the release of this film in the future. Here is a trailer to the film.

Social Media: You can follow The Color of Autism on Facebook and on YouTube.

Further Reading: A very helpful news article was written on Camille Proctor by the Defenders Online in September, 2011.  Camille proctor was also mentioned this article by Jennifer Orgunsola about Autism in the Black Community.

If there is one thing we can all agree on with certainty about autism it is that it effects families of diverse demographics without discrimination. In order to fight an enemy as ambitious as autism it calls for advocates whose lives and backgrounds are as diverse as the families that are impacted by autism.  Camille Proctor has the passion and capacity to shine a light for autism awareness within her African American community, and the rays of her bright light is a blessing to the entire autism community.

Whoopi Goldberg said, "We're here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark (Source)."  Camille Proctor is doing just that with her passion to help those impacted by autism in the African American community. Special thanks to Camille Proctor for being a light for autism. If you liked this post you may wish to read the other posts on the Autism Light blog with the Label "African American".

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photos in this post are used with the permission of Camille Proctor