News Article | May 4, 2017
Autism Speaks, which is dedicated to promoting solutions across the spectrum and throughout the life span, announces the election of three new members to its board of directors, effective immediately. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the commitment and generosity of these accomplished leaders,” said Angela Geiger, Autism Speaks president and CEO. “Not only do they bring years of experience in business, investment and nonprofit leadership, each new member is motivated by a personal connection to the autism community.” TOM BERNARD had a 30-year career in global finance before retiring in Aspen, Colo. to devote himself to writing and philanthropy. He has served on several corporate and nonprofit boards, and was board president of Aspen Words, the literary arm of the Aspen Institute. In 2004, Mr. Bernard and his wife Sallie – a former Autism Speaks board member – founded The Extreme Sports Camp, which provided summer and winter recreational opportunities for children on the autism spectrum. The nonprofit organization expanded to include adults and year-round programs beyond recreation, including job training, life skills and the arts. With the organization’s broadened mission came a new name: Ascendigo. Mr. Bernard also purchased and remodeled a home in Carbondale, Colo., called The Yellow House, which is now home to three young men with autism, including the Bernards’ son, Bill, and a host couple. The Yellow House Operations, LLC staff rotates to provide 24 / 7 supervision, and the residents participate in Ascendigo programs along with non-residents. With state-of-the-art safety and supervisory technology, the house is a model of supervised community living for adults who are more significantly impacted by autism. "The needs in autism are tremendous and so much work needs to be done,” Mr. Bernard said. “I look forward to being part of an organization that can change the research, services, and public views of autism in large and meaningful ways." BRIAN L. HARPER is the chief executive officer of Rouse Properties, a New York-based real estate investment company. Its portfolio consists of 24 million square feet of shopping centers across 21 states. Mr. Harper was one of the original members of the team that was instrumental to the company’s formation and the initial public offering in 2012. He previously served as the company’s chief operating officer and executive vice president of leasing and acquisitions. Before joining Rouse, Mr. Harper was the senior vice president of leasing for the real estate investing company GGP, where he oversaw the leasing efforts of a $2 billion multi-state portfolio. Prior to his tenure at GGP, he was a vice president at RED Development and an associate at Cohen-Esrey Real Estate Services, LLC. Mr. Harper has been involved with all facets of real estate, from new development, asset repositions, distressed real estate and stabilized asset management. With more than 18 years of experience in the industry, he holds numerous awards and was selected for the 2014 list of Chain Store Age’s “10 Under 40” in real estate. He is also a frequent lecturer at several leading universities. Mr. Harper is on the board of directors for Liberty Church, and he was a co-founder of Breaking Ground Foundation, whose mission is to build sustainable community centers in developing nations. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas. Mr. Harper and his wife, Laleh, have two children. “I have a child with autism, and I am fully aware that our world needs to have a better understanding of autism spectrum disorder,” said Mr. Harper. “I am deeply passionate about ensuring that all those with autism have the same opportunities available to them that those without this diagnosis have.” As a board member, Mr. Harper will co-chair the “Autism Speaks to Wall Street Celebrity Chef Gala.” One of the organization’s signature fundraisers, the gala brings together dozens of top chefs, each cooking table-side to create an intimate dining experience for small groups of guests. CHERYL VITALI is the worldwide general manager of Kiehl's Since 1851, the New York-based purveyor of fine quality products for skin and hair care. Appointed in 2010, Ms. Vitali oversees worldwide strategy, new market development, product innovation and retail marketing plans. Ms. Vitali joined L’Oreal USA, the parent company of Kiehl’s, in 2003 as senior vice president of marketing for Maybelline New York-Garnier, helping to launch the Garnier brand in the United States. Within L’Oreal, Vitali went on to head marketing for Lancôme. Her prior experience includes positions at Revlon and Procter & Gamble. She is keenly focused not only on business but also on helping women build their careers while managing work / life balance. In 2008, she was awarded the prestigious Cosmetic Executive Women Achievers Award, honoring women in the beauty industry who have broken through barriers to success and inspire young executives to do the same. Ms. Vitali lives in Weston, Conn., with her husband James Shapiro and their two sons, the younger of whom has autism. “I am eager to help drive more global attention to autism issues,” Ms. Vitali said, “and specifically want to advocate for more programs and other essential resources to support individuals with autism and their families throughout their lives.” In addition to her longtime involvement with Autism Speaks, her charitable causes include the Giants Steps School, American Institute for Neuro-Integrative Development. About Autism Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. An estimated 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. About Autism Speaks Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We do this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. We empower people with autism and their families with resources, online tools and information covering the life span. To find resources, join a fundraising walk or make a donation, go to http://www.AutismSpeaks.org.
News Article | February 15, 2017
This first-of-its-kind study used MRIs to image the brains of infants, and then researchers used brain measurements and a computer algorithm to accurately predict autism before symptoms set in CHAPEL HILL, NC - Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in infants with older siblings with autism, researchers from around the country were able to correctly predict 80 percent of those infants who would later meet criteria for autism at two years of age. The study, published today in Nature, is the first to show it is possible to identify which infants - among those with older siblings with autism - will be diagnosed with autism at 24 months of age. "Our study shows that early brain development biomarkers could be very useful in identifying babies at the highest risk for autism before behavioral symptoms emerge," said senior author Joseph Piven, MD, the Thomas E. Castelloe Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "Typically, the earliest an autism diagnosis can be made is between ages two and three. But for babies with older autistic siblings, our imaging approach may help predict during the first year of life which babies are most likely to receive an autism diagnosis at 24 months." This research project included hundreds of children from across the country and was led by researchers at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) at the University of North Carolina, where Piven is director. The project's other clinical sites included the University of Washington, Washington University in St. Louis, and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Other key collaborators are McGill University, the University of Alberta, the University of Minnesota, the College of Charleston, and New York University. "This study could not have been completed without a major commitment from these families, many of whom flew in to be part of this," said first author Heather Hazlett, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine and a CIDD researcher. "We are still enrolling families for this study, and we hope to begin work on a similar project to replicate our findings." People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (or ASD) have characteristic social deficits and demonstrate a range of ritualistic, repetitive and stereotyped behaviors. It is estimated that one out of 68 children develop autism in the United States. For infants with older siblings with autism, the risk may be as high as 20 out of every 100 births. There are about 3 million people with autism in the United States and tens of millions around the world. Despite much research, it has been impossible to identify those at ultra-high risk for autism prior to 24 months of age, which is the earliest time when the hallmark behavioral characteristics of ASD can be observed and a diagnosis made in most children. For this Nature study, Piven, Hazlett, and researchers from around the country conducted MRI scans of infants at six, 12, and 24 months of age. They found that the babies who developed autism experienced a hyper-expansion of brain surface area from six to 12 months, as compared to babies who had an older sibling with autism but did not themselves show evidence of the condition at 24 months of age. Increased growth rate of surface area in the first year of life was linked to increased growth rate of overall brain volume in the second year of life. Brain overgrowth was tied to the emergence of autistic social deficits in the second year. Previous behavioral studies of infants who later developed autism - who had older siblings with autism -revealed that social behaviors typical of autism emerge during the second year of life. The researchers then took these data - MRIs of brain volume, surface area, cortical thickness at 6 and 12 months of age, and sex of the infants - and used a computer program to identify a way to classify babies most likely to meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age. The computer program developed the best algorithm to accomplish this, and the researchers applied the algorithm to a separate set of study participants. The researchers found that brain differences at 6 and 12 months of age in infants with older siblings with autism correctly predicted eight out of ten infants who would later meet criteria for autism at 24 months of age in comparison to those infants with older ASD siblings who did not meet criteria for autism at 24 months. "This means we potentially can identify infants who will later develop autism, before the symptoms of autism begin to consolidate into a diagnosis," Piven said. If parents have a child with autism and then have a second child, such a test might be clinically useful in identifying infants at highest risk for developing this condition. The idea would be to then intervene 'pre-symptomatically' before the emergence of the defining symptoms of autism. Research could then begin to examine the effect of interventions on children during a period before the syndrome is present and when the brain is most malleable. Such interventions may have a greater chance of improving outcomes than treatments started after diagnosis. "Putting this into the larger context of neuroscience research and treatment, there is currently a big push within the field of neurodegenerative diseases to be able to detect the biomarkers of these conditions before patients are diagnosed, at a time when preventive efforts are possible," Piven said. "In Parkinson's for instance, we know that once a person is diagnosed, they've already lost a substantial portion of the dopamine receptors in their brain, making treatment less effective." Piven said the idea with autism is similar; once autism is diagnosed at age 2-3 years, the brain has already begun to change substantially. "We haven't had a way to detect the biomarkers of autism before the condition sets in and symptoms develop," he said. "Now we have very promising leads that suggest this may in fact be possible." For this research, NIH funding was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation contributed additional support.
News Article | February 15, 2017
Brain changes at age 6 or 12 months may help predict the development of autism spectrum disorder by age 2 years among infants with a high family risk, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Currently, autism can be diagnosed as early as age 2 years, based on certain behaviors and communication difficulties. The study, funded by the NIH Autism Centers for Excellence Program, is published in the February 16, 2017, issue of Nature. Approximately 1 out of every 68 children in the United States has autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Siblings of children diagnosed with autism have a higher risk of developing the disorder, compared to those in the general population. While there is no cure for autism, early diagnosis and intervention can ease symptoms and improve social, emotional and cognitive skills. Previous studies have shown that people with autism have larger brains, which can be detected during early childhood. In the new study, a team led by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for differences in brain development among three groups: infants with a high family risk (i.e., older sibling with autism) who were later diagnosed with autism at age 2 years (15), infants with a high family risk who did not have autism at age 2 years (91), and infants with a low family risk who did not have autism at age 2 years (42). The researchers evaluated the infants at 6, 12 and 24 months. Children with autism had a faster brain surface growth rate between 6 and 12 months, as well as a faster growth rate of overall brain size between 12 and 24 months, compared to children without autism. Next, the team analyzed the MRI data using a computer-based technology called machine learning to see if early brain differences at 6 and 12 months can predict autism at age 2 years. Among children with a high family risk, the computer program identified approximately 8 out of 10 infants who later developed autism. While the findings are promising, the researchers caution that more studies are needed before this tool can be used for predicting autism development. NIH funding was provided by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Additional funding was provided by Autism Speaks and the Simons Foundation. Hazlett HC, Gu H, Munsell BC, Kim SH, Styner M, Wolff JJ, Elison JT, Swanson MR, Zhu H, Botteron KN, Collins DL, Constantino JN, Dager SR, Estes AM, Evans AC, Fonov VS, Gerig G, Kostopoulos P, McKinstry RC, Pandey J, Paterson S, Pruett Jr. JR, Schultz RT, Shaw DW, Zwaigenbaum L, Piven J and the IBIS Network. Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature21369 (2017) About the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD): NICHD conducts and supports research in the United States and throughout the world on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit https:/ . About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www. .
News Article | February 15, 2017
Rand Internet Marketing, a professional website design, web development, and internet marketing company based out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has partnered up with Shuup, a multi-vendor, frontend B2B eCommerce platform. Rand is excited to announce one of their newest partnerships with Shuup. The open-source eCommerce platform supplies its users with efficient and effective custom features which allow for the ultimate tailored user experience. Clients can now have total and complete control over every aspect of their online store. Shuup’s strategies complement Rand’s dedication to enhance eCommerce retailers and the company is excited for a prosperous year ahead using this adaptable platform. "At Rand Marketing, we know that building an E-commerce site with an advanced shopping cart platform like Shuup is the cornerstone of selling online. However, it's just as crucial for merchants to establish a marketing plan, identifying how they will attract targeted shoppers to their new digital store, and how they will keep shoppers engaged so that they continue to return and make future purchases. We're proud to be partnering with Shuup to help bring together their modern and robust E-commerce system, with our agencies experience and resources, in order to help online stores grow and thrive by engaging in digital marketing campaigns such as Search Engine Optimization, Pay Per Click Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and E-mail Marketing,” said Robert Rand, Chief Technology Officer at Rand Internet Marketing. Many online retailers have converted to Shuup for its speed, ease of use, adaptability, and full fleet of outstanding features. Shuup boats superior performance, advanced features, and a tailored approach in an effort to boost sales and ultimately ROI. Shuup gives users a whole new eCommerce experience, one that is simplified, intuitive, and user friendly. “Shuup is on its way to becoming the number one eCommerce platform by redefining the entire concept and business model in a similar way to how digital photography redefined the camera industry. We will open the doors not just for the big players in the industry, but to everyone who has a dream to become an online merchant. Partnering with Rand Internet Marketing brings value added services to both of our companies’ business clients”,” said Tomi Alapaattikoski, CEO of Shuup. Rand Internet Marketing, named to the 2016 Inc 5000 list, provides professional website design, development, and programming in addition to online marketing services to hundreds of national and South Florida-based businesses. Led by founder and CEO, Seth Rand who was a 2016 South Florida Business Journal 40 Under 40 Honoree, the Fort Lauderdale-based firm has grown since its inception in 2010 to more than 20 in-house designers, developers, and internet marketers. The Rand team specializes in responsive website design and programming, including WordPress, Magento, WooCommerce, Shopify, Zoey, 3dcart and other e-commerce platforms; SEO (search engine optimization) and Google AdWords PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns; social media marketing; and online content marketing. Rand Internet Marketing was named a Premier Google Partner in 2016, a Google Partner AllStar in 2015 and also holds an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. The Rand team also supports the community through its support of local non-profit organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Autism Speaks, Abi's Place, The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and more. Shuup is an open source enterprise eCommerce solution for customized B2B and B2C ecommerce stores and other complex, business critical operations. It is built to get merchants’ products everywhere consumers are: search engines, sales channels, comparison shopping engines, social media, Android and iOS apps, blogs, and more. Shuup streamlines how you manage your online business or marketplace. As a web consulting firm, Shuup’s programmers created hundreds of eCommerce projects with platforms such as Magento, which became dramatically less scalable with increased customization. The idea was born to create a platform in which scalability is not in correlation with a project’s complexity and that is lean, fast to run, and open source. As an open source project, Shuup is publicly available to anyone who desires to sell goods and services online. Removing high license fees allows enterprises to create projects for next to nothing, with lifelong free updates and feature additions, increasing ROI over other enterprise platforms. Shuup has attract a lot of global interest and received multiple awards including Red Herring Top 100 Europe award and a position on the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Finland list. For more information, call (888) 902-6337 or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or https://www.shuup.com/en/contact-us/.
Daniels A.M.,Autism Speaks |
Mandell D.S.,University of Pennsylvania
Autism | Year: 2014
The diagnosis of autism is often delayed, which translates into a missed opportunity to provide treatment during a critical developmental period. This study reviews studies that assessed factors associated with age at autism spectrum disorder diagnosis and provides recommendations on future research, programs, and policies to improve early detection. A search for all peer-reviewed articles containing the words autism, age, and diagnosis in either the title or abstract was performed. A total of 42 studies published from January 1990 through March 2012 were identified. Mean age at diagnosis for all autism spectrum disorders ranged from 38 to 120 months and has decreased over time. Factors associated with earlier diagnosis included greater symptom severity, high socioeconomic status, and greater parental concern about initial symptoms. Family interactions with the health and education systems prior to diagnosis also influenced age at diagnosis. Geographic variation in age at autism spectrum disorder diagnosis was identified in a number of studies, suggesting that community resources and state policies play a role in early identification. Early detection efforts should include enhanced parental and provider education on the early recognition of developmental problems, interventions aimed at streamlining the process from first concern to eventual diagnosis, and strategies that target underserved populations. © The Author(s) 2013.
News Article | February 21, 2017
Autism Speaks board member and advocate Tommy Hilfiger has designed a T-Shirt exclusively to support the 2017 Autism Speaks Walk, which promotes understanding and acceptance, while helping to raise funds for research and resources for every stage of life. The T-shirt features the new slogan of the Autism Speaks Walk – Powered by Love – reflecting the reason so many individuals and families, friends, coworkers and communities participate. They gather to support and connect with one another and, most of all, to honor the people they love. The commemorative T-shirt is a thank-you gift exclusively for registered participants who raise $150 or more through personal contributions and donations from friends and family. The shirts are printed by Spectrum Printing in Port Washington, N.Y., which employs adults with autism. In 2016 alone, more than 345,000 people joined the Walk, held in cities across North America, helping fulfill Autism Speaks’ vision: to enhance lives today and accelerate a spectrum of solutions for tomorrow. This year’s events will take place from March through December, in 61 cities. To register and fundraise, go to AutismSpeaksWalk.org and search by ZIP code. For over 30 years, Tommy Hilfiger has brought classic, American, cool apparel to consumers around the world. Under his guidance, vision and leadership as principal designer, the Tommy Hilfiger Group has become a globally-recognized designer brand offering a wide range of American-inspired apparel and accessories. Hilfiger and his wife Dee are longtime supporters of Autism Speaks and members of its national board of directors. The organization is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of people with autism and their families. That includes being a catalyst for research breakthroughs; increasing early-childhood screenings and timely interventions; improving the transition to adulthood; and ensuring access to reliable information and services throughout the lifetime. “Giving back has always been incredibly important to my family, and Dee and I have been very fortunate to be able to support causes that are close to our hearts,” Hilfiger said. “Autism Speaks does remarkable and important work advocating on behalf of the autism community. We are proud to work closely with the organization to campaign for awareness and help to create access to the resources families need.” “We can’t thank Tommy and Dee Hilfiger enough for their generosity and for putting the Hilfiger brand behind our mission,” said Angela Geiger, Autism Speaks president and CEO. “Our walk participants – parents and friends – tell us they walk because of love. This T-shirt spreads that simple but powerful message to the world.” Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. We now know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences. An estimated 1 in 68 children is on the autism spectrum. Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the life span, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. We do this through advocacy and support; increasing understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder; and advancing research into causes and better interventions for autism spectrum disorder and related conditions. We empower people with autism and their families with resources, online tools and information covering the life span. To find resources, join a fundraising walk or make a donation, go to http://www.AutismSpeaks.org. With a brand portfolio that includes Tommy Hilfiger and Hilfiger Denim, Tommy Hilfiger is one of the world’s most recognized premium designer lifestyle groups. Its focus is designing and marketing high-quality men’s tailored clothing and sportswear, women’s collection apparel and sportswear, kidswear, denim collections, underwear (including robes, sleepwear and loungewear), footwear and accessories. Through select licensees, Tommy Hilfiger offers complementary lifestyle products such as eyewear, watches, fragrance, athletic apparel (golf and swim), socks, small leather goods, home goods and luggage. The Hilfiger Denim product line consists of jeanswear and footwear for men and women, accessories, and fragrance. Merchandise under the Tommy Hilfiger and Hilfiger Denim brands is available to consumers worldwide through an extensive network of Tommy Hilfiger and Hilfiger Denim retail stores, leading specialty and department stores, select online retailers, and at tommy.com.
News Article | February 23, 2017
Dinosaurs, Star Wars, train schedules, Disney princesses, maps, LEGO—subjects such as these can become all-consuming passions for children on the autism spectrum. What therapists and educators often call “circumscribed” or “restricted” interests (or, more generously, “special” interests) make up a characteristic symptom of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The current edition of psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes them as “highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus.” Roughly 90 percent of high-functioning kids with ASD display at least one such interest during their elementary school years, according to a 2007 survey conducted at the Yale University Child Study Center, one of the few studies to have examined the topic. For a family with an affected child, this kind of narrow preoccupation can be tedious and exhausting. Imagine a kid who will talk about nothing but the exits on the New Jersey Turnpike or the Captain Underpants book series. (Both actual examples.) Therapists and educators have traditionally tried to suppress or modulate a child’s special interest, or use it as a tool for behavior modification: Keep your hands still and stop flapping, and you will get to watch a Star Wars clip; complete your homework or no Harry Potter. But what if these obsessions themselves can be turned into pathways to growth? What if these intellectual cul-de-sacs can open up worlds? That is the idea explored in the film Life, Animated, a contender for the Academy Award for Best Documentary this Sunday night. The film is based on the 2014 book of the same title by the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Ron Suskind. It tells the remarkable story of how the author and his wife, Cornelia, were able to reach their silent and withdrawn autistic son, Owen, by actively embracing and nurturing in his passionate interest in animated Disney films. The Suskinds happened upon this method after noticing that a line of apparent gibberish that Owen kept repeating at around age four was actually a key bit of dialogue from The Little Mermaid. Although Owen’s pediatrician initially dismissed the phenomenon as echolalia—the seemingly random repetition of familiar phrases that is a common feature of autism—the Suskinds became convinced that Owen was using Disney characters and scripts, which he memorized, to understand the world around him. As the film and book recount, a breakthrough moment arrived when six-year-old Owen—having noticed his older brother looked sad after a birthday celebration—walked up to his parents and observed that “Walter doesn’t want to grow up, like Mowgli [the hero of The Jungle Book] or Peter Pan.” It was his first burst of spontaneous and complex speech. From that point on, Disney therapy—watching the films together, talking about the characters and their feelings, relating them to Owen’s life, relishing them—became a way of life in the Suskind home, ultimately helping Owen find his voice and place in the world. Why did it work? Ron Suskind believes it is because kids with autism “have the full complement of emotions and they want to share them and grow in all the ways the rest of us grow,” as he explained in an interview. “What we began to realize is that just by loving what he loved, we were signaling to him a whole basket of things that parents are traditionally able to signal to their children. And the more we did that, the more he opened up.” Another crucial element, Suskind says, is sharing joy. “Owen was noticing our desire 24/7 to ‘fix’ him, but you can’t spend your life trying to fix someone. It’s not an appropriate relationship between a parent and a child. We realized we were not finding joy together, and that’s a big part of this equation.” Suskind’s book and the Oscar-nominated film quickly caught the attention of the autism community, and have triggered a growing reappraisal of restricted interests, which the Suskinds call “affinities.” The result has been new technology and, soon, a spurt of new research. In response to the many families who contacted him after reading about Owen, Suskind began to work with one of the inventors of Apple’s Siri and other technologists to create a specialized personal assistant designed to nurture a child’s affinity. The result is an app called Sidekicks—so named because of Owen’s fascination with Disney sidekick characters. Running on mobile devices, it uses a cartoonlike avatar (the child picks one of several options) as an intermediary for a parent or therapist to explore the child’s special interest. Suskind says about a hundred families have been testing the app, which is marketed by The Affinities Project, a privately held company that he formed. Response has been enthusiastic, he says. “There are studies that indicate that children on the spectrum often feel more comfortable talking to an animated character or an entity that is not overstimulating them with confusing gestures and, in many cases, sounds that they have trouble processing.” Suskind firmly believes any affinity—even something as dry as maps or train schedules—can become “a pathway, not a prison” if tapped with imagination and perhaps the help of something like Sidekicks. “Think about maps,” he says. “Maps are the two-dimensional renderings of all humanity and have been for thousands of years. A map is not only geography and topography—it is also identity, it’s where you sit in the world.” Families with a map kid can tap this affinity, if they “learn to speak map.” Suskind is eager to see if the Sidekicks app will prove to be clinically useful as well as fun and engaging. To that end, the first formal study of the technology will kick off sometime this year. Kirstin Birtwell, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Lurie Center for Autism, will be overseeing a pilot study involving 30 children with ASD. Half of them will get 12 weekly therapy sessions involving the Sidekicks app. Birtwell’s research team will then look for effects on emotional regulation, expressive speech, social communication and problem-solving. Birtwell, whose study is not funded by Suskind’s company, has patients who are using the app on their own. “My colleagues and I at the Lurie Center are very excited about this technology, but it’s difficult to put too much stock in it quite yet without the scientific evidence to do so,” she says. “We want to validate patients’ and families’ experiences.” If the pilot experiment shows promise, she adds, “we would want to conduct a much, much larger study.” Others in the research community are also taking a closer look at affinities. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, neuroscientist John Gabrieli is about to shine an fMRI scanner on the subject. His team will be recruiting 40 children with ASD for a study that will examine what happens in their brains when they are shown videos known to be deeply tied to their affinities, contrasting that with their reactions to related materials that the children or their families have indicated are somewhat less compelling. “We are individually tailoring the stimulus to each child’s selected interest,” he explains. Gabrieli is also unaffiliated with Suskind’s company. A preliminary trial with one subject showed selective activation in the orbital frontal cortex, which is a major component of the brain’s reward circuitry. This finding would need to be confirmed by the full study—but the idea makes sense, because for many kids with ASD there is nothing more rewarding than engaging in their special interest. Ultimately, Gabrieli hopes a better understanding of the neural underpinnings of affinity could help identify which kids would benefit from an affinity-related intervention—whether Sidekicks or something else. In general, he notes, it has been “spectacularly difficult” to understand what’s going on in the autistic brain. And the area of affinities has been particularly understudied. In an additional effort to fill that gap, Autism Speaks—the largest autism-related advocacy organization in the U.S.—has collaborated with the Sidekicks group to conduct an online survey that will attempt to measure the prevalence of affinities among kids with autism. The survey, which launched today, will examine the various types of affinities, whether they are a help or a hindrance and how individuals use their affinities, along with a great deal of related information. Given the organization’s reach of 1.7 million followers of its Facebook page, this promises to be the largest and most comprehensive survey ever done on the subject. Suskind has high hopes that the survey will ultimately help individuals who share the same or related affinities to connect with one another in virtual communities. “With Autism Speaks and with other autism organizations we will build out community forums and sites for people to gather around the campfire of their shared passions,” he explains. It is part of what he sees as a movement that “will not only change how we see people on the spectrum, but how we judge what they have to offer.” An Oscar, of course, would add little glitz to that movement. On Sunday night, Owen, his parents and older brother will step onto the red carpet at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. The two young men will be wearing tuxedos by designer Tommy Hilfiger, himself an “autism dad.” For a journey that began with Disney films, it’s a fitting milestone.
News Article | February 15, 2017
PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 15, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- GF Management, a leading hotel ownership and management company with more than 85 upscale and midscale U.S. hotels and resorts in its portfolio, today announced that Joseph D Del Guidice has been named as the company’s President. Joseph joined GF Management 16 months ago as the Senior Vice President of Operations and has worked closely with its CEO Ken Kochenour. A photo accompanying this announcement is available at http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/b2ee22b3-57b2-4623-99b9-9f43227f9b65 Del Guidice, a 22-year hospitality veteran, has in-depth hotel operations expertise. "Joe further strengthens our operational capabilities, especially in the full-service arena," said Ken Kochenour, CEO of GF Management. "Joe brings with him a management style that would be defined as true hospitality, he does this by creating a culture of engagement with our associates," Kochenour added. "His experience includes hotels in all market tiers, from luxury to upscale select-service, with leading brands in the Marriott, Hilton, InterContinental, Carlson and Starwood families." Previously, Del Guidice was a Vice President of Operations at HHM/Hersha Hospitality with responsibility for 34 hotels, and $250 million in annual revenue. He played an integral role in the company's expansion into the New York City and Texas markets. During this growth period, he was instrumental in transitioning new assets to the company, including the world famous Rittenhouse hotel. Del Guidice also created the first hotel company partnership with Autism Speaks, creating awareness by lighting up all hotels blue and raising over $100,000 for families on the spectrum. "This past year has been a great experience as our Executive team has worked hard to correct cultural deficiencies. Last year we implemented many programs that focus on employee retention and growth. This helps us to attract top notch talent as we continue to grow the company,” Joe states. “2017 will prove to be a great year for GF and I am excited to lead this amazing team of hospitality professionals.” Del Guidice currently serves on the advisory board for Radisson hotels and sits on the York College Hospitality advisory board. Joe is a family man who has two daughters, Kristin and Melissa and has been married to his childhood sweetheart, Noelle, for 27 years. He enjoys playing tennis and spending time with his family during his down time. About GF Management GF Management is an award-winning, full-service hospitality ownership, management and advisory company founded in 1988 and based in Center City Philadelphia. With approximately 85 hospitality assets under management, including hotels, resorts, conference centers, catering facilities, casinos and golf courses in 28 states, GF Management specializes in third-party management, asset management and advisory services for a variety of individual, private, institutional and financial clients. Many of GF’s core hospitality assets within the portfolio are owned by its principals and therein provide the strength and balance of ownership and management. The Company is currently seeking to expand its portfolio of full-service ownership and management assignments through long-term contracts and joint-venture investment opportunities. For more information about GF Management call 215-972-2222 or visit www.GFHotels.com.