As the biggest performing arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival plays host every August to an enormous range of wonderful and unique shows. But this year’s festival featured something particularly special: an original play about ASD performed entirely by adults on the autism spectrum.
Presented by West London Community College, a two-campus facility offering education for adults with ASD, “The Trip” is a new comedy penned by WLCC teacher Jamie Foster. She hoped to raise awareness and paint a new picture of the complex, diverse condition that is ASD, and was reportedly inspired by the success of the West End hit play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” which features a teenage boy with ASD as its protagonist. Foster originally wrote the piece for WLCC students to perform at the college’s annual Christmas presentation day. The show was so well received that, after an intense period of planning and fundraising, the decision was made to take the show to the Edinburgh Fringe.
“The Trip” is a special piece in that it offers a new way to educate its audiences about ASD. A small number of plays, most notably “Curious Incident,” feature ASD characters or discuss the condition, but almost none are actually performed by people who have ASD themselves. “The Trip,” with its cast comprised of adults on the autism spectrum, allows spectators a unique glimpse into the real-life world of these individuals, and encourages audiences to face and adjust their previous assumptions about what it means to have ASD.
Over the course of its eight-day Edinburgh run, “The Trip” attracted more than 300 audience members and sold out three of its performances. And according to Foster, while the festival is over, more adventures may yet be in store for the production and its cast.
Founded in 2005, ATN is the first network of medical centers dedicated to providing complete, multidisciplinary care for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. These unique facilities combine a number of different health professionals and services so that young people with ASD can receive all the care and treatment they need at a single location. At an ATN center, children with ASD can have access to pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, and gastrointestinal specialists, all experienced at working with and treating kids on the autism spectrum. This integrated, whole-person vision of care has made the ATN a very valuable resource for young people with ASD and their families.
In addition to providing care and treatment, ATN member facilities develop and share guidelines for providing excellent medical care and support to families affected by ASD, which is an important aspect of improving the overall level care available outside ATN sites. The ATN has also published a number of tool kits to help families and professionals learn about the particular medical needs of young people on the autism spectrum, and it frequently offers training in ASD care to community health providers. These are both important aids for families and health professionals who may not have firsthand access to an ATN center. Research forms the final piece of the ATN’s mission. All ATN centers conduct research on various topics associated with ASD; for the upcoming three-year funding cycle, researchers will primarily focus on studying health conditions that are commonly linked with ASD.
People on the autism spectrum in Calgary, Canada, may soon be making a valuable place for themselves in the information technology sector, thanks to a pilot project presently underway in the city.
The project is spearheaded by Meticulon, a unique consulting firm that currently receives funding from Autism Calgary and the Sinneave Family Foundation. The Meticulon model of operation focuses on recruiting and training individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and placing them with client companies on a contractual basis. The company thus acts as an intermediary, helping individuals with ASD to expand their skills and increase their access to employment opportunities, and facilitating the experience for clients by providing support and resources to encourage the integration of employees with ASD into each client company’s workplace. Meticulon primarily operates in the IT industry, in fields like software development, but it is also expanding to other sectors such as banking.
The idea behind Meticulon is that, although individuals with ASD have character traits that may create challenges for them in daily life, many of those same traits are in fact desirable qualities in IT employees. A great deal of IT work requires extreme attention to detail and the ability to stay highly attentive during repetitive tasks, for example, which happen to be two of the most commonly displayed characteristics of people with ASD.
As far as both employees and employers are concerned, the launch of Meticulon could not have been more timely. Not only are unemployment levels for adults with ASD on the rise, but Canadian employers are facing significant recruitment challenges in order to fill the 106,000 IT positions that Canada’s Western Economic Diversification office estimates the country will need in 2016. Meticulon’s work, therefore, has the potential to help both parties. If you’re interested, www.meticulon.com has more information.
On August 14, Autism Speaks announced that world-renowned geneticist Dr. Stephen Scherer is set to take the helm of the world’s biggest database of autism genomes.
Launched in 2011 by Autism Speaks in partnership with BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute), the Ten Thousand Genomes Project (AUT10K) aims to build a comprehensive “resource library” of sequenced genomes from families with at least two children on the autism spectrum. When complete, the collection will prove an invaluable resource for scientists worldwide, and could enable genomic discoveries that lead to significant improvements in diagnosis and treatment for individuals on the autism spectrum.
To his new role as the director of AUT10K, Dr. Scherer brings a wealth of experience, accomplishments, and accolades. A genetics and genomics pioneer, Dr. Scherer is best known for establishing the Database of Genomic Variants, the world’s first collection of copy number variants, which has been used by medical geneticists and physicians for hundreds of thousands of medical diagnoses. Dr. Scherer’s most recent study focused on the role of copy number variant testing in individualized ASD diagnoses and expanded the list of genes known to play a part in the development of ASD. Over the course of his career, and together with his team, Dr. Scherer has authored more than 375 scientific papers on genetic variation in ASD and many other conditions. Recently, Thomson-Reuters named him one of the Most Highly Cited Scientists.
In addition to his leadership of AUT10K, Dr. Scherer will continue in his current role as director of the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada. He also serves as director of the McLaughlin Centre, a research center for genomic medicine at the University of Toronto.
Maintaining good oral hygiene is an important part of staying generally healthy, but for children with ASD, it can be challenging to build good oral health habits. If you are the parent or caregiver of a child on the autism spectrum, the following tips and suggestions can help you work together with your child to develop healthy routines.
The first step is to choose the right toothbrush for your child; the brush should have soft bristles, and should be the right size to fit inside your child’s mouth comfortably. To help your child get used to the feel of the toothbrush, it may be helpful to spend some time simply touching your child’s lips and just inside the mouth with the toothbrush until they get used to the sensation.
When your child is ready for brushing, you can help by standing behind them, keeping their head on your chest, and guiding the toothbrush along with them, making sure all teeth are brushed at least five times. In order to help your child feel at ease, you might want to start the toothbrushing process in the area of the home where they feel the most comfortable, rather than necessarily in the bathroom.
Like brushing, flossing should be introduced in small steps to help your child get used to the process, and you can use the same technique of standing behind your child and helping to guide the floss. Always floss one tooth at a time, gently and carefully.
It can be helpful to use a timer during brushing and flossing so that your child can see exactly when the task will be over.
Visual supports and schedules can also be helpful for some children with autism spectrum disorders; one technique, for example, is to take pictures of each step in the brushing or flossing process and post them on a board to provide visual prompts for the child. If you’re interested in learning more, Autism Speaks has a helpful, comprehensive guide for parents and caregivers here.
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