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.

Microsoft’s New Employee Program

MicrosoftMicrosoft recently announced it is starting a pilot program – working alongside specialized employment agency, Specialisterne – that is focused on hiring people with autism. The company hopes to utilize and nurture the unique skills that some on the autism spectrum possess that are particularly aligned with positions at Microsoft.

Mary Ellen Smith, corporate VP of worldwide operations who has a teen son on the spectrum, said, “People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code.”

Microsoft is not alone—other companies are also recognizing specialized talents and creating opportunities for people with autism, such as SAP and Freddie Mac. These efforts are extremely important considering only a very small percentage of those on the spectrum are employed – leaving the vast majority unemployed. And the unemployment rate will continue to rise as autism rates increase.

So Microsoft is taking a step in the right direction, and we hope more companies will follow suit.

Read more of Ms. Smith’s post on Microsoft’s blog.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Spectrum Singles

Spectrum Singles 2A mother-daughter duo has created something new for the dating world – an online site for singles with autism. Olivia Cantu and her mom, Kristen Fitzpatrick, are both on the spectrum and felt that there was a need for a site where people could meet for potential dating and friendship opportunities – so they came up with SpectrumSingles.com.

As reported in People Magazine, the site uses a large questionnaire, called the Spectrum Compatibility Test (SCT), to match users. Topics such as social comfort, attention tendencies and other areas are covered, and then users are grouped based on their preferences.

It’s still a fairly new site, but it’s already getting lots of great buzz and feedback. Check their site or visit them on Facebook.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Some Perspective

Autism AwarenessAs we begin a month dedicated to Autism Awareness, I came across this beautifully written piece by mom-of-four, Mary Hickey. Mary has three sons on the autism spectrum and she writes about how autism has not been a secret in her family – it’s something that has been embraced so that her sons not only get to understand themselves better, but that there’s a community of support surrounding them.

She also shares her perspective on how she discussed autism with her children, which is something many parents struggle with – how, and when, (and if) I discuss my child’s autism diagnosis with them. Mary’s sons came to some awareness on their own at different ages, asking questions – and it was at those moments that she discussed it with them. And for parents that may be facing a similar situation, she shares what those first conversations sounded like:

Many parents feel paralyzed by figuring out how to approach the initial discussion. I kept the first conversation simple, creating space and encouragement for questions and whatever feelings came up. It differed slightly for each boy, but the overall conversation went like this: “Every person has things that are easy for them and things that they are working on. Your brain works in a very special way that is called autism. It means that some things that are hard for other people, like remembering numbers and all the states and capitols, are easy for you. But it also means that some things, like understanding conversations or what people are trying to say, can be hard for you. It is why sometimes noises, smells and the feeling of things bother you too. But it also means that you are amazing for how hard you work to get through it all! There are a lot of strategies we can use to help make the things that are tough a bit easier. There are lots of people in the world with autism and so many of them have done amazing things. Would you like to learn about some of them?”

While this is a story of how one parent helped her children with their own self-awareness, we honor the broader idea of raising awareness for all, and ultimately, understanding and support. We hope the continued efforts of the autism community – and especially now during Autism Awareness month – will help do just that.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Autism Village

Autism Village

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a resource that can tell you the businesses and places that are the most ‘autism-friendly?’ Think of an app like Yelp! or Trip Advisor, but just for the autism community. This is what Topher Wurts had in mind when he came up with Autism Village, an app that will allow people in the autism community to rate and review places – such as museums, parks, restaurants, etc. – so families can find out what others in the community have found to be the safest, most sensory-friendly, accommodating places to visit.

Topher, whose son, Kirby, has autism, turned to Facebook and Twitter to ask parents about his concept – and the response was huge. Within weeks, thousands of followers encouraged Topher to pursue his idea – and now he’s got a Kickstarter to help launch the Autism Village.

So when this app is up-and-running, and you want to find out, for example, what restaurants near you accommodate special diets, or who is the most highly-rated dentist by other parents, or the safest local playgrounds – you may want to look to Autism Village.

Read some more about Autism Village.

Lynsey, Community Manager

Can a Google Glass App Help Social Skills?

Brain-power.com

Technology is continuously advancing and we’ve certainly seen how it’s being leveraged to help those touched by autism.  Dr. Ned Sahin, founder of Brain Power, is hoping it can be used to help children with engagement and socialization.

Brain Power is a startup that is developing apps that display images of popular cartoon characters on the screen of Google Glass, so that when a child looks at someone talking, that character pops up to draw the child’s attention to the speaker’s face. And when the child turns their heads to make eye contact, the cartoon goes away and the face is revealed. Just like a game, the child earns points for eye contact.

Dr. Sahin explains in this article that he feels using Google Glass has unique advantages over other devices, saying “While an iPad encourages a child to look down and away from the real world, with Glass the child is naturally encouraged to look up into the world…and our device rewards him with looking people in the eye and engaging directly.”

Brain Power is testing its product in a clinical trial at MA’s General Hospital beginning in April, so more to come on what seems to be a very interesting concept!

Lynsey, Community Manager

Special Duet from ‘Night of Too Many Stars’

If you haven’t see this yet, you’ve got to check this out! At this year’s Night of Too Many Stars, singer-songwriter “Weird Al” Yankovic performed a truly amazing rendition of “Yoda” – his take on the song “Lola” by The Kinks – with Jodi DiPiazza, a 13-year-old musician with autism. And to sing backup, they brought in the Actionplay chorus, also singers who have autism. A must-watch!

Lynsey, Community Manager 

GPS-Tracking Clothes

ID Clothing 1It seems like almost every day there is a terribly upsetting story about a child with autism who has gone missing as a result of wandering off. It’s a fear that many parents share – and rightfully so. In fact, as discussed here, a 2012 study showed that nearly half of the parents surveyed said their child with autism had tried to wander off or run away at least once after the age of 4, and most said their child was gone ‘long enough to cause worry.’

With this concern, the idea of a tracking device is not something new – often seen as something children could wear on their wrists. But former CNN correspondent Lauren Theirry, whose teen son, Liam, has autism, developed a new idea. She founded Independence Day (ID) Clothing, which offers shirts and pants that hold a small tracking device – which weighs less than an ounce. And unlike the other wearable IDs out there – such as ankle or wrist devices – ID Clothing’s GPS units slip inside soft pockets sewn into each garment, without any uncomfortable wires or weight.

This is particularly helpful for those with sensory issues  — the device being so small and hidden away that it wouldn’t even be felt. Also something we really like and shows the thought put into the clothes’ creation – the shirts and pants are the same forward and backward, making it easier for kids to dress themselves. (Plus no zippers, no tags and no buttons!!)

Check out more on Independence Day Clothing.

Lynsey, Community Manager

 

Community Saves Birthday Celebration

Posted on John Buratti's Facebook page

Posted on John Buratti’s Facebook page

This is one of those stories that starts out being heartbreaking, but the break gets healed in such an amazing way – it had to be shared!

Glenn Buratti – a 6-year-old in Florida ready to celebrate his birthday had invited over his classmates for a party. Glenn, who has autism, was so excited and – as detailed here – was counting down the minutes until his friends had arrived. But the party start time came and went, and not one guest had showed up.

Obviously terribly upset and frustrated, Glenn’s mom, Ashlee, decided to blow off some steam and posted on a local community Facebook page about what happened, saying “I know this might be something silly to rant about, but my heart is breaking for my son. We invited his whole class (16 kids) over for his 6th birthday party today. Not one kid came.” She wasn’t expecting anything in response…but she got an amazing one!

Within minutes, her community started responding with messages of support – and many were even asking to come over to give Glenn a second chance at the birthday party he wanted. And that afternoon, 15 kids and 25 parents showed up at their house to celebrate! Plus, a few days later, when Glenn came home from school, he was greeted by the local fire department and sheriff’s office – with tons of gifts in tow.

We may at times be faced with great sadness, but it’s stories like this that remind us true kindness and sense of community exists.

Lynsey, Community Manager