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.