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First Business Summit on Employing Adults with Autism Convenes January 27-29 in North Carolina with Focus on Unique Role for Small Businesses in Closing the Autism Employment Gap

Date Published: 
January 8, 2014
CHAPEL HILL, NC (January 8, 2014) – As the U.S. prepares for a tsunami of young adults with autism who will enter the job market over the next decade, autism specialists and business leaders will assemble in Chapel Hill, NC on January 27-29 for the first summit to press for more small businesses solutions to what is already an unemployment crisis affecting tens of thousands of these individuals.
Convened by Extraordinary Ventures, Inc. (EV), a North Carolina non-profit organization that is a pioneer in creating small businesses that employ adults across the autism spectrum, the summit – Employing Adults on the Autism Spectrum: A Conference on Pioneering Small Business Models – is especially timely now that 90 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are either unemployed or underemployed and an estimated 500,000 additional Americans with ASD will be seeking employment over the next decade. Because today’s job market is unprepared for this wave of prospective employees, the conference will showcase 14 of the most innovative small business models now employing these workers to elevate the role of local entrepreneurs and small businesses as a critical solution to the autism job gap.
“For the autism community, this national conference is nothing short of the turning point in addressing the unemployment crisis now affecting tens of thousands of adults with autism and realizing their potential as truly successful and contributing members of society,” said Gregg Ireland, Senior Vice President and Portfolio Counselor at Capital World Investors and father of a 23-year old son with autism who founded Extraordinary Ventures in 2007. “Especially during a time of budget tightening andfederal and state government cut-backs, the answer to this problem rests with us and our commitment to advocate for small business solutions across the country. The goal is to spark a national movement where an increasing number of small businesses and entrepreneurs create self-sustaining businesses to meet the needs of their local residents while providing a range of jobs that match the skills of people with autism and developmental disabilities.”
To build the case for small business solutions to the unemployment crisis affecting adults with autism, the conference will focus on the strategies used by the leading innovators in the field, such as EV, that without government funding operates five different businesses, or “Ventures,” which collectively employ 40 young adults with autism or a developmental disability in the Chapel Hill area. After trying and failing to sustain its operations through a traditional non-profit structure, EV assembled a team of recent college graduates – entrepreneurs seeking to create a suite of small micro-businesses – and transformed a struggling start-up into an effective and profitable company that operates backwards from traditional models, structuring each “Venture” around the tasks that young adults with autism are capable of doing, such as businesses where there is a specified flow and series of routine steps. This means mapping out all the tasks required to operate a successful business, then laying out each step in the process and providing employees with the visual cues, diagrams and other tools so they can follow these steps. 
“EV was founded on the core belief that adults with autism and developmental disabilities are capable of holding a job and doing meaningful work, and what our employees are accomplishing every day is proof that this is true,” Ireland explained. “Regardless of whether they are high, mid- or lower-functioning employees, EV offers each employee a job based on what he or she can contribute to the business. Our business proposition is to break everything down, organize each business operation to fit our workers,and not to be afraid of risk or to try something new.” 
Currently, EV runs a thriving laundry service for students attending the University of North Carolina, operates a transit bus cleaning operation that works five days a week, rents space at its headquarters building for meetings and social events, produces and markets premium handmade scented candles sold in gift shops, Whole Foods and online, and operates an office solutions service. Cited by Autism Speaks as one of America’s leading small business models for employing adults with autism, this sustainable business model is proving so successful in Chapel Hill that groups in New York and Detroit are replicating the model and other communities may soon follow suit. 
Along with EV, the conference will feature the successes of a range of non-profit organizations and small businesses that are using entrepreneurial principles to provide employment opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum. Organizations that will be featured are: 
Arthur & Friends, based in Newton, NJ, which operates greenhouses that employ disabled adults who grow and market hydroponic produce
Aspiritech, headquartered in Chicago, which employs high-functioning adults with autism as part of a workforce that conducts domestic software testing and provides other quality assurance (QA) services
Autistic Global Initiative in San Diego, whose members on the autism spectrum provide professional and consulting services to a range of industries
AutonomyWorks, also in Chicago, which leverages the unique talents and abilities of people with autism to deliver technology services, such as website maintenance, reporting and quality assurance, to companies of all sizes
Beneficial Beans, a Phoenix-based café that trains adults with autism spectrum disorders and provides employment opportunities
Inclusion Films Workshop in Burbank, CA, which provides vocational training and an entry-level knowledge of film and TV production to adults with developmental disabilities 
Lee & Marie’s Cakery in Miami Beach, which works with the University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities to provide job training and employment to adults across the autism spectrum
nonPareil Institute in Plano, TX, which provides training in technology services, particularly app development, and employment to individuals with ASD
Poppin’ Joe’s Gourmet Kettle Korn based in Louisburg, KS, which was started to create an opportunity for Joe Steffy, a young adult with Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, to run his own business. Today, the company employs several part-time workers and sells snacks at fairs, craft shows, car shows and events throughout Kansas and Missouri
Rising Tide Car Wash, in Parkland, FL, which created a system that breaks the car washing process into 46 distinct steps so families affected by autism can operate car washing businesses
Roses for Autism in Guilford, CT, which employs adults with ASD who cut, sort, grade and care for the roses grown on a large farm
Waggies by Maggie & Friends, based in Wilmington, DE, which employs adults with intellectual disabilities to bake, package and market all-natural dog treats
[words] Bookstore in Maplewood, NJ, which operates as a training facility so adults with autism can learn retail job skills and move on to larger companies
“While these small business solutions are different in size and approach, each already has far-reaching effects and can be replicated or customized to create the ripple effect needed for real change,” Ireland said. “On a national scale, EV and the other businesses that will be highlighted at this conference offer realistic models for any community seeking to expand job opportunities for adults with autism and developmental disabilities.” 
Extraordinary Ventures designed Employing Adults on the Autism Spectrum: A Conference on Pioneering Small Business Models in collaboration with the Adult Services team at Autism Speaks and the University of North Carolina TEACCH Autism Program. As the meeting takes place, media and interested stakeholders can follow the discussion on Twitter using #AutismEntrepreneurs. 
Contact: Jennifer Crawford
200 S. Elliott Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Extraordinaryventures.org | (919)967.1100

ASF TED-Style Talks Conference

Apr 10 2014
America/New York
Start Date: 
April 10, 2014
Yale Club, New York, New York
On the afternoon of April 10, ASF will host a festive luncheon at the Yale Club of New York City, followed by the autism community’s first TED-style conference, featuring talks from NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel, Dr. David Amaral, Dr. Joseph Buxbaum, Dr. David Mandell, Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Matt State, and other prominent scientists, as well as individuals with autism, including Paul Morris, an adult on the autism spectrum. These TED-style talks will be thoughtful, 15-minute distillations of critical issues in autism.  
“This event, geared toward all stakeholders, will be our gift back to the autism community,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation. “Our speakers will focus on the real issues facing families, such as gender differences in diagnosis and treatment, the value of genetics testing, the effectiveness of school-based interventions, and the challenges of finding meaningful employment.”
Registration information will be available soon!

Autism Science Foundation Offers Travel Awards for the 2014 International Meeting For Autism Research

Date Published: 
January 7, 2014

Funds will enable parents, teachers, students,

individuals with autism and other stakeholders to

attend leading autism research conference

(January 7, 2014—New York, NY)--The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding autism research, today announced that it is offering a limited number of grants to parents of children with autism, individuals with autism, and other stakeholders to support attendance at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR), to be held in Atlanta, Georgia from May 14-17, 2014. Awards of up to $1000 can be used to cover registration, travel, accommodations, meals and other directly related expenses, including childcare or special accommodations to enable individuals with autism to participate.

IMFAR is an annual scientific meeting, convened each spring, to promote, exchange and disseminate the latest scientific findings in autism research and to stimulate research progress in understanding the nature, causes, and treatments for autism spectrum disorders. IMFAR is the annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR).

“We are thrilled to be able to offer this opportunity for a fourth year, and to give back to the autism stakeholder community in a research-focused way,” said Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation.

"Participating in IMFAR with an ASF travel grant in 2012 was an eye opening experience" said Marjorie Madfis, mother of a daughter with autism and founder of Yes She Can, an organization that helps girls with autism develop employment skills.  "I was particularly impressed with the research examining the unique needs of girls and women, and on development of social skills, and I incorporated some of this research into the work we do at Yes She Can." 

To apply for a travel grant, send a letter or video to grants@autismsciencefoundation.org describing why you want to attend IMFAR and explaining how you would share what you learn there with the broader autism community. Letters should be sent as Microsoft Word documents of no more than 2 double-spaced pages, 12-point type, “Arial” font, with standard margins. In the subject line please write: “IMFAR Travel Grant Application”.  Videos should be two minutes or less and should be emailed to the same address as above with the same subject line. Letters & videos must be received by February 21, 2014. Recipients will be announced in March.  Past recipients have included individuals with autism, parents of children with autism, siblings, outreach coordinators at autism research centers, special education teachers, graduate and undergraduate students, journalists, and others.  Additional application information is available at http://www.autismsciencefoundation.org/what-we-fund/apply-for-IMFAR-travel-grant

The Autism Science Foundation (ASF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity whose mission is to support autism research by providing funding to those who conduct, facilitate, publicize and disseminate autism research. ASF also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.

The International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) is a scientific and professional organization devoted to advancing knowledge about autism spectrum disorders. INSAR was created in 2001. The society runs the annual scientific meeting - the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) - and publishes the research journal “Autism Research”.


Contact Information:
Meredith Gilmer
Community Relations Manager
Autism Science Foundation
28 West 39th Street, #502
New York, NY 10018

Duplication of Chromosome 22 Region Thwarts Schizophrenia

Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
January 2, 2014

Carrying a duplication of the 22q11.2 chromosomal region may protect against schizophrenia, suggests a study published 12 November in Molecular Psychiatry. This is the first evidence of a genetic region that lowers the risk of a disorder rather than increases it. Deletion of this part of chromosome 22 is the strongest known risk factor for schizophrenia, and is also linked to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety in childhood. Various other copy number variations (CNVs), or stretches of a chromosome that are deleted or duplicated multiple times in the genome, have been linked to schizophrenia, autism and other neurological conditions. The new study is the first to pinpoint a CNV that lowers the risk of a disorder, however.

Maternal Infection During Pregnancy and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Date Published: 
Jan 1, 2014

Pregnant women who were diagnosed with a bacterial infection during a hospital visit were more likely to have their child be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a study in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders reports. "Multiple maternal infections and bacterial infections occurring during late pregnancy, particularly those diagnosed in a hospital setting, were associated with a higher risk of autism," the researchers reported.

Sticky Gaze May Be Early Autism Sign

Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
December 20, 2013

Babies later diagnosed with autism tend to stare at objects after picking them up, a behavior known as sticky gaze, at much later ages than controls do, according to a study published in Behavioral Brain Research. This delay may contribute to problems with joint attention — the tendency to seek out and follow others’ gaze — in autism, the researchers say.

Long Neglected, Severe Cases of Autism Get Some Attention

Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute

Next February, researchers plan to begin work on a $1.2 million project that aims to link specialized psychiatric units across the U.S. to investigate the most severe and challenging autism cases. The study will include the six largest of the nine specialized psychiatric hospital programs for autism in the U.S. About 1,000 individuals with autism, aged 4 to 20, typically spend between 20 and 25 days at a time in these programs. “We think this is an area we can contribute [to],” says lead investigator Matthew Siegel, medical director of the developmental disorders program of Spring Harbor Hospital in Maine. “If not us, who? We have the expert clinicians and see hundreds of these kids.”

Use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors during Pregnancy and Risk of Autism

New England Journal of Medicine
Date Published: 
December 19, 2013

In the past, studies have raised concern about an association between the use of a certain type of antidepressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy and an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders in the child. A new study now shows no significant association between maternal use of SSRIs during pregnancy and autism spectrum disorder in the child. However, the children were at a higher than usual risk of being diagnosed with autism if their mother had taken the drugs for depression or anxiety prior to the pregnancy, suggesting a possible link between the mother's preexisting mental health condition and the child's development of an ASD.

Brain Changes Precede Schizophrenia and Autism

Date Published: 
December 18, 2013

People who carry high-risk genetic variants for schizophrenia and autism have impairments reminiscent of disorders such as dyslexia, even when they do not yet have a mental illness, a new study has found. Researchers report that people with these copy number variants (CNVs) but no diagnosis of autism or a mental illness still show subtle brain changes and impairments in cognitive function. The findings offer a window into the brain changes that precede severe mental illness and hold promise for early intervention and even prevention, researchers say.

SHANK3 Duplication Leads to Hyperactivity in Mice

Simons Foundation Autism Research Institute
Date Published: 
December 17, 2013

Mice with a duplication of SHANK3, a gene with strong links to autism, are hyperactive and manic, reports a study published in Nature.The mice produce about 50 percent more SHANK3 protein than their genetically typical counterparts, the scientists found, much like people with an extra copy of the gene do. The mice also show signs of hyperactivity. The team observed on further testing that the SHANK3 mice show behaviors typically seen in people going through manic episodes. The mice are easier to startle, eat more, have disrupted sleeping patterns and show heightened sensitivity to amphetamine. The mice also have spontaneous seizures.