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September 11, 2010

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


Daily Star

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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.

Student athletes at Hartwick College in Oneonta will continue playing NCAA Division I men's soccer and women's water polo.

The Hartwick Board of Trustees recently voted to continue the NCAA Division I and Division III athletics programs at the college, and the decision endorses a recommendation by college President Margaret L. Drugovich, according to a media release.

Board Chairman James Elting said the board "has carefully considered this matter at several intervals in recent years, and we believe that the decision to retain both Division I and Division III programs brings appropriate closure to this question."

At its February 2008 meeting, the trustees tabled the question of retaining both Division I and Division III sports pending the arrival of then newly appointed Drugovich, who began her duties in July 2008. She appointed an Athletics Review Task Force with the charge to explain how the intercollegiate athletic experience at Hartwick relates to the life of students. The task force included 25 students, alumni, faculty, staff and trustees.

When the college previously announced its intent to drop Division I, alumni and supporters in the community rallied to save the program.

Since its inception, Hartwick men's soccer has won an NCAA national championship and made 23 NCAA tournament appearances, the college release said.

In its 10 years of competition, Hartwick's Division I women's water polo has made three NCAA tournament appearances, won three Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Conference championships, and won 10 consecutive division championships.

Hartwick, a private liberal arts college, enrolls 1,500 students.

Denise Richardson can be reached at 432-1000 or (800) 721-1000, ext. 213, or at drichardson@thedailystar.com.