International Day of Friendship

Just five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared July 30th as International Day of Friendship. Although it isn’t a widely celebrated day at the moment, it certainly has gained traction since its inception. And as we look at our current world, I certainly feel that we are in greater need than ever for a day like this!

IFDSo, what does International Day of Friendship represent? This day was instated as a reminder to civilians around the world to promote respect for all human rights, as well as foster a culture of peace and security through tolerance and understanding.

The United Nations places particular emphasis on involving young people, as future leaders, in community activities that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity. Lastly, though it might seem obvious, the International Day of Friendship is also based on the recognition of the relevance and importance of friendship as a noble and valuable sentiment in the lives of human beings around the world.

I find UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks on International Day of Friendship a poignant reminder of why this day is important:

“The International Day of Friendship was initiated by an individual who had a simple but profound vision: that the forces of animosity and hatred in our world are no match for the power of the human spirit.

I had the opportunity, earlier this year in Paraguay, to commend that pioneer, Dr. Ramón Bracho, for his conviction that just as friendship builds bridges between people, it can also inspire peace in our world.

This is of paramount importance as we confront the discrimination, malice and cruelty that drive conflicts and atrocities afflicting millions of people today. We must counter these destructive trends with a renewed commitment to finding our common humanity and fostering shared progress.

On this International Day of Friendship, let us strengthen bonds among individuals and generate greater respect and understanding in our world.”

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

This Saturday, take a moment to express your gratitude for the friendships in your life and to spread some peace to the world around you!




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ADA Anniversary!

As we celebrate the 26th anniversary of the ADA on July 26th, I find this is a great time to renew our pledge to turn these words into actions! 

~ Maureen

pledge_on_170Every July, we celebrate two anniversaries of independence. One is, of course, July 4th. The second is less well known. On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

While the ADA has led to changes throughout society, perhaps the greatest area of impact is in the area of employment. With passage of the ADA, employers were required to give all qualified individuals equal opportunity in the workforce, regardless of any disability they may have.

Now, over 25 years later, we have seen so many wonderful achievements for individuals with disabilities. And we have seen incredible growth in the overall community’s attitude and mindset regarding people with disabilities. No longer are persons with intellectual disabilities hidden away in institutions; rather, we hear more and more success stories every day about what people with disabilities are accomplishing. It really is a joyous thing.

Across the Erie community, scores of businesses have opened their doors to hiring people with disabilities. Over the last several years, the Barber National Institute has assisted hundreds of individuals in securing employment. Currently, 25 local businesses employ adults with intellectual disabilities who have been trained through our supported employment program.

Still, we know that there is always more work that can be done. Too often, I hear of people who are considering opening their doors to offer employment opportunities, but have concerns. I want to debunk some of these more common myths about employing individuals with disabilities.

Myth: Hiring workers with disabilities increases workers compensation insurance rates.

Fact: Insurance rates are based solely on the relative hazards of the operation and the organization’s accident experience, not on whether an employer has hired workers with disabilities.

Myth: Providing accommodations for people with disabilities is expensive.

Fact: Did you know that many accommodations or special equipment are available at absolutely no cost? And for the minority of workers with disabilities who do need some sort of special equipment or accommodation, 56% of these cost less than $600. Employers should know that available tax incentives make it even easier for businesses to cover accessibility costs.

Myth: Employees with disabilities have a higher absenteeism rate than employees without disabilities.

Fact: Studies show that employees with disabilities have a lower absenteeism rate and a lower turnover rate when compared to employees without disabilities.

People with disabilities are wonderful assets to a business. They are typically prompt, work until the job is complete, are not searching for alternative employment, and are dedicated to doing a thorough job.

I can’t think about the passage of the ADA without recalling a remarkable woman who was seated in the audience.   Dr. Gertrude A. Barber was a member of President Kennedy’s commission on Mental Retardation, involved in crafting and promoting the ADA, and, of course, known for her life’s work on behalf of creating opportunity for individuals with disabilities. In recognition of her efforts, Dr. Barber was invited to the White House to see this landmark legislation passed into law.

I can recall how happy she was to see this step taken to end discrimination, and how proud she was that the Erie region was on the forefront of this battle.

Each year, approximately 50,000 individuals with disabilities turn 18. Nearly half of these individuals will have average or above average intellectual capabilities. Whether you are a business owner or an employee at a business, consider contacting the Barber National Institute to see what steps you can take to become a place of employment for adults with intellectual disabilities.

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Monthly Research Updates

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

researchFebrile Seizures & Epilepsy – An Expert Discusses

Febrile – or fever-induced – seizures are common in babies, and pediatricians rush to assure us that they don’t cause harm. In this article, a professional expert reviews commonly asked questions and addresses fears associated with these seizures.

Read the full article here.


Toxicologists Study How Pharmaceuticals Affect Genes

                For decades, researchers have studied how certain chemicals cause genetic mutations that can lead to diseases like cancer. Epigenetics involves more subtle interactions between environmental exposures and our genes. Certain chemicals appear to “dial up” or “dial down” gene activity without actually changing, or mutating, the gene itself.

Read the full article here.


‘Science junkie’ bets big on autism’s environmental origins

A self-described “autism science junkie,” Escher taught herself the intricacies of research as she struggled to understand how her two children came to have autism. Along the way, she came up with a provocative idea to explain how chemical exposures might have led to their autism diagnoses:  hormones Escher’s mother took during pregnancy damaged the DNA in Escher’s eggs.

Read the full article here.


Tune in next month for an update on autism research!

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“One of those days…”

Whether or not your child has special needs, being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. Of course, the rewards vastly outnumber the challenges. But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t each had “one of those days:” a meltdown, a bad day at school or work, a frustrated conversation. In those moments, it can be easy to feel discouraged. In fact, I would venture that it’s even a natural, first reaction. However, if you’re having “one of those days,” I believe it is SO important not to stop there. Take a deep breath. Remember that each day you are giving all that you have, and striving to be the very best you can be. And that you are helping to do the same for your child.

There are ups and downs to each journey. Try to accept these days as “part of the ride,” and never get too hung up on a low point. In fact, I personally try to not focus too much on the high points, either. I find that I most cherish the average days in between.

Also know that whether it be a family member, friend, colleague, or even internet connection – you are never truly alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone to get that pick-me-up in your time of need.

Any other great tips for getting through “those days?” I’d love to hear!


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How is PA Rated in the 2016 Kids Count Report?

kids countAs you may or may not know, in late June the 2016 KIDS COUNT data book was published by the Annie E. Casey foundation. This is a state-by-state annual report on children’s overall well-being in the categories of: economic, education, health, and family & community. There was some good news – Pennsylvania has decreased the number of 4th graders who are not proficient in reading and math. Fewer children go without health insurance. There has been a decrease in teens who abuse alcohol and/or drugs, as well as the teen birth rate.

But unfortunately, it wasn’t all good news. Pennsylvania’s ranking in economic well-being, which looks at data related to child poverty, family employment, and housing costs, decreased from 19th in the country (2015) to the 22nd for this year. Similarly, last year we were ranked 7th overall in education; this year, we are 10th. As if this wasn’t enough bad news, the nation, too, has fallen in these same categories.

In Pennsylvania, we are experiencing a sluggish economic recovery. As a result, many families are still facing tough economic times and poverty continues to remain a challenge. Too many households are headed by a parent(s) who lack a high school diploma.

So what can we do? As I’ve mentioned in previously blogs(link), we know that with high quality early childhood education, children get the “right start” to succeed throughout their school career and by extension their lives. We need to increase access to high quality Pre-K, and better fund all of our schools so that a child’s zip code doesn’t determine the quality of his or her education.

Read PA’s report here:

Read the full results here:

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Do You Practice “Purposeful Parenting?”

parenting 2I recently read that July is “Purposeful Parenting Month.” Hmm… Is this positive parenting? Something different? It certainly was a new term that I had not read about. I did some research and learned several interesting and helpful ideas, including:

  • “Purposeful parenting” clarifies for the child what is expected of him/her
  • It maintains that the parent establish rules or boundaries and reinforces these rules at all times
  • It considers what you value and believe as well as what your child values and believes to create an environment of respect
  • Compassion, understanding, attention, and even fun are components of this style
  • “Purposeful parenting” looks for ways to keep the child positively engaged while simultaneously building and strengthening the parent-child relationship


If this sounds like something you might be interested in, consider:

  • Try to spend alone time, one on one, with each of your children every day. This doesn’t need to be hours, but certainly finding 15 minutes of uninterrupted attention for one another in a day
  • Exercise as a family. Not only do you spend time together, but you also reinforce the importance of physical activity for healthy living
  • Eat dinner together. Research shows that this is one of the keystones to any strong family. Engaging in discussion without smart phone or TV as distractions builds communication and trust.
  • Give your child household chores. Having chores helps to teach your child about responsibility, as well as giving him or her a sense of importance in keeping the household functional.


I was pleased to read that there are several things Ryan and I already do together, but as I read: “parenting is an ongoing path of learning” – and I certainly learned a few ideas to consider!

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pandrIn honor of National Parks and Recreation month, I wanted to highlight the benefits of one of the most popular “park activities:” Hiking. Of course, we all would acknowledge that hiking promotes a healthy body. But did you realize that it also affects the physiological and mental aspects of our brains?

When I was young, being outside – particularly during summer break – was a given. You’d go outside at 9:00, come in at lunch, and be back for dinner! I was startled to read that today only 6% of children play outside in a typical week. Instead, they are spending nearly 8 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, using a computer, tablet, or a phone for recreational purposes. Don’t get me wrong: I have touted the benefits of virtual reality and digital devices many times before (LINK), however I certainly think there should be a healthy balance between indoor and outdoor activities.

I recently read that “nature really does clear your head.” Scientists have compared mental states of those walking through a park versus walking through the city. Persons reported lower levels of anxiety and stress after walking through a park. They even measured blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. High blood flow, which is associated with moodiness, was significantly lower after strolling through the park.

As we enjoy these warm summer days that are all too fleeting in our community, take a moment to get outside and enjoy the parks in your local community. For myself, I think I’ll take a walk through Presque Isle!


Presque Isle, Erie, PA

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