The Respect and Justice for Ridge School Petition sign now


Sign this petition (and pass it along to all you know) to make sure The Ridge School in Hyde Park and any other school like it here in New York State is properly funded/reimbursed from the state and school districts for educating children on the autistic spectrum with Asperger's syndrome-- it's just simple common sense.

As the Nov. 18th article below from the Dutchess Beat makes clear, "The Ridge School is already Regents-accredited by the New York State Education Department and is in the midst of completing the second stage of a two-part process to receive special education accreditation."
[TheWeeklyBeat.net/2005/11/18/hpridgeschool.html]

The fact is that this process needs to be completed to make it easier for the state to allow school districts to place special-needs students at Ridge School. As noted Orange County attorney Michael Sussman notes in his Dec. 30th letter to NYS Education Department VESID Regional Associate William Bulman below, The Ridge School is serious about becoming state-recognized and approved. Its excellent program is helping children now and has been for years, despite the barriers some bureaucrats in the educational power structure have unfortunately erected. More than three years ago Ridge School sought designation as a state-approved school, providing various evidence of "current need" including letters written by two school superintendents in Dutchess County and the names of students whose educational needs were not being met in the county.

Curiously, Dutchess BOCES District Superintendent John Pennoyer's response to this was to write a letter indicating explicitly that he would never support creation of a school competing with BOCES (Michael Sussman has this letter). Here's the point Sussman makes (see more below)-- "admitting current need is more than a bit difficult for local school districts or BOCES-- it's like asking someone whether they are beating their spouse. What school district will admit that it is not meeting the needs of its resident population? And, if by a miracle, such an admission is forthcoming, as from the two superintendents whose letters I have attached here, BOCES will most certainly claim to be meeting all area needs."

Sussman's right-- the claim that these districts are meeting the needs of high-functioning Asperger's students is clearly ridiculous. The Ridge School enrolls students who were placed on home instruction precisely because there was no placement or program available in the relevant geographic area to meet their needs. The school currently has a waiting list for the same reason. Yet, its growth is severely inhibited and its finances made more tenuous by VESID's failure to provide state approval.

Also, as Sussman shared with us on our Saturday morning show on WHVW Jan. 17th, because of the 2004/2005 amendments to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004), local school districts no longer have the responsibility of providing related occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc.-- that is now the responsibility of the school districts where private schools are (that special-needs students are attending-- see IDOnline.org/article/11201).

The crucial point is this-- it is now incumbent upon those school districts to reimburse those private schools in their districts for the services special needs students are receiving, and right now that's not happening-- so schools like Ridge School are underfunded, and students lose out (again).

Enough is enough-- sign on to this petition, pass it along to all you know, and call, fax, write, and email the officals below-- let's solve this problem in 2009, people.

Joel Tyner
County Legislator
Clinton/Rhinebeck
324 Browns Pond Road
Staatsburg, NY 12580
DutchessDemocracy.blogspot.com
[email protected]
(845) 876-2488/(845) 489-5479

p.s. Full disclosure-- admittedly this is a personal issue for me; back in the late 80's and early 90's I worked with a number of children with autistic tendencies for over six years at Devereux in Rhinebeck and Red Hook, and since last March I've been a teacher at the Ridge School (and yes, a number of my family and friends are also convinced that I myself have Asperger's; I'm not sure they're wrong!).

p.p.s. Important-- besides signing on to this petition, feel free to also contact your local school district and school board members, Gov. Paterson and state legislators toll-free at (877) 255-9417, and the following as well (pass it on):

Dutchess BOCES District Superintendent John C. Pennoyer
Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services
5 BOCES Road
Poughkeepsie, New York 12601
phone: 486-4800; fax: 486-4981
eMail: [email protected]
http://www.dcboces.org/superintendent/services.php

William Bulman, Regional Associate
NY State Education Department
VESID - Hudson Regional Office
Room 1623
One Commerce Plaza
Albany, NY 12334

NYS Education Commissioner's Advisory Panel for Special EducationServices
Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities
[email protected] | (518) 473-2878
http://www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/cap/membership.htm

Commissioner Richard P. Mills
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
General Information: (518) 474-3852

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From RidgeSchool.org itself-- "The Ridge School is a not-for-profit organization located in Dutchess County, New York dedicated to the creation of a rich and positive setting for students who are not succeeding in their current educational placements. We emphasize skills learning through experience and provide students the opportunity to learn through interaction and investigation. Using the scaffolding method, students may advance, through a series of steps, from their entrance levels to increased competence in academics, socialization, communication, and independence. Our goal is to support the students to a point where they become less reliant on us and on school. Through this increased self-reliance and self-understanding, students will be able to be mainstreamed back in to less restrictive settings, take advantage of their unique abilities, and become productive citizens. Support for parents is also an integral part of the Ridge School program. For additional information about the Ridge School, please call us at (845) 229-2087. We are located at One Church Street, Hyde Park, New York 12538."

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From Michael Sussman himself ([email protected])...

[for more see "Sussing Out Sussman" by Oliver Mackson (Times Herald-Record 1/28/07):
http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070128/NEWS/701280337]

12/30/08 - By fax to 518-402-3582

William Bulman, Regional Associate
NY State Education Department
VESID - Hudson Regional Office
Room 1623
One Commerce Plaza
Albany, NY 12334

Dear Mr. Bulman,

Thank you for yours of November 17, 2008 responding to my letter dated October 12, 2008 to Michael Plotzker.

Your letter raises more questions than it answers. In 2005-06, when the Ridge School sought designation as a state-approved school, it provided various evidence of current need, including the attached letters written by two school superintendents in Dutchess County and the names of students whose educational needs were not being met in the county.

At that time, John Pennoyer wrote his own letter, indicating quite explicitly that he would never support the creation of a school competing with BOCES. I am attaching that letter as well.

Mr. Pennoyer's attitude typifies the tautology your letter presents. Admitting current need is more than a bit difficult for local school districts or BOCES.

It is much like asking someone whether they are beating their spouse. What
school district will admit that it is not meeting the needs of its resident population?
And, if by a miracle, such an admission is forthcoming, as from the two superintendents whose letters I have attached here, BOCES will most certainly claim to be meeting all area needs.

I have worked for nearly 25 years in special education issues in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The claim that these districts are meeting the needs of high-functioning Asperger's students is simply ridiculous. The Ridge School enrolls students who were placed on home instruction precisely because there was no placement or program available in the relevant geographic area to meet their needs. The school currently has a waiting list for the same reason. Yet, its growth is severely inhibited and its finances made more tenuous by your department's failure to provide state approval.

And, your department's position is easily explained and quite transparent: you do not to upset current programs which claim, however inaccurately, to be meeting all children's needs.

The second page of your letter introduces what I view as comic relief to the situation. There, you describe a process by which BOCES is supposed to study whether it IS meeting all the needs it claims to be meeting and, if not, obliges it to make recommendations for meeting current needs some time in the future. Again, this analysis is fraught with contradiction. We know it takes considerable time to set up and staff programs for children. Current needs cannot be met in the future because current needs must be met now or they go unmet and the needs change due to neglect. The Ridge School offers a functioning present tense way to meet children's needs, not some speculation about what may be in someone's plan when they happen to get around to holding public hearings and writing their plan, whatever its relevance may be in these times.

I have one final comment about your letter: whether other currently approved private school programs do or do not overlap with the Ridge School is legally irrelevant. If a school in Buffalo is on the state-approved list, its existence has nothing to do with the current need for the Ridge School in the mid-Hudson Valley. Likewise, what neighboring districts offer is not relevant unless a student from one school district can access such services, which is unusual, not the norm.

In closing, I would like you to provide me in ten business days with any citation to state regulations which explain what the Ridge School must show to demonstrate current need. Your letter seeks the names of particular students who 'require the proposed program' and are 'unable to be appropriately served' in a range of placements, two of which are totally irrelevant from a legal perspective. How many names do you need? What will do with these names? And, who is to decide whether they are being appropriately served or not by their existing placement or another allegedly available to them?

The Ridge School is serious about becoming state recognized and approved. Its excellent program is helping children now, despite the barriers people like John Pennoyer are knowingly erecting to its success. It is NOT proposed program, as your letter incorrectly states.

Very truly yours,

Michael H. Sussman

cc: Michael Kondor
Michael Plotzker

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"Ridge School Blossoms in Hyde Park"
By Jeremy Schwartz [Dutchess Beat 11/18/08]
http://www.theweeklybeat.net/2005/11/18/hpridgeschool.html

An educational haven for children who have been overlooked is tucked into three rooms in the Hyde Park Methodist Church.

Since opening its doors in January, the Ridge School has taken in students whose disabilities - namely Aspergerer's syndrome and Tourette's syndrome - prevent them from participating in larger classroom settings, such as those offered in public schools.

The school is already regents accredited by the New York State education department and is in the midst of completing the second stage of a two-part process to receive special education accreditation.

The process needs to be completed before the state will allow school districts, including Hyde Park, to legally send special needs students to Ridge.

It's a very hard thing and (to find suitable placements for Asperger's students), and districts don't know what to do, but they can't legally send kids here until we become special-ed equipped, said Mike Kondor, a co-owner of the school.

This is the latest incarnation of the Ridge School. It was previously located in New Paltz, but was forced to close because of financial difficulties. That is when Kondor and his wife Linda entered the picture.

The couple founded the Poughkeepsie-based Konsul School for Developmental Learning more than 30 years ago. The school specializes in giving remedial help for troubled students.

Michael Kondor was searching for an appropriate educational venue for his nephew, John Michael, who has Asperger Syndrome.

A disability with a little history

Not broadly diagnosed until approximately 25 years ago, Asperger's Syndrome is sometimes referred to as mild autism. Individuals with the syndrome generally have average to above-average intelligence, but exhibit some autistic tendencies in regard to their social interactions.

These individuals are often unable to pick up social cues and non-verbal communication, have intense but narrow interests, late developing motor skills and are easily distracted.

There is no single characteristic that defines individuals with Asperger's. Those diagnosed with Asperger's include comedian Dan Ackroyd and the Nobel Prize-winning economist Vernon Smith.

Some researchers have speculated that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton had Asperger's.

Kondor, who had previously looked into Ridge for John-Michael, was approached by its ex-director to reactivate the school.

Prior to his diagnosis, John Michael had previously attended the Netherwood and Violet Avenue elementary schools in the Hyde Park district.

Kondor is quick to point out that John Michael's teachers were caring and attentive, but the district simply did not have the means to teach students with Asperger's in an optimal setting.

Often, you have children, who are put in a room that is not appropriate and they pick up other tendencies. Kids come here beaten up and we de-program them, said Brooke Gulamerian, a mother of an Asperger's child, who has worked at the Ridge School for five years.

The Kondors found a temporary home for the school at the church, which they said has been extremely supportive of the school's mission.

The students at Ridge enjoy a wide variety of educational and cultural activity. They recently designed sculptures based on the seven wonders of the ancient world. They are currently producing a science fiction movie and field trips have taken them to Intrepid Air and Space Museum, Statue of Liberty and mining garnets in Connecticut with students from Yale University.

The learning approach at the school emphasizes creativity and hands-on activities.

The kids can't always sit at a desk and work out of a book, said Gulamerian.

Jean Rock's granddaughter, Lauren, is a Ridge School student. According to Rock, Lauren, now 15, struggled for years in schools that were not suited to someone with Asperger's syndrome.

We've been searching since first grade for something that would work, said Rock.

There are not a lot of educational opportunities in the area for students with Asperger's. Kondor said Onteora High School in Ulster County has a specialized program.

For local students, that means hours of travel per day, or, in some cases, boarding school. According to Kondor, transportation costs associated with special education have been rising steadily.

The Ridge School can help provide services and save the taxpayers money. A lot of kids end up far, far away, or in residential placement that can cost as much as $90,000. That also upsets family life, said Kondor.

Until the Ridge School becomes special education-approved, districts cannot legally send students there. Parents of students currently enrolled in the school pay tuition out-of-pocket.

Administrators from the Hyde Park district have visited the school and came away impressed.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. There is a need for alternative options for students in a smaller environment that we can't provide, due to our size, said Amanda Bagnato, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services...

The Kondors have big plans for the school. They have already begun planning a permanent home for the school on 120 acres of sprawling farmland that they own in Salt Point.

Kondor said officials in the Town of Clinton have been extremely supportive of the project, which would include an arts and crafts barn and a main building with giant windows affording a view that stretches to Millbrook.

Konder said the project would help preserve open space in the area, as well as providing education for special needs students. He also is looking to leave a legacy.

I'm not doing this for profit, he said.

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From http://www.chronogram.com/issue/2007/4/Whole+Living/Colors-of-the-Spectrum ...

"Colors of the Spectrum: Autism Services in the Hudson Valley"
by Sharon Nichols Chronogram March 30, 2007

The Ridge School, which serves students aged 10 through 19, began in New Paltz in 1990 and has since moved to Hyde Park. Its focus is on the type of autism known as Aspergers syndrome. Definitions of Aspergers have varied over the yearspsychologists still disagree on what the definition isbut it is similar to highly functioning autism, as it shares many of the same idiosyncrasies, and it does indeed fall on the spectrum.

Theres not much out there thats being done for Aspergers right now, says program director Glenn Nystrup. Teaching them is a great challenge, because theyre all unique and the adaptations and programming we need to make for them is also unique. Hands-on learning is a larger part of what Ridge does, encouraging students to build things in addition to the schools academics and frequent field trips.

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"Giant Mammoth Living at Ridge School" by Kathleen Di Simone (Hyde Park Townsman 11/14/08)
http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=20197041&BRD=1704&PAG=461&dept_id=71705&rfi=6 .

A wooly mammoth now resides in Hyde Park.

Don't worry, though, it's not real, even if it looks like it is. The animal is a replica built by students of Ridge School on Route 9 as part of a lesson on mastodon bones found in Hyde Park nearly 10 years ago.

The mastodon is a prehistoric mammal, very similar to the mammoth.

The students who made the mammoth all have Asperger syndrome, a neurological disorder that is part of the autism spectrum.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site, Asperger syndrome symptoms revolve heavily around obsessive behavior and the lack of a speaking filter, causing sufferers of the disorder to struggle with the rules of socialization.

According to Michael Kondor, director of the school, students with Asperger syndrome have such difficulty adjusting to the average school environment that they often drop out, are forced into home schooling or can only achieve a GED.

"Asperger syndrome is a national dilemma," said Kondor, pointing out that Ridge School is the only school he knows of that is dedicated strictly to the education of children with Asperger syndrome.

Kondor realized there was need for the school when he began to fear that his son, diagnosed with the disorder, would not get the attention and treatment he would need in the public school system.

"The public school system has no way of placement for these kids," said Kondor. "They've been abandoned by the state education system."

He explained that people with Asperger syndrome are "high functioning" and "intelligent." The students are taken on frequent field trips and have gone whale watching in Massachusetts, studied the shellfish industry at Long Island Sound, and even worked backstage on the Broadway production of "The Producers."

Kondor said the trips are an important way to keep students with Asperger syndrome engaged with the world, and stated that if this method is not practiced, "(The students) become reclusive."

The wooly mammoth project was actually the students' idea, Kondor said, saying they were inspired by a mammoth exhibit they saw while visiting the New York State Museum in Albany.

The model for the student's 7-foot mammoth was a 2-inch plastic mammoth figurine that was bought in the museum's gift shop. The students' version is a faux fur-covered, plywood giant, complete with bubbling tar pits made from buckets of water filled with air tubes.

The complexity of the project's design is nothing new for Ridge School students. Building seems to be their specialty, as the students have demonstrated gifted abilities in architecture and construction with past projects, such as a tree house that was featured on MTV.

"It's an excellent thing," Kondor said of the project, commenting on the students' realization "that there were real prehistoric animals in this area at one time."

Kondor also noted that the teenage mammoth-makers were also taught about a philanthropic example set by the original finders of the Hyde Park mammoth - a couple who stumbled across the ancient bones while digging a pond in their backyard.

"(They) were very giving people," said Kondor, who told his students how the couple donated the mammoth to share history with society, rather than attempt to make a profit off of the find. "Pretty soon, their yard was an archaeological site," Kondor said, summarizing the couple's experience in a recent interview.

Franklin Eck, a student at Ridge School, felt the couple deserved compensation for their generosity.

"They dug up their yard and they didn't pay them for it," Eck said.

Perhaps more than a lesson in denying greed and an opportunity to exercise their design skills, the mammoth provided the students with something even better: a chance to show others just how many things they can do.

"It's proof that we're not stupid," said Eck, who expressed concern over an incorrect stigma he feels is associated with himself and other students with Asperger syndrome. He viewed the project as a display of Asperger syndrome students' abilities, and emphasized that they are often grouped with other disabled children who are not as high functioning.

"The school district doesn't recognize the label 'Asperger syndrome,'" Kondor explained, but went on to argue that "it is a medical diagnosis at this point."

[Note-- the following comment was posted to this article from the parents of one Ridge School student: "The Ridge School is the best-- Our son started at the Ridge School in 9/08. We had looked at many school programs in the Hudson Valley area and found none that were appropriate in the 2 1/2 yrs that he was on Home tutoring. Then we found the Ridge School. He is doing great there. We are so grateful for The Ridge School and the Kondors." (from [email protected], Bullville,N.Y.)]

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"Mastodon Revisits Hyde Park: Using Plywood and Fabric, Students Recreate Huge Beast"
BY JOHN DAVIS POUGHKEEPSIE JOURNAL NOVEMBER 18, 2008
http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008811180324

The question the kids at the Ridge School in Hyde Park are asking is what to do with the six-foot-high model of a mastodon they constructed.

"Maybe we can get one of the other schools to take it," said Franklin Eck, 14, of Kingston.

The sculpture of the creature resembling an elephant is on display in one of the rooms at Hyde Park Methodist Church hall, where the school's classes are held.

"We call it our Methodist mastodon," said Michael Kondor, the school's executive director.
The half-dozen students who attend the Ridge School have Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of autism. The children can be very bright, but have trouble with social interaction.

In many cases the kids have had trouble learning at public schools with the larger student population and class sizes.

"They end up being bullied in school very easily," Kondor said.

The "small and nurturing" classes at Ridge School have proven better learning environments for these students, he said.

In addition to their academic studies, the school gives the students opportunities to interact by working together on projects such as building the mastodon. They have also built a tree house and models of Mount Rushmore and an American Indian wigwam.

The idea to construct the mastodon was based, in part, on the discovery in 1999 of the skeleton of an actual mastodon in the backyard of a home on Haviland Road. Mastodons are extinct relatives of elephants. The mammals, with a trunk and tusks, weighed between 10,000 pounds and 15,000 pounds.

A replica of the skeleton of the 11,500-year-old Hyde Park mastodon was unveiled in May at Mid-Hudson Children's Museum in the City of Poughkeepsie. Kondor said he plans to bring his students to the museum to see the larger model of the mastodon, which is 12 feet high and 20-feet long.

Using plywood, the Ridge School students built the body of their mastodon and used fur-like material purchased at Joanne's Fabrics in Poughkeepsie to duplicate the creature's shaggy coat. The two white tusks were cut from plywood.

"I did the frame," said John Michael Kondor, 15, the school director's nephew.

Saeger Rubinstein, 16, of Salt Point took the lead in constructing the mastodon, as he has done with some of the other school projects. He spends half the school day taking classes at nearby Franklin D. Roosevelt High School. He would eventually like to attend New York University and study engineering.

"It was fun," he said of the mastodon project. "I keep saying we should build a bigger one and put it in a parade."

The vivid jungle scene on the wall behind the mastodon was sketched and colored by student Jackie Sinisi, 14, of Beekman.

"It's not my best," she said, blushing.

The school director said the students often don't take credit for their contributions and academic accomplishments. Some have graduated from the school with Regents diplomas.

"They really put in a lot of effort," he said.

[Note as well-- Dawn Sinisi, mother of Ridge School student Jackie Sinisi, wrote the following comment on the Poughkeepsie Journal's webpage for this article-- "Thank you Mr. Davis and the editorial staff for the article regarding The Ridge School Hyde Park, NY Tue. Nov.18, 2008. My daughter is now a student at The Ridge School and for the first (9) years of education finally, excitedly attending school every day without any anxiety or issues. The Ridge School staff, parents and Mike and Linda Kondor are to be commended for their perseverance and dedication by keeping The Ridge School in operation. We desperately need CSE approved schools for the underestimated 1-150 children diagnosed on the Autism S P E C T R U M. The majority of this "epidemic" of children are very capable of being educated, just need to learn differently with the extremely necessary therapies of related services in the areas and not limited to Communication/Language, Occupational Therapy, Auditory Processing, Social Skills training etc. due to neurological differences which can be improved."

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From http://www.chronogram.com/issue/2007/4/Whole+Living/Colors-of-the-Spectrum ...

"Colors of the Spectrum: Autism Services in the Hudson Valley"
by Sharon Nichols Chronogram March 30, 2007

With no voice but many thoughts, I was part animal and part human in their school. A school for rejects. A school for mostly silent souls inside broken bodies. It was a place of fear and music and tears and snacks. It was a place decorated with normality, but dozens and dozens of school buses rounded up imperfection and corralled it there. Later I would learn about stares and words that formed fences around regular schools to keep me from trespassing. Sarah Stup

Sarah Stup refers to her disorder as the beast. She also calls it a gift. As a young author with autism, she devotes her time to writing and advocacy, her goal to sensitize educators, lawmakers, and anyone else who will listen to the challenges of those with disabilities such as her own. In her case, the beast is autism, and she takes us into her world with her heartfelt collection of writings titled Are Your Eyes Listening?

Autism has become a national crisis. It is the fastest-growing disability in the United States, affecting one in every 150 children. Diagnoses of autism are increasing at the startling rate of 10 to 17 percent per year. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain. Individuals with autism have difficulty communicating and interacting with others, make little or no eye contact, have unusual reactions, and often seem to retreat into isolation while fixating on certain words, objects, or activities. However, autism is considered a spectrum disorder, as it affects each individual differently and at varying degrees. At best, a highly functioning person with autism may simply seem eccentric or a loner. At worst, individuals with profound autism may never speak or learn to take care of themselves. Autism falls under the umbrella term pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), sharing the title with Aspergers syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), Retts disorder, and PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Autism affects all races, classes, and educational levels, though its four times more prevalent in boys than in girls.

There is no known cure.

A decade ago, autism was considered a rare and hopeless condition. Today, through the commitment of parents, scientists, teachers, and other advocates, those with autism can be treated and assisted in improving their language and social skills and maximizing their potential. Treatments include educational and behavior training programs emphasizing language and social skills, support and counseling groups, pharmaceuticals, and other alternative therapies. For those whose lives have been touched by this disorder, the Hudson Valley is an excellent place to be, as the area is brimming with services...

The Ridge School, which serves students aged 10 through 19, began in New Paltz in 1990 and has since moved to Hyde Park. Its focus is on the type of autism known as Aspergers syndrome. Definitions of Aspergers have varied over the yearspsychologists still disagree on what the definition isbut it is similar to highly functioning autism, as it shares many of the same idiosyncrasies, and it does indeed fall on the spectrum.

Theres not much out there thats being done for Aspergers right now, says program director Glenn Nystrup. Teaching them is a great challenge, because theyre all unique and the adaptations and programming we need to make for them is also unique. Hands-on learning is a larger part of what Ridge does, encouraging students to build things in addition to the schools academics and frequent field trips. There is a high teacher-student ratio and the focus is on communication and interaction skills, self-reliance, and self-understanding, so students can work in restrictive settings. The Ridge School hopes to build a larger campus next year in Clinton Corners and a website will be up and running soon. One of Ridges students, 16-year-old Elijah Wapner, was recently followed by MTV for True Life: Im Autistic, which aired on March 18. Wapner has become a professional stand-up comedian, performing weekly in Manhattan; his current routine focuses on his disability. (View clips of Wapner performing at www.MrInevitable.com.)

[Elijahs] act is totally hilarious, says his mother, Valerie Paradiz, who founded the Open Center for Autism in Hurley with its executive director, Sarah Borris. Located in Kingston, it is a brand-new organization that serves teens on the spectrum and provides support to families and professionals, as well as afterschool and weekend programs and a summer camp. The two women founded the Aspie program, an educational environment for adolescents with highly functioning autism and Aspergers, in the Onteora school district in 2000. The program lasted only three years, but it blossomed into the current Open Center and several spinoff programs. Were really a community center where kids on the spectrum come, feel comfortable, and invite their siblings and friends who dont have autism, says Borris. We have parties regularly and plan to start a school. Unfortunately, the Open Center may soon be forced to close its doors.

Were experiencing a crisis right now in funding, says Paradiz. Its a tough time all around the country with fledgling programs and services. People are not only hungry for information and programs, theyre desperate for them...

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From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome ...

Asperger syndrome

[Wikipedia entry]

Asperger syndrome (also called Asperger's syndrome, Asperger's disorder, Asperger's or AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and people with AS therefore show difficulties in social interaction and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests. AS differs from other ASDs by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not mentioned in standard diagnostic criteria, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.[1][2]

Asperger syndrome is named after Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy.[3] Fifty years later, AS was standardized as a diagnosis, but questions about many aspects remain.[4] For example, there is lingering doubt about the distinction between AS and high-functioning autism (HFA);[5] partly due to this, the prevalence of AS is not firmly established. The exact cause is unknown, although research supports the likelihood of a genetic basis; brain imaging techniques have not identified a clear common pathology.[1]

There is no single treatment for Asperger syndrome, and the effectiveness of particular interventions is supported by only limited data.[1] Intervention is aimed at improving symptoms and function. The mainstay of management is behavioral therapy, focusing on specific deficits to address poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness.[6] Most individuals with AS can improve over time, but difficulties with communication, social adjustment and independent living continue into adulthood.[4] Some researchers and people with AS have advocated a shift in attitudes toward the view that AS is a difference, rather than a disability that must be treated or cured.[7]

Classification

Asperger syndrome is one of the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which are a spectrum of psychological conditions that are characterized by abnormalities of social interaction and communication that pervade the individual's functioning, and by restricted and repetitive interests and behavior. Like other psychological development disorders, ASD begins in infancy or childhood, has a steady course without remission or relapse, and has impairments that result from maturation-related changes in various systems of the brain.[8] ASD, in turn, is a subset of the broader autism phenotype (BAP), which describes individuals who may not have ASD but do have autistic-like traits, such as social deficits.[9] Of the other four ASD forms, autism is the most similar to AS in signs and likely causes but its diagnosis requires impaired communication and allows delay in cognitive development, Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder share several signs with autism but may have unrelated causes, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) is diagnosed when the criteria for a more specific disorder are unmet.[10] The extent of the overlap between AS and high-functioning autism (HFAautism unaccompanied by mental retardation) is unclear.[5][11][12] The current ASD classification may not reflect the true nature of the conditions.[13] A panel session at a 2008 diagnosis-related autism research planning conference noted problems with the classification of AS as a distinct subgroup of ASD, and two of three breakout groups recommended eliminating AS as a separate diagnosis.[14]

Characteristics

A pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.[15] Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis.[5]

Social interaction

The lack of demonstrated empathy is possibly the most dysfunctional aspect of Asperger syndrome.[2] Individuals with AS experience difficulties in basic elements of social interaction, which may include a failure to develop friendships or to seek shared enjoyments or achievements with others (for example, showing others objects of interest), a lack of social or emotional reciprocity, and impaired nonverbal behaviors in areas such as eye contact, facial expression, posture, and gesture.[1]

Unlike those with autism, people with AS are not usually withdrawn around others; they approach others, even if awkwardly, for example by engaging in a one-sided, long-winded speech about a favorite topic while misunderstanding or not recognizing the listener's feelings or reactions, such as need for privacy or haste to leave.[5] This social awkwardness has been called "active but odd".[1] This failure to react appropriately to social interaction may appear as disregard for other people's feelings, and may come across as insensitive.[5] The cognitive ability of children with AS often lets them articulate social norms in a laboratory context,[1] where they may be able to show a theoretical understanding of other people's emotions; they typically have difficulty acting on this knowledge in fluid, real-life situations, however.[5] People with AS may analyze and distill their observation of social interaction into rigid behavioral guidelines and apply these rules in awkward wayssuch as forced eye contactresulting in demeanor that appears rigid or socially naive. Childhood desires for companionship can be numbed through a history of failed social encounters.[1]

The hypothesis that individuals with AS are predisposed to violent or criminal behavior has been investigated but is not supported by data.[1][16] More evidence suggests children with AS are victims rather than victimizers.[17] A 2008 review found that an overwhelming number of reported violent criminals with AS had coexisting psychiatric disorders such as schizoaffective disorder.[18]

Restricted and repetitive interests and behavior

People with Asperger syndrome often display behavior, interests, and activities that are restricted and repetitive and are sometimes abnormally intense or focused. They may stick to inflexible routines, move in stereotyped and repetitive ways, or preoccupy themselves with parts of objects.[15]

Pursuit of specific and narrow areas of interest is one of the most striking features of AS.[1] Individuals with AS may collect volumes of detailed information on a relatively narrow topic such as dinosaurs or deep fat fryers, without necessarily having genuine understanding of the broader topic.[1][5] For example, a child might memorize camera model numbers while caring little about photography.[1] This behavior is usually apparent by grade school, typically age 5 or 6 in the United States.[1] Although these special interests may change from time to time, they typically become more unusual and narrowly focused, and often dominate social interaction so much that the entire family may become immersed. Because topics such as dinosaurs often capture the interest of children, this symptom may go unrecognized.[5]

Stereotyped and repetitive motor behaviors are a core part of the diagnosis of AS and other ASDs.[19] They include hand movements such as flapping or twisting, and complex whole-body movements.[15] These are typically repeated in longer bursts and look more voluntary or ritualistic than tics, which are usually faster, less rhythmical and less often symmetrical.[20]

Speech and language

Although individuals with Asperger syndrome acquire language skills without significant general delay and their speech typically lacks significant abnormalities, language acquisition and use is often atypical.[5] Abnormalities include verbosity, abrupt transitions, literal interpretations and miscomprehension of nuance, use of metaphor meaningful only to the speaker, auditory perception deficits, unusually pedantic, formal or idiosyncratic speech, and oddities in loudness, pitch, intonation, prosody, and rhythm.[1]

Three aspects of communication patterns are of clinical interest: poor prosody, tangential and circumstantial speech, and marked verbosity. Although inflection and intonation may be less rigid or monotonic than in autism, people with AS often have a limited range of intonation: speech may be unusually fast, jerky or loud. Speech may convey a sense of incoherence; the conversational style often includes monologues about topics that bore the listener, fails to provide context for comments, or fails to suppress internal thoughts. Individuals with AS may fail to monitor whether the listener is interested or engaged in the conversation. The speaker's conclusion or point may never be made, and attempts by the listener to elaborate on the speech's content or logic, or to shift to related topics, are often unsuccessful.[5]

Children with AS may have an unusually sophisticated vocabulary at a young age and have been colloquially called "little professors", but have difficulty understanding figurative language and tend to use language literally.[1] Children with AS appear to have particular weaknesses in areas of nonliteral language that include humor, irony, and teasing. Although individuals with AS usually understand the cognitive basis of humor they seem to lack understanding of the intent of humor to share enjoyment with others.[12] Despite strong evidence of impaired humor appreciation, there are anecdotal reports of humor in individuals with AS, which challenge theories of humor in AS.[21]

Individuals with Asperger syndrome may have signs or symptoms that are independent of the diagnosis, but can affect the individual or the family. These include differences in perception and problems with motor skills, sleep, and emotions.

Individuals with AS often have excellent auditory and visual perception.[22] Children with ASD often demonstrate enhanced perception of small changes in patterns such as arrangements of objects or well-known images; typically this is domain-specific and involves processing of fine-grained features.[23] Conversely, compared to individuals with high-functioning autism, individuals with AS have deficits in some tasks involving visual-spatial perception, auditory perception, or visual memory.[1]

Many accounts of individuals with AS and ASD report other unusual sensory and perceptual skills and experiences. They may be unusually sensitive or insensitive to sound, light, touch, texture, taste, smell, pain, temperature, and other stimuli, and they may exhibit synesthesia;[24] these sensory responses are found in other developmental disorders and are not specific to AS or to ASD. There is little support for increased fight-or-flight response or failure of habituation in autism; there is more evidence of decreased responsiveness to sensory stimuli, although several studies show no differences.[25]

Hans Asperger's initial accounts[1] and other diagnostic schemes[26] include descriptions of physical clumsiness. Children with AS may be delayed in acquiring skills requiring motor dexterity, such as riding a bicycle or opening a jar, and may seem to move awkwardly or feel "uncomfortable in their own skin". They may be poorly coordinated, or have an odd or bouncy gait or posture, poor handwriting, or problems with visual-motor integration.[1][5] They may show problems with proprioception (sensation of body position) on measures of apraxia (motor planning disorder), balance, tandem gait, and finger-thumb apposition. There is no evidence that these motor skills problems differentiate AS from other high-functioning ASDs.[1]

Children with AS are more likely to have sleep problems, including difficulty in falling asleep, frequent nocturnal awakenings, and early morning awakenings.[27][28] AS is also associated with high levels of alexithymia, which is difficulty in identifying and describing one's emotions.[29] Although AS, lower sleep quality, and alexithymia are associated, their causative relationship is unclear.[28]

Causes

Hans Asperger described common symptoms among his patients' family members, especially fathers, and research supports this observation and suggests a genetic contribution to Asperger syndrome. Although no specific gene has yet been identified, multiple factors are believed to play a role in the expression of autism, given the phenotypic variability seen in this group of children.[1][30] Evidence for a genetic link is the tendency for AS to run in families and an observed higher incidence of family members who have behavioral symptoms similar to AS but in a more limited form (for example, slight difficulties with social interaction, language, or reading).[6] Most research suggests that all autism spectrum disorders have shared genetic mechanisms, but AS may have a stronger genetic component than autism.[1] There is probably a common group of genes where particular alleles render an individual vulnerable to developing AS; if this is the case, the particular combination of alleles would determine the severity and symptoms for each individual with AS.[6]

A few ASD cases have been linked to exposure to teratogens (agents that cause birth defects) during the first eight weeks from conception. Although this does not exclude the possibility that ASD can be initiated or affected later, it is strong evidence that it arises very early in development.[31] Many environmental factors have been hypothesized to act after birth, but none has been confirmed by scientific investigation.[32]

Prognosis

There is some evidence that as many as 20\% of children with AS "grow out" of it, and fail to meet the diagnostic criteria as adults.[4] As of 2006, no studies addressing the long-term outcome of individuals with Asperger syndrome are available and there are no systematic long-term follow-up studies of children with AS.[5] Individuals with AS appear to have normal life expectancy but have an increased prevalence of comorbid psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety that may significantly affect prognosis. Although social impairment is lifelong, outcome is generally more positive than with individuals with lower functioning autism spectrum disorders;[1] for example, ASD symptoms are more likely to diminish with time in children with AS or HFA.[71] Although most students with AS/HFA have average mathematical ability and test slightly worse in mathematics than in general intelligence, some are gifted in mathematics[72] and AS has not prevented some adults from major accomplishments such as winning the Nobel Prize.[73]

Children with AS may require special education services because of their social and behavioral difficulties although many attend regular education classes.[5] Adolescents with AS may exhibit ongoing difficulty with self-care, organization and disturbances in social and romantic relationships; despite high cognitive potential, most young adults with AS remain at home, although some do marry and work independently.[1] The "different-ness" adolescents experience can be traumatic.[74] Anxiety may stem from preoccupation over possible violations of routines and rituals, from being placed in a situation without a clear schedule or expectations, or from concern with failing in social encounters;[1] the resulting stress may manifest as inattention, withdrawal, reliance on obsessions, hyperactivity, or aggressive or oppositional behavior.[60] Depression is often the result of chronic frustration from repeated failure to engage others socially, and mood disorders requiring treatment may develop.[1] Clinical experience suggests the rate of suicide may be higher among those with AS, but this has not been confirmed by systematic empirical studies.[75]

Education of families is critical in developing strategies for understanding strengths and weaknesses;[2] helping the family to cope improves outcome in children.[17] Prognosis may be improved by diagnosis at a younger age that allows for early interventions, while interventions in adulthood are valuable but less beneficial.[2] There are legal implications for individuals with AS as they run the risk of exploitation by others and may be unable to comprehend the societal implications of their actions.[2]

Epidemiology

Prevalence estimates vary enormously. A 2003 review of epidemiological studies of children found prevalence rates ranging from 0.03 to 4.84 per 1,000, with the ratio of autism to Asperger syndrome ranging from 1.5:1 to 16:1;[76] combining the average ratio of 5:1 with a conservative prevalence estimate for autism of 1.3 per 1,000 suggests indirectly that the prevalence of AS might be around 0.26 per 1,000.[77] Part of the variance in estimates arises from differences in diagnostic criteria. For example, a relatively small 2007 study of 5,484 eight-year-old children in Finland found 2.9 children per 1,000 met the ICD-10 criteria for an AS diagnosis, 2.7 per 1,000 for Gillberg and Gillberg criteria, 2.5 for DSM-IV, 1.6 for Szatmari et al., and 4.3 per 1,000 for the union of the four criteria. Boys seem to be more likely to have AS than girls; estimates of the sex ratio range from 1.6:1 to 4:1, using the Gillberg and Gillberg criteria.[78]

Anxiety and depression are the most common other conditions seen at the same time; comorbidity of these in persons with AS is estimated at 65\%.[1] Depression is common in adolescents and adults; children are likely to present with ADHD.[79] Reports have associated AS with medical conditions such as aminoaciduria and ligamentous laxity, but these have been case reports or small studies and no factors have been associated with AS across studies.[1] One study of males with AS found an increased rate of epilepsy and a high rate (51\%) of nonverbal learning disorder.[80] AS is associated with tics, Tourette syndrome, and bipolar disorder, and the repetitive behaviors of AS have many similarities with the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.[81] Although many of these studies are based on psychiatric clinic samples without using standardized measures, it seems reasonable to conclude that comorbid conditions are relatively common.[4]

History

Named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger (190680), Asperger syndrome is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of autism.[82] In 1944, Asperger described four children in his practice[2] who had difficulty in integrating themselves socially. The children lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Asperger called the condition "autistic psychopathy" and described it as primarily marked by social isolation.[6] Unlike today's AS, autistic psychopathy could be found in people of all levels of intelligence, including those with mental retardation.[83] He called his young patients "little professors",[3] and believed some would be capable of exceptional achievement and original thought later in life.[2] His paper was published during wartime and in German, so it was not widely read elsewhere.

Lorna Wing popularized the term Asperger syndrome in the English-speaking medical community in her 1981 publication[84] of a series of case studies of children showing similar symptoms,[82] and Uta Frith translated Asperger's paper to English in 1991.[3] Sets of diagnostic criteria were outlined by Gillberg and Gillberg in 1989 and by Szatmari et al. in the same year.[78] AS became a standard diagnosis in 1992, when it was included in the tenth edition of the World Health Organization's diagnostic manual, International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10); in 1994, it was added to the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic reference, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).[6]

Hundreds of books, articles and websites now describe AS, and prevalence estimates have increased dramatically for ASD, with AS recognized as an important subgroup.[82] Whether it should be seen as distinct from high-functioning autism is a fundamental issue requiring further study.[2] There is little consensus among clinical researchers about the use of the terms Asperger's syndrome or Asperger's disorder, and there are questions about the empirical validation of the DSM-IV and ICD-10 criteria.[5]

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