Kyle at age 3, and Kyle today

Kyle’s Treehouse, originally a resource about autism, has evolved into a community, where hundreds of thousands of visitors learn from each other every year. So, join in the conversation and welcome to Kyle’s Treehouse.

A Friend in Siri

siri

You know Siri…it’s that virtual ‘assistant’ that lives in our iPhones. I’ve personally used Siri a handful of times to call someone – and that’s about the extent of our interaction. But one young boy has generated a beautiful relationship with Siri – a relationship that’s eloquently documented in this New York Times piece.

Authored by Judith Newman, it’s a love letter of sorts. Ms. Newman chronicles how Siri came to be her 13-year-old’s (Gus) best friend – something she is grateful for. It started as a way for Gus to get his (what seemed to be an endless) fill of information on trains and planes. But it grew into much more. As Ms. Newman explains:

So how much more worthy of his care and affection is Siri, with her soothing voice, puckish humor and capacity for talking about whatever Gus’s current obsession is for hour after hour after bleeding hour? Online critics have claimed that Siri’s voice recognition is not as accurate as the assistant in, say, the Android, but for some of us, this is a feature, not a bug. Gus speaks as if he has marbles in his mouth, but if he wants to get the right response from Siri, he must enunciate clearly…

She is also wonderful for someone who doesn’t pick up on social cues: Siri’s responses are not entirely predictable, but they are predictably kind — even when Gus is brusque. I heard him talking to Siri about music, and Siri offered some suggestions. “I don’t like that kind of music,” Gus snapped. Siri replied, “You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” Siri’s politeness reminded Gus what he owed Siri. “Thank you for that music, though,” Gus said. Siri replied, “You don’t need to thank me.” “Oh, yes,” Gus added emphatically, “I do.”

We encourage you to read the full NYT piece so you can enjoy this mom’s amazing observations.

Lynsey, Community Manager 

Broccoli Compound = Autism Treatment?

broccoli

Apparently so! A new study is showing that a compound extracted from broccoli sprouts may improve some social and behavioral issues that can impact children with autism. Specifically, it’s a compound called sulforaphane and it’s found in broccoli and some other veggies.

So, you may be wondering, how would this broccoli compound help? It’s related (as described here) to a phenomenon known as the ‘fever effect’ seen is some autistic children – where issues such as repetitive behaviors temporarily fade when a child has a fever.  This improvement could stem from that fact that a fever triggers a heat-shock response that impacts those behaviors – - and this sulforaphane has been found to trigger such a heat-shock response.

Keep in mind that this preliminary study was small and brief – and everyone in the study didn’t respond to the treatment (in fact, about 1/3 didn’t have a positive response). But it’s something new to look at – and it has promise – and we should expect that it will be studied further.

Check out more on this study here.

Lynsey, Community Manager

CAR Autism Roadmap

CAR

If you’re in the Philadelphia area (or the tri-state area), there’s a great new resource now available from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The hospital’s Center for Autism Research (CAR) created a website for families touched by autism called the CAR Autism Roadmap.

It’s a helpful place to visit if you’re just starting out after a diagnosis or even if you’ve had autism as part of your life for years because it offers guidance and a huge directory for those searching for therapists, support groups, doctors, dentists, education support, etc. It also has articles written by CHOP staff and specialists.

When you’re starting out with a diagnosis, figuring out what to do next – or who to go to – can be completely overwhelming, so this Roadmap can help make that transition smoother. Or, if you’re looking for some new therapies or just new local resources, this site can help with that too.

You can check it out here.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Young Artist’s Works Are Big Sellers

Lately we have been talking about some extraordinary young people who have found a passion. Young Iris Grace is also one of them. Even at the young age of 5, she has discovered her talent for painting – and her work has already been sold to private art collectors all over the world.

Iris is only now starting to talk and painting was introduced as a way to help with speech therapy, joint attention and turn taking – and then her parents realized she had a gift for painting and could concentrate for about 2 hours each time she paints. Her artwork is so beautiful and all of the sales for her art go towards more art materials and ongoing therapies.

Iris Grace

Iris Grace

'Raining Cats'

‘Raining Cats’

We invite you to visit Iris’s website for more info.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Finding His Passion In Football

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Free Press

Just recently we talked about Mike Brannigan, an autistic young man who is currently one of the best young athletes in the country, and now another young man from the autism community is making headlines for his athleticism. Meet Josh Bailey, a senior at Lakeland High School in Michigan, who is a star member of his football team – even being appointed captain for their first game this season (they use a rotating captain system).

It’s an amazing story, really. At 2, Josh was diagnosed with autism and didn’t learn to speak until 3 ½. Growing up he was seen as shy and was depressed because he felt he was missing something from his life. There was a lot of intervention and a lot of hard work (explained by Josh’s dad in this Detroit Free Press article).

Then, when Josh was in high school, he found his passion – football – and it opened a whole new world to him. Now standing at 6-feet-6-inches and weighing 270 pounds, Josh is an enthusiastic and integral part of the school’s team.

Granted, this is an extraordinary story, not what you’d typically expect. As DFP article discusses, you may see autistic teens be part of a team, but it may be more of a solitary type team (such as chess, etc.) because of social stress. But Josh was able to harness his natural focus – or fixation, as it’s noted – on football, which has really brought him out of his shell. As he said,

 “I’m autistic and proud. I’m not afraid to be open about it. I’ve been through a lot through autism. I turned it from something that hindered me as a child and now I can show people, ‘Hey, a kid with autism is making it in football.’

“People can call me an inspiration, but I’m just living my dream. I got through a lot and I’m still here standing. I may fall but I will not give up. I will keep rising again.”

Amazing! You can read more about Josh and his journey here.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Star Athlete

Runner
About 16 years ago, the parents of this young man, named Mike Brannigan, were given their son’s diagnosis of autism and told that he would likely need a special school and a group home. Based off this tough prognosis, his mom was concerned he wouldn’t be able to function in the world.

And now? Well, Mike, at 17 years old and a senior at Northport High School, is one of the best young athletes in the country with a couple hundred (…yes, COUPLE HUNDRED!) colleges knocking at his door!

As NBC News reported, Mike is one of the top 10 high school runners in the U.S. – able to run a mile in 4 minutes, 7 seconds. His mom credits running in helping Mike blossom and also his ability to focus on academics.

Mike’s dream is to continue running, becoming a professional athlete and one day being on the Olympic team. And with his talent, we are sure he’ll do just that – go Mike!

Check out this NBC segment for more on Mike.

Lynsey, Community 

Our Hero!

Comic
The list is long…Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Incredible Hulk…just to name a few, but these guys have nothing on Michael! Created by Face Value Comics, Michael is a comic book character with autism—which is, according to the comic’s creators, a first. Michael is a hero with a mathematical mind, artistic gift and an abundance of compassion. And thanks in part to this NBC Nightly News segment, the first issue has sold out in stores!

Face Value explained (check out their blog) that they are trying something new and utilizing the comic book to show an autistic person dealing with everyday situations. They said:

Rather than simply labeling autism as a weakness or a mental disorder, we’re showing a person coping with it in realistic situations.  Of course, our futuristic steampunk universe isn’t exactly reality, but who could pass up the chance to write about crazy aliens or robots that are a mix of plants and metal?!  By removing the stories a bit from our daily lives, we’re allowing space for our readers to get involved in the characters and the story lines and absorb the messages, raising autism awareness and teaching readers to decode facial expressions.

The comic book characters are drawn with vivid facial expressions to help give readers tools to better understand subtle social cues.

There is a lot that has gone into the making of this comic book—and a lot to get out of it–but most of all, it can give readers someone to identify with—a hero who is trying to navigate an often confusing world and is overcoming obstacles all while learning along the way!

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

 

Some Perspective from Temple Grandin

T Grandin
Temple Grandin, famed animal scientist (as well as professor, advocate and author as just some of her other titles) was recently interviewed by Macrina Cooper-White from the Huffington Post on a wide-range of topics – from success of those with autism, to myths, advice, etc. Ms. Grandin is always full of wonderful insights and perspective – and some of that is excerpted here from their conversation:

On how extracurricular activities can be helpful:

For some kids, regular high school works out really well because the kids get into things — they get into art, or a school play. Then those places serve as refuges. I think one of the worst things schools have done is taken out all of the stuff like art, music, woodworking, sewing, cooking, welding, auto-shop. All these things you can turn into careers. How can you get interested in these careers if you don’t try them on a little bit?

On advice for parents of children with autism:

For these kids with autism, I’m seeing them getting too coddled. I’ll go to an autism convention and a ten year old comes up to speak to me, and the mom does all the talking. I want to hear what the kid has to say. And I’ll say ‘Okay, let’s practice shaking hands,’ and he doesn’t know how to shake hands. Well that’s totally ridiculous. The other thing that I really emphasize is teaching work skills. My mother got me a sewing job when I was thirteen, and I was cleaning horse stalls when I was fifteen…

On commonly held myths about autism:

One is that all people are savants like “Rain Man.” That maybe is only 10 percent of people with autism. That is a myth. Probably half of the people in Silicon Valley have a little bit of autism.

On what she thinks should be the next step for autism research:

For some of the things, you can find out exactly where there’s a problem in the brain. But then there’s a point –- you know, people talk about curing autism -– if you got rid of all those traits, who’s going to make the next computer?

To see Temple’s full interview, click here.

Lynsey, Community Manager