Should the BBC describe our children with autism as autism sufferers?

Yesterday, an article on the BBC's website praised the efforts of cinemas to hold "autism-friendly" screenings. The headline reads Cinemas help make films accessible for autism sufferers. Making cinemas friendly to all people with sensory issues is a good thing. But, do our children really suffer from autism?  Do we want our children to grow up thinking they suffer because they have autism?

The UK government advises against using the term "suffer" when writing about disability as it suggests "discomfort, constant pain and a sense of hopelessness."  There are children with autism who suffer, but to define everyone with autism as a sufferer implies that they "have a reduced quality of life."  In addition, it ignores the uniqueness, individuality and talents of people on the spectrum. 

Should we call Temple Grandin, Darryl Hannah, Susan Boyle, Dan Ackroyd and James Durbin autism sufferers?  I don't think so. 

What are your thoughts?

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Did you buy one of the ten worst toys of 2014?

W.A.T.C.H. released its list of the ten worst children’s toys in 2014 last month.  W.A.T.C.H. (World Against Toys Causing Harm) is a Massachusetts non-profit organisation that publishes annual lists of the worst toys.

 W.A.T.C.H. cautions consumers that this list does not include all toys with potential hazards.  It does however; illustrate hazards in toys that parents should know about. 

1.     Airtek Firestorm Bow
This toy is a bow and arrow set which advertises the ability of its arrows to fly up to 145 feet.  W.A.T.C.H. expresses concern about the risk of eye injuries from this product.  It also criticizes the product’s warnings:
This “light-up power” bow and arrow set is sold with three “screaming whistle” arrows which are marketed as being able to fly “up to 145 ft! Remarkably, among the many warnings for children is an instruction that arrows not be pulled back “more than half strength”, and that the “fire glow” illuminated arrows and bow, designed for “night or day”, are “[n]ot for play in complete darkness."

2.     Radio Flier Ziggle

This four-wheel ride on toy is advertised for children between the ages of 3 to 8.  W.A.T.C.H. believes this toy is hazardous for outdoor use because it is low to the ground. W.A.T.C.H. also criticizes the products warning stating:
Furthermore, despite a warning to “always wear” a helmet and other safety gear, the young rider pictured on the box is wearing no protection.

3.     Catapencil

The Catapencil is a catapult fashioned from a pencil.  The Catapencil package does not have any warnings or list appropriate ages. .W.A.T.C.H. warns of the potential for eye injuries from this product and comments:
Children of all ages, while being advised to “play safe and enjoy,” are also encouraged to use a pencil-turned-catapult for “target practice for your desktop!”  Sharpened pencils should not be marketed as playthings, much less a miniature slingshot-style launcher.


This pull toy is marketed for toddlers 18 months and above.  W.A.T.C.H. is concerned that the 20-inch cord in this toy is hazardous as it “poses a risk of strangulation and entanglement.”


Because this toy resembles a real weapon, W.A.T.C.H. warns that children should not use it.  It reminds us that 
Detailed replicas have resulted in a number of deaths through the years and should never be sold as toys.


This wooden instrument set is manufactured by Walmart and sold as an appropriate toy for babies as young as twelve-months-old.  W.A.T.C.H. is concerned that  a child could put “the slender, rigid approximately 4½” long drumstick in his mouth and it could block the child’s airway.


This kit lets children make seven bottle rockets and helps your child “throw a party they will never forget.”  W.A.T.C.H. warns of the potential for eye, face, and other impact injuries and notes that the required “safety goggles” are not supplied.


This range of baby dolls is marketed for children between 2 and 4-years-old.  W.A.T.C.H. is concerned that the dolls
are sold with a decorative bow made of ribbon which can detach from the head of the baby doll, posing the potential for choking if ingested.


This toy is a 23-inch plastic hammer marketed as suitable for children 3 and over.  W.A.T.C.H. warns of the potential for blunt impact injuries.


These brightly colored soft toys are for infants.  W.A.T.C.H. warns:
The toy has long, fibre-like hair that is not adequately rooted and is easily removable, presenting the potential for ingestion or aspiration injuries. 


©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Why and how to talk to your children about Ferguson

Credit: Loavesofbread on Wikipedia
Widespread media coverage of the events in Ferguson, Mo. makes it likely that your children already know something about it. You will not know what your children heard, read or saw about Ferguson unless you ask them. 

In addition, it is important to know their understanding of that information. Hearing about the shooting and subsequent protests can make some children anxious and afraid. Parents can help their children put the events in perspective by talking with them and reassuring them of their safety.

How you approach this issue depends on your own family dynamics and your children’s ages, but experts do have a few tips for parents:
  1. Find out what your children already know about the events and their feelings about them.
  2. Reassure your children that they are safe.
  3. When speaking with your children, try to keep your own emotions in check.
  4. Provide information that is appropriate to your children’s ages, maturity and levels of understanding.
  5. Consider filtering younger children’s exposure to news stories and images that are inappropriate for them.
  6. Explain the violence without condoning violence.
  7. Give your children the facts to help them put the events in context.
  8. Some children and teens are hesitant to discuss these issues with their parents. Make sure they know you are available whenever they need you. If your relationship is particularly strained, find out if there is a friend, relative or teacher available that your child can talk to.
More information about talking to children about these types of events is available from the National Association of School Psychologists.

To review the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown see this timeline from CNN.


I originally published this article on

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action

Why do people with autism have trouble recognizing facial expressions?

Problems with social interactions are a major symptom of autism. These social deficits manifest differently in each child with autism, but often include

  • problems carrying on conversations
  • not being interested in play or other social interactions with other children
  • difficulty making friends and/or maintaining friendships

Researchers identified a reason for these problems - people with autism gather information from facial expressions differently than their peers.  "The evaluation of an individual's face is a rapid process that influences our future relationship with the individual," said Baudouin Forgeot d'Arc, lead author of the study. "By studying these judgments, we wanted to better understand how people with ASD use facial features as cues. Do they need more cues to be able to make the same judgment?"

In this study, researchers showed facial photographs and synthetic images to 71 participants, including 33 with autism. The photos showed different facial expressions. Participants were asked to identify which of the images with neutral expressions showed kindness. The participants reached the same conclusion on the synthetic images, but the results varied when shown photographs leading to the conclusion that the critical component is how information about facial images is gathered.

"We now want to understand how the gathering of cues underpinning these
Nicubunu on
judgments is different between people with or without ASD depending on whether they are viewing synthetic or photographic images. Ultimately, a better understanding of how people with ASD perceive and evaluate the social environment will allow us to better interact with them," said Forgeot d'Arc.

The study, "Atypical Social Judgment and Sensitivity to Perceptual Cues in Autism Spectrum Disorders" is published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.  

©Mary M Conneely T/A Advocacy in Action