Project idea: great stop-action Lego movie

| August 24, 2009

It’s also a great tribute to 8-bit video games.

Sorry Steven, I think you’re pwned. Awesome. The comment says “1500 hours of moving legobricks and taking photos of them.”

Service dogs as “social catalysts” assisting people with ASD

| August 23, 2009

At one point we considered a service dog for Ian. Mainly, we saw a dog as a way to facilitate Ian interacting with peers. The idea is that kids are attracted to the dog and talk to Ian while petting the dog. As Ian spent more time in mainstream classrooms we saw that he gets pretty good social traction on his own so we ended up not getting the dog. With the late-teen years looming we may revisit this decision.

Schools vary on their policies around service dogs. Since they are sometimes seen as merely a “comfort” and not an essential like a seeing-eye dog for the blind some schools forbid service dogs and some parents have had to take their schools to court.

See Schools fight families over autism service dogs

 AP Photo / Robin Scholz -- 
Nichelle Drew, center, leaves Villa Grove Elementary School in Villa Grove, Ill., with her son Kaleb,6, and his autism service dog, Chewey, after attending a half day of school on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009. Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.
AP Photo / Robin Scholz
Nichelle Drew, center, leaves Villa Grove Elementary School in Villa Grove, Ill., with her son Kaleb,6, and his autism service dog, Chewey, after attending a half day of school on Friday, Aug. 21, 2009. Like seeing-eye dogs for the blind, trained dogs are now being used to help autistic children deal with their disabilities. But some schools want to keep the animals out, and families are fighting back.

Improved quality of life through developing social skills

| August 21, 2009

While being introverted and liking time alone is very common for people with ASD that does not mean they have no desire for friends or social interaction. When they do actually want social time with peers they can find it particularly awkward and stressful.

AP Science Writer Alicia Chang has posted a great article today:  Autistic teens master social cues, find friends about a program that focuses on teaching autistic teenagers “social scripts” they can follow to interact more effectively with peers.

For Andrea, this pizza date is the ultimate test.

The bell rings. The door opens. Can she remember what she needs to do?

More important, will she make a friend?
Even for socially adept kids, the teen years, full of angst and peer pressure, can be a challenge.

“A lot of our kids need a tune-up. They need new skills to help them survive in their new social world,” said clinical psychologist Elizabeth Laugeson of the University of California, Los Angeles, who runs a 3 1/2-month friendship program for high-functioning autistic teens like Andrea.

In our work at Autistry Studios our approach is to start with each student’s creative interests and launch appropriate independent projects with groups of no more than four students. Over time the students learn about what the other students are doing, talk and help each other with the instructors only facilitating and modeling appropriate interactions and providing hints when the students are suffering any form of miscommunication.

The students become extremely comfortable with the format and while a student certainly could work an entire session without talking to anyone but an instructor — they ALWAYS gravitate to each other and talk about their interests and show each other what they are doing.

Through successful experience with more “adult” work-like, college-like situations we see the students gain the confidence to apply for jobs, try out some college courses, and also be more handy around the house.

Great article in O magazine about raising children with autism

| August 20, 2009

There is a really good, huge article by Cintra Wilson in the September 2009 issue of O, The Oprah magazine titled An Inconvenient Youth: Raising Children with Autism

“I used to eat myself alive about how much money or time I was spending with Padraic,” says Heather, who has three other children. “You know that if you spend 24 hours a day with this kid, drawing him out of his inwardness, you’re going to make a difference. Ninety percent of my self-torture has come from not doing floor time with him because I’m making dinner. I’ve spent most evenings on the floor of my kitchen in tears.… There’s never enough you can do. Ever.

“It’s the old proverbial story,” she continues. “If a car fell on top of your kid, a mom would be able to lift it off.”

“The superhuman kicks in,” Erin agrees. “But it’s years of trying to lift that car.”

“And you can’t,” says Heather. “And everyone’s sitting on top of the car trying to hold it down. That’s the way it feels.”

“And you get tired,” says Corinda.

“Pretty soon you realize the car is on top of you,” says Erin.

Project idea: The Tumbler go-kart

| August 18, 2009

Project idea: Rubber band machine gun

| August 9, 2009

Carissa mentioned that she was thinking of making some sort of rubber band gun next.

I found this great video at YouTube blogged about at Japanator.

Autistry Studios Newsletter – August 5, 2009

| August 6, 2009

There is a deafening silence around the house now. On Sunday we finished the Spring/Summer series of workshops. When we started the workshops last year we had 4 students – that number has now quadrupled.  And we are getting lots of inquiries from other teens and their families.  Our goal for this coming year is to match this year’s growth and to add new programs.  Not just any program – but the programs and services that you want and you feel you need.

We haven’t figured out the August Break Events but we will let you know soon.  We look forward to seeing you all this Fall.

One new idea: The College Support Group:

Many of you will be attending College of Marin this year and have asked for help with homework and general academic support.  We are offering a College Support Group on Friday afternoons starting August 21st. We will meet from 2pm – 6pm.  We will also check in with you during the week to see if you need additional support. Please let us know soon if you would like to be a part of this group.

Nate’s Intensive Filmmaking Workshop

July was definitely an intense month for the filmmaking workshops at Autistry Studios. We learned that 8 sessions is a bit too short for filmmaking but that did not stop us of from creating some great projects.  Steven finished Bupim’s Quest and has already begun work on the sequel.  Devon, our editrice extraodinaire, finished KOKORO and several other editing projects.  Wesley helped Ian shoot more Kung Fu footage and he finished up Introducing Ray.  Sarah filmed a wonderful animated short, Termite. Her project just needs the soundtrack added and it will be ready to post. Lots of concentration, hard work, and group cooperation went into the making of these short films.

Photos for July Filmmaking Workshop

Dan’s Build Stuff Workshops

The projects in the build-stuff workshops were fabulous this series. Kris finished his replica of a World War II machine gun (w00t!).

Autistry Avengers!

A neighbor driving by did a serious double-take as Kris carried it to his car.

Phoebe’s Ramses II riding in his chariot is complete (still needs a bit of work on the background) and it looks great.

Rmases II with Horses

Corey is nearly finished with his diorama of the parade scene from MILK.  And Ross’ brass icosahedron and other shapes are amazing.  And that was just the Friday group!

Photos for Friday build-stuff group

Sundays Build Stuff folks did just as well.  Nick has designed a very large train layout with a hand built redwood trestle bridge.


Nick's Layout with Basic Terrain

This project will continue in the next series as it is large and complex and wonderful.

Carissa, our youngest Autistry Studios student, made an oversized sword out of aluminum.  This project, a first for us, turned out far better than any of us had expected.

A girl and her sword

When Carissa’s younger sister saw the sword she asked us to build her a suit of armor!  I vote for a locked display case.  Sarah is nearly finished with her custom dog bed – just a few pieces to sew for the canopy. She will have a very happy puppy. Breton returned to continue work on Elf World and created a magnificent tree house.

An Elf in His World

The clay diorama is too large to fit in our oven so one of the projects for the August break: build an oven.

Photos for Sunday build-stuff group

Proposed Fall 2009 Schedule

| August 6, 2009


FRIDAYS:    August 21ST – December 11TH 2 – 6pm

No Class November 27th


SATURDAYS:  September 19TH – December 12TH 10am – 2pm

September 19, 26, October 3, 10  (4 classes)

No Class October 17

October 24,  31, November 7, 14, 21 (5 classes)

No Class November 28

December 5, 12 (2 classes)


SUNDAYS:  September 20th – December 13th 12 – 4pm

September 20, 27, October 4, 11  (4 classes)
No Class October 18
October 25, November 1, 8, 15, 22 (5 classes)
No Class November 29
December 6, 13 (2 classes)

We haven’t figured out the August Break Events but we will let you know soon.  We look forward to seeing you all this Fall.

Project idea: picture painting

| August 6, 2009

Dan Dos Santos is an artist of many modern pulp novel covers. Here is a great time-lapse sequence of him painting a book cover.

More of his work may be seen here (Russian language website).

Autistic Marine – how much structure is good?

| August 1, 2009

As a parent of an autistic child you find that you read reporting on autism at several levels.

On July 6, the LA Times reported on the case of Joshua Fry: Case of autistic Marine brings recruiting problems to the forefront

Lots of info and questions raised a relatively short story:

1. Are the Marine recruiters under such pressure that they’ll accept anyone?

2. Should autistics try living in the military?

3. The staff at the Recruit Depot worked with Joshua and he PASSED boot camp (no small accomplishment!).

4. Joshua completely failed subsequent training — ending up in the brig on various charges.


Nearly 30 years ago I passed through Marine Corps recruit training. I hated the structure (near as I can tell you’re supposed to) but I appreciated its predictability and the clear direction it allowed. Follow orders — you succeed. Do otherwise — you fail.

After boot camp, I was not a very successful Marine. People often ask what rank I attained. I usually answer “I made Lance Corporal a couple times.” People with service experience laugh and get it immediately: I was a f#@k-up who got rank but was busted to private for infractions and had to re-earn my rank.

I learned lots of useful skills in the Marines. The most important were that a group is more powerful than an individual, success comes from dogged persistence, and you are capable of far more than you can imagine if you just keep pushing (or are being pushed!).

Another lesson the article about Joshua reminded me of was that in highly structured situations, people with ASD do very well. Often indistinguishably from “normal” people.

The Marine Corps is able to impose structure on their recruits through a spectrum of incentives and controls: Group cohesion, logical argument, yelling, “incentive training” (punitive exercises like 100 push-ups), and the nearby brig.

Usually the recruit finally learns “I will do what they tell me because I do not want to spend a week in the brig.” In my time something like 10-15% of recruits washed out. We had two suicide attempts in my platoon alone.

If ASD kids and people can succeed with the help of structure, how can we best add that to their civilian lives? What do we do when the “recruit” says “no?”