Monday, January 18, 2016

Michael Hannon

Autism Light #444 is Dr. Michael Hannon.

Photo of Martin Luther King

"Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." 

When autism parents commence on the journey of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder, they are put in a position, like Dr. King says, of needing to work and love their child persistently without being able to see all the growth and success their child with autism will experience over time. I believe if Dr. King were living today he would have acknowledged the unique challenges autism families face, and would have been especially engaged with how autism impacts families in the African-American community. King would have been very supportive of research into finding out the influences of autism on diverse family systems and would have been publically grateful for the efforts of the following autism father and researcher who is being honored for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2016.

Dr. Michael Hannon is a professor and autism father from Westampton, New Jersey. He and his wife LaChan Hannon have a 13 year-old daughter Nile and an 11 year-old son Avery. Avery has a form of autism. Dr. Michael Hannon is an Autism Light for his research into the potential rewards of fathering a child with autism within diverse communities.

Dr. Michael Hannon serves as the Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at Montclair State University, where his primary responsibility is teaching in the graduate level counseling program. He also serves as a mentor to doctoral students in their counseling doctorate program. Dr. Michael Hannon conducts research related to mental health and counseling and his research specialty is the influence of autism on broader family systems and fathers, with a particular emphasis on fathers and families of color. His website shows a summary of his previous work experience.

Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK): Dr. Michael Hannon told Autism Light that MLK influenced his work in this way.
Dr. Martin Luther King devoted his life, and particularly the latter part of his life, to an unapologetic fight for social justice. He was courageous to speak out and fight against racial discrimination, socioeconomic disparities, and war in revolutionary ways. His legacy influences my work in being able to share stories and experiences of an understudied and often misunderstood community: Black fathers of individuals with autism. There is important research about how autism affects family systems that includes highlighting disparities in diagnosis timing and access to care between racial/ethnic groups in the United States. While raising children with autism and other developmental differences can be challenging at times, the challenges might be exacerbated when we study the experiences of diverse parents. These exacerbated challenges may be based, in part, by negative interactions with service providers (e.g., teachers, therapists, etc.) that undermine trust between parents and service providers (Michael Hannon, January 13, 2016).

Education: Dr. Michael Hannon has completed the following educational degree programs.
Author: Dr. Michael Hannon has been the author or co-author of over 25 presentations, book chapters, and/or articles on the area of his expertise in counseling, mental health, and autism families.
Highlights of Research Findings: Some recurring messages that Dr. Michael Hannon has heard from fathers in his research include:
  • The most rewarding aspect of fathering individuals with autism is seeing their children successful.  
  • There is an orientation and adjustment process that fathers experience as they learn about their children’s autism diagnosis and possibly have to adjust their relationship expectations with their children with autism.  
  • Fathers seem to appreciate connecting with resembling fathers and families as they navigate fathering an individual with autism. 
  • Fathers are paying close attention to their different forms of capital (Dr. Michael Hannon, January 13, 2016)
Certifications: Dr. Michael Hannon is a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) in New Jersey.

Awards: Dr. Michael Hannon received the Presidential Award by the Willingboro, New Jersey and Vicinity Branch of the NAACP in November 2015.
Conference Speaker: Dr. Michael Hannon provided the keynote at the 3rd Annual Conference for New Jersey Fathers of Children with Special Needs in October of 2015. Below is a brief excerpt of his presentation. More information on past conferences he presented at are listed on his blog.

Great Expectations Teaching & Advocacy Center for Childhood Disabilities, Inc. (GETAC): Michael and LaChan Hannnon founded GETAC on April 19, 2007 to offer advocacy, educational, and consultative services for parents raising children with developmental disabilities. Michael's wife, LaChan Hannon, serves as the Executive Director and the work of this non-profit is dear and near to them.

The following is a video of Google Hangout where Dr. Michael Hannon was on an online panel called Autism Brainstorm: Guy Talk that Dr. Robert Naseef did in March 2015 as part of a feature on an African-American perspective on raising children with autism. A second part of this series was taped in April 2015.

Advice to Autism Fathers: Dr. Michael Hannon shared this advice to autism fathers with Autism Light. 

"Fathers are important members of the family. When families have experiences that require something new or unexpected from them, it can be a source of both stress and enrichment. As they navigate this experience, I encourage fathers of children with autism to:
  • Learn (more) about themselves so they can engage with their families in healthy and honest ways. Discover (or rediscover) interests, hobbies, stress relief activities, and ways to support personal growth and development.
  • Learn about their children (with or without autism) so they can find connection points. Fathers may find they share interests, attitudes, dispositions with their children, which is awesome. They also may discover something their children enjoy that eventually becomes a mutual interest or something in which they entirely support their children.
  • Learn about autism by talking to trustworthy people who help build a sense of community. These can be other dads, romantic/marital partners, specialists and therapists, school personnel, and/or a faith community (if applicable). (Michael Hannon, January 13, 2016)."

"Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'".

Others Supporting Autism Families: Dr. Michael Hannon provided this insight to Autism Light on supporting fathers in diverse communities.
I appreciate the ongoing advocacy for individuals with autism by individuals with autism, their families, and concerned community members and groups. One way we can all continue to help families affected by autism is being courageous in helping eliminate the disparities in diagnosis, diagnosis timing, and access to care for families of different racial/ethnic groups. 
Another way to help is to continue balancing the autism narrative. All families experience stress, and raising an individual with autism can be stressful at times, and in different ways than raising an individual who does not have autism. However, the stress/coping narrative is not the only autism story. It’s great to be able to read, hear, and talk to those living with and/or affected by autism when they share their success and reward stories (Dr. Michael Hannon, January 13, 2016).
People-First Language: Dr. Hannon has a specific way in which he speaks about people with autism that affirms their dignity and that they are more than their autism diagnosis. He said this to Autism Light:
One last suggestion for all of us is to affirm the humanity of individuals with autism, by using people-first language. Unless I’m corrected, I try to address people with autism with that moniker: people WITH autism. I get concerned when we label a community by just one identifier, especially when that identifier has been constructed as something negative (e.g., autistic, diabetic, schizophrenic, etc.). Those identifiers can be sources of pride for the individuals living with such conditions and contribute to our diverse communities; however, I err on the side of caution and try to use people-first language in my interactions and recommend others do the same unless told otherwise (Dr. Michael Hannon, January 13, 2016).
Follow Michael Hannon on Social Media: 
Special thanks to Dr. Michael Hannon for being an Autism Light and fighting the good fight as an autism father, researcher, and counselor. His work is a benefit to the autism community and he is an appropriate representative of someone who has a passion to shape the world for the better like the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This post is our 5th annual feature to honor someone who is an Autism Light in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. Past honorees of Autism Light on Martin Luther King, Jr. day include:





Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

The photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. in this post is in the Creative Commons of 
Wikipedia and is from the National Archives and Records Administration. The photo of Michael Hannon is used with permission of Michael Hannon.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

New Jersey Lights

The State of New Jersey is the home of 15 Autism Lights. The New Jersey group includes two individuals with autism, two autism fathers, a business, a businessman, a music therapist, a musician, a teacher, a professional bass fisherman, two politicians, and three people who are on the Autism Light Memorial Roll.

  New Jersey Autism Lights

Autism Fathers:
    • Toys "R" Us is a toy store that has its corporate headquarters in New Jersey. They were recognized for creating a line of autism friendly toys in their stores.
    • Eric Kunkel is a businessman from Villas, New Jersey. He showed kindness to a girl with autism on a plane trip.
    Individuals with Autism:
    • Kerry Magro is a young adult with autism who is a recognized author, speaker, and self-advocate. He is from Jersey City, New Jersey.
    • Anthony Starego is a young adult with autism. He was added to Autism Light for his achievements in 2012 as a high school kicker in Brick, New Jersey.
    Music Therapist:
    • Dez Childs is a musician and song writer from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
    • Janet Mino is a special education teacher from Newark, New Jersey.
    • Mike Iaconelli is a professional bass fisherman from Pittsgrove Township, New Jersey. 
    • Robert Menendez is a United States Senator from New Jersey. His home is in Paramus, New Jersey. He has supported autism causes over the years through his position in the Senate.
    • Chris Smith is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Hamilton, New Jersey. He has supported autism causes over the years through his position in Congress. 
    Memorial Roll from New Jersey:
    • James Gandolfini (1961-2013) was an actor whose hometown was Parkwood, New Jersey. Upon his death on June 19, 2013 he left money in his will to a friend who was an autism father. 
    • Herbert A. Kahn (1925-2005) was from Mahwah, New Jersey. He founded what is now Autism New Jersey.
    • Gail Walsh (1954-2012) was an autism mother from Cinnnaminson, New Jersey. She died in an automobile accident on January 19, 2012. The mother of two sons with autism was dedicated to supporting autism causes.

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

    The map of New Jersey is attributed to By TUBS [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

    Friday, January 8, 2016

    Jacob Allen

    Autism Light #443 is Jacob Allen.

    Jacob Allen is 4 years old and has autism. He lives in Arkansas Pass, Texas. On January 1, 2016, Jacob found his father Bryan Allen passed out from a diabetic attack and proceeded to get himself dressed and go to a neighbor for help, because his mother was at the store. Jacob Allen is an Autism Light for his mature thinking that helped save his father's life.

    Doctors indicated that Bryan Allen could have went into a diabetic coma if he hadn't receive timely emergency medical attention. Below is a video of the news coverage on Jacob getting help for his father. | Continuous News Coverage | Corpus Christi

    Jacob Allen's mother Michelle Allen said, "I have been ...told...not to expect very much of my son because he's autistic. Autistic kids...They're the same as everybody else. And they can be more miraculous than a regular person (, Caroline Flores, January 1, 2016)."

    Bryan Allen expressed his gratitude by saying of Jacob, "He's just the greatest...little kid there is. I wouldn't change him for nothin' (, Caroline Flores, January 1, 2016)."

    Special thanks to Jacob Allen for being an Autism Light. Jacob is one of many cases where individuals with autism made a difference for good in their families and communities. We wish Jacob all the best and hope he will continue to learn and grow in his life.

    Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

    Saturday, January 2, 2016

    Brandon Williams

    Autism Light #442 is Brandon Williams.

    Brandon Williams is a 13 year old with autism who is in the 7th grade at Barnes Intermediate School in Staten Island, New York. On October 28, 2015, Brandon noticed a classmate, Jessica Pelligrino, choking. He successfully performed the Heimlich maneuver and saved Jessica. Brandon Williams is an Autism Light for his role in helping save a classmate when she was choking.

    Brandon Williams was asked where he learned to perform the Heimlich maneuver and he shared that he learned it from watching the television show SpongeBob SquarePants. The following is a news story from the Staten Island Advance about Brandon Williams saving his classmate's life.'

    Brandon's father, Anthony Williams, said, "He picks up on things that most of us would miss, and files it all away in his head, and he can recall it in an instant. That's how he knew instantly what to do. And we're glad he did. We're proud of him (The Mighty, Melissa McGlensy, 7th Grader with Autism now a Hero Thanks to SpongeBob SquarePants, November 6, 2015)." Anthony Williams was very encouraged by Brandon's heroic actions in this incident. He shared that this is what Brandon taught him about autism:
    Raising special-needs kids, you feel like they're very limited in what they can do. This just proves don't ever hold your kid back for anything. There's no limits to what these kids can do. 
    It's something positive in the autism-spectrum community, that there's hope. Don't ever think they can't do anything as they go on in life and as they get older (New York Daily News, Staten Island Teen with Autism Performs Heimlich Maneuver on Chocking Classmate after he 'learned it on SpongeBob', November 6, 2015). 
    Special thanks to Brandon Williams for being an Autism Light. Brandon is representative of the many individuals with autism who are everyday heroes in their communities. We wish Brandon all the best and hope he will continue to learn and grow in his life.

    Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.

    Friday, January 1, 2016

    Milo, the Robot

    Autism Light #441 is Milo, the Robot.

    Milo is a humanoid social robot that was designed by RoboKind, a company in Dallas, Texas.  Milo has been programmed to integrate the curriculum of Robots4Autism into a therapy program for children with autism. Milo is the first robot to be named an Autism Light, because of how his social robot therapy can help children with autism to learn valuable social skills.

    RoboKind was formed in 2011 and Milo is a descendent of the Zeno R25 robot they created in 2013. Christopher Everett Tracy describes the specs on Milo.
    Milo stands at just under two feet, weights 4.5kg, and has the face of a young boy.... The oversized doll is nothing short of a technical marvel. His brain is an OMAP 4460 dual core 1.5 GHz ARM Cortex A9 processor and he has 1GB of RAM as well as 8GB of memory, which can be expanded via a MicroSD slot. He has a 5-megapixel autofocus camera in his right eye, as well as a battery of visual algorithims to detect colours, motion, faces, and QR codes. His CompuCompassion system gives Milo the ability to identify and respond to emotions. And of course he has Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity (Tharawat, Christopher Everett Tracy, November 6, 2015).

    The following is a video of Milo's background and how he works to help young people with autism learn.

    The Robots4Autism curriculum currently can be used in elementary and middle school. "The objectives of robot therapy include learning to pick up emotions, express empathy, act more appropriately in social situations, self-motivate, and generalize in the population (RoboKind Website, Robots4Autism Curriculum)."

    Dr. Pamela Rollins is the author of the Robots4Autism curriculum. In the following video Dr. Rollins describes the curriculum.

    Dr. Pamela Rollins said, "We found that especially with the fluent children, they were engaged with Milo 87 percent of the time. We also looked at how much they were engaged with the therapist when she tried to talk to them. It was about 3 percent (, April 2, 2015)."

    Milo has the potential to accomplish great things for autism and also reduce the cost of autism treatment. "Educating a child with autism can cost from $17,000 to $22,000 a year, according to the company. The cost for a Milo robot including the curriculum is $5,000. RoboKind's representative said that some insurance companies have helped reimburse the cost (Medpage Today, Shannon Firth, March 9, 2015)."

    Like any therapy Milo will not be effective with every single person on the autism spectrum. Dr. Rollins indicated that children that Milo seems to be the most effective in treating have picture symbol recognition, ability to answer yes/no questions, ability to understand cause and effect, and ability to use a table to communicate (Medpage Today, Shannon Firth, March 9, 2015).

    Milo will last up to 3 years but is also designed with the capacity for an upgrade. At the time this post was written RoboKind is only selling Milo to institutions that will use it in concert with the Robots4Autism curriculum. Robokind has a web form that parents and caregivers can complete to refer Milo to their child's school.

    Milo is not intended to replace a human therapist but is an additional tool that can be used to facilitate more hours of instruction. One of the advantages that Milo has is he can endure unlimited repetitions without ever becoming frustrated in the middle of a therapy session or life lesson. The data and video that Milo can collect efficiently is also priceless to autism treatment plans.

    Social Media: You can follow Milo on the following social media areas.
    Special thanks to Milo for being an Autism Light. This breakthrough in technology is promising for autism therapy and it will be exciting as it is more widely adopted and becomes increasingly an affordable option for research based autism therapy with some children with autism. We look forward to hearing great things about Milo in the future.

    Autism Light honors diverse heroes to the world of autism.