Celebrating our beautiful son, Anthony

By Joanne Kehoe

I have four children. Anthony, my oldest, has autism.

When Anthony was a baby, I used to think about milestones and when he would reach them.  He sat up really early. He started rolling over and crawling early and got right up and started walking and running right on time.  His teeth came in when they were supposed to, much to my chagrin as a nursing mother.  He ate food from a spoon at six months.

I don’t know when I thought it strange that he wasn’t talking. I mean, he DID talk — a little.  He could count pretty high with me signing the numbers. He could say colors that I would sign. I have a video of him saying, “E, I, E, I … ho,” while playing with a tractor that played the Old McDonald song.

At 18 months, I took him to the pediatrician for his well-child checkup and explained that he wasn’t talking and that other kids in playgroups who were his age were flying by him. The doctor said to me, “Look how smart he is. Keep reading to him and keep talking to him.” So, I did.  I read a LOT. I talked to him a LOT.  I remember walking with Anthony around the block by our house after it snowed, and I thought to myself that if I fell and bonked my head, I would be in trouble because Anthony isn’t going to call for help.  He never called, “Mommy!” from his room. That was one thing I thought was strange.

Finally, we started Anthony in First Steps, the early intervention program. Three therapists came one morning to evaluate him. That was the first time I looked at Anthony as a stranger might see him and it didn’t look good!  They said he should have developmental, occupational and speech therapy.  They were throwing the book at him.  At the end of his involvement with First Steps, and before he moved on to therapy at the public school, he was diagnosed with autism.  By then, we knew it was coming, but it still sort of stung when the psychiatrist asked, “Has anyone ever mentioned autism to you?”

That was almost six years ago, and we have undergone a lot of attitude adjustments since then.  Anthony has had to get used to three little sisters, one louder than the next!  We have had to adjust our attitudes and our expectations. We still celebrate milestones with Anthony – so many I couldn’t even begin to count. They are just different than the milestones that I thought we’d be celebrating, and, Lord knows, they are sometimes later than I thought they’d be reached!  But he is so smart, and so wonderful, and we all love him so much – and I don’t mean just his family, but all his therapists and everyone who comes in contact with him. And those milestones mean just as much and probably more than the milestones that I thought he’d reach all those years ago when I was narrating my life and waiting for that first word.

Joanne Kehoe is a mom of four, including Anthony, a learner at Little Star.


Our son found a successful path at Little Star

By Julie Kilpatrick

When my precious little Henry was diagnosed on the autism spectrum just before his third birthday, I was somewhat relieved. Henry had been receiving speech therapy since he was 18 months old. He was making some strides, but still wasn’t where he needed to be at his age. Henry also seemed to be withdrawing from his peers in preschool and, being my first child, I figured he was just shy or would grow out of it.

My husband and I didn’t even want to entertain the idea of autism, but with the thoughtful counsel of his speech language pathologist and a few visits to various pediatric specialists, we received our diagnosis. While it was devastating at first, I finally felt an odd sense of relief because I could begin narrowing in on an action plan.

I found out about Little Star Center from a brochure at The Arc of Indiana.  I also met some of the center’s therapists at the Answers for Autism walk in September 2011. That following week, I called Mary Rosswurm and scheduled an appointment. Our prayers were answered when we met with Mary and toured Little Star. There were lots of happy little ones running around, jumping, verbalizing and even flapping next to their caring therapists. While I didn’t relish the thought of enrolling my precious child in a different childcare setting, I knew immediately that Little Star was the best place for Henry and the staff was more than capable of helping him to excel.

Henry thrived at Little Star, achieving milestone after milestone. His team of therapists provided the support, programming and constant documentation and communication to get Henry where he is today. My husband and I quickly felt comfortable and were respected as part of “Team Henry.”

While Henry has graduated and moved on from Little Star, he often talks about his friends and therapists at the center. We feel very fortunate to have had access to such a wonderful and well-respected facility to help both our little boy and our family thrive. Our sense of relief is ever present as we continue to celebrate each milestone, both great and small, that may not have been possible without Little Star.

Julie Kilpatrick is a mom to three children, including Henry, 5, who transitioned from Little Star Center and now attends a preschool in Carmel.


My son and his best friend Lulu


By Mary Rosswurm, executive director Little Star Center

We have always had dogs and have six currently. When our son Brad was born, we had a small terrier mix mutt named Barney. Growing up, Brad was never afraid of the dogs, but not very engaged with them, either.

This changed in 2008, when Lulu, our yorkie poo, figured out how to get up onto Brad’s very high bed by using an ottoman as a step. After this, something clicked and Brad became a full-on dog lover. He and Lulu are inseparable and he often refers to her as his “best friend”. Brad has said that he will be very sad when Lulu “passes” as she is his “beloved doggy friend.” Brad has become much more aware of our dogs and will get them fresh water, which includes ice cubes, refill their food bowl when empty and share his own food with them. We can often hear him talking to Lulu when he is in his bedroom. They have become wonderful friends and I am so happy that he has been able to make that connection with her.

A few years back, Brad asked if we could go see the movie, Marley and Me. In general, he only likes animated movies or live action comedies. I think he thought the movie was going to be more of a comedy because Owen Wilson was starring in it. At the end of the movie, the dog, Marley, grows old and eventually dies. I had that painful lump in my throat and my eyes were burning as I tried to hold back the tears. I could hear others in the theater sniffling and noses being blown. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept looking to see if Brad was having any type of visceral reaction to the movie, to which it seemed he was not. Once the movie was over, I could see that he was not experiencing any of the emotional reactions that I and so many others were experiencing.

As we walked to the car after the movie, I asked him, “Didn’t you think the movie was sad?” He replied, “Yeah.” I asked, “Didn’t it want to make you cry?” He simply said, “No, it’s not my dog.”

As often happens during everyday life with Brad, I am often puzzled and surprised at how he looks at the world differently than most do. Not wrong, just different.

Mary is executive director at Little Star Center. Her son, Brad, has autism. 

Understanding Autism

Little Star Center is featured on the cover of the May 8, 2012 issue of the Current in Carmel newspaper!  The cover story, “Understanding Autism,” shares some things ”those in the know want the rest of us to know about the disorder.”  The article highlights experiences by a parent of a child with the disorder and a school teacher, noting that people who don’t understand autistic behavior think the parent allows “bad behavior” in the child.

The parent said people need to understand that the child doesn’t “get” the world and requires certain guidance in how to deal with situations and learn how to gain control over his/her response to frustration.  The teacher, Jane Webb, indicated that there are not a lot of books designed to help create an understanding of autism so she wrote, “My Brother is Artistic,” which is illustrated by a young man with autism, Griffin Nickels.

Little Star is identified as a resource for parents. Executive Director Mary Rosswurm said, ”A lot of people talk about people with autism as patients.  I don’t think our kids are sick. There’s nothing about them that’s not whole.”  She encouraged parents not to wait if they think something is not right as early diagnosis and intervention is critical.   Mary observed that finding the right place for children is one of the most important decisions parents make and can go a long way toward lightening their load.  “My goal at the end of the day is to be the soft place for parents to fall,” Rosswurm said.  “They have so many battles…I want this to be the easy part of their day.”


LSC Discusses Swim Safety for Children on the Spectrum on Indy Style – WISHTV 8


Swim season is about to start and drowning is the leading cause of death for children and young adults with autism, due to pool incidents or wandering-related episodes, according to statistics.

Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center in Carmel, discusses safety tips, such as life vests, arm bands and ankle monitors.

Mary can also talks the importance of swim lessons and how parents can be vigilant about protecting their child with autism this summer.

Tips for an Easy Flight Alone for Individuals on the Spectrum (A Mother’s Point of View)

My son, Brad, travels several times a year to Boston to visit his father and has been doing this for three years now. Although Brad is an adult with autism, I feel comfortable allowing him to fly by himself, but more importantly, Brad feels OK with traveling unaccompanied. I wanted to share some “tips” that I have learned that others may find useful as well.

  • The first is, of course, that the flight must be a non-stop. I know that it is often difficult to find non-stop flights these days, but I would not feel comfortable having Brad try to navigate an airport by himself. Perhaps someday, though.
  • Next, I always go to the counter (not the gate) at the departure airport. I simply tell the airline employee that my child has a disability and that I will need to accompany him through security. At this point you will need to show your ID and you will be given a pass that allows you to pass through security with the other ticketed passengers.
  • Once through the security line, but before passing through the metal detector, I make sure to tell Brad what he needs to do. By this time, the security agents are pretty aware that I am with a person that requires extra time. Once, Brad was asked to step into the “sniffing chamber” – I simply told Brad what to do and let the agent know that he was an adult with autism.
  • The next crucial step is at the gate. I always take Brad’s ticket and speak with the gate agent. I let him/her know that my son is flying alone and has autism. I have never had anything but people try to be helpful. I request that the gate agent let the flight attendant’s know about my son’s special needs. They will put a note into the computer which the flight attendant’s can see when they print out their passenger list. One time Brad was upgraded to first class so he would have more room! In general, though, the gate agent will try to seat him in a row by himself. He has always been offered priority seating, so he can have more time to get settled in. On several occasions, the gate agent has escorted him down the jet way herself.
  • I always make sure that Brad has snacks and something to keep him busy, such as a video game. He knows to ask the flight attendant if he needs anything.

Brad’s dad is able to meet Brad at the arrival gate by simply going to the airline counter and requesting a pass through security as he is meeting his child with a disability.

I really have found that the airline personnel go above and beyond to try to be helpful! Of course, I understand that Brad is higher functioning and that many people with autism would not be able to fly unaccompanied, but I hope perhaps I was able to pass on a thing or two that you didn’t know!

Mary Rosswurm

Executive Director of Little Star Center and parent of a young adult with autism

Little Star Center Provides First Responder Training

Indiana requires law enforcement and other “first responders” to complete one hour of autism-specific education each year. While this amount of time is clearly not adequate, it does at least offer some information to officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and firemen about persons with autism.

The Purdue University Police Department recently contacted Mary Rosswurm, Little Star’s Executive Director, and inquired if Little Star (LSC) could provide their department with a training on autism. As Mary has an adult son with autism, as well as serves on the Indiana Commission on Autism, which helped enact the First Responder Training Act, she was very eager to help. The training occurred in West Lafayette and was divided into two sessions of 16 officers each.  Police Sergeant Keene Red Elk specifically requested training by LSC, because the video recorded training they received the year prior was not interactive and did not address the many questions that the officers had about autism.

The instruction focused on identifying individuals with autism and general tips and strategies on how to assist them during emergencies and crisis situations. Teaching law enforcement to identify individuals with autism is difficult, as they have limited time to interact with the person and must assess the situation quickly. The training focused on the social, communication, behavioral and sensory issues commonly seen in people with autism. Within each of the topic  areas, they discussed possible situations requiring interaction with law enforcement.  The group also discussed supports and strategies that could be used to assist officers in dealing with the challenges that are typical to persons affect by autism.

The police officers had many questions about communicating with non-verbal individuals with autism. Tim Courtney, LSC Research & Training Director, conducted the program and  demonstrated the Proloquo2go, which is an iPad communication application that is becoming increasingly popular among non-verbal persons with autism. Several of the learners at Little Star currently use these devices. Department personnel discussed possibly purchasing an iPad with Proloquo2go to facilitate communication with individuals with autism that are non-vocal.  Tim discussed the limitations and extensive training needs for individuals to communicate with assistive devices and noted the willingness and commitment of the Purdue University Police Department.

“I presented examples of tragic situations in which interactions with police officers resulted in fatalities or injury,” said Tim. “I reviewed the positional asphyxia risks of physical management with individuals with autism. Individuals with autism can have underdeveloped trunk muscles and can suffocate when pressure is applied to their chest.  I was surprised some of the officers were not aware of the positional asphyxia risk.”

One interesting area specific to the Purdue Police Department was addressing behavior exhibited by individuals with autism attending the University. The officers presented examples of behavior, based upon the presentation they now thought may have been exhibited by an individual with autism. The group brainstormed possible ways to deal with these situations should they arise again. This led to a discussion on how to best work with parents of newly enrolled students with autism. The police officers felt having the parent or caregiver visit the police station and provide essential information about their student would be a good practice. The information could be plugged into the 911 database and easily accessed if needed.

“It was a pleasure to spend time with these officers,” said Tim. “I look forward to working with them to help ensure that Purdue University is a safe and enjoyable environment for all its student body.”

After the Purdue training, Tim was invited to train the Tippecanoe County Crisis Intervention Team.  Purdue University law enforcement is one of four area police departments participating in the Tippecanoe County Crisis Intervention Team.  The Crisis Intervention Team is a community partnership of law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, mental health consumers and their family members.  Other area police departments include Lafayette, West Lafayette, and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department.  Training consists of a full 40 hours and covers mental illnesses, development disorders and treatments, psychotropic medications, methods of approaching a crisis situation, suicide prevention, techniques for de-escalating the crisis and available community resources.  The Crisis Intervention Team model was developed in Memphis, TN in 1988 following the tragic death of a person with mental illness in crisis.  The model has since been adopted by communities across the U.S.


About Tim:

Tim graduated with a Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in 2006 and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst that same year. He has worked as a behavior analyst since 2003 with different organizations across the United States. In addition to his work as a behavior analyst, Tim has been a co-instructor in the ABA department of FIT since 2007. His research interests includes functional assessment, medical and dental avoidance and escape behavior, verbal behavior, and dissemination of the science of Applied Behavior Analysis. Tim is currently working on his Ph.D. in Special Education at Purdue University.

Life Lessons – What we here at Little Star have learned from the kids we work with

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, the staff at Little Star Center would like to take this opportunity to thank the many children and young adults that we have had the privilege to work with over the years. We would like to share a few things that we have learned from our time together:

  • Celebrate the little things
  • A little pee never hurt anybody
  • Children with autism work harder each day than most adults
  • We call them “special interests” not obsessions
  • Everybody is smart in their own way
  • Don’t always be in such a hurry
  • Bad times may be bad, but they make the good times even better
  • He’s just saying what everybody else is thinking
  • One person’s gross is another person’s amazing
  • The most ordinary, everyday objects can still be extraordinary
  • Potential cannot be predicted
  • Success should be measured in small steps

What have you learned from children on the spectrum? Feel free to add your “life lessons” in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

autism indiana

Some Great Reading Material When the Weather has you Stuck Inside – The Latest Autism Topics and Research: ASAT Newsletter Winter 2011

Hi Everyone,

Hope you are warm and your schedule is back to normal after all the crazy weather last week.  Little Star Center was closed three days due to ice and snow, but we are back and ready to roll.

This morning, when I sat down at my desk, I was excited to see I had the latest edition of the ASAT Newsletter in Inbox.  My favorite part is Media Watch – a section where Association for Science in Treatment of Autism (ASAT) responds to both accurate and inaccurate portrayals of autism intervention in the media.

This quarter, there are also three research article summaries – examining hyberbaric oxygen therapy, the use of weighted vests and a manualized DIR parent training approach to treatment.

Also, check out page six for our latest ad!

Happy reading and enjoy the sunshine today!