Wings for Autism – Allowing Children with ASD to Prepare for Travel



With all of the hustle and bustle of a typical airport, including the security screenings and anxiety of being on a plane, the entire experience of flying can be nerve-wracking and aggravating for anyone.

However, for children with autism, the fear and stress can simply be too much to handle. As a result, families often dismiss the idea of taking trips together to avoid the potential meltdowns or anxiety that their child may suffer while on the plane.

To help ease the fears of children on the spectrum, Wings for Autism has developed a program that allows families to practice flying without having to ever leave the ground. Children are given the opportunity to take a practice run through all the standard procedures of an airport, such as getting to the ticketing line, boarding the flight, and even sitting on a plane.

Wings for Autism was developed by ARC of Jefferson County in conjunction with Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama. The program has been running in many cities nationwide, and takes place annually, with directors hoping to hold the program more often.

Not only does the program enable children with autism to get comfortable with the airport and the experience of flying, but it allows staff to better understand how to help those with the disorder during times of distress when they travel. The experience gives staff a better perspective of how to approach autistic children, in order to help assuage their fears and make the experience of flying a much more comfortable one.

For more about the program and to enroll:

Camp Program Prepares Autistic Teens for College

sk blog 727
With growing numbers of autistic teens graduating high school and moving on to higher education, it is becoming essential to develop more programs that prepare these young adults for the next chapter of their lives.

One program that is helping these teens transition into college is the College Prep Summer Camp in Arizona, serving young adults on the spectrum between the ages of 16 and 26. For the third consecutive year, the University of Advancing Technology (UAT) has partnered with Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center (SARRC) to host the summer camp.

In the week-long camp experience, the staff offers participants the opportunity to partake in typical college processes, such as admissions, moving into dorms, and attending classes. Furthermore, the students can participate in social activities such as student life, meeting other students at the university café, and partaking in group projects that focus on team building.

The accepted participants fall into three categories: those planning to go to college, those with some experience who plan to enroll again in the future, and those who have not attended before and had lacked the confidence to move forward with enrolling. Participants in each of these categories are given equal attention and opportunities to gain the skills that are necessary to advance in college.

When the week-long session concludes, participants can celebrate their new skills and achievements with family during a closing ceremony. After the camp ends, participants are also offered an online class they can take to further practice their college skills. If they complete the course, they are eligible for college credit.

Programs such as these are truly changing the way autistic teens and adults shape their futures, as it provides them with the chance to gain confidence in moving forward with the next step of their lives.

Florida Teen Launches Operation Super

operation super

Big brother Andrew ‘s goal is to help kids with disabilities. He’s inspired by his 10 year old brother, Nate, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

They two were born 6 years apart but their bond is unlike any other. He sees his younger brother have difficulty with common everyday activities. So he decided to start gathering gently used therapeutic toys and devices for children on the autism spectrum disorder.

Through his Eagle Scout team he created Operation Super. He explained he doesn’t like the word ‘special’ because, nowadays, its used in a derogatory manner. So he decider on superhero because that’s how he sees his younger brother.

At the moment, their most sought after items are noise-canceling headphones, ring stackers, shape sorters, fidget toys and tables, and educational activity games. There are six collection sites set up around the area in Hope Lutheran Church in Viera, Faith Viera Church, the Holz Law Group in Rockledge, Parkway Psychiatry in Melbourne, Merritt Island Christian Academy and Florida Counseling Center in Melbourne.

He’s teamed up with local organization Autism Early Enrichment who will be distributing the donations to various programs and schools who assist children with special needs.

So far he hasn’t received many toys but he’s hopeful that with more exposure and word-of-mouth more people will donate. He would love to give other kids the opportunity and support that has been helpful for his brother.

Andrew is an active member in the community, a camp counselor at Kiwanis Island Summer Camp, and volunteer at Viera Hospital. He loves science and working with children. In the future he hopes to combine both of his passions and become a pediatrician to continue to help others.

His efforts have been recognized by others as well. Director of Autism Early Enrichment James Holz, who is also a parent of an autistic child, was extremely impressed by Andrew’s vision and ability to execute such a ambitious project.

By Raiza Belarmino

Teenager With Autism Raises $10,000

autism advocate teen raises money

Seventeen year old Connor Archer is, for the most part, a typical high school senior. He’s a distinguished student who is on the honor roll and a member of the National Honor Society. He plays in several school bands. He is part of the Cross Country, Track & Field team. But at the age of 3 he was diagnosed with Autism. Although he is still overcoming his own challenges, he has been determined to help others overcome theirs as well.

Two years ago, Connor started the Courageous Steps project in an effort to spread awareness about his condition and to fundraise for local programs that have helped him throughout the years. He would like to give others the same opportunity to defy stereotypes associated with any disability.

He was able to generate over $10,000 through his fundraising event held at Victory Field. Two special education programs were given $1,000 each. The Green House Nursery School was given $2,000 to help purchase adaptive equipment and technologies as learning devices. Connor even set up a scholarship fund that awards graduating seniors who have overcome substantial challenges. This year $300 awards were given to three students.

Currently, Connor is working on two summer projects. The first is a benefit dinner that was held at the Old Town Governor’s Restaurant. Ten percent will be donated to the Courageous Steps project. He’s also teamed up with the Old Town Recreation Department for the annual Back to School Drive which donates much-needed school supplies to the local community.

In a recent email he shows his gratitude to all his supporters, stating “It takes a community to come together and support these kind of endeavors, and I cannot thank enough the businesses all over the Bangor area for supporting Courageous Steps. One person can make a big difference, but several can make an impact.”

By Raiza Belarmino

Shema Kolainu 17th Annual Legislative Breakfast A Great Success

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 4.55.40 PM

With esteemed political guests, great food, and artwork created by children presented as awards, the Annual Shema Kolainu Legislative Breakfast wrapped up as another wonderful success in 2015.

Speakers from all over New York City delivered inspiring addresses pledging their support for the special needs community in Borough Park’s Renaissance Ballroom.

The morning’s honoree was Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents. Dr. Tisch has long served as an educational advocate.

Dr. Tisch began her career as a schoolteacher in Manhattan. She was later appointed to the Board of Regents in 1996. Eleven years later, she was elected Vice Chancellor of the Board, and soon after became Chancellor in 2009.

Also honored at the event was NYC Councilmember Andrew Cohen, and Zelig Friedman of The Tantzers, the dance group who performed at the Shema Kolainu Alumni reunion.

Opening remarks were made by Dr. Joshua Weinstein, Founder and President of Shema Kolainu Hear Our Voices.

“The mission of Shema Kolainu is to allow children with autism to enjoy a better life and a better future,” said Dr. Weinstein. “ We have seen such a tremendous amount of success stories from the kids.”

Also in attendance was Letitia James, current New York City Public Advocate and longtime friend of Dr. Tisch.

“From education, to poverty and beyond, Dr. Merryl Tisch’s advocacy knows no limits,” said James.

Shortly after, NYC Councilman David Greenfield introduced award recipient and fellow Councilman Andrew Cohen.

“Andrew Cohen has single-handedly saved millions of dollars this year for mental health services!” Greenfield said.

Finally, US Assistant Attorney Tali Farhadian Weinstein took the stage to introduce Dr. Merryl H. Tisch.

Dr. Tisch brought up a memory she had when dealing with a mother of a child who had special needs. After hearing much anxiety and uncertainty, it became clear that this mother wanted Tisch to be able to “fix” her child.

“We can’t fix them, but we can help every child in overcoming challenging circumstances,” said Dr. Tisch.

She wrapped up her speech by mentioning how honored she is to advocate for New York City’s children.

At the end of the ceremony, Dr. Joshua Weinstein delivered closing remarks.

“I want to thank Merryl Tisch again for what she stands for, what she has done, and what she will continue to do,” said Dr. Weinstein.

Daniel Tiger Becomes Autistic Boy’s Guide to Social Life

daniel tiger autistic life lessons

Daniel Tiger, a recent creation of PBS, provides life lessons for all children, but his teachings are particularly effective for those who have trouble reading social cues. 

Daniel Tiger is a relatable preschooler who wears a red cardigan and has friendly phrases to help children understand things like disappointment, frustration, anger and fear of the unknown. He also gives lessons on certain skills like turn taking, cooperation, problem solving, and empathy. 

Rasha Madkour, who has an autistic son, says that she has seen Daniel Tiger’s lessons and sayings being used by her own children when they play with others. The first time she noticed it, she was waiting for her 5-year-old’s occupational therapist. The therapist was very busy, and a small child, was crying about wanting a toy that her child was playing with.

Madkour sang the words, “Think about how someone else is feeling; maybe you can help them feel better” to her son, a jingle from Daniel Tiger. Her son thought for a moment and then handed the toy to the crying child. The child immediately stopped and Madkour could see that her son understood that he had helped.

Individuals with autism often times have a hard time understanding unspoken social codes. Daniel Tiger uses a different approach by explicitly saying a certain social skill and then providing multiple examples in each episode.

From providing encouragement to teaching children what to do when they have wronged someone, Daniel Tiger’s words of wisdom are beneficial to all children.

By Sejal Sheth 

Autism and Summer Issues

autism in summer

Teenager Allie Gleason is a high school student who volunteers at Educator Labs. She is a supporter of all involved in the Autism Spectrum Community and uses her writing as an outlet to help other teens and kids like her. In a recent post she discusses her techniques on getting through her least favorite season: summer.

For other kids, summer break is something to look forward to- no more school and no more waking up early! There’s more time to hang out with friends, go to the beach, and go on awesome family vacations. But Allie had a different perspective. As a child with Asperger’s, she felt uneasy at the thought of summer break. Structure is very important to her, so when her routine is disrupted it causes anxiety.  Here are some things Allie shares that helped her out of anxiety and allowed her to enjoy summer.

Learning to swim.

Being in the water alone was Allie’s routine. As she got older her mother signed her up for swimming lessons and when she got good she began to enjoy it a lot more. Soon, summer became a time where she was able to do an activity she liked and she began to make friends in the sport.

Aquatic activities have many benefits for those on the spectrum. You can work on motor development skills, improve mental health, and keep other kids safe.

Sensory processing disorder.

Summer equals beach and beach equals sand –a lot of sand! People love going to the beach on a sunny day and burying their toes. But for those with a sensory processing disorder, the experience is not always pleasant.

Allie brought this issue up to her Occupational Therapist who worked with her to get used to the texture. Although sand is still something she doesn’t like, Allie can manage the discomfort and be able to enjoy a day in the ocean.

Traveling comfortably.

For Allie, the actual vacation wasn’t the issue, it was getting there that caused her anxiety. Especially airports and airplanes where there are a lot of people and a lot of noise. It was helpful knowing what to expect at every step like at check-in or at security. She also brought her iPad or iPhone along so she can be comforted with music and preoccupy her while she travels.

If the thought of summer is unsettling, you’re not alone. Allie too felt the same things every year. But that didn’t stop her from learning to enjoy the sunny season.

By Raiza Belarmino

How an Autistic Teen Gave a Lesson in Forgiveness

autism bullying

Weird, creepy, and rude- Those are just some words bullies described Illinois teenager Gavin Joseph. He was lured by a few guys who tricked him into what he thought was a friendly get together.

When Gavin arrived he was met with strangers who proceeded to choke and punch him so he can “learn his lesson.” Form the incident he suffered a mild concussion, bruised esophagus, fractured nose, and an eye hematoma.

So what Gavin’s response? Did he fight back? Did he press charges (as he has legal right to do)? Neither. Instead Gavin saw this moment as an opportunity to teach a lesson about forgiveness with a 20 minute video spreading awareness of his condition. At the age of three his doctor diagnosed him with Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD.

When growing up he’s had just as many wonderful memories and as he had difficult ones. His condition isn’t something you can see physically, but he has a lot of difficulty developing social relationships with other people. Everyday interactions were always problematic for Gavin. People often mistakenly perceived him as being impatient, detached, and uninterested. Ultimately he became isolated from others.

Gavin’s mother, Cortnie, says that her son is also kind, generous, and forgiving. This can sometimes come across a bit awkward because communicating those feelings may not always look natural.  So she hopes that sharing their story will encourage parents to talk with their teens about disabilities.

Gavin only asks that his attackers watch his 20 minute video, write a paper on Asperger’s Syndrome, and participate in community service helping people who are disabled.

To read to original post please visit the article from the Huffington Post.

By Raiza Belarmino

Student With Asperger’s Thrives at Charter School 

autism charter school

The opening of a new charter school in Anderson, South Carolina has helped the growth of a student with Asperger’s syndrome.

Devon Haist, 17, was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 2010. Before that, his mother said that he often had trouble socializing in school. Haist went to a public middle school. After having panic attacks from crowding and loud bells, his parents decided to transfer him to an online school. Later, they tried a private school. 

Cindy Haist, Devon’s mother, said that he always had a rough time in public school. In 2011, Anderson School District 5 decided to open a charter school. Cindy felt this would be be beneficial to her son. 

Once he began attending the charter school, Devon found his place. He is able to take classes in machine technology and robotics. Devon is also able to participate in a dual enrollment program at Tri-County Technical College. He will be graduating next year with an Associate’s Degree as well as a certification in basic electronics. Devon hopes to follow his father and grandfather’s footsteps and go into engineering.

Cindy Haist says that from this program, Devon has learned to use eye contact and shake hands while interacting with other people. He has also learned to handle himself better.

Devon has also received other therapies to help cope with his Asperger’s symptoms. He saw a therapist for a while who helped him with anxiety and recognizing social cues. He has also completed 45 treatments of transcranial magnetic stimulation to help improve his socialization.  

Cindy Haist says that everyone has seen an improvement, not only because of his treatment, but also because of a better school education.

Written By Sejal Sheth

Oakland University Opens New Autism Research Center    

autism program funded

On Monday, July 6, the School of Education and Human Services at Oakland University opened a clinic dedicated to autism research. The clinic will be specializing in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and researching different treatments related to autism spectrum disorders. 

The clinic was partially funded by a grant from the Michigan Department of Community Mental Health. It will be providing early intervention techniques for children between the ages of 2-6, who have already been diagnosed with ASD or those who are at risk for an autism diagnosis.

In particular, treatments will be provided in areas of communication, play, social and speech skills. The behavior analysts plan on working with children one-on-one and also in small groups. The clinic will also offer certification for students at Oakland University who want to be Board Certified Behavior Analysts and/or Registered Behavior Technicians.

Jessica Korneder, an assistant professor of human development and child studies says that the clinic will greatly improve the quality of life for local children with autism as well as their families. She also says that the clinic will be conducting research on the best training methods for behavior technicians along with parent training methods.

Korneder says that the undergraduate students will be developing technical, clinical, and professional skills for graduate work or entry-level positions. The graduate students will also be learning clinical and professional skills for their future careers. She hopes that all the students will change the lives of children and families affected by autism.

By Sejal Sheth