Monthly Research Updates

researchScientists and researchers are constantly uncovering more information related to autism, offering insights into the origins, possible causes and even at times potential cures. I come across dozens of articles on a weekly basis, some of which seem more important than others. I thought I would share on a monthly basis stories that caught my eye.

~ Maureen

Wearable camera captures eye contact in children with autism

A camera embedded in a pair of eyeglasses can reliably gauge a child’s tendency to look another person in the eye. A tendency to avoid looking at others’ eyes is a hallmark of autism and may appear in infancy — years before clinicians can diagnose the condition. Recordings from the new device may eventually help clinicians spot toddlers at risk for the condition.

Read the full article here.

Brain Stem Size May Predict Aggression in Those with ASD

Biological differences in the brain could explain why some with autism display problematic behavior, researchers say, and pinpointing the root of such issues may lead to interventions. In a study looking at magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, scans of kids with and without autism, researchers found a correlation between brain stem volume and a child’s propensity for aggression. Those with a smaller brain stem were more likely to have difficulty controlling themselves, according to findings published this month in the journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Read the full article here.

Landmark autism genetic study seeking participants

Families affected by autism are invited to a special on-site registration and data collection event for the nation’s largest-ever autism research study. The research project, called SPARK (Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge), aims to uncover causes and treatments for autism by collecting behavioral information and saliva DNA samples from 50,000 individuals with autism and their biological family members.

Read the full article here.

In trials, repurposed drug shows promise for autism

A drug used to treat excessive swelling seems to ease autism features in some children on the spectrum, according to results from a trial in France. Clinicians prescribe the drug, called bumetanide, to relieve fluid retention after heart failure and in people with liver or kidney disease. The drug is also used to lower blood pressure. In the brain, it affects a chemical messenger, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), thought to be important in autism.

Read the full article here.

World’s Largest Autism Genome Database Shines New Light on Many New “Autisms”

Latest study from the Autism Speaks MSSNG program identifies 18 new autism-linked genes, deepening understanding of autism’s broad spectrum. What’s more, 80% of the 61 gene variations discovered through the program, to-date, affect biochemical pathways that have clear potential as targets for future medicines.

Read the full article here.


Tune in next month for an update on autism research!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“Our Gift:” A Guest Blog


In honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Day, I asked one of our faculty if she would be willing to share her personal experiences as a mother of a child with down syndrome – I am so glad I did! I hope Devon’s sweet story inspires you as it inspired me. 

~ Maureen

Devon Mellin has been a Special Education teacher to high school-aged students at the Barber National Institute for the past 7 years. She has been married for 15 years to her high school sweetheart, Garrett, and is the mother of three delightful, energetic and amazing children: Broc (11 years old), Addyson (9 years old) and Harper (5 years old) and the newest addition, Chloe (a 1 year old boxer). She graduated from Edinboro University with a degree in Elementary and Special Education, and has been teaching for nearly 15 years. 

My husband, Garrett, and I had our middle child in 2007.  We welcomed to the world a baby girl named Addyson Mae. As any parent, we knew our lives would change, but we were not expecting the news we received that day in the hospital.  We had chosen not to participate in any of the prenatal tests beforehand. We knew we would love our baby unconditionally. Addy, as we call her, was born with an extra 21st chromosome – she had been diagnosed with Down Syndrome (DS). Each year, 1 of every 700 babies is born with DS in the United States. Many people may not know that there are three types of Down Syndrome: Standard Trisomy 21, Translocation, and Mosaicism. Addy was diagnosed with Trisomy 21. With this type of DS, there is an extra copy of chromosome 21 in every cell. 95% of babies born with DS are diagnosed with Standard Trisomy 21 Down Syndrome.ds

We spent the first three years of Addy’s life working with therapists through the Barber National Institute and researching everything we could about Down Syndrome to help Addy accomplish her milestones. When I look back at those days, I have to laugh. She was so hard to motivate during her therapy sessions… until I pulled out the ice cream! Addy did not really care for toys, but she would do anything for ice cream!! Addy flew through her milestones with hard work from Addy and dedication from me and other family members working with her on her daily exercises.

Addy is currently in 4th grade at Fairview Elementary School. She participates in a regular education classroom most of her day with the support of a paraprofessional. She is not a fan of math. That Down Syndrome stubbornness comes out for sure, but these days she’s a little easier to motivate with high fives, clapping and praise. Her love of books and reading has helped her be successful in Reading classes at school. Addy reads anything she can get her hands on and is reading on grade level. Addy loves school and loves learning new concepts. My husband and I are very fortunate that she is so successful in her education and loves to be at school so much. At the end of this year, another milestone will take place for Addy as she leaves the elementary school and heads off to middle school, with all new staff to attend to her. Is it scary? I will not lie, Garrett and I are frightened for this change, but at the same time we have confidence in Addy that she will fight hard and succeed.

As a family, we thought it was important to get Addy involved with community based programs just as we have done with our other two children. She participated in dance classes through the Dance Vibe Studio since she was four years old, dancing hip hop and ballet. She has even competed at large dance shows doing solo ballerina performances, at the Bayhawk’s half time shows and other community dance competitions. She has no fear! Addy also played soccer for three years – until she decided there was way too much running involved. This year Addy has chosen to start gymnastics. She had her first show recently and has shown a love for the sport.

As a parent of a child with Down Syndrome, it is my mission to educate others about the accomplishments and abilities of children with Down Syndrome.   These children have a potential to be successful when the right support system is put into place. These children do have futures! Unfortunately, at the moment 90% of babies diagnosed prenatally with Down Syndrome in the United States are aborted. WHY!? It is one of my goals and the goal of our local Down Syndrome Group, LEADS, (Lake Erie Area Down Syndrome group) to educate pregnant mothers, OBYGYN offices and hospital personnel about the wonderful things a baby with Down syndrome can bring to parents, family members and the community.   Our group also sets up informative meetings and playdates for our children to work on interacting and social situations. Hearing the diagnosis of DS can be scary, but at the same time it is extremely rewarding. We believe our motto: EDUCATE.  ADVOCATE.  ENJOY. My daughter is a blessing to our family, and we would not be the same without her sense of humor, stubbornness and unconditional love.

Happy Down Syndrome Awareness Day!


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why you need to celebrate ‘Absolutely Incredible Kid Day’

AIKDlogo4site.jpgCreated in 1996 by Camp Fire, Absolutely Incredible Kid Day, held this year on March 16th, is a day focused on letting children know how much they are appreciated. To honor the day, adults write letters of encouragement and inspiration to the incredible kids in their lives.

Why should we do this?

A parent is a child’s first teacher and arguably the biggest influence on their children. Children who feel positively about themselves are better at handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. Studies also show that children who feel important are well-rounded, respectful and excel in academics, extracurricular activities and hobbies and develop healthy relationships with their peers.

Even if you are not a parent, you certainly may have an incredible kid in your life. It only takes a few minutes to write a letter such as this, but the ripple effect is nearly endless.

I’d like to share with you my letter to Ryan, in the hopes that it will encourage you to write one of your own.

Dear Ryan,

I am writing to tell you what an “awesome” young man you are. I look back to when you were three years of age and so eager to learn that we worked hours at a time on our ABA drills. I was proud of you then and I continue to be proud of you today. You have grown into an independent young man who has an outstanding work ethic and an enthusiasm for being physically fit. Every day, you perform acts of kindness as you help me and others. Your dedication and efforts on a daily basis serve as a model for your peers. You have helped me to grow as well, by teaching me the importance of taking it one day at a time, of setting goals, and to always reach for the stars.

My hope for you is to continue to grow to be the best person you can possibly be. Please know that I will always be there to help you make your dreams come true.

Love, Mom



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Celebrating Women!

March is Women’s History Month. There are certainly numerous women throughout history that are worthy of a moment’s recognition. In the world of children and adults with special needs, I’m grateful for the contributions of these four women below, who truly have made history.

GABDr. Gertrude A. Barber

Gertrude began her career as an educator and administrator in the Erie City School District. Frustrated by a lack of options for children with intellectual disabilities, Dr. Barber, along with a small group of local teachers and parents, opened a one-classroom school in the local YMCA. Today, the Barber National Institute serves over 4,000 children and adults with disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.

HKHelen Keller

Although an illness left 19-month-old Helen deaf and blind, she overcame these enormous challenges and went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, and a radical socialist. In 1915, she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition, with a mission to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

EKSEunice Kennedy Shriver

A longtime advocate for children’s health and disability issues, Shriver was a key founder in 1962 of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a component of the National Institutes of Health. In 1968, Shriver founded the Special Olympics, for which she is perhaps best known. She has also assisted in establishing numerous other health-care facilities and support networks throughout the country, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring at University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

TGTemple Grandin

Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Grandin is a prominent and widely cited proponent of the rights of persons with autism and of animal welfare. Based on personal experience, Grandin advocates for early intervention to address autism and supportive teachers, who can direct fixations of the child with autism in fruitful directions. She is the best-selling author of many books and was the subject of HBO’s 2010 documentary, “Temple Grandin.” Most recently, Grandin was named to the Women’s Hall of Fame.


Are there any special women in history that you would add to the list?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The R-Word

Did you know that yesterday was “Spread the Word to End the Word” day? Begun as a website by the Special Olympics in 2008, this grew to a nationwide campaign involving schools and universities across our county, all with the goal of ending the use of the R-word in everyday language.

Many people may not consider the R-wordr-word graphic to be a slur, but to millions of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, that is what it can feel like. Language can have a huge impact on attitudes and actions.  By eliminating the R-word from regular speech, we can work on creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

In 2010, President Obama signed “Rosa’s Law,” which was inspired by a Maryland woman with an intellectual disability. The bill garnered unanimous support in passing both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Rosa’s Law was commemorated in a White House ceremony with an 11-member delegation of Special Olympics athletes, leaders and self-advocates present to celebrate the milestone. Starting that year, federal agencies dropped the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” in federal health, education and labor laws and replaced them with “intellectual disability” and since then, almost every state has passed similar legislation.

By challenging others to talk, think and write with respect, we are making a noticeable and sustainable impact in ending the use of the R-word. TV networks have now banned the use of the word, and public figures are speaking out against those who might use the word.

Read some of the inspiring testimonials that were shared, or share your own, here:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Monthly Research Articles

Scientists and researchers are constantly uncovering more information related to autism, offering insights into the origins, possible causes and even at times potential cures. I come across dozens of articles on a weekly basis, some of which seem more important than others. I thought I would share on a monthly basis stories that caught my eye.

~ Maureen

researchBrain scans may forecast effectiveness of autism treatment

Patterns of activity in the social brain predict how much a child’s autism features will improve after a behavioral therapy called pivotal response treatment, according to a new study. The study is small, but the findings hint that brain scans, or an equivalent technology, could help clinicians select the most promising treatment for a child with autism.

Read the full article here.

Robots spark social play in children with autism

In the past couple of years, dozens of children visiting the Yale Child Study Center have played with a green and wide-eyed robotic miniature brontosaurus called Pleo. These are children with autism, who normally have tremendous difficulty communicating with other people — but they eagerly interact with the robot.

Read the full article here.

Study links heightened stress reaction to autism-related GI problems

Chronic gastrointestinal problems are unusually common among people who have autism. Now, researchers in the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network report evidence that these painful issues correspond with a heightened hormonal reaction to stress. While more study is needed, the finding raises hope for more effective treatment options.

Read the full article here.

Rapid brain growth in infancy may signal autism

The faster the brains of children with autism grow in their first year of life, the more severe their autism features are likely to be at age 2, according to a study published today in Nature. This rapid growth can in fact predict whether a child will later be diagnosed with autism. The findings point to a possible biomarker that could help doctors identify autism in infants —two to three years before the typical age of diagnosis.


Tune in next month for an update on autism research!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Digital Learning Day!

Today is the 6th annual Digital Learning Day! This day is a nationwide celebration that encourages the use of technological devices to improve children’s learning experience in schools. The goal is that all students will have access to high-quality digital learning opportunities, regardless of where they reside.

dld-8Started in 2012, Digital Learning Day has provided a great opportunity for schools to showcase their innovative technology programs and share all of the creative ways they use technology in the classroom. More than just a chance to celebrate technology, it’s a chance to celebrate learning.dld-5

At ELBS, we celebrating with a technology showcase. Last year, we hosted our first “technology showcase” for digital learning day, inviting all classrooms, all BNI staff, and the public to visit the school and explore the ways our school utilizes technology in our various departments. It was such a success that we decided to host a technology showcase once again!dld-10

This year we expanded our number of stations to seven, to include an Aurasma app demonstration, a yoga class, our many assistive tech devices in the speech department, camera club, the TapIt Interactive Computer and more! In addition, students from Penn State Behrend will be demonstrating a new ebook project.

To take a look at the Digital Learning Day’s interactive map of activities, including our very own, visit:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment