Autism’s First Film Fest Comes to L.A.

What would you do if someone offered you the use of a movie theater for a couple of days? If you’re Matt Asner, vice president of development for Autism Society of America, you put on a film festival. AutFest, the first film festival solely dedicated to the portrayal of autism in film and filmmakers on the spectrum, takes place April 22-23 at the AMC 30 in Orange. “I’ve always thought...

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kids with disabilities

Arts, Ability and Imagination

Georgia O'Keeffe, the painter known as the “Mother of American Modernism,” once said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way – things I had no words for.” O’Keeffe’s words say so much about art and what it can mean in one’s life. In Los Angeles, we celebrate inclusion in arts programs. Many children with disabilities are taking their first dance...

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Friendship In Flow

Lourdes Mack loves to dance, act, ski, play basketball and surf. And she’s done it all with her trademark enthusiasm and her bright pink wheelchair. Mack was born with spina bifida, a medical condition that damages the spinal cord and nerves. But Mack doesn’t want to talk about that – or her wheelchair. She’d much rather talk about playing a nun in Santa Monica High School’s recent production of “The...

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You Can Now Support Special Olympics When Filing Your Taxes

California taxpayers have long had the option to support causes near to their hearts at filing time – and this year a new organization with plenty of heart joins the list. Special Olympics Southern California and Special Olympics Northern California join 19 other nonprofits in the contributions section of this year’s state income tax form. “One of our great champions, Assemblymember Jim Frazier from Oakley, California, has been a longtime...

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Inclusive Pageant Spotlights Girls of All Abilities

Many girls dream of wearing a crown and being “queen” for a day, and the California Miss Amazing pageant gives girls of all abilities that chance. The day includes all the usual pageant pomp, from formalwear and interviews to tiaras and trophies, but the beauty here is more than skin deep. “One of the main impacts of the program is [for the girls] to realize their potential,” says Miss Amazing...

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Film, Music and Autism Come Together In This Lab

Lots of local folks took their films to last month’s Sundance Film Festival, but one has a particularly fun story behind – and above, below and all around – it. “Use Your Imagination,” which premiered at Oculus House at the festival Jan. 22, is a virtual reality musical created in collaboration with, and starring, artists with autism. The film was made with a grant from Oculus VR, makers of virtual-reality...

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Celebrating Human Abilities at Aquarium of the Pacific

What does a celebration of the artistic talents of people with disabilities have to do with taking care of the world’s oceans? Plenty, says Peter Martineau, marketing events manager at Aquarium of the Pacific, which will host its 14th annual Festival of Human Abilities this month. “The aquarium has always wanted to include as many people from as many backgrounds as possible,” says Martineau, pointing out that the aquarium’s mission...

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The Second City Launches Courses for Kids With Autism

The Second City – which has locations in Chicago, Toronto and Hollywood – has been a launching pad for theater and comedy talent for decades. Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey are some of the institution’s more recent alumni. The venue also offers kids comedy, acting and writing classes. And this month, for the first time, the Hollywood location launches a program just for kids with developmental disabilities. In...

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A Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker Comes to Theaters

If you have a child on the autism spectrum, you might have shied away from ballet – even that most child-friendly ballet, “The Nutcracker.” Children with sensory issues might be overwhelmed by the sound and the spectacle. And those with attention deficits could have a tough time staying quietly in their seats. This month, the Autism Society of America is helping bring “The Nutcracker” to kids with autism in a...

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Students Record a Song To Urge a Closer Look

Children from the L.A. Speech and Language Therapy Center are inspiring the community with their original song, “Beyond the Label.” The students, who all have developmental disabilities, participated in writing a song to encourage people to see beyond their diagnoses. The group has performed the song at the White House, and recorded the original piece with singer-songwriter Johnny Gill of the R&B/pop group New Edition and a team of professional...

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Very Special Arts Festival Celebrates Children of All Abilities

As I walked into the courtyard of The Music Center this morning I couldn’t help but smile. Children were everywhere — singing, dancing, and making art. More than 5,000 K-12 students of all abilities from all parts of L.A. County came together for the 38th Annual Very Special Arts Festival. More than 130 schools attended this year’s festival, celebrating students’ achievements in visual and performing arts. Eighty school groups participated...

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Sign-ups Open For The Miracle Project Fall Theater Classes

The Miracle Project – an innovative program that uses theater, music and movement to help individuals with autism and other disabilities build self-confidence, communication skills and friendships – is kicking off its fall schedule of courses in September. Space is limited, and early registration is strongly recommended. Several classes will be held Tuesdays at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts (9390 Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills; www.thewallis.org) from Sept....

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Why Kids With Disabilities Need Time For Play

As summer winds down and the new school year gets rolling, you’re likely looking closely at your child’s schedule. If your child has a developmental or other disability, one especially important thing to schedule in is play. Joclynn Benjamin, owner of Leaps n Boundz – which offers swimming, gymnastics and social programs for individuals of all abilities at several L.A.-area sites – says families often have few slots open for...

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This Special-Needs Camp Hires Counselors On the Spectrum

All over Los Angeles this summer, high school and college students are earning money and gaining experience as camp counselors. When college student and L.A. resident Carter Theiro shows up for work each morning and joins 130 camp counselors at a South Los Angeles camp, he brings a unique perspective to the job. Theiro, 19 and a student at Los Angeles Valley College, is on the autism spectrum. This is his third year as...

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Songs About Social Skills – And Us

Social skills are important in helping smooth our way through life – but they’re not something we talk about a lot. An album out this spring from SoCal singer/songwriter Kerry Fenster makes the conversation musical. “Songs About Us,” from the independent Muzic School label, is a collection of five tunes aimed at teaching social skills to children and young adults with developmental delays. The album was inspired by Fenster’s work...

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Young Actors Take On Bullying With ‘The Intimidation Game’

While autism now impacts about one in 68 kids, bullying is pretty much universal. So a unique group of young actors are doing something about it in their own special way. The Miracle Project has been helping kids with autism and all abilities express themselves through theater and music since 2004. Under the direction of the indomitable Elaine Hall, the troupe creates and performs original musicals that forge friendships, educate,...

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Arts Programs for Kids With Special Needs

Like most children, those with special needs enjoy being creative and sharing their projects with others. The arts can provide a relaxing and fulfilling activity, and are a safe way to explore feelings and ideas. “There are many forms of art, and children with autism or other developmental differences may have particular strengths and interests,” says Diane Cullinane, M.D., a developmental pediatrician board certified in pediatrics and neurodevelopmental disabilities, and...

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L.A. Sports Programs for Kids With Special Needs

Kickball was one of my favorite childhood sports. Our weekly neighborhood games were even sweeter because we had a designated pitcher. Jonathan would be the first one on the empty lot at the end of our street. He’d always bring the ball, and as long as we could get at least four kids together, we had a game. Jonathan used a wheelchair, but he loved kickball, and for us, that’s...

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Deaf Son’s Need Inspires Swim Shirt Company

Cole Sherman is profoundly deaf, has cochlear implants and loves to swim. “My son, he’s a water baby,” says Cole’s dad, Eric. For many years, water and the processors that implant users wear outside the body just didn’t mix. But in 2012, when Cole was 7, he got his first set of waterproof processors. The Tarzana family quickly discovered that the processors weren’t convenient to wear in the pool. “The wearing...

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Summer Camp for Special Kids

You did your homework, made your visits and found a great school for your child with special needs. But soon school will be out. What will your child do this summer? If you are considering summer camp, know that there are a lot of great programs in the L.A. area that will allow your child to have a real summer-camp experience in a safe and nurturing environment. Now is the...

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Animation Contests Seeks Artists With Special Needs

L.A.-based Flydra Creative is an animation studio launched by a group of young up-and-coming animators. They’ve worked at places like Cartoon Network, studied cinematic arts at USC, been YouTube sensations and won awards. Now they want to give other young animators – animators of all abilities – a shot at seeing their ideas for a cartoon character and animated series come to life. The studio has launched “Project Passion,” an...

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Get Into the Act at Abilities Expo

Abilities Expo, coming to the L.A. Convention Center Feb. 5-7, showcases technology, products, services and information for people of all abilities. But this is not an event designed just for looking. The “Events Arena” at the back of the hall, for instance, will feature wheelchair dance, service dogs, adaptive shot put, all-abilities yoga, adaptive skateboarding, power soccer, wheelchair tennis and adaptive basketball. “This is where we do hourly demonstrations of...

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Buddy Baseball Registration is Underway

Teams for players with special needs start their season Feb. 6. Registration has begun for the Cal Ripken – Babe Ruth League 2016 Buddy Baseball Program at Hartwell Park in Long Beach. The league is open to players ages 4-18 with special needs and their “buddies,” and serves Long Beach and the surrounding communities. “Buddy” refers to the person who helps the player with special needs swing the bat, round...

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Hot Wheelers Comes to Outside the Box

Wheelchair accessibility and new classes are part of the learning center’s expansion. Outside the Box opened its first 500-square-foot storefront in 2009. The center, devoted to sensory activities that contribute to brain development for ages 8 weeks to 6 years, has expanded a couple of times over the years, and always made good use of the space. There were bubbles. There was paint. There were musical instruments, giggles and squeals....

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This Holiday Shopping Keeps Vacation Dreams Afloat

Since 2006, Autism on the Seas has organized and staffed vacations (on cruises and at resorts on land) for families with children and adults with a variety of special needs – from autism to Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other types of challenges. Now the organization has launched a nonprofit arm that will help fund these vacations as well. The Autism on the Seas Foundation will award varying amounts of...

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13-year-old Chef Cooks With Food Greats at Autism Speaks Gala

By the time Chase Bailey was 10, he was hooked on cooking shows. He discussed best methods for caramelizing onions with his mom and filled the family DVR with recipes for pizzas baked in brick ovens and tortillas filled with mahi mahi and mango-radish salsa. At 11, he started his own cooking blog, followed by his YouTube channel, “Chase 'N Yur Face.” And in October, the Irvine 13-year-old, who is...

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Angel City Games Bring Adaptive Sport To L.A.

Ezra Frech, a Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year nominee in 2014, was born with no left knee or shin bone and only one finger on his left hand. And though he had his leg amputated below the knee at age 2 ½, nothing has slowed him down. When his leg was amputated, doctors were able to attach one of his toes to his left hand, giving him two opposing...

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L.A. to Host 2015 Special Olympics World Games

Los Angeles will play host to as many as half a million people this summer as we welcome athletes and fans from all over the world for the 14th Special Olympic World Games, taking place July 25-Aug. 2. Seven-thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities, coached by 3,000 coaches, will compete in 25 sports at all different levels, says Steven Vanderpool, a spokesperson for the games. There will be 117 countries represented....

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Play Program Bridges Gaps Between Typical and Special Needs Kids

One morning in late February, 16 students from Damin Hopkins’ eighth-grade class at Chandler school in Pasadena set out on a field trip to the Reese’s Retreat playground in Brookside Park. Most observers would think these kids – an exuberant but polite group in school T-shirts and jackets – were a little old for swings and pirate-themed play structures. But this class was on a special mission. They were there...

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Zoo Outreach Program Makes Special-Needs Classrooms Go Wild

A classroom for students with mild, moderate and severe learning disabilities turned into a zoo for a day at Granada Hills Charter High School as the Los Angeles Zoo brought critters and crawlers with their Special Needs Education Outreach Program. Students with disabilities were able to interact with live animals while learning about their habitats from tactile biofacts. The trained zoo docents are certified in the handling of the animals...

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Theater Improv Games are Fun Ideas For Kids

Some kids are naturally gregarious and social, and have no trouble making friends or speaking up in class. Others are shy, struggle to make connections with others, and dread being called on by the teacher – even when they know the answer. Theater improv games can help shy kids and those who need help with social skills, and are fun for all. Parents looking for fun ideas for kids will...

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Choosing Musical Instruments For Children With Special Needs

Children experiencing special needs such as physical, emotional or intellectual challenges respond to music and can play music, but one important question remains. What instruments are best for these children and why? A few years ago, I read an article in Music Educators Journal discussing this very topic and giving suggestions. Here is a brief synopsis of that article and which instruments they suggest for children with specific physical and...

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Yoga With Special Benefits for Kids With Special Needs

Naam yoga is unlike any kind of yoga I’ve practiced before, and I have been practicing for more than a decade. The Naam style combines movement (mudra), sound (mantra) and breath (pranayama) to promote vibrant health within the body and mind, and I got to see its effects recently on a class of people on the autism spectrum. At the Naam Yoga studio in Santa Monica, I felt the floor...

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Put On Your Tutu and Walk With Ballet For All Kids

Elise Luna, 6, loves to dance. With her ballet DVD in hand, she twirls around her living room every chance she gets. One of the biggest treats of the week is her ballet class. While verbal communication is a challenge for Elise, who has autism, dance frees her to fully express herself. Elise takes classes at Ballet for All Kids in Encino. The studio, founded by Bonnie Schlachte, offers classical...

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Face Value Comics Introduces a New Kind of Hero

The first comic book specifically written and drawn to appeal to readers with autism, Face Value Comics creates a colorful world of aliens, robots and adventure, all set against the backdrop of a future Earth at war. But beyond its intended audience, Face Value makes history in another way. Its hero, Michael, is a young boy who himself has autism. As the story makes clear, Michael wants the same things...

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There’s More to These Playgrounds Than Meets The Eye

When you look at a playground, you might see swings or a jungle gym, but children with disabilities see a fun place that’s inaccessible, excluding them from opportunities to play. Unless, of course, they are visiting one of Shane’s Inspiration’s universally accessible playgrounds, created to bring together children – with disabilities and without – through play. You can find them as far away as Russia, Israel and Ecuador and as...

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Ballet for All Brings Dance to Typical Kids and Those With Special Needs

Elise Luna, 6, loves to dance. With her ballet DVD in hand, she twirls around her living room every chance she gets. One of the biggest treats of the week is her ballet class. While verbal communication is a challenge for Elise, who has autism, dance frees her to fully express herself. Elise has been taking classes at Ballet for all Kids in Encino for the past year. The studio,...

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‘Break It Down’ Total Sports Offers Special-Needs Fall Soccer Program

“Break It Down” Total Sports, which launched in June in Hermosa Beach, is gearing up for its second session of sports for young athletes with special needs. The program has a mission to teach children with special needs sports skills in a positive environment and to develop their motivation to participate using Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) teaching strategies. The fall session, which begins Sept. 6, will focus on soccer. Co-founders...

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Being On Stage Is a ‘Miracle’ For Teens On the Spectrum

I don’t know much about autism, but I’m hearing phrases such as “on the spectrum” and “high functioning” more and more often. When I gave birth to my first son in 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was reporting that one in every 150 children had autism. Today that number is one in 68. Parents of children on the autism spectrum might worry about their child’s differences,...

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Free Beach Wheelchairs Keep Summer Fun Rolling

By Christina Elston Last spring, Jim Schwab and his family traveled to Southern California from their home in Atlanta, and some friends recommended a visit to Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. Schwab and his wife, Helen, have 15-year-old twins, Matt and Alison, and Alison has cerebral palsy. They were delighted to find that her need for a wheelchair wouldn’t keep her off the beach. “During our visit, Alison...

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Museum Tips For Special-Needs Families1

Museum Tips For Special-Needs Families

Museums of all kinds can be great experiences for kids with special needs. A little planning and a few extra steps can make your visit great. by Julee Brooks For families of children with special needs, the thought of visiting a busy public space such as a museum might seem daunting. There are things, however, that families can do before, during and even after a visit to make it more...

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