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Autism News Round-Up: Danish Companies, Airlines and Autism, and the Power of Pets

As we reach the beginning of June and with summer vacation right around the corner, this week we’re going to take a look back at some of the major autism-related news that might have slipped under your radar this past month.


First up, a new study was released by researchers at Purdue University providing further proof about the power of pets or companion animals in helping to decrease stress levels in young children with autism. As we’ve discussed in the past, while dogs have long been considered to be a fantastic tool in helping children with autism to improve their social and communication skills, this study focused on “what” relief and benefits animals actually provide, while also looking at other animals than just dogs.


The study looked at 114 children between the ages of five and twelve and how they interacted with dogs, cats, and guinea pigs, finding that the kids felt more secure due to the accepting nature of the animals. However, the researchers are quick to emphasize that their findings do not mean that parents should immediately go out and buy a companion animal for their child with autism.


“Our study was conducted in a supervised setting, by researchers experienced in working with kids with autism spectrum disorders who understand the needs and requirements of the animals,” lead researcher Dr. Marguerite O’Haire said.


Changing our focus from children to adults, a recent article was published looking at individuals with autism employed at corporate jobs in Denmark. As many people with autism are familiar with, it can be extremely difficult for individuals with autism to find work, with only 32.5% of young Americans with autism currently working for pay.


However, in Denmark, individuals with autism are finding support in their search for employment through Specialisterne, a company that hires high-functioning employees with autism and prepares them for employment in the IT and technology sectors.


Thorkil Sonne, who founded Specialisterne in 2004, wants to change the professional fate of people with autism—and he has a personal stake in the cause: His own son Lars was diagnosed with autism 15 years ago. The Danish company—which literally translates as “the specialists”—is off to a promising start and has since expanded to nine countries worldwide. The United States is his next target because it represents a huge market with about 50,000 people with autism turning 18 each year.


“Employers aren’t hiring people with autism because they’re locked into a social paradigm, where everyone is looking for happy, mainstream employees who are good team players and good at promoting themselves,” Sonne said“There’s a total divide between talent and vacant jobs in the high tech sector. Our mission is to remove that divide.”


Finally, ending on another note of positive change, Shawna Wingert, a mother with a twelve-year old son with autism, recently made waves after she wrote an open letter to JetBlue on her blog praising their patience and support in making flying with her son a wholly different experience from the usual stress-ridden journeys of past.


As she wrote to the airline, “Thank you from an already overwhelmed, tired, fighting for her son every day of her life, momma. Thank you on behalf of an eleven year old boy who struggles to cope in a world that just doesn’t understand or easily accommodate him.”


The letter was a byproduct of her experience with six other airlines that left her feeling like her son was a burden and that she was upsetting the other passengers and flight attendants. Whereas with JetBlue, she felt like the staff were properly trained and understanding in how they treated her and her son, finding them eager to help her where other airlines had in the past ignored her requests.


Such progressive thinking from an airline points to an increased understanding of autism and companies understanding the important of training their employees to better serve their customers with disabilities.