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The Autism Network for Deaf/Hard of Hearing
and Blind/Visually Impaired

Autism Research Institute
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Welcome to the Spring 2015 edition of our e-newsletter.  



Please let us know if you have any suggestion regarding future issues of this e-newsletter. Email: email us

Best Regards, Steve Edelson, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Autism Research Institute 

Autism / Sign Language Conference

Stony Brook University convened its first Conversations on Autism and Sign Language (CASL) conference this past December. This interdisciplinary conference included scholars who specialize in ASL linguistics and social communication in autism as well as professors in psychology, anthropology, and disability studies. Some of the participants were deaf, and many self-identified as being on the autism spectrum. One of the participants commented about the relevance of collaborating with colleagues on the spectrum, and the need to focus on the strengths of those on the spectrum rather than on their deficits.


An interesting observation, made by one of the self-identified professors on the spectrum, was that people with autism were more concerned with precision (i.e., the mechanics of the sign) rather than the communication aspect of signing.


Stony Brook plans to have its second annual conference in December, 2015.


Learn more here and here

 Heeling Autism: Guide Dogs for Children with Autism

Heeling Autism is a program that provides trained service dogs to both blind and sighted children with autism who live within a two-hour drive from the Tarrytown, New York headquarters.  The dogs are provided at no fee to the families.


Healing Autism prides itself on breeding "world-renowned" dogs whose temperament is ideally suited to providing safety and companionship to children on the spectrum. The children are often the dogs' caretakers; and as a result, they become more self-confident in themselves. This translates into improvements in socialization as well as traveling, sleeping, and even eating behaviors.


In addition, the Heeling Autism dogs visit elementary school classrooms in an effort to increase autism awareness. The parents have noted that the dogs increase socialization and interaction not only by increasing the confidence of their own children, but other children are naturally attracted to the dogs. Consequently, the dogs serve as "ambassadors" for interaction.


Importantly, wandering is no longer a possibility with these children because the dogs are usually tethered to the their belts. Furthermore, the dogs are trained to "anchor" the child should he/she attempt to wander. The ultimate parental fear of drowning is also eliminated.

Heeling Autism is not accepting new applications at this time due primarily to a lengthy waiting list. Heeling Autism's website also provides links to several other national organizations that provide service dogs for children with autism.  Learn more  


A Beautiful Friendship: Two Nonverbal Teens With Autism

The Huffington Post recently profiled a special friendship between Kreed and Skyler, two nonverbal teens with autism, one of whom is deaf and visually impaired. Kreed, 17, is able to communicate using an AAC device (the Dynavox T10 tablet ). In addition to being deaf, Skyler, 14, has Usher Syndrome; and he is gradually losing his peripheral vision. He is also unable to formally communicate.

Nevertheless, the teenagers have become best friends; and they do the typical "teenager" things together, such as hanging out, eating, playing on the trampoline, watching videos, etc. Kreed, who is a few years older, has assumed the role of the leader. Since Skyler is apprehensive about walking on his own due to his vision problems, Kreed frequently helps him walk by holding his hand. Kreed's mother says that he feels empowered and gains confidence from being the "helper" rather than his usual role as the "helpee."

This inspiring story has been very popular on social media; and as a result, Kreed has over 10,000 likes on his Facebook page titled "Kreed's World." Kreed is also on Twitter, and writes a blog. You can also read the original Huffington Post story here, and see a 60 second video showing Kreed using AAC to tell his mother about his best friend Skyler here.



Hearing and Deaf Children with Autism Both Avoid Using Pronouns



A professor of linguistics has completed the first study on pronoun errors in children with autism who have been exposed to American Sign Language since birth by their deaf parents.  


It has long been known that many children with autism have difficulties with pronouns - frequently reversing them or avoiding using them altogether. That is, many refer to themselves in the third person rather than saying "me" or "I."   Since ASL signing for pronouns involves pointing to oneself or to others, pronoun reversal is not found among the deaf children with autism. However, the study found that signing children with ASD , like their hearing counterparts, frequently avoid using pronouns in favor of a name.


One of the practical benefits from the study is that these findings may help to diagnose autism among children who are deaf. Interestingly, Aaron Shield, the study's lead researcher, speculated that children on the spectrum may be avoiding the word "me" as a pronoun because it relates to their lack of a strong sense of self - or, as Shields puts it, "me-ness."



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