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Local News

September 11, 2010

Reporter's Notebook: Autism awareness has grown recently; local program available

Awareness of autism and its impact has grown in recent years. In tandem, support services and programs, such as the local Family Resource Network's Dragon Dates Recreational Program for youths with autism, seem more available.

And for the curious outside the "autism community," a film released this year sheds light on the disorder, sometimes with brutal reality but, overall, with hope.

"Temple Grandin," an HBO movie, tells the story of girl diagnosed with autism who grew up to become a renowned animal behaviorist. Claire Danes is in the title role, and Temple Grandin has praised her work and given her endorsement to the film.

"It makes me very happy. The movie serves as a tool to educate people about autism and shows that autistic children can become something," Grandin said in a media release from Colorado State University where she is a professor in its department of animal science.

"Temple Grandin" is a well-told, moving story that offers insights about people with autism and their families, the release said, and since Grandin "thinks in pictures," film is a marvelous medium to portray her thought processes; this movie illustrates painful struggles in being "different."

On Aug. 29, the film won seven Emmy Awards. Grandin was present during the awards ceremony.

While the film has won national acclaim, presenters said, it also can have a positive impact closer to home as awareness and services continue to expand for people on the autistic spectrum within local communities.

The state has changed the name of the agency supporting New Yorkers with developmental disabilities to better reflect that it helps people.

The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities replaces the name Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities. The name change was signed into law July 13. The change not only removes the words "mental retardation" from the agency name but also from state statutes and regulations, excluding clinical references, then Commissioner Diana Jones Ritter said, and it reflects the agency's motto of "Putting People First."

The new name was chosen in March 2010 by a consensus of representative stakeholders. Ritter said it is consistent with the "People First" language law enacted in 2007.

"The time has finally come for New York to join the 48 other states that have dropped the 'R' word," Ritter said in July.

Adopting the new name won't have an additional fiscal impact as the OPWDD will use existing resources to change the name over time on signs, letterhead, regulations, contracts and other documents, a media release said.

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