What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a general term used for a group of brain development disorders that leads to a partial or complete loss of a person’s ability to communicate, socialize or relate to other people. ASD is commonly referred to as simply ‘autism’.

Why is it a ‘Spectrum Disorder’?

It is called a spectrum disorder because it includes an umbrella of disorders such as autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. The term ‘spectrum disorder’ also means that different people are affected differently by ASD and do not have the same symptoms. So autistic people could have low IQs or high IQs, could be absolutely able bodied or have significant disability, could be over-sensitive or under-sensitive to certain senses. One size does not fit all.

Why does ASD happen?

A recent meta-analysis study points to a correlation between the corpus callosum, a large and complex bundle of nerves in the brain, and autism. Individuals with autism tend to have a reduced corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is supposed to be the part of the brain responsible for emotional and social functioning as well as higher cognitive processes such as decoding nonliteral meaning, affective prosody, and understanding humor.

When can we diagnose ASD?

Unfortunately, most parents diagnose their children after they are 2-3 years old, when they start behaving differently from other children their age. However, if you keep your eyes open for the signs of ASD, you can diagnose it as early as between 6-12 months of the child’s age. Watch out for signs:

– Is the child slow in learning to communicate?

– Does the child avoid eye contact?

– Does the child shun social contact and prefer to be alone?

In older kids, you’ll notice that apart from the above signs, they might be very sensitive to certain sounds or colors, they may not be able to read or speak, they might gaze at things for long periods of time or they might perform repetitive actions.

Share these signs with your doctor immediately to get a diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

Children with autism need to be taught everything differently. The longer you have waited to diagnose your child, the more he / she needs to cover up. Early intervention, before the child is 18 months old, makes your child ready to take on the world in a more confident way.

Treating children with ASD includes:

– Cognitive and language enhancement skills

– A specialized curriculum for studies

– Regular therapy

– Depending on the type of ASD, specialized skills training

– Medications

This website aims to give you all the information you need about ASD. By sharing our experiences and stories, we can all give our children the best help they can get

Parent Support System: Talk To Other Parents With Autistic Children

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a condition that affects the social, emotional and cognitive development of children that continues until his/ her adulthood. It is characterized by deficiency in communication skills, social behavior, motor skills and mental functioning abilities.

The term ‘spectrum’ is used because it affects different children differently. While some children are only mildly impaired by their symptoms, others could be severely disabled. Parents of children with ASD find it extremely trying to live with their kid’s conditions. ASD in the family can cause mental and financial difficulties that can even lead to a rift in relationships. Thus, it is very important for parents of children with ASD to share their feelings with other such parents. Talking to other parents allows you to see things in a different perspective and focus on the joy that your children bring.

You have various options to find parents of children with ASD to talk to.

Autism parent support groups

Support groups range from those only for moms (or dads) to those for parents and family to those where you can take your kids along to too. This is a great way to meet other parents who are facing the same challenges that you are. You can share information, get advice or simply open your heart out for emotional support. Support groups prevent you from feeling ‘singled out’ and help you cope with the help of stories shared by other families.


If you are undergoing depression or anxiety, or frequently have panic attacks, you need to see a therapist. Counseling helps you get professional help to sort your psychological problems. Just talking to someone honestly about your problems tremendously boosts your spirit and gives you the strength to live through and enjoy another week. A therapist may also prescribe anti-depressants if you are in dire need of help. If your marriage is getting affected due to your child’s ASD, a marriage counselor will help you separate the issues stemming from ASD and those caused due to other factors so that you can deal with the problem more effectively. Counselors can also get you in touch with support groups that will help you specifically.

Respite care

At times, you can break down and feel like you are unable to take care of your child with ASD. Opting for respite care will allow you to take time out and use this time to talk to other parents with similar problems. In respite care, a trained nanny can take care of your child for a few days or weeks. You should use this time to share your feelings with your counselor and / or parent support group.

3 Signs To Look For To Find Out If Your Child May Be Autistic

Nobody wishes for an autistic child, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking for signs of autism in your baby. Research shows that early intervention, even as young as six months, can strongly improve your child’s autism and allow them to live a healthy, social life.

The autism spectrum is quite vast and there are no ‘one size fits all’ symptoms. However, all autistic children will show some degree of autism related problems. Here are X signs that you should look for in your child, from the time she is born till she is eighteen to twenty months old:

1. Slow in learning to communicate

Autistic children are typically self-absorbed. They tend to live in their own private world and do not seem comfortable around others. They have trouble learning language skills and often do not start speaking even after most children their age have. They may not respond to people who try to communicate with them. Many parents may even suspect that their children are deaf, but they are simply ignoring people around them. Many autistic children also have problems communicating non-verbally i.e. they cannot gesture correctly with their hands or express their feelings using their faces.

2. Avoids eye contact

Children do not make eye contact when they are babies. However, you can still pick up on some signs. When you talk to your baby, she will ideally look at your face. Slightly older kids will look up when you talk to them. Autistic kids do not feel the need to look at you when you speak. Research suggests that autistic children may find even the friendliest of faces threatening. The amygdala – an emotion center in the brain associated with negative feelings – lights up to an abnormal extent when an autistic child casts a direct gaze upon a non-threatening face.

3. Prefers to be alone

Autistic children do not like to be touched or played with. Your infant may start crying every time she is picked up for any reason other than drinking milk or a diaper change. She may simply ignore people’s attempts to play with her and look another way or show her discomfort by wailing loudly.

As a parent, you need to:

  • Monitor your child’s development

Keep a close eye on your baby’s emotional, social and cognitive development. If your child is lagging behind her peers in all three, her chances of being in the autism spectrum are very high.

  • Don’t wait and see (trust your instincts)

Older family members and well-wishers may tell you not to worry, but ignoring signs is the worst thing you can do. As a parent, trust your instincts. If you feel that something is wrong, it might just be. Developmental delays could be a symptom of a variety of problems and need to be checked into. Even if your child may not have autism, it’s good to know what else is causing this delay.

  • Get intervention

If you see signs of autism, talk to your doctor immediately. Make a list of events and episodes before you do so. This will give the doctor a lot of information that will help her diagnose your child better. Early intervention helps accelerate emotional, social and cognitive development in children.

A Personal Message from Karen Simmons

When I co-authored “Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children with Special Needs” with Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen and Heather McNamara, the biggest dilemma we faced was what to call the book ,as folks both did and did not want to be labeled in certain ways. It was reported to be the most challenging title the Chicken Soup people wrestled with to date. What we learned was that people on the autism spectrum and other spectrums for that matter, are people first before their condition!

Some of my favorite people are on the autism spectrum! My dad, my son, Stephen Shore, my sister (maybe) and even a bit of me! When my son was diagnosed in 1992 I embraced his autism and mostly tried to focus on his gifts, strengths and talents rather than the deficits he displayed at the time, after I got over the initial denial of it all. Of course I had the same challenges families face in those beginning years and could have chosen to have a negative attitude and chose instead to focus on the positives as much as I could. As part of his early intervention, before the days of behavioral interventions, I wasn’t about to wait around for science to prove to me whether certain methodologies were legit or not. I just wanted to find tools that would enable him to have the best life he could have.

Of course I used my own “mom” common sense compass, built into most moms, though I tried things to help my son that were not necessarily science based. They were “mom” based. My real question is who are we to “fix” people? All people are broken in some way, and to different degrees. ALL people have different ways of being though certainly no one is “better” than the next person. If we feel with our hearts and souls while helping people through tough times, in whatever way makes sense at the time, the world will be a better place!

Our time on the planet is all-together too short to waste on efforts that take an extraordinary amount of time to prove one way or the other. Often, by the time double blind studies are concluded, methodologies have changed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Polyanna, with an altruistic view, and I do believe in research with a true return on investment. I propose that we focus to create a better overall society that promotes everybody flourishing.

Autism is not a disease, an illness or a disorder, it’s a different order and people on the spectrum as well as other spectrums, are wonderful souls and deserve the best, most successful lives, whatever that might look like. Thanks for being you, John!

Karen Simmons

Sports Games Boosts Tim Mather’s Quality of Life – By John M. Williams

Tim Mather sits in front of a computer. He waits patiently for the alarm clock near his desk to ring. His daily routine is to wait until the alarm rings ay 9:00 a.m. When the alarm goes off, he puts on his headphones, turns on the computer and waits for it to boot up. When it does, he clicks on the My Football icon and stares at the screen until he hears, ‘EA Sports. It’s in the game.”A smile appears on his face as the picture of a football player appears. He can choose to play either a child’s version or an adult’s version of My Football Game.

“I love action,” says Tim.

“Tim will sit for hours every day and play My Football. My Golf Game, and other computer games with movement,” says his father, Michael.

Tim’s father is overwhelmed with joy that Tim has found an activity that occupies many hours of his time during the day. Tim is autistic. Autism is a neurological disorder characterized by impaired social interaction as well as repetitive behavior.

Tim is looking at a picture of a football player. “Big and strong,” he says. He clicks on the adult version button. He is looking at buttons numbered levels 1, 2, 3 and the words Championship ring.  Each level gives him a different activity.

“Tim has never clicked on Championship ring,” said Lucifer, Tim’s 20-year-old brother.

Tom loves clicking because it brings him new pictures. He clicks on Level 1. Lucifer then clicks on a button and now Tim is staring at eight football icons. The icons are drills for rookies and cover kicking, trench fight, ground attack, QB pocket reserve, passing, tackling, punting and swat ball. Tim clicks on the kicking icon. He says, “I kick far.”

There’s an expression of joy on his face as he practices kicking. He loves seeing the kicker kick and the ball soaring through the air.

“Watch the ball,” Tim says as the ball soars through the goal post uprights.

Except for moments like these, Tim seldom shows any emotional feelings, his father says.

Tim’s IQ is about 75. When speaking to people he seldom looks at them. He rarely starts a conversation. He prefers being alone. His sentences seldom are more than five words, and if you sit him in front of a computer chess board he stares at the board and never makes a move. However after someone has moved a piece he becomes engaged and starts moving his pieces. Sometimes he wins.

When it comes to playing computer games with movement, Tim is proactive. He is a fanatic for repetition.

Fifteen minutes after he starts My Football Game, an alarm goes off. Tim knows it is time to go to another activity. Lucifer picks passing. Tim’s face lights up as he practices the quarterback passing to different receivers. He does this by pressing the following keys S, R, F. He points to the football in the air and says, “I throw the ball.” There is a triumphant look on his face.

“Tim can associate causal relationships. I believe he thinks that since the ball can only be thrown when he pushes a key that he’s the one throwing,” says Lucifer who is certain that the different activities the game offers improves Tim’s hand-eye coordination and concentration. Tim plays two different drills daily. He is good at pushing the keys to produce action.

Fifteen  minutes after starting this exercise an alarm goes off, and Lucifer shows Tim how to exit this activity and skipping level 2, they proceed to Level 3 which is a 20 minute game, comprised of four five minute quarters, between opposing teams. Today the teams are the Chicago Sailors and the Indianapolis Romans. Tim’s favorite is the Eagles and then the Tigers.  He owns a parakeet and has a picture of a white tiger on his bedroom wall. As Tim and Lucifer prepare to start the game, Tim’s demeanor changes. He removes his headphones and listens to the crowd’s noise. He is often disturbed by loud, continuous noises. The simulated crowd noises don’t bother him.

“Listen,” he said as he diligently watches the coin flip. “Yes” he barely shouts while pumping his arm in the air. His team has won the coin toss and will receive the foot ball.

Tim watches closely as Lucifer sets up his defense against a run back. The football is kicked off. Tim’s team receives it and returns it 20 yards. On the first offensive play, the Sailors run the ball wide left and the runner scores a touchdown. Realizing what has happened; Tim turns to Lucifer and says, “Touchdown for me.”

An instant replay of the game produces this comment from Tim. “My runner.”

As Tim’s team prepares to kickoff, by pressing the S key, he selects one of three defenses appearing on the screen.

“I don’t know how he does it, but Tim appears to understand these different defenses,” says his father.

Lucifer says, “Computer games such as My Football Game helps improve Tim’s hand-eye coordination and thinking skills.”

For 20 minutes, Tim is alert. He watches, thinks and responds to plays. When the game is over, he has won. He is proud of his victory and points to his chest and says, “I won.” Sometimes he says, “The winner.”

Tim plays a second football game. This time against his father. Tim wins 24 to 17. The second win increases his confidence to the point that he seems as though he is bragging.  “Bring it on,” Tim says with defiance.

Tim plays other football games on the computer. They are by Tiger Woods and Microsoft… His father says, “Tim prefers My Football Game. He spends three hours daily playing the football game.”     Meanwhile Tim’s interest in computer golf games is rising.”

Three years ago, Tim played his first game of Putt, Putt golf. Since then he has become a fanatic and plays the game weekly with his father, Lucifer and his 14-year-old brother Thomas. He affectionately calls Thomas “little brother.” He sometimes calls him Tom, but never Thomas.

When playing Putt-Putt golf, Tim takes a lot of time studying each hole. He is limited to 60 seconds a shot. He takes the full 60 seconds always. He seldom goes over par on each hole. Last year, Tim started playing computer golf games. Recently Tim and Thomas set up, My Golf Game. One of the activities of My Golf Game is practicing putting. Tim loves putting and putts, and putts and putts for 30 minutes… He goes to that activity first when playing,

Tim enjoys the chip shot exercise. There are five opportunities to put the ball in the hole. While he fails most of the time, the failures don’t deter him. When he puts the ball in the hole, he congratulates himself by clapping.

Tim is enthralled by My Golf Game’s create your own golf character feature. As a result, he created a youthful golfer in his image. Tim uses his image all the time.. He calls his avatar, “Tim. That’s me.”

“My brother thinks he is on a putt-putt gold course when playing My Golf Game,” Thomas says. He putts with Tim.

My Football Game and My Golf Game were created so people with disabilities could be included in social activities that enrich their lives.

“I am so happy to learn about Tim’s success with the games,” said Chuck Bergen, president of VTree, LLC, and creator of both games.

To learn more about My Golf Game and My Football Game visit http://www.vtreellc.com/home/my-golf-game.html and http://vtreellc.com/home/my-football-game.html.

John M. Williams can b reached at jwilliams@atechnews.com. His web site is www.atechnews.com.

The Art of AUTISM

The ART of AUTISM Tour takes on Hollywood on May 19th! Keri Bowers – Advocate, Speaker, Seminar Leader, and Filmmaker – will host The ART of AUTISM, at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre to celebrate the talents of individuals on the autism spectrum. Music, dance, drama, monologues, art, film, and great fun. Performers include: Arrest My Sister, The Miracle Fly Kids, Autism Movement Therapy Dancers, Taylor Cross, Diane Isaacs, Susan Sheller, Nick Guzman, Dani Bowman, Kennedy Moore, Ballet for All Kids, and more.

HEARTS AND ARTS AWARDS will be presented to Janet Grillo for her work in advocacy and film (Fly Away and Autism the Musical); Naomi Heller (posthumously) for 30 years of dedication to children with Special Needs (Founder Intercare Therapy, Inc.) and Susan Baukus, behaviorist, for her dedication to children with special needs.
Debbie Hosseni will share her book, ARTISM: The ART of AUTISM, published by Autism Today, and a couple of guests will win free books and films at the event. Come see Trevor Aykin’s spray art LIVE, and artist Joel Anderson will be there to sign books as well!

Tickets are 20 bucks, visit www.itsmyseat.com to purchase.

This event will make you laugh and cry. BRING TISSUE!

www.normalfilms.com for more information

The ART of AUTISM; Hollywood is principally sponsored by Intercare Therapy, Inc. with co-sponsorship by Autism Today, Debbie Hosseini, and


Be part of the Art! Exploring our Autism Arts Website, ArtismToday.com

Be part of the Art!  Start by exploring our autism arts website, ArtismToday.com

The Art of Autism is universal.  For so many of our kids, art is that first inspiration that lures them out, into a world of fulfilling social interactions, through their exceptional, autism-enhanced ability to connect to others through art.  That’s why Autism Today has teamed up with author Debbie Hosseini, to create Artism: The Art of Autism, a magnificent coffee table book, packed with beautiful art by artists who happen to have autism.  As you enjoy the book, Hosseini takes you on a journey into the lives of 54 artists from around the world, and how each has used art to overcome the challenges of living on the spectrum.  In the process, she dispatches, one by one, with common myths about people with autism, perceptions among neurotypicals for example that people on the spectrum lack emotion, creativity, sensitivity, and empathy.

But Artism: The Art of Autism is not just a book.  It’s a community!  Be sure to check out our website, ArtismToday.com.  Interact with Debbie Hosseini, who curates the site.  Follow Artism artists in the news.  Each artists continues to attract interest and media coverage now that Artism: The Art of Autism is now available.   Learn about Keri Bowers’ upcoming Art of Autism Tour dates and how to participate, www.normalfilms.com.  Share YOUR story or that of a friend whom art has helped to cope or to transcend the challenges of autism.  Best of all — have fun!  Our goal is for ArtismToday.com to be an online crossroads for everyone interested in art and, yes, autism too.

We look forward to seeing you, interacting with you and learning about you and your art soon, on ArtismToday.com!

Every Autism Mom is a Star: But there is only one Eustacia Cutler

What can I say about Eustacia Cutler?  It is impossible to know Temple Grandin‘s story without intuitively knowing the strength, the dogged determination of the woman who never gave up on her daughter.  Even if you knew nothing of Eustacia, her background, her own beautiful telling of her story, A Thorn in My Pocket, you would know her through Temple.   And if you talk to Temple, you learn how much Temple herself is the product of an ethical, and maternal act of faith, in Temple’s inherent worth, autism and all.  At a time science would have instructed her to abandon her child to an institution, she embarked on a deeply personal equivalent of the Apollo mission, sacrificing her own ambitions (which were many for a Harvard-educated young woman of the 50s), and focusing on Temple’s potential.  How richly that journey has paid off – for Temple, and for all of us.

Temple Grandin honored her mother so beautifully at the Emmy Awards.  Even those not entirely familiar with the autism story, or even the movie Temple Grandin, remember the moment when the lady in the cowboy gear brandished an Emmy statuette and gave her mom a shout out.  It was an electrifying moment for autism moms.  Those tributes to Eustacia Cutler have continued to flow since the Emmys.  I wanted to be sure everyone has seen this one. In it, Julia Ormand, the actress who played Eustacia in the HBO movie, gives Eustacia her Emmy statuette at a conference last November.  Noting that Eustacia had once hoped to be an actress, Ormand jokes that Eustacia can use the Emmy as a door stop.  But then, unscripted, Ormand says: “I want you to have it for all the doors you have opened.  I want you to have it for the thing you let go – that you gave to me.”

See video of Eustacia’s Tribute to all mothers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ykBWPpHDsc

Ormand’s explanation of an autism mom’s sacrifices is a restatement of a code we all are familiar with, as autism moms.  “This mother met the challenges of motherhood with such courage.  She did not attempt to be her kid’s best friend.  She said ‘I’m here to give you boundaries.  I’m here to do the tough stuff so you can walk through life empowered.”  Eustacia, in accepting the award, drives the point home.  “This is for all the mothers who work in silence.  Autism is a family disorder — everyone is affected.”

Eustacia, thank you for joinning us in Vancouver.  We can’t wait to welcome our favorite mom – and to be warmed by your triumph.

Karen’s Blog: Sharing a Teen Idol with my Kids

Last night my dream came true  Although I love many different types of music from rock to jazz to blues to orchestra I got to see live in person my favorite musician in the whole wide world, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp!  As a young pup, I would drive through the mountains of Seattle with the top down on my convertible and music blasting into the open air singing at the top of my lungs.  I listened from one year to the next, like ALL THE TIME, maybe even stimmed, which means engaging in an extreme interest over and over and over again also known as perseverating, out a great deal on Rogers magnificent talent.

I didn’t stop playing their music, not even while my kids were growing up so they got to jam out with me in the car to Supertramp all their lives.  My fifth son, Stephen was the one who alerted me to the fact that they were coming to Edmonton. The funny thing was, I didn’t even know the key musicians name until Stephen invited me. You see,  I always knew him as Supertramp and never even thought about what his  actual name was, didn’t really care, just I knew I loved loved loved Dreamer and Superstar!  Who knows, maybe in the back of my mind part of our Autism Today Star logo came from that song.

My dream that came through was that my kids went with me and we got to enjoy the music together screaming, dancing and dreaming all in a state of exuberance.  I almost missed out because I didn’t connect the dots of Roger to Supertramp so when Stephen asked if I was going I almost didn’t go.  Sounds a little like autism eh?  I guess as a parent I’m probably a little spectral in nature too, you know, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Another special thing that happened (this is unheard of!)  my teenage son Stephen came to the back of the venue where I was seated because I registered at the last minute and asked his friend to trade places with me because I was more fun!  Wow!!! I wouldn’t have been caught dead with my parents at that age.

Heres a picture of Jonny, Kim and I having a blast at the concert.  You can see by Jonny’s expression, I keep forgetting to call him Jon now that he’s older, he’s full of character!  We ended up talking about the label of autism and how ridiculous he thought it was that people didn’t like the word autistic.  He said its an incredible over use of words to have to say “person with autism” each and every time they talked about autism because some people thought it was bad to say autistic.  He said its not derogatory in his mind.  Hummmm interesting!  Straight from the horses mouth, not that he’s a horse of course.

My daughter Kim also in the picture shared a story of when she went into a printers office, the kid came over and was stimming on an apple computer.  He clearly had autism.  The woman kept making apologies for his behavior and Kim’s attitude was “get over it woman” its okay, lighten up!  You don’t need to be embarrassed about autism.  It is what it is and so what.  Look at the kid’s strengths and how intelligent he is and enjoy him for who he is.  Wow, this was my true dream come true.  Yes I want to change the world so that everyone has this message and “gets over it” that is, the embarrassment, the hiding in the closet, the covering up etc.  I was thrilled to hear my own children “get it” because as a parent, you must know, its sometimes easier to get the whole world to see your point before your kids even do and finally they are getting it too!!!

When asked ‘why Autism Today‘ Jonny replies “”Parents and Professionals need to know what their child has so they can understand what they’re going through and how they can help to improve the quality of their life and all those that support them”

Sincerely,  Kims, Matts, Christinas, Jonathans, Stephens and Alex’s crazy mom, Karen!

Karen’s Survivor Story

Based on my book, Surrounded by Miracles

When I woke up, I couldn’t believe the pain shuddering through my entire body.  I wanted to die.  But wait, where was the baby?  I knew I was pregnant and that I had just delivered a beautiful baby boy, but he was nowhere in sight?  As I glanced out the window I noticed the grass was green, but just yesterday snow had covered every square inch of the landscape.  How could this be?  As my nurses came into focus, as well as the faces of my husband and mother, a story began to unfold as miraculous as those angels that surrounded me. They began to tell me what had happened during the past 57 days. I had almost died, was given a 1% chance to live, and was even read my last rites, but I had somehow managed to live again, against all odds.

Yes, I had survived, and so had my son.  But our real story was just beginning. My new baby, Alex, was soon to be diagnosed with ADHD.  His brother Jonathan, my two-and-a-half year-old, had just been diagnosed with autism.  It was a double-whammy!  Along with these two special boys and so many children like them, I had survived for a reason that would soon become very clear.

Where a life starts and why it starts again is the question every survivor faces. My story actually began fifty-three years ago when I was born in Oklahoma City.  Six years later our modest family of four packed up and moved to Florida where I grew up, from one hurricane season to the next.  This must be the reason for my attraction to high-energy people and my fearlessness, which both have served me well.
Dad had his own aeronautical engineering company, and mom worked for Pan Am Airlines, so my sister and I got to travel the world at an early age.  I loved the picturesque, quaint communities and the unique perspective others had in the many different cultures I visited.  I remember one woman in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, being totally content sitting on top of a pile of rocks and breaking the big rocks into little rocks.  That’s what she did all day long and she had the biggest grin on her face I’d ever seen!  This is also where I fell in love with gemstones, which would become one of my callings in life.

After graduating from high school I attended college in north Florida and then decided to join the U.S. Air Force where I was stationed in Panama City, Florida. But four years was more than enough time for me to realize that the military life was not for me, so I received an honorable discharge and enrolled in the Gemological Institute of America in Santa Monica, California to become a Graduate Gemologist. Upon graduation I started a company in Bellevue Washington.  I later sold the company when, at age thirty-one, I met my current husband and moved to his home in Canada where I set up a jewelry store called The Gem Gallerie.

Jim and I had a wonderful life together. When I was younger, I would never have thought I wanted children, but at age thirty-four, Jim and I began our large, happy family.  We had our first three children in three consecutive years, one right after the other. I had my fourth child, Jonathan, when I was thirty-nine years old. He was rather quiet from the start, which was fine with me since I had three other kids in diapers.  I never noticed anything was different.  How could I?  Kim, Matt, and Christina consumed all of my energy, and I was still running the jewelry store.  Jonathan, I thought, was the perfect baby.  He would lie quietly in his crib, apparently perfectly content with the world.  In fact he didn’t really like to be held much.

It was my sister-in-law, Anna, who insisted that Jim and I get Jonathan evaluated for autism after she happened to listen to a radio talk show on the subject. How could I have known he was autistic?  I didn’t even know what autism was or what symptoms I should be looking for.  This was 1992 and autism was still relatively new territory, even for specialists.  It turned out that Jonathan did have autism and I was told to bring him back in a year, when he would be three-and-a-half years old.

For the next two years I met with special needs counselors and teachers who helped us work with Jonathan and I attended special needs conferences all across Canada.   We also went on to have our fifth child, Stephen, who was perfectly healthy. We thought we had faced our major hurdle in life and had come through it together as family.  We never guessed what lay ahead.

On April 18, 1994, I checked into the hospital for what I thought would be another routine childbirth like all the others. I was ready to deliver what would be our sixth and—though we didn’t know it at the time—last child. I had had a typical, healthy pregnancy.  I expected to go home in a couple of days and resume our busy, fun-filled life together.  But just minutes after Alex was born, I started to hemorrhage.  Nothing could be done to stop the bleeding.  What happened in the next 57 days was an unimaginable fight for my life. My family, friends, doctors, and nurses tried everything to pull me through—including a few “wild” schemes to get through to me in my comatose state.  It was ultimately just a few words from my husband that, unknown to him, gave me an ironclad will to live and to return to my family.  His words still ring in my ears.

“Don’t worry, honey.  I’ll take care of the kids”

After I woke up from my near-death experience, or “back-to-life experience” as I like to call it, one thing after another began to happen.  I had an internal drive and relentless passion first to write a book for my autistic son, Jonathan, called Little Rainman so he could understand his own autism as well as the people and the world around him.  I had six children at home at the time, so it’s not like I had extra time on my hands!  In fact every spare moment went into my urge to share my experiences with Jonathan with the world.

Shortly after the book was published I started a non-profit organization.  I would wake up in the middle of the night with visions of what this would be and the words “Key Enrichment for Exceptional Needs” would appear in my head.  In 1996 the KEEN Education Foundation was born as a driving force behind the effort to serve not only autism but also all types of special needs. Today, KEEN continues to support the educational goals of people with exceptionalities by providing them with the tools, research, and resources they need to thrive.
After this I started Autism Today, a small company that became the exclusive Canadian distributor for the worlds largest publisher of autism books and resources at the time.  I attended conferences and workshops to learn as much as I could about autism and special needs.  We’ve now grown from a simple one-computer, home-based business to an international organization that receives close to three million hits a month on our website, www.AutismToday.com.  Parents, educators, and more come to us for resources, coaching, and the latest news and articles from the top experts in the field. When baby Alex was diagnosed with ADHD, I expanded Autism Today to offer information and resources for the parents and educators of all special needs children.

Looking back now, I believe that breaking open my own rocks to see shining gems emerge from what look like only rough stones has always been part of what makes me smile as well–even today–only the stones have changed. What we experience when we are young and what we gravitate to as we grow is preparing us for everything life has in store for us.  Our new banner headline for Autism Today is “Shining New Light on Special Needs.”

As far as surviving, I suppose it is only in looking back at where we’ve been that those meaningful patterns start to emerge.  A new phase in my life is starting Healing Attitudes Seminars, which redefine perfection to share the secrets of the survivor’s story with others who have been there and for those who realize there will always be challenges in the road ahead.  In one way or another, we all are or at some point will be survivors. Here are just seven of the secrets I have learned and now develop and share with others through this program:
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger–for a reason.

We all teach what we need to learn most, and by doing so everyone’s life is enhanced.
We all have special needs—some are just more obvious than others.  Do what you can to help others heal.
At any given moment, choose peace rather than conflict, love and acceptance rather than fear, and compassion and understanding rather than guilt and judgment.

Practice empathic listening and hearing your own inner, intuitive voices as well as  “true” voices of others.
Transcend all “types” of spirituality to embrace and teach the underlying message of love.
Bring others “up” to shine, acknowledging each person’s special gifts–the beauty and the hope.

I am certainly no angel, but I feel to the very depth of my being that I’m surrounded by miracles.

Karen Simmons is the parent of six children, ages 10 to 20, two of whom have special needs.  She is the founder and CEO of the internationally recognized Autism Today© non-profit organization, established in 1998, one of the world’s leading resources for all special needs, both online and at numerous conferences and events worldwide.

Karen is also the author of four celebrated books, including her soon to be re-released survivor’s story, Surrounded by Miracles.  Currently based in Alberta, Canada, Karen is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, which gives her and her organization a uniquely expansive network with the special needs community worldwide. For more information about Karen’s Healing Attitudes around Special Needs Seminars, her books, and other special needs resources, please visit www.AutismToday.com

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