While most sports media attention this week was focused on the Vancouver Olympics and the mea culpa of Tiger Woods, a major sporting event of a different sort was going on: The Westminster Dog Show. And one of the stars of this annual event was Wyatt, a year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback who has a special ways with people who have special needs. His owner, Janice Wolfe, told the New York Daily News that Wyatt senses the needs of people with autism and other disabilities and is her partner in Merlin’s Kids, a nonprofit organization she runs to provide service animals to those who might benefit. “The second he was born I felt this amazingly wise, sage-like energy from him,” she told the newspaper. Wolfe, who describes herself as a Dog Whisperer, works with Wyatt to evaluate the person and then finds a compatible dog for each child through petfinder.com or one of the animal shelters around the country. Service animals often help calm, focus, and encourage social behaviors in people with autism. Wolfe, a breeder from Wyckoff, NJ, provides the service animals free of charge. But she estimates it costs $5,000 to $10,000 to train each one. She funds Merlin’s Kids by breeding Ridgebacks, dogwhispering and speaking fees, she told the newspaper. For more information, contact www.merlinskids.org or www.NJDogWhisperer.com.
Star of HBO’s “Temple Grandin”
President Obama makes good on his promise to support autism research in his budget proposal. More than one in 110 children in the United States has an autism or autism-related diagnosis, such as Asperger Syndrome. The president’s $3.8 trillion budget includes $222 million for autism research. Last year, the Obama administration allocated tens of millions of dollars in grants through the National Institutes of Health for autism-related research. Among the recipients were researchers at more than a dozen top universities including the University of Michigan, University of California-Davis, University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University. Some research projects:
- adapting the current standard for diagnosing autism into a brief parent interview that can be done over the phone — reducing screening costs.
- expanding a pilot program to identify subtypes of autism based on behavioral, biochemical and brain imaging markers.
- discovering and tracking genes involved in autism that could lead to specific treatments.
- developing interventions for parents that might minimize behaviors and developmental delays in a second child.
- defining the role that race, gender, socioeconomics and culture play in diagnosis and finding ways to reverse the pattern of African American children with autism being underserved.
- assessing the changing cognition, service needs and quality of life on young adults and older adults with autism.
- understanding the impact of sensory integration on communication and social skills.