autism

Isaiah Seibert, Side Effects Public Media

There’s an endless stream of advice online about how to make friends as an adult. The listicles and blog posts often mention that it’s harder for twentysomethings to form meaningful friendships. 

Making friends can be even harder if you’re on the autism spectrum, especially if you don’t live in a major city. But one group is trying to build those connections in rural America.

It’s pretty quiet in downtown Henderson, a town in western Kentucky. A lot of daytime workers have left, and the streets and sidewalks are mostly clear.


Wendell Foster

An Owensboro nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities is suspending its autism program. The CEO says the autism program will undergo a major restructuring to better serve its clients, who are students in elementary, middle and high school. 

Wendell Foster is a nonprofit that’s been serving people with disabilities for 72 years. The autism program began as a satellite location for the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky University, but eventually the Owensboro program became independent.

The current autism program in Owensboro has been offered as an afterschool program a few hours a week, which has an average of 15-20 students, and a summer camp three days a week, which usually has about 30 students.


WKU Public Broadcasting

WKU Public Broadcasting is launching a unique work study initiative aimed at WKU college students on the Autism Spectrum.  The David Brinkley Student Employment Fellowship program will provide hands-on job training for WKU students with autism. 

A leading expert on guiding students with autism through the college experience, Dr. Jane Thierfeld Brown, said 80 percent of autistic college graduates are unemployed, and that needs to change.

"I was fortunate to be involved at Drexel University, that was a summit on autism at work with a lot of companies from the northeast," said Brown. "What they were really saying is colleges help us prepare students for the world of work, not just academically, but all those other skills that folks need.  Help us give exposure so that this population can be ready."


The ARC of Kentucky

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget recommends eliminating state funding for 70 programs. One of those is a volunteer program that serves individuals with disabilities.

The ARC of Kentucky has volunteer chapters across the state that provide educational and community support for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, including autism and Down Syndrome.

Funding for ARC was already eliminated in July 2017, halfway through the last two-year state budget cycle. The group could no longer afford its paid executive director, so Sherri Brothers began in August 2017 as interim executive director – as a full-time volunteer.

The hunt to find genes that cause autism has been a long slog, one hampered by a lack of technology and families willing to be tested.

But the effort is starting to pay off. On Tuesday, researchers at more than 50 laboratories said they had identified more than 100 genes that are mutated in children with autism, dozens more than were known before.

Scratch one more simple explanation for autism off the list. This time it's the idea that children with autism have low levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" because it can make people more trusting and social.

The symptoms of autism may not be obvious until a child is a toddler, but the disorder itself appears to begin well before birth.

Brain tissue taken from children who died and also happened to have autism revealed patches of disorganization in the cortex, a thin sheet of cells that's critical for learning and memory, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tissue samples from children without autism didn't have those characteristic patches.

A University of Kentucky professor has been awarded an $800,000 grant for research into autism therapies. The Herald-Leader says the grant is to develop new display and image processing technologies that allow people with autism disorders to see a virtual image of themselves. The images show the person doing things they need to learn, such as social interactions or sitting still.