Autism

For those with sensory sensitivities or autism spectrum disorder, a night out at the theater might seem impossible.

But this holiday season, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is hosting its second sensory-friendly production of "The Nutcracker," making the performance and venue more accessible.

Autism Speaks, a national advocacy organization, has awarded nearly $930,000 in grants to community groups nationwide, including some in Western Pennsylvania.  

Grants totaling $5,000 each will go to UPMC’s Theiss Early Autism Program, a development center for children diagnosed with autism, and Intermediate Unit 1, an educational support agency.

The Theiss Early Autism Program will use the grant to enhance its Community and Family Involvement initiative.

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors / Facebook

The second annual ReelAbilities Film Festival is taking place in Pittsburgh, focusing on movies telling the stories of people with disabilities.

We'll talk with director Sam Fleischner and Jesus Sanchez-Velez who stars in the film "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors." The movie won a Special Jury Prize at the Tribeca Film Festival and has played at film festivals around the world.

33 Genes Linked to Autism by CMU, Pitt Study

Oct 29, 2014

An international research team led by professors from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has identified 33 genes that contribute to the risk of autism.

The team also uncovered 70 genes that are “likely” linked to autism risk, and have estimated that more than 1,000 have yet to be identified. According to the researchers, the discovery, which is the largest to date, enhances the scientific community’s understanding of how a brain with autism spectrum disorder works.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh think they have found a link between prenatal and early life exposure to air pollution and autism.  The study focused on 217 families with children on the autism spectrum. 

Autism now affects one in 68 children in America.  That is up nearly 800 percent in the last 20 years. Principal investigator Evelyn Talbott said her research found exposure to increased levels of chromium and styrene increased the risk of autism by 1.4 to two times. 

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

The only thing Kai Arroyo eats is butterscotch pudding. He only drinks milk from a bottle. When he speaks, you get the sort of language that you expect from a kindergartener – not a seventh grader. And he can’t go to the bathroom on his own. 

"He’s still wearing pull-ups at 13," said his mother Astrid Arroyo. "I know! He’s actually a little more vocal about letting us know when he needs to go to the bathroom, but he’s still not fully there, so he’s still dependent on us to remind him and take him to the restroom."

90.5 WESA

Ethan Welker is a 15-year-old freshman at the University School, a private college prep school in Shadyside. His mom Michele Welker says he’s a smart and curious boy.

“Around the age of 7, he was diagnosed on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s,” Michele said. “(Asperger’s is) one of the higher functioning levels of the spectrum.”

If you’re traveling around Pittsburgh next Wednesday, you might be seeing blue, as more than a dozen buildings across the city are shining a light on autism, including the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning.

The cathedral is one of more than 8,400 buildings and landmarks around the world are participating in this year’s “Light It Up Blue” campaign to raise autism awareness, including Pittsburgh’s Gulf Tower, BNY Melon Building, and the Carnegie Science Center.

Adults and children on the autism spectrum will soon be able to enjoy a special performance of the musical version of Disney’s "The Lion King." It’s is the highest grossing Broadway show in history, but with bright lights and loud noises, the performance is not ideal for theater-lovers with autism.

Dr. Arvind Venkat says that hospital emergency rooms are basically an autistic person’s worst nightmare.

“I think if you were to purposefully design an environment that was going to be difficult for an autistic patient, you could not do worse than what we do day to day in emergency medicine,” he said.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Behavior specialists in Pennsylvania who work with autistic children have a soon-approaching deadline to apply for licenses to keep doing their jobs. But parents and advocates say that the requirements and the process to apply are arduous. 

When Act 62 passed, those in the autism community saw it as a victory. The 2009 legislation required private insurance companies to pay for services for those with autism — up to $36,000 a year. But it also required the Pennsylvania Department of State to license behavior specialists.

Alexis Eperjesi / 90.5 WESA

April is Autism Awareness Month and if you or your child has autism you've likely heard of the DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association. DSM stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and the main purpose of the manual is to provide standard guidelines for clinicians to use when diagnosing psychological disorders and conditions. The manual outlines criteria that must be met to receive a diagnosis, as well as labeling and coding sometimes used by insurance companies to identify the diagnosis. The DSM is periodically revised and this spring new revisions to the manual will be published.  

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

When the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is published next month, there will be several changes to psychiatric diagnoses.

Many of these changes are controversial — especially the one made to autism spectrum disorders. 

Phil Garrow has Asperger's syndrome. It's what’s written on his medical chart. He says the social struggles that come with the diagnosis is why he hasn’t been able to hold down engineering jobs despite his proficiency in the field.