Friday, May 25, 2012

Molly Pinney

Autism Light #197 is Molly Pinney.

Molly Pinney is a global shining light for autism. She is an ABA therapist in her early 30's who works with children with autism and should be on the list of amazing advocates for autism under age 40 (if there was one). She is also the Founder and CEO of the Global Autism Project and is having an influence on autism around the world.  Molly Pinney is an Autism Light because she knows no borders in her efforts to provide partnerships and communications for the cause of autism.

Molly Pinney founded the Global Autism Project in 2003 while living in Ghana and seeing the profound need for autism education. In Ghana she became known as "the lady who knew what autism was." The Global Autism Project is a 501c3 organization based in New York and has programs in the United States, Ghana, Kenya, India, and Peru. The mission of the Global Autism Project is to foster "a world where people with autism have access to services that enable them to reach their potential (Source)."  In order to help fund the efforts in 2005 she started the organization's signature fundraiser called "Paddles for Autism Awareness." You can read the full story of how Molly Pinney was led to start the Global Autism Project at this link.

Molly Pinney received her B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in Neuroscience form Columbia University in 2009. She is a member of several professional associations focusing on autism and behavioral analysis, and serves on the advisory board of the Alzheimer's Action Foundation and City Year New York.

Social Media: You can follow the work of Molly Pinney and the Global Autism Project at the following social media areas.
Special thanks to Molly Pinney for being an Autism Light and working so hard to help those with autism around the world. The autism community in Ghana, Peru, India, Kenya, and the United States is blessed by your efforts. In fact, this post holds the distinction of the most international labels of any post on the Autism Light blog to date.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The photo in this post is used with permission of Ariana Riccio, from the Global Autism Project. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Juan Mann and Christopher Webster

Autism Lights #196 are Juan Mann and Christopher Webster.

Juan Mann founded the Free Hugs Social Movement in 2004 in Australia. Since then the practice of offering free hugs to strangers has spread to other great cities of the world, including San Antonio, Texas, where a young man with Asperger's named Christopher Webster has been involved in the campaign for six years. Free Hugs founder Juan Mann and participant Christopher Webster are Autism Lights because of the way the Free Hugs Social Movement brightens peoples day, including having changed Christopher's life by helping him leave his comfort zone in social reactions.

Christopher Webster provides an average of 22 free hugs on a typical Saturday at his post across from the Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, Texas. He holds a sign that says, "FREE HUGS" and has the opportunity to meet dozens of new people. The practice is out of the comfort zone for most people with Asperger's and the experience has had a profound impact on Christopher Webster's life. Since beginning the free hugs, Christopher has had life improvements, such as the determination to start taking college computer system courses (Source).

Christopher Webster said regarding his experience in the Free Hugs Campaign, "It was stepping out of my comfort zone. Once it started, it became natural. I do it to make the world a better place. One hug at a time (Source)."

Here is the official video of the Free Hugs Campaign, featuring Juan Mann. It's a video that has received over 72 million views on YouTube.

For more information on Christopher Webster involvement in the Free Hugs Campaign read these online articles. You can also see photos of Christopher Webster at these links.
Special thanks to Juan Mann and Christopher Webster for sharing free hugs and making the world a brighter place for people. Never underestimate the power of a hug, especially when it comes from someone with autism.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photo: The Photo in this post is in Wikipedia Commons and authorized for use by the author Miles Li.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Eustacia Cutler

Autism Light #195 is Eustacia Cutler. 

On this Mother’s Day we want to pay special tribute to one mother in particular:  Eustacia Cutler, the mother of Temple Grandin, known world wide for her ground breaking work in animal husbandry. Eustacia raised Temple in the 50’s when autistic children were diagnosed as “infant schizophrenics” and frequently were banished to institutions. Since raising Temple, Eustacia has devoted much of her life to helping all family members find the support they need to face the unique challenges of autism.

In 2010, British actress, Julia Ormond won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of Eustacia in the HBO docudrama Temple Grandin, and shortly afterward, at an autism conference in Los Angeles, she presented Eustacia with her Emmy. The following video captures the moment when Eustacia accepted Julia’s Emmy, saying it was a tribute for all mothers.

And here on this special Sunday Eustacia delivers her own tribute:

“Today is Mother’s Day. And today I salute all the long ago mothers who helped me raise Temple. In those days we had what we called the “Leave-it-to-Beaver Mom’s Union.”  Every child in the neighborhood knew that if he or she was doing something unacceptable one of the Mom’s Union was liable to open her window and yell, “I’m going to tell your mother.” When Temple heard that warning she knew she’d better shape up quick before the word reached home. Today this is called harassment and it’s not officially allowed, but my hope is that there’s still an unofficial Mom’s Union alive in every neighborhood. And to those Moms—as you lean out your window and scold, drive down roads chasing misbehavior—meet with other Moms to share the dark moments and the triumphs—I toast YOU!

A strong family is the linchpin—all through life. Some families have that strength, along with neighborhood support and maybe a little extra money. But what of those who don’t? Who live trapped in a neighborhood where there never will be a Mom’s Union? Exhausted parents adrift and broke, some of them hiding the dark stain of domestic abuse born of frustration and furious despair?

To honor the family linchpin Temple and I have set up The Temple Grandin/Eustacia Cutler Autism Fund dedicated to supporting and guiding all members of the family and the neighborhood organizations helping them.

The Temple Grandin/Eustacia Cutler Autim Fund will raise funds to:
  1. Search out existing organization-based programs that guide and support all family members.  Replicate the best of these as “seed programs”, supply them with an operational manual and on-location coaching.
  2. Establish a communicating network of organizations working together to strengthen family programs.
For more information go to our website. If you’d like to donate to our cause send it to:

The Temple Grandin/Eustacia Cutler Autism Fund 
c/o Families Together 
103 South Polk Street 
Moscow, Idaho 83843

In the meantime to all you Leave-it-to-Beaver Moms, thank you for helping me raise Temple and HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY."

Our thanks to Eustacia Cutler for being an Autism Light, and for creating a special Mother's Day tribute for all autism mothers.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

For Related Information on the Autism Light Blog:  For more information on Eustacia Cutler's daughter, Dr. Temple Grandin read her post on this blog when she was named Autism Light #38. Also, if you liked this article you can search the label "Mother" and browse in chronological order all the stories of the mothers of children with autism who have been featured on Autism Light since the blog started.

Photos: The photo in this post was used with permission of Eustacia Cutler.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Scott Parks

Autism Light #194 is Scott Parks. 

Scott Parks is a special education teacher at Spanish Fort High School in the state of Alabama. In his daily work with students with autism he plays a critical role in two innovative programs for the students known as Project Reach and Project Outreach. Scott Parks is an Autism Light for his work as a special education teacher and his passion to help students with autism as well as their neuro-typical peers.

Project Reach: Eight students with severe autism in the Spanish Fort school system in Baldwin County, Alabama are presently in Project Reach. The program is led by special education teachers Scott Parks and Kristen Box along with the sufficient support of para-professionals.  Cutting edge technology like iPads are used to help students learn. According to Rener Havner-Phillips of the Press-Register in the program, "The autistic teens are learning job skills, including how to wash clothes, sort silverware, organize books and stock grocery shelves. They go on field trips to deliver mail at the school system's central office, to fold pizza boxes at Mellow Mushroom or to dust and vacuum at the Holiday Inn Express (Source)."

Project Outreach: Project Outreach, is an extra-curricular club led by Scott Parks, where neuro-typical students and students with autism spend time participating in various activities together. Project Outreach is an official club at Spanish Fort High School and has it's own page on the high school website. There are 112 members of Project Outreach this school year and it is the largest extra-curricular club at Spanish Fort High School (Source). The program helps impact the lives of the students with autism, but Project Outreach has also been especially meaningful to the neuro-typical students who are gaining a life-changing autism awareness through having a relationship with someone with autism.

The following is the news video of Scott Parks and another special education teacher named Kristen Box explaining how Project Outreach works at their high school.

Additional Information on Scott Parks and these autism programs at Spanish Fort High School are available at these online stories:
Special thanks to Scott Parks for being an Autism Light through his dedication as a special education teacher   that works with students with autism. Scott Parks is representative of the fine special education teachers in diverse areas of the world who have a passion to reach students with autism through whatever creativity and outreach is necessary. Scott Parks is also the first person from Alabama to be named an Autism Light.

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lisa Domican

Autism Light #193 is Lisa Domican.

Lisa Domican is from County Wicklow, Ireland. Her two children Liam and Grace have autism. Through her efforts to communicate effectively with her non verbal children with autism she developed a simple picture communication App for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch called the Grace App after her daughter who inspired the App.  Lisa Domican is an Autism Light for helping countless autism families communicate more effectively through the Grace App.

Lisa Domican and her family
The goal of Lisa Domican's company Grace App Communication is to provide an alternative for independent communication that is affordable, accessible, and adaptable. In 2010 Lisa Domican won an Irish Web Award and a United Nations World Summit m-Award for the Grace App. In 2011, Lisa won the Woman Mean Business Big Idea Award for Grace. She was also named one of the "100 Unseen Powerful Women Who Change the World" by One World Action and David Manley Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2012.

Lisa Domican describes the Grace App in the following way:
It is designed to allow the user to enhance their own picture vocabulary by taking and adding pictures with the device camera or by searching and saving them on the web. The Grace App system encourages the user to approach and engage a listener, in order to have the “sentence” they have created read out loud, together. The Listener can pause and allow the user to try to say each word, and praise them for any attempt at vocalisations with extra rewards. The pictures serve as a prompt for the user, to help them remember a word, and as their speech develops it ensures that they are always understood and rewarded, which encourages further communication.
The following is an appearance that Lisa Domican had on The Morning Show for TV 3 in 2010.

App developer Steven Troughton-Smith did an amazing job on the technical development of Lisa Domican's ideas for the Grace App becoming a usable App. Lisa Domican gives this explanation of why she started Grace App Communications.

Grace App was inspired by my severely autistic daughter Grace and her unique ability to get what she wanted using pictures. She has learned to talk independently as a result of using Grace App consistently and after 11 years I got to hear my daughter call me “Mummy.” 
I started the company "Grace App Communication” when I realised there was a need for a simple and accessible training system to teach your autistic child to get what they want without resorting to inappropriate and anti-social behaviour. After 10 years of study and practice in Autism - I have the real life experience and the knowledge to impart to try and make life easier for other parents. 
The process of getting a diagnosis, getting access to services and learning to be your child’s own teacher can take years and I want to enable parents and carers especially, to start helping their child from the moment they suspect there might be an issue; any time of the day or night, anywhere in the world. For this reason I am planning a Grace App Training App. One download with a step by step guide to prompting and developing appropriate communication for people with autism and speech delay. 

Website: Visit the website at for more information on Lisa Domican's work and how you can purchase the Grace App for the affordable price of €20/$25 for one download that can be installed on up to 5 devices. The website also includes a blog that Lisa Domican writes
Autism Light Connection: Lisa Domican has a connection to two previous Autism Lights. 
  • Lisa Domican was close to the late Niamh Cadogan, who was Autism Light #172.  Niamh Cadogen had led a fundraising campaign called Amazing Grace: Improving the Lives of Children with Autism in Skibbereen to secure iPod Touch devices with the Grace App on them for students with autism. 
  • She was interviewed by Craig Evans, who was Autism Light #178 for the Autism Hangout feature series called Apps for Autism. The video of that interview is below. 

Social Media: You can follow Lisa Domican and the Grace App on the following social media areas:
Special thanks to Lisa Domican for being an Autism Light. We expect to hear continued good news about how the Grace App is helping more and more families with autism in the future. 

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

Photos: The photos in this post were used with permission of Lisa Domican. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Curt Brown

Autism Light #192 is Curt Brown. 

Curt Brown is from Gardiner, Maine.  In 1984, Curt Brown started serving as a foster parent for adult men with autism, caring for them around the clock in his own home. He served as caregiver, household manager, and attended to all the varied needs of the group of disabled men. When he retired form this role in 2008, he was caring for 7 men. Some of the men had literally lived with Curt Brown for over 20 years of their life and viewed him as a father figure. Curt Brown is an Autism Light because of his dedication and active role in supporting adults with autism.

The following is a descriptive photo collage of Curt Brown's story developed by Kevin Wellenius. Kevin Wellenius called his presentation, A Life Pretty Full of Love. The presentation  by Kevin Wellenius (which contains actually audio in the version on his website) was superbly done and won 1st Place for Feature Audio Slideshow in the Best of Photo Journalism -2010. The photos were taken between 2007 and 2009 and followed Curt Brown's story prior to his retirement in the Fall of 2008, through when the adult men with autism were relocated to new homes. Note: If you put your cursor on the photo you can read a description of each one.

In the above presentation Curt Brown explains what he learned to make his foster parenting work. He said, "ultimately what we found was the most successful was making a cohesive family unit and treating everybody as a valid family member." 

During the final years of Curt Brown's work, the seven men he cared for were Graham Weston, Ben Brendahl, Lee Calderwood, Keith Keller, Aaron Bridgham, Timmy Barton, and John Williamson. All the 7 men were found other suitable living arrangements when Curt Brown retired in 2008. Three of the more severely disabled men were kept together and ended up living together with the Mark and Sheila Pelletier family. Mark Pelletier knew the men because since 1996 he has worked with them in the Art & Crafts/Carpentry work program for the men where they builds recycled bird houses (Source).  Curt Brown indicated in this presentation that he planned to keep in contact with the men and was going to invite some over to his home for special occasions or to give Mark and Sheila Pelletier respite. 

Special thanks to Curt Brown for opening his home to adults with autism and taking on a role that must have been challenging at times. Curt Brown's choice to give of his life as a foster parent to adults with autism may have kept several adults with autism from being institutionalized or further marginalized by society over the years. The light of Curt Brown's work continues to be an example even though he is retired from this role. Curt Brown is the first Foster Parent to be named an Autism Light and his humble and consistent light for autism is one of the most inspiring to appear on Autism Light.  

Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.