Will you be my Valentine – in Vancouver?

Usually, in Karen’s Corner, I try to blog about something personal, some funny anecdote or experience that offers an insight about autism.  But I’m so excited about the line-up at Autism Vancouver I can’t help but talk about the conference.

We are so lucky to welcome Hollywood leading lady Kelly LeBrock, star of such romantic comedies as Woman in Red and Weird Science, as our Honorary Host.  (We are highlighting her in this week’s Speaker Profile, below.)  Kelly is a dedicated advocate who believes deeply in whole-health strategies for treating autism and related disorders.  Her brother Harold struggled with Asperger’s before his death.

Valentine’s Day is coming up.  Why not consider joining us for The Women in Red festivities at Autism Vancouver 2011?  Borrowing from the title of Kelly’s movie, our Women in Red activities will honor autism moms everywhere, their giant hearts, their limitless energy, and their passion for helping their children grow and achieve their full potential.  Red is the color of love.  Vancouver is a place to celebrate with other autism moms and families.  Dads are welcome too!

In addition to Kelly LeBrock, we have been fortunate to enlist other artists active in the autism community to participate in Autism Vancouver and support related social activities.  These include Keri Bowers, founder of Normal Films, www.normalfilms.com, and director and producer of such independent films as Normal People Scare Me, with her son, Taylor Cross and many others, and The Sandwich Kid, and Elaine Hall, a.k.a., Coach E, the Hollywood child acting coach who founded The Miracle Project, www.themiracleproject.com, subject of the Emmy Award-winning movie Autism: The Movie.

So… Will you be my Valentine?  I look forward to seeing you in Vancouver.


Every Child’s a Star: The story behind the Autism Today logo

Have I ever told you the story of the Autism Today logo?  When I first
launched my company in 1998, I looked around our community, at the leading
groups, government initiatives, schools etc. to see how they were branding
themselves.  Even then, the puzzle piece had emerged as a powerful symbol
for our community.  To me, the beauty of the puzzle piece is its symbolic
merging of two realities: 1) the struggle of every child with autism, and
his or her family, of not fitting in, and 2) the certainty that each child –
each of these beautiful puzzle pieces – has his or her has its place in
society, and his or her very own role to play.  But as powerful as the
puzzle piece is, it did not symbolize what I hoped for for my own son,
Johnny, whom we had received an autism diagnosis in 1992.

As an optimist, and fiercely protective mom, I wanted a symbol of hope for
my baby.  I didn’t want my kid to grow up walking around with a puzzle
piece, even an imaginary one, stamped on his forehead.  As a mom, I wanted
all my kids, every morning, to leave the house feeling like you do when you
are in class and the teacher gives you a gold star.   I wanted every person
who met him, every teacher, caregiver, professional, parent or classmate to
see that gold star, in his attitude, his spirit, his gifts – yes, even in
his so-called disability.  I wanted them to see everything beautiful, all
the gifts.

So today, it’s the Autism Today star is what you see today on our website,
newsletter, and everything we publish. Take a look at it.  Imagine it as the

symbol of everything wonderful in your own child.  When my graphic artist
first showed it to me, I smiled and knew immediately what I was
looking at.  I saw the shape of my little boy, running, arms outstretched,
both containing and pursuing a brightly shining future.  It even has a
little tummy!

Sometimes I know my sunny outlook seems bullheaded.  Sometimes it annoys
people, who feel it’s more important to be realistic, and not send our kids
out with too dreamy a view of things.  But, as the kids say, that’s how I
roll.  Attitude is everything in life.  (“Accentuate the Positive/Eliminate
the Negative,” as my beloved dad, Jack Simmons, used to say!)

Don’t get me wrong: We do need to focus on the challenges of our children
and adults with  autism, especially those severely disabled by ASDs.  I
applaud, embrace and endorse the outstanding groups who fight this fight
every day.  I am proud to belong in their number as an advocate, a forum and
an autism mom.  They do what they do so well, and much better than I ever
could.  If I have a contribution to make, it’s to be the best doggone
cheerleader our kids have, and to help others, especially our Autism Today
members and friends, do the same, and more of it!!

With love,


Autism One – Thank You! – Februry 2, 2011

Thank you, Autism One

Three cheers for Autism One for the exciting and creative work they are doing on their technology platform and their social media effort. At Autism Today, we like to keep an eye on best practices and try to emulate folks who do things right. We admire Rob Wickens’ work on the Autism One storefront, and the groups interactions and initiatives through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And with wonderful sponsors like OxyHealth, Autism One is offering a great program in Lombard, Illinois, May 25 – 29, 2011, The Westin Hotel, Lombard, Illinois “Autism Recovery on a Budget: Empowering Parents.” Check it out at www.autismone.org.

Monarch House Autism Centre of Vancouver – Feb, 2, 2011

Thank you Megen Pauluk and everyone at Monarch House for signing up as an Exhibitor at Autism Vancouver. At Autism Today, we especially prize our community-level relationships with respected, local providers of services to the autism community in our host cities.  Clinical Director Chelsea Ganam, previously a Senior Behaviour Consultant with the Province of BC’s Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), has extensive experience developing and advising program policy for BC’s Provincial Autism Programs, creating expert panels within BC and across Canada, as well as participating as an advisory member to prominent ASD organizations in the field.  Her team of behavior, speech and occupational experts offer a comprehensive set of intervention options.  We admire your work and look forward to your participation at Autism Vancouver.  For more about Monarch House Autism Centre of Vancouver, see: www.monarchhouse.ca.

Respected Autism Nutrition Specialist- Julie Matthews, Feb, 2, 2011

Speaker Profile: Julie Matthews, Founder & President, Nourishing Hope, www.nourishinghope.com
Julie Matthews is an internationally respected autism nutrition specialist, and author of “Nourishing Hope for Autism,” an award-winning parent and clinicians’ guide to the fundamentals of autism nutrition, diet implementation and supplementation.

She has helped thousands of children worldwide through her public education programs, conferences sessions, private consultations, her blog, web site and Facebook group. Julie is on the nutrition faculty at DAN!, serves on the scientific advisory panel of The Autism File, and is an honored member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals. Julie is also the founder of Cooking to Heal™, an autism education and cooking class program that provides public education in cities across the country as well as in-home resources for parents who cannot attend events and would like support as they are implementing diet from home.

“My passion stems from the significant improvements seen when children change their diet. At Nourishing Hope, you will find food and supplement guidance, methods for cleaning up your home and avoiding toxins and, to give everyone the best chance at a healthy life, support for pregnant moms and babies too!  Easterners note: Catch Julie in Montreal on Friday, March 25, at Autisme Montreal’s Annual Medical Conference; for details, see http://www.autisme-montreal.com.

Autism and Care-Giving

Were You Chosen?

It is truly a gift to be a chosen one, with the responsibility of the nurturer/care giver, but it can also get very frustrating!
Everyone is a nurturer in some form, to some degree, but others just naturally gravitate toward that role.  And then some are chosen to be there for children requiring much more attention than others. When it comes to children with autism, you know exactly what I am talking about. It seems like everything we do requires soooo much time-consuming effort – and often with little or no reward (so it seems).

Hang in there – there are rewards – like the story of the little boy waving (to his mom – but not really) on the bus in the “Chicken Soup: Special Needs” issue. Sometimes, we are so wrapped up in taking care of others, we often lose sight of caring care of ourselves! It is important to take time for yourself and rejuvenate. Don’t feel guilty about it either! I learned many years ago that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be in shape mentally or physically to take care of others.  When we nurture others in our care, we can teach them how to care for themselves to the best of their own ability. A thriving state of mind, body, and spirit is most conducive to providing this kind of quality care, that will someday foster an adult that is confident, successful and most of all, happy.

Conference in Edmonton, Alberta Connecting with Friends

caseI just went to a conference in Edmonton Alberta hosted by the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton. It was a refreshing break to get to attend this event at my leisure and network from the many parents and professionals that frequented our Autism Today booth. Parents came up to me and thanked me for the emails we send and while I know we do communicate quite frequently with our audience, she assured me that she felt it was the right thing for us to do. She said “I get so bogged down with my regular life and lose track of where I am in relation to my kids, work and in between that its quite refreshing to receive your emails”. Gaining the perspective as an exhibitor also is great, especially for our upcoming exhibitors and sponsors. Because of this we have chosen to have all our exhibitors in our main presentation room instead of being tucked back away from the attendees. We’re even thinking of other unique ways our sponsors and exhibitors can reach the people that need them the most.

The most fun was to meet many parents and professionals I already knew like my own sons doctors. When Temple recognized my first book, Little Rainman, in front of close to 1,000 people, Jonnys doctor recalled with pride his smiling face and of course his challenges too. I reconnected with my friends, Amy Weatherby, where I co-presented in St. John, New Brunswick along with Emily Rubin and the late Peter Zwack from Montreal. I remember the tides as they went up and down. I never knew that St. John, New Brunswick was world renowned for the greatest tide shifting in the world until that conference.

Temple and I also reconnected and she gave us the rights to give away her presentations for free. I know our members and people associated with Autism Today will gain so much from this tremendous gift she is sharing with the world. Watch for some new streaming video in the near future. Another buddy of mind, Diane Twachtman-Cullen joined me for dinner and cocktails the last day of the conference. Diane, whom I’ve known for many years, is coming out with a brand new IEP (IPP in Canada) book that covers autism and other special needs. I feel this book has been a long time coming. Diane is an amazing woman who has helped so many parents and teachers in so many ways. Through the work we as women have done both together and individually, each in our own unique ways, we endeavor to make the world a friendlier happier place for people with autism. The challenge of money for research, ignorance, and the loneliness and heartbreak of children who become adults, abandoned by family and society, because they did not get interventions must be overcome. It is bigger than all of us combined. As parents and professionals, we should all work hard to work together. Though we fight the battle as parents and professionals day in and day out we will get a lot farther if we are unified in our approach

I am proud to live in the Edmonton, Alberta area which is the best province in the autism world to support Pervasive Development Disorder policy. Mary Ann Sinclair is a wonderful advocate and director in their field. Canada is awesome and certainly progressive. Talk about how municipalities and states in US are facing gigantic crunch, and victims will be ASD people, and others with disability.  Non-profits are really important in this capacity.  That’s why I started the KEEN Education Foundation in 1996 in Canada.

Dan Burton at Autism One Conference 2003


Autism One, what an awesome group they are. I remember when we covered Dan Burton  through Autism Today Magazine. That was so interesting and it was wonderful to be able to offer online attention to the issues Dan brought up. Autism One is doing some exciting things with social media that we look forward to sharing in the near future. This community belongs to all of us. Its about helping everyone on the planet understand and support children with autism. There is no such thing as a rolodex anymore, there are just relationships with the people in our community and connecting everybody to the resources they need.

As my son, Jonathan enters the next phase of his life, so do I and so many other parents with children in the autism Tsunami. In the next decade the world will begin to burst at the seams in so many different areas which is why William Davis and I wrote our most recent book “Autism Tomorrow” so parents and professionals can begin to answer the questions of where will my child live, what will my child do when he or she grows up. Not that I have a crystal ball, however, it doesn’t take a mental giant to figure out that we will urgently need people worldwide who are trained to work with people on the autism spectrum. We will also need employment and work force training. Big corporations have got to step up big time to meet the demands of our future children. I do know that Walgreens is already making accommodations to fit those with special needs into their work force. Other companies, especially high tech ones like Microsoft, always are on the lookout for graduates with Asperger syndrome and high functioning autism because they have an innate gift to focus on certain areas thereby developing core strengths. We are on the brink of publishing a new book showcasing the magnificent artwork by those on the autism spectrum including Dr. Temple Grandin. What is needed now is a movement to brag about our people on the spectrum and even offer a training manual for employers so future employers know their core strengths and challenges so they can not let detriments get in the way of hiring the best talent.  We will be starting a corporate training program to help people on the autism spectrum and their potential employers so that both employees and employers have a better understanding of each other in the future.

Be sure to stay tuned to autismtoday.com and of course, autismvancouver.com 

Karen Simmons

Battle Scars, Perfection and Autism

My sister wrote something today in her blog that struck me:

missing teeth and feetAs I was packing away my Christmas stuff this year, it dawned on me that the same nutcrackers I have been putting away for years were still broken, and no one was ever going to fix them. As my late husband, Larry, and I celebrated our last Christmas together in 2008,  I mentioned their ‘broken’ state to Larry. I said we should get rid of them and get new ones. He said the nutcrackers were perfect. “Those are battle scars”, he said. I said ‘okay, whatever’. He said they guard us every night during the Christmas season, while we are asleep. They are up all night in battle sometimes even during the day, while we’re out. Of course, this was his sense of humor. He had a way with humor, unlike anyone else I had ever known. The nutcrackers’ broken and missing pieces were ‘battle scars’. Nutcrackers without battle scars are useless and lazy and don’t serve any purpose at all.

What an awakening, as I thought about this yesterday, gathering them up for another year’s slumber until next Christmas. Remembering this story brought a tear to my eye, as I thought about Larry’s own battle scars before he passed away, and our 21 years together. He was rough around the edges, just like those nutcrackers. He had physical battle scars, emotional and psychological ones too. But there was never a day that went by that he didn’t have the same protective demeanor that he attributed to those nutcrackers. Every day, was a day of watching out for his family and myself the very best that he could. It’s not a sword or a fist fight – it’s an attitude – a commitment to ‘be there’ come rain or shine for the people you love. Larry was my guard and protector on Earth while he was here. He was with me and for me every step of the way, and I will never forget that. Through all of his rough edges, deep inside he was a person of pure and perfect love. Sometimes, I think it’s because of his rough edges and battle scars that he grew a deeper sense of love than those that may have never encountered obstacles.

It would take the heart of a soldier to see the significance and purpose of ‘battle scars’ on a Christmas nutcracker.

After reading this story that my sister Susan wrote, I started thinking about my own life and how the ‘imperfections’ we may see in the people we love really aren’t imperfections at all. They are merely remnants of journeys along the way in life. It’s as if someone just painted a giant wall with lots of colors and, as you’re walking down the street you bump into it occasionally. Then, you stand back and notice how many colors are all over you. You weren’t born that way – you acquired them along your path.

This New Year, let’s look at our own lives that way and the children with autism in our lives. They have bumps, bruises and many colors, and rough edges. Aside from those ‘rough’ edges, the love is there nevertheless, with a lifetime of love to come. Be patient. The battle scars, wall colors (or whatever you may call them) may look funny or be bumpy, but just embrace them and love the person inside.

Autism Funny For the Week!

As many of you may well know, children with autism are completely literal and straight to the point. This behavior has value for them, as there is nothing left undefined or misinterpreted. They express their thoughts in detail.

Soooo I’m doing the socially appropriate thing and also love spending time with my 2 spectrum kids by taking them to a “Techno” Dead Mouse Concert tonight.  While preparing for the ordeal I asked my oldest son with autism, Jonny if he was going to be embarrassed by going to a concert with his mom,  to which he replied “don’t worry mom, its dark in there, no one will see you”….Gotta love ’em!

Join Kelly Lebrock, the Woman In Red, Honorary Host, Autism Vancouver

Karen Simmons and her daughter Kimberly (pictured here) met Kelly Lebrock at a hyperbaric conference.  She’s been an inspiration ever since, and we are thrilled she has accepted our invitation to serve as honorary host at our 3rd Annual Autism Today Biomedical and Behavioral Congress in Vancouver, a.k.a., Autism Vancouver.  Kelly lost her brother, Harold, in 2008, and the experience spurred her to dedicate her time to improving the lives of the terminally ill. She is currently the celebrity spokesperson for “Club Carson”, whose members are children suffering from cancer. In the late 1980s, LeBrock was one of the first private U.S. citizens to own her own hyperbaric chamber, and eventually started her own brand of homeopathic remedies. LeBrock testified to Congress in 1995 to the House Enquiry on Insurance and Medicare Access for alternative treatments. She is on various scientific advisory boards and regularly lectures on this subject.

LeBrock began her career as a model at the age of sixteen. She went on to appear on magazine covers and in fashion spreads, including an exclusive Christian Dior campaign, and became one of Eileen Ford’s most sought-after models. She also gained notoriety as the Pantene shampoo commercial spokeswoman whose line “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” became a pop-culture catchphrase.  Later, LeBrock was cast as the “perfect” or “fantasy” woman in several 1980s comedies, perhaps most notably The Woman in Red (1984).  Our conference is a tribute to all “women in red,” the mothers of children born on the spectrum, whose passion and devotion helps these children live full and productive lives.

Join Kelly Lebrock at the 3rd Autism Biennial Congress 2011

Visit www.AutismVancouver.com

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