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Age of Autism Awards 2010: Local Heroes

Posted Dec 31 2010 12:00am

Local heroes Editors Note: All this week we've honored national groups, individuals and causes. But much of the day-to-day work of making life better for people with autism and their families -- and trying to stem the rise of an undeniable epidemic -- occurs quietly around the country (and, as you'll see, in Canada). Today, as we bring our AOA 2010 Awards to an end and look with hope to the New Year, we're proud to make these outstanding Local Heroes Awards They include:

Dan Selec and Gary Moore, founders of nonPareil Institute ( ), nominated by Vicki Hill Riedel

Brett Hudson and Staff, nominated by Barbara Fischkin

Autism is Medical, nominated by Doug Lochbaum

Signet Christian Academy, nominated by Marianna Ofner
Lori Brienesse-Frank, nominated by Cheryl Robinson

Nancy Churnin of the Dallas Moms Blog, nominated by Leigh Attaway Wilcox


Dan Selec and Gary Moore, founders of nonPareil Institute ( ), nominated by Vicki Hill Riedel:

Dan and Gary are Warrior Dads. They observed how their own sons on the autism spectrum responded to technology and asked, "Can we teach adults on the autism spectrum to CREATE technology?" Incorporating in 2008, they tested the idea in Dan's kitchen in 2009, training 8 adults on the autism spectrum on the software to create video games and iPhone apps. The idea proved doable, so September 1, 2010 they opened nonPareil Institute offices on the campus of SMU-in-Plano. (Southern Methodist University is a large Dallas-based university; the branch in Plano is headquarters for The Guildhall, SMU's master's program in video game development. The Guildhall asked nonPareil to open on its campus.)

In the 3 months since opening, nonPareil has gone from 8 students to 27 students. One student even moved from North Carolina to Texas to be part of nonPareil. Two of the original 8 students are now part-time employees of nonPareil. The first iPhone app, produced by adults on the autistic spectrum, will be in the iTunes store within a few weeks. Other video games and apps are currently in production. But most important, these adults have found a sense of community - a place where the focus is on what they CAN do - not on their DISabilities. The program will clearly expand in the future; there are so many children now growing up on the autism spectrum who will need both employment opportunities and living options in the years to come.

A recent consulting study commissioned by the state of Texas (HERE)   named nonPareil Institute as an example of 'best practices' when it comes to employment for adults on the autism spectrum.

My 23 year old son became one of those original 8 students a few months ago. He wrote a note to Dan and Gary just a few weeks ago, where he thanks them for changing his life. No, I wasn't involved in him writing the note. I was as stunned as Dan and Gary were when we all read it.

I retired from a career in finance 14 years ago to deal with my son's challenges. After meeting Dan and Gary, I decided to join them full-time (as a volunteer) as chief financial officer.

These two men, with the nonPareil Institute they founded, are truly making a difference in the lives of those living with autism spectrum disorders and their families.

Brett Hudson and Staff, nominated by Barbara Fischkin:

Brett is the manager of our son Dan's new group home run by the Nassau County (Long Island) AHRC.  Four young men live there (in their 20s and 30s) -- not all autism diagnoses but at least two, perhaps three -- and within that short amount of time (the house opened January 18) Brett has made it a true home for "the guys"  as he calls them. He worries about everything ranging from their medical care to what he should do for Chanukah for the only Jewish member of the house Dan Mulvaney.  (He asked about a house Menorah, presents, candles etc.) And he brought it up before I even got around to thinking about it.
There is no reasonable request he does not comply with cheerfully. Brett has even recently begun to ice skate again - he hadn't for years - because he knows Dan likes it. So now he and Dan skate together and recently played hockey.  I am speaking here only as Dan's mother but from what I can see Brett is like this with the three other "guys' as well. In short, the guys are well cared for and well engaged with many activities, as they go to their jobs every day – and then come home and work on their daily living skills, go to dances, sporting events, outdoor festivals - and are regulars at a karaoke bar. (The guys don’t drink – Dan himself hates the smell of alcohol -- but they all had Martinelli’s at a post-Thanksgiving day turkey dinner and one or two of them pronounced themselves definitely “drunk.” With pleasure and friendship, I’d say.)
Brett is always willing to learn about new techniques and interventions and does not pass judgment. Dan has happily been able to continue his bio-medical interventions at his new home.
Brett has pulled this off while living in an apartment in the house – the group home house -- with his growing family. Since January when “the guys” moved in, Brett and his wife have also had a baby – their second child – and grieved over the death of Brett’s mother-in-law. And yet through it all the house ran smoothly.


Autism is Medical, nominated by Doug Lochbaum
My name is Doug Lochbaum and my wife and I are recovering our 6 year old son.
I would like to nominate the leadership team of Autism is Medical. My wife is the organizer of this meet up group and she works with a  great team to help families from around the Chicagoland area find support and resources to treat the underlying medical conditions that are affecting our children. Autism is Medical shows them how and who they can meet with to address these medical conditions.
Topics include Mitochondrial Dysfunction, Abnormal EEG’s, GFCF/SCD/Ketogenic Diet, Biofilm, and many more. There are also many posts where all members reach out in support of others who are having those challenging days.
This truly is a support group and the leadership team works tirelessly to help others, wanting only in return to help/recover our children. This is a wonderful group of people that are making a difference. I am proud of them and also grateful because they have made a difference in my son's life.
Leadership Team – Amanda Lochbaum,  Jeanna Reed, Jill Rubolino, and Jacey Capurso.

Signet Christian Academy, nominated by Marianna Ofner
With great admiration I would like to nominated a School, a set of teachers and mostly a great bunch of children within the school who have made a huge difference to children with autism at the neighborhood level.

Signet Christian Academy in North York, Ontario, is a small school with approximately 60 students in the Grade 1 to Grade 8 classes.  This school has welcomed and worked hard to integrate children with autism.  Each classroom within the school has between 1-3 children with autism.  Teachers Mrs. Lyn John, Mrs. Valerie Barnes, Mrs, Ember MacNeil, Mrs. Margaret Richards and Mr. Gerry Kruzen have adapted their teaching style, classrooms and developed additional curriculum for the children to feel welcome and part of the class.

Even more amazing is the interaction between the children with autism and their classmates.  The classmates are learning how to be "helpers" from both an academic point of view and helping them with activities of daily living and social skills.  Children in Mrs. Richards class are paired with a Grade 5 student with autism so that the children learn compassion, empathy and responsibility,  while the child with Autism benefits from peer modeling and social interaction that she would not have if she was in a seclusion environment.

Mrs. John the JK/SK teacher taught her students how to be kind to a child within her class and what not to do eg., teasing, laughing.  Instead of focusing on why the child was different Mrs. John focused on "how can we help" and "how can we be kind to this child", the kids sat around and brainstormed on what ways they could be kind and helpful.  Positive reinforcement given by the teachers whenever they are helping enforced the children to continue with their "helper/teacher" roles.   Children are seen going out of their way to be helpful and kind because it make they feel good about what they are doing.At recess time the children at the school are always keeping an eye out for the kids with autism ensuring they are safe and happy.   Parents at the school are always touched by how accepted and love their children has.  This truly is a neighborhood school that encourages love, compassion  and kindness to all!

The school, it's teaching staff and the students of this school have made a world of difference to a group of children with Autism and they and their parents are all very thankful.

Marianna Ofner
Program Director
Canadian Field Epidemiology Program
Public Health Agency of Canada/Agence de la santé publique du Canada


Lori Brienesse-Frank, nominated by Cheryl Robinson:
I would like to nominate someone who has made an incredible difference in my family’s life. Her name is Lori Brienesse-Frank. She runs her own business called “Apples to Oranges Consulting” here in Victoria, British Columbia. She assists families in transitioning to a Gluten Free, Casein Free diet.
My son was diagnosed with Autism in July of 2007 at the age of 4. We started the diet March 1, 2009 and within 3 weeks saw incredible improvements in our son. Our lightbulb moment was when my son said to me “Mommy I’m so glad my head feels better!” My son has lots of friends, goes to a regular school and is happy and healthy. We have done a lot of biomedical intervention but certainly the diet has been the major impact for improvement.
Lori utilizes all her knowledge that she obtained over the years to help her son and passes that knowledge onto others. She is helpful, understanding and compassionate. She deserves to be recognized! She has a great website and hopefully more people will try the diet.

Nancy Churnin of the Dallas Moms Blog, nominated by Leigh Attaway Wilcox

I'd like to noninate Nancy Churnin, Administrator of the  Dallas Moms Blogs of the Dallas Morning News   Website.

Nancy graciously hosts several bloggers raising children with ASD and other disabilities with open arms to this otherwise "mainstream" blog. She's constantly encouraging and bridging connections between members of the ASD community and those with ASD or other special needs.

Nancy is a wonderful advocate working tirelessly everyday to see that informative, interesting and heartfelt pieces are shared with the DMB readers online, and as one of the DMB bloggers raising a son with ASD, I appreciate and value her dedication, time and efforts.


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