Millionaire mom who killed autistic son gets 18 years in jail

The unrepentant pharmaceutical millionaire who force-fed her autistic son a fatal dose of prescription drugs insisted she did it for his own good Thursday in Manhattan court just before a judge sentenced her to 18 years in prison.

“I loved Jude more than anything in this world and I believed that he would live and die in unbelievable agony, and there’s no sadder person in this world than me over Jude’s death,” a sobbing Gigi Jordan, 54, whined to Justice Charles Solomon. “I can’t touch and smell his hair or see him smile. My only way of surviving is the hope that I can do good for other children that suffered Jude’s pain.”

Jordan claimed once again – as she had at trial – that she murdered her son February 5 of 2010 at the luxury Peninsula hotel because she feared that her ex-husband Raymond Mirra would kill her.

And then her son Jude Mirra would be condemned to a life of sexual abuse at the hands of his biological father Emil Tzekov.

Jordan, wearing a beige pantsuit and sitting at the defense table beside her four lawyers, read a passage from the Bible about God affording King Solomon wisdom and compassion.

“I pray that like your namesake, you will find compassion,” she said without uttering a word of apology or contrition.

During the bizarre six-week trial, Jordan’s defense argued that she committed the horrific crime in a state of extreme emotional disturbance out of fear of her ex-husbands. The jury agreed finding her guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Had the panel convicted her of murder, she would have faced 25-to-life.

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Jude MirraPhoto: Gregory P. Mango.

The judge blasted Jordan for her lack of compunction, challenged her honesty and said that most of her claims had “no credible evidence.”

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Gigi Jordan shares a tender moment with Jude Mirra.

“You’d think the defendant would say, ‘What a terrible thing I did! How could I kill my own son? How could I do that to my own flesh and blood?’ Solomon said. “But she never said I’m sorry.”

He continued to lambast her, “The defendant attempted to portray this as a tragedy — there are tragedy’s here: first and foremost, is Jude Mirra, a smiling, happy 8-year-old boy that was killed by his mother. All the money and all her resources — she decided to kill him.”

The judge told Jordan, who is worth an estimated $50 million, that he did not believe Jude had been abused – although he conceded she might have believed it to be true. And he challenged her claim that after she murdered her son, she tried to kill herself with a deadly concoction of pills and vodka.

Prosecutor Matthew Bogdanos asked Solomon to give little Jude justice by sentencing his mother to the maximum.

“As your honor well knows the true worth of any society is not by how it cares for its wealthy, its best and brightest, the real value of a society is how it protects its weakest, its most vulnerable,” he said. “Few if any, your honor, have come across this courtroom who have been as dependent, as vulnerable as worthy of our protection as Jude Mirra and we failed him…I’m asking this court to take care of him in death like we didn’t in life.”

Jordan’s defense lawyers blasted the prosecution’s request as “punitive” and “vindictive” and condemned the hefty sentence.

We are extremely disappointed,” said defense lawyer Norman Siegel. “She’s (Jordan) extremely disappointed.” He said that Jordan plans to appeal.

The Manhattan District Attorney applauded the lengthy prison term.

“No one – and particularly no child – deserves the type of death that Jude Mirra suffered at the hands of his mother,” said District Attorney Cy Vance. “The poisoning and killing of an 8-year-old boy is a premeditated act of child abuse. After five years, justice has finally been served with today’s sentence of 18 years in state prison.”

HOW COULD SHE? Mum forced her son to pretend he had AUTISM SPECTRUM for ten years in £375k benefits scam

Web of sick lies meant children even had SURGERY they didn’t need

A SICK mum is facing jail after getting her son to pretend he had AUTISM Spectrum, and tricking doctors into carrying out unnecessary medical procedures on her young kids so she could claim benefits.

The 48-year old also falsely claimed more than £375,000 in disability benefits during the decade-long case of Munchausen by proxy – which sees parents or carers fabricate or exaggerate medical conditions.

A mum has been found guilty of faking that her children had severe medical conditions in order to claim almost £400k in benefits

A mum has been found guilty at Croydon Crown Court of faking that her children had severe medical conditions in order to claim almost £400k in benefits

She was found guilty of fraud and child cruelty at Croydon Crown Court on Monday.

The jury heard that over the course of at least ten years, the mother took her young son and daughter to various doctors, health and education professionals.

She maintained that they suffered from serious health problems and a series of symptoms, which ranged from severe asthma, autism Spectrum, urology problems and gastric complications.

As a result her healthy children underwent invasive medical treatment, including SURGERY to have gastronomy tubes fitted to their stomachs, enabling them to be fed through a tube – despite the fact that both children were perfectly able to eat normally.

Steroids were also given to her son despite him not displaying the signs of “severe” asthma as the woman insisted and he did not have the chronic wheezing and breathlessness she reported to doctors when he was at school.

The vile woman also encouraged her son to pretend he had symptoms of autism Spectrum and stopped the child’s nursery from toilet training him.

But despite her description of behaviours he displayed at home, none of the traits were witnessed at school.

As a result of the fabricated illnesses she received £87,500 in Disability Living Allowance, between October 2003 and February 2014.

Despite living with her partner, who was earning up to £38,000 a year, she also falsely claimed Income Support benefit.

As a result she falsely claimed benefits of more than £375,000.

Detectives went to her home in May 2013 and arrested the woman and her partner for child cruelty and neglect.

During a search of the property, police discovered a large amount of unused prescribed medication including asthma drugs, nappies and gastro milk and feeding equipment – worth a whopping £146,000 to the taxpayer-funded NHS.

She was found guilty of four counts of cruelty to a person under 16, two counts of obtaining money transfer by deception, seven counts of making a false representation and two counts of fraud by false representation.

The conviction follows a three-year investigation by detectives from the Met’s Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command.

Investigating officer, Detective Sergeant Stuart Parsons, said: “This truly was a complex investigation, where the evidence we painstaking gathered has resulted in the jury convicting a woman who committed cruelty against her own children for financial gain.

“The investigation was meticulous and detailed, and in order to prove the offences we looked at all aspects of the family, their lifestyle and their financial, medical and education history.

She will be sentenced for her crimes next month

She will be sentenced for her crimes next month

“The level of detail required would not have been possible if it were not for the multi-agency work that took place between the police and other partner agencies such as social services, the local education authority, the Department for Work and Pensions and a number of healthcare providers including local care at home teams.

“One hundred and fourteen witnesses provided evidence for the prosecution, including a number of experts who interpreted complex medical and psychological information for the court to consider.

“It is staggering to think that the mother’s wilful actions resulted in the children undergoing unnecessary surgical and medical interventions.

“She lied at every opportunity, presenting herself as a lone parent coping with ill and vulnerable children.

“The reality was that she resided with her partner and fabricated her children’s conditions for personal financial gain.

“I am pleased she has been convicted today and now faces a considerable term of imprisonment.”

The woman will be sentenced on August 15 at the same court.

Boy with autism spectrum died after being bound to chair and showered in cold water

A boy with autism spectrum, who was often tied to a chair and expected to sleep upright, died after he was given a cold shower and allegedly put in very cold temperatures in a garden shed.

The boy’s death on august 1, 2016, came after his parents turned to using ties and packing tape to restrain the boy as they “were not coping” with his behaviour, a court has heard.

The 11-year-old’s mother is on trial in the Sydney District Court for the manslaughter of her son.

The garden shed where the boy was held.
The garden shed where the boy was held. Photo: NSW Police

The court heard that on the night, the boy, dressed in tracksuit pants, a T-shirt and jumper, was bound to a chair and placed in the shed of the family’s home in central west NSW.

His mother and stepfather had resorted to restraining him in response to his difficulties, which included throwing himself around, not sleeping and soiling himself, Crown prosecutor Peter McGrath, SC, said.

His legs and arms would be taped and “a belt or ratchet type tie” tied around his waist to a chair while his feet, which he had a problem of rubbing together, were sometimes bound to another chair.

There was evidence the boy, whose autism severely compromised his ability to express himself, struggled against the binds and they had to be tightened, Mr McGrath said.

A photograph from the interior of the shed where a young boy was tied to a chair in 2011.
A photograph from the interior of the shed where a young boy was tied to a chair in 2011. Photo: Supplied

On the night of his death, the boy was unsettled, the court heard.

His stepfather picked him up, while still bound in the chair, carried him to the bathroom and put him under a cold shower.

Ratchet ties found inside the shed where the boy was tied up.
Ratchet ties found inside the shed where the boy was tied up. Photo: NSW Police autism spectrum

The mother told police, in an interview played to the court on Wednesday, that the cold shower had been used in the past to settle the boy down or “snap him out of it”.

The mother, who was in bed on the night, later heard her husband call out “come quick”.

Items inside the shed.
Items inside the shed. Photo: NSW Police autism spectrum

She found him in the shed trying to take the restraints off her son, who was limp and had his tongue hanging out.

The Crown alleges the boy being taken into a cold environment, with wet clothes on his skin and unable to get dry contributed to his hypothermic condition.

He was pronounced dead in the early hours on august 1, 2016. autism spectrum

The reading from the nearest weather station – about 20 kilometres away – showed the temperature dropped to about five degrees that night, Mr McGrath told the trial. autism spectrum

“On the Crown case, it was a very cold night,” he said.

Consistent with his autistic condition, the boy was thin, weighed 24 kilograms, and had very little ability to retain heat, Mr McGrath said.

“He couldn’t warm himself,” he said.

“He couldn’t move to put any further clothing on. autism spectrum

“He was at the will and mercy of his mother and her husband, who was also in a position of parental responsibility to the boy.”

The Crown alleges the mother was jointly responsible for placing the boy in the shower as she was aware of it as a method that has been used before.

However, the mother’s barrister Ertunc Ozen said on that night, the mother was in bed as she was going to see a relative the next day and her husband was charged with looking after the boy.

“[She] told police she assumed he would be providing whatever care he needed,” Mr Ozen told the court.

At some point in the evening, the woman told police, her husband came into the room where she was sleeping to tell her that he had wet the child, he said. autism spectrum

“So the defence case is that the first [she] is aware of this form of punishment being used in these circumstances is after it occurred,” Mr Ozen said.

The court heard the boy started presenting difficulties for his mother and her husband in 2016.

The mother and stepfather at night started placing him in a sleeping bag with his arms restrained in plastic pipes so he couldn’t hurt himself.

It was expected the boy sleep upright in a chair, Mr McGrath said .autism spectrum

The mother had tried to move him around different rooms in the house and from “time to time” he was housed in the shed at night.

He would be tied to a garden chair and a baby monitor was attached to the shed with another in the house.

The mother told police in a recorded interview she had been trying to find a solution to the problem.

“I am always trying to do the right thing,” she told police in 2016 .autism spectrum

“We have had to restrain him time and time again with tape so he doesn’t get up and hurt himself. We are trying to prevent him from hurting himself.”

The mother told police the shed was “quite warm”.

However, the Crown submitted the structure had no insulation and although there was a heater, it wasn’t connected.

Philly Mom Gets Nasty Anonymous Letter About Her Son With Autism

Bonnie Moran has been through it. The 32-year-old Mayfair mom suffers from spina bifida, and two of her three sons are autistic. Still, she says that most of the time, she’s able to hold her head high and enjoy life. But last week was a bit rougher than normal.

Moran says that when she went downstairs to get the mail the other day, among the bills and junk was a handwritten note about her three-year-old son Ryan, who has been diagnosed with autism, pica and ADHD, among other things.

Here is how the letter reads (we didn’t copy edit it):

To the parent of the small child at this house,

The weather is getting nicer and like normal people I open my windows for fresh air. NOT to hear some BRAT screaming his head off as he flaps his hands like a bird. I don’t care if its the way you raised him or if he is retarded. But the screaming and carring on needs to stop. No one wants to hear him act like a wild animal it’s utterly nerve wracking, not to mention its scaring my Normal children. By you just standing there talking to him don’t do anything. Besides you look like a moron as he walks all over you. Give him some old fashioned discipline a few times and he will behave. If that child needs fresh air … take him to the park not in out back or out front where other people are coming home from work, have a day off, or just relaxing. No one needs to hear that high pitched voice for hours. Do something about that Child!

One of your neighbors

“I was so angry,” says Moran, a graduate of Northeast High School. “I was all red. And then I just sat down and cried for hours. How can somebody be that mean?”

In the days that preceded her receipt of the anonymous letter, the weather had been warm, so Ryan had been playing outside. His father had him in the backyard playing soccer one day, and Ryan was on the sliding board out front the next.

“He was so excited,” says the mom. “And when he gets excited, he flaps his hands together real fast and squeals. It can be pretty high-pitched some times. You know how it is. Kids can be noisy.”

Moran is used to dealing with dirty looks and comments. Ryan gets frustrated very easily, in part because he has a difficult time communicating what he wants, what he needs, or how he is feeling, and he acts out. He was completely non-verbal until just before he turned three. Moran says he was once so upset on a crowded SEPTA bus — some children with the diagnosis cannot tolerate crowds — that the driver insisted she take him off the bus.

IMPORTANT NOTEThis article frequently gets stolen by copy-paste websites, who try tricking you into thinking they wrote it. This was written by Chris Bonnello from Health Feeds, and if you’re reading this anywhere other than , you’ve been tricked by an article thief who hasn’t even bothered to read enough of it to see this message!

“The stares really eat me up,” she says. “He can see you. He can hear your comments. He’s not deaf. He knows what you’re saying. He knows you are pointing at him. That’s not cool. He’s not stupid. He’s a little human.”

The looks and snide remarks are one thing. But the letter shocked her.

“My family has been in this home since it was built in the ’30s,” Moran explains. “We were the first ones on the block. We know everybody. When there’s a problem, we go to each other and work it out. So this, I just don’t understand it.”

But she was equally shocked by the response she received after posting a photo of the letter on the community Facebook group Mayfair Uncensored.

“I’ve got so many playdates lined up for him now,” she says, choking up a bit. “I was approached by parents in the area who have children with disabilities, and they all understand. I used to feel so alone before this. It’s great to know you’re not the only one out there. Turns out that people on my block are going through similar things.”

As for the writer of the anonymous letter, Moran is not ready to forgive and forget just yet.

“If I knew who it was, I’d find a few choice words,” she says. “I don’t know. Try to educate yourself before you judge somebody. You never know what somebody is going through. He’s not a brat. … He’s just like anyone else, but he has issues. I’d invite them to come and meet him and spend time with him and see what a caring, loving, beautiful child he can be.”


Giving adults with autism the skills to build independent lives

Before Josh, 36, arrived at First Place Transition Academy, he had never taken public transportation on his own, much less held down a paying job. But a new pilot program is empowering adults with autism to overcome hurdles to independence. Special correspondent John Donvan, co-author with Caren Zucker of “In a Different Key: The Story of Autism,” reports from Phoenix.

Texas denies Medicaid coverage for autism therapy for kids

Like many parents of children with autism, Braulio De La Cruz sought an expensive therapy called applied behavioral analysis — or ABA – when his son Noah Leonardo was diagnosed last year.

Noah, now 3 years old, qualifies for Medicaid coverage because he had been approved for Social Security’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, and his neurologist sent paperwork to get the state to cover the therapy. But Medicaid officials rejected the request. Braulio De La Cruz appealed the decision, but that effort hit a major roadblock last fall when the state suddenly said the Medicaid program would not cover behavioral therapy.

Now De La Cruz and other parents — who say their children with autism are legally entitled to such treatment — are butting heads with Texas officials. And without Medicaid coverage, they must either forgo the therapy or find a way to pay for individual insurance plans that help pick up the costs.

De La Cruz has turned to an individual Humana plan to cover his son’s therapy. But it costs him $198 a month, a small fortune when he is watching expenses closely while preparing to go back to school to study nursing. And the cost goes beyond just the premium.

“The most difficult part is the deductible,” he said. “It’s $6,500 – it’s pretty outrageous that you have to pay that before anything is covered.”

In addition, the effects of the Texas rejection of ABA coverage were compounded for many families by a controversial state decision to cut back on Medicaid payments for other home-based therapy services for children, including many that youngsters with autism might use.

Representatives for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission declined to comment for this story, except to say that Texas, like other states, is reviewing guidance from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) on this issue. Texas Sens. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, chair of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee;Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, vice chair of that committee; and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, also declined to comment.

Dan Unumb, executive director of the Legal Resource Center at Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group for families, said if federal officials don’t weigh in, Texas families may have to turn to litigation to convince the state not to resist covering behavioral analysis. De La Cruz says he is considering a suit if the state doesn’t change it course.

“I don’t know if they’ll continue to draw a line in the sand, and I don’t know what steps CMS may be taking,” Unumb says. “My sense is that there’s many layers to things in Texas.”

A Federal Directive

In 2014, CMS advised states that they must cover medically necessary care for Medicaid-eligible children with autism up to age 21. Advocates say that includes therapies a doctor deems necessary for a child, including behavioral analysis, which uses positive reinforcement to encourage behavioral modification and can run from $60 to $150 an hour.

Some states – California, Virginia and Maine, for example – needed very little prodding to put policies in place. Others, including Ohio and Florida, did so only after being hit with court suits.

But Texas responded slowly. One of the advocates at the center of the debate is Shylo Bundy. When her daughter, who also qualified for Medicaid through the SSI program, was diagnosed with autism at 15 months of age, the toddler’s doctor prescribed 30 to 40 hours a week of behavioral therapy. Medicaid officials denied the coverage. Bundy, an attorney, immediately put her law skills to work, spending months appealing, making phone calls and contacting legislators until she eventually got the state to reverse the decision. Bundy and her husband have traded off not working so that someone can be home to take care of their daughter.

After her success, Bundy began a pro bono effort to help a handful of other families get Medicaid coverage, too.

In 2015, she and others were having regular meetings with legislators and Texas Health and Human Services officials. Bundy said she thought state officials were gearing up to add behavioral therapy to standard Medicaid coverage for children with autism, which generally includes occupational, speech and physical therapy.

But that stopped after the Legislature last year did not pass a bill to license behavioral therapists. Legislators opposed licensure for several professions, saying it was overregulation. Shortly afterward, the state stopped covering autism behavioral therapy.

“The state had said what would make them feel better about Medicaid covering ABA was if [therapists] were licensed,” Bundy says. “It’s not required under Medicaid law, and many other states provide ABA without licensure. But we were working on getting a licensure bill passed. When it didn’t pass, the state cut all those people off [from ABA].”

Bundy says that the state had approved only 10 children for the therapy – including her daughter — and all but two were left without the therapy. State officials have not made clear why coverage continues for those two.

Not ‘A Defined Benefit’

Peter Hofer, senior litigation attorney for Disability Rights Texas, is representing De La Cruz and some families who lost coverage. One of them was left with $30,000 in bills when behavioral therapy that had been approved for Medicaid coverage was discontinued for their 6-year-old son. Medicaid refused to pay for therapy he had already received, Hofer said.

After contacting state officials last September, Hofer received a reply two months later from Gary Jessee, the associate commissioner for Texas Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, another federal-state program that provides coverage to kids from lower-income families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. The letter said the state does not have to cover behavioral therapy because federal officials listed it as only one of several treatments and did not mandate that behavioral analysis be covered.

“In response to your contention that the July 2014 CMS guidance requires that [Texas] provide ABA to your client, Texas Medicaid respectfully must disagree with your conclusion,” Jessee wrote. “Texas Medicaid currently provides medically necessary services to children with autism spectrum disorders, such as physical, occupational, and speech therapy and nutrition counseling. … ABA is not currently a defined benefit in the Texas Medicaid program.”

In early 2016, Hofer sent a complaint against the state of Texas and a request for assistance and intervention to CMS.

Bob Moos, a public affairs specialist for CMS, said that federal officials are discussing the behavioral therapy issue with Texas officials, but he declined to give any details.

Expensive But Effective

Abbi Coursolle, an attorney with the National Health Law Program, a national advocacy group, said Medicaid must cover behavioral therapy if that is prescribed by a child’s doctor. Physical, occupational, speech, and nutrition therapies are not a replacement for behavioral therapy, she adds.

“A few other states have tried making that argument and have not succeeded,” Coursolle said of Jessee’s assertion.

“Texas is beginning to look like an outlier here,” she said. “Over half of the other states have moved to do something. As far as I’m aware, Texas is the only state digging in its heels and saying they won’t do it at all.”

Some of the issues have been litigated. Even before the 2014 CMS directive, at least two federal courts have ruled in favor of children seeking behavioral analysis therapy services from Ohio and Florida.

Unumb said behavioral analysis is a very resource-intensive therapy, but that it can make a huge difference in children’s lives.

“ABA is based on scientific research,” Unumb says. “For many kids it takes upwards of 30 hours a week of intensive therapy to achieve desired results. That sounds like a lot, but when you’re looking at a lifetime of consequence, and at the dramatic difference it can make, it makes sense to comply with the law.”

Bundy can attest to that dramatic difference. She said her daughter’s speech was at the level of an infant when she began behavioral therapy at 18 months old. After six months of that therapy, her speech had reached age level, and Bundy was told that she should be able to start school in a regular classroom without needing long-term support.

“She is proof that early and intensive ABA works,” Bundy said.

Mom of Girl with Autism Opens Up About the Act of Kindness She’ll Never Forget

Kindness goes a long way, regardless of who you are. When you’re a kid, though, it is especially important to be both on the receiving and giving end of it, because it’s a lesson in empathy. Stephanie Skaggs, a mom of six and Zumba instructor, definitely believes in the gift of kindness tenfold.

Her daughter Baylee, now 5, has autism. She recently took Baylee to Kentucky Kingdom, an outdoor amusement and water park, last month. Because it’s a particularly loud and packed place, it was initially hard for Baylee to process everything going on around her. Skaggs explained to TODAY:

“Standing in line is so hard for her, because she doesn’t understand why she can’t just go around. So it’s a process and we really had to establish the routine.”

Sadly, the process was twice broken when another kid cut in front of the line–which of course put Skaggs on edge, because she didn’t know how Baylee would react to these rule-breakers. However, something else unexpected happened. Each time, another child in line who was ahead of Baylee would offer Baylee their spot. It happened twice–Skaggs later realized these extra kind children, a boy and a girl, were siblings:

“I was wondering if I had said something, or if it was the way I was coaching her, and they had somehow picked up that she had special circumstances. I just thought it was so sweet that two kids could be so selfless and intuitive. Because Baylee doesn’t have a sign or anything that says, ‘I have autism!’”

Skaggs later thanked the children and their mom. She also went home and write a Facebook post as a letter to the mom at the water park, because she was so moved. Not surprisingly, the post went viral–making its way to the mom, Laura Jones, who also lives in Louisville:

Jones, who has three children herself, told TODAY how surprised she was that her kids made such an impression on Skaggs:

“I tried to explain it to them. You never know who you’re going to touch…I think people should just be nice to each other.”

What’s even more beautiful is the fact that the moms are now friends–and they even went to the water park today with their kids, together.

11 Expert-Recommended Autism Apps for Kids

1. First-Then Visual Schedule

This app provides visual schedules to help with transitions and decrease anxiety. “First-then support can offer children of most intellectual and language abilities to understand what is expected of them, and what will come next, or what the reward will be,” explains Aguayo.

Cost: $9.99, available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android.

2. iPrompts

“iPrompts is a highly recommended app for supporting organizational skills, setting expectations for performance, and setting up subtle supports and reminders,” says Aguayo. Users can create and modify visual schedules, as well as use a countdown timer with picture supports to indicate how much longer a task or activity will last.

Cost: $49.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

3. Autism Track

This app is brought to you by the creators of iPrompts and is designed for parents of children with ASD to help them track data. “This customizable data tracking tool allows parents to easily track behaviors, interventions and symptoms in one place,” says Aguayo. “Behaviors and symptoms can be rated, as well as particular medications and their doses, diet changes and therapies. Parents can also review trends in their child’s data and share these data with school and medical providers to inform treatment planning. This app is especially helpful for children with challenging behaviors, psychiatric conditions or both.”

Cost: Free to $9.99, depending on the version, available for iPhone and iPad.

4. Learn with Rufus

“This app uses a child-friendly character to teach emotion words, facial expressions associated with emotions, and to identify emotions in others,” Aguayo says, and it may also help with the development of language, communication, and social skills.

Cost: $4.99, available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

5. E-Mintza

This customizable, bilingual app is designed for augmentative communication using a family’s own pictures. Aguayo says it’s free, but time-consuming to set up and customize.

Cost: Free, available for Android.

6. Stories2Learn

“S2L offers parents and educators the ability to create personalized stories using photos, text, and audio messages,” explains Aucoin. “These stories can be used to promote an individual’s literacy, leisure, as well as social skills.” The app supports reciprocal play, non-verbal communication, playground and school rules, turn taking, and more.

Cost: $13.99, available for iPhone and iPad.

7. Model Me Going Places 2

“[This] is a great visual teaching tool for helping your child learn to navigate challenging locations in the community. Each location contains a photo slideshow of children modeling appropriate behavior,” says Aucoin. Locations include the hairdresser, mall, doctor’s office, grocery store, restaurant and playground.

Cost: Free, available for iPhone and iPad

8. The Social Express

This online interactive program addresses core deficit areas standing in the way of school, social, and life success for kids with social learning challenges. It uses “highly interactive and visual presentation” and animations to encourage children to practice social skills in an interactive way. According to Aucoin, this app “employs rich graphics and audio and offers a high degree of quality in every aspect of the app.”

Cost: Free for version II, monthly and annual rates available for iPad.

9. Cognoa

Dr. Clara Lajonchere, former VP of clinical programs at Autism Speaks, helped to develop the Cognoa evaluation tool, which not only identifies autism in kids, but also tracks a child’s behavior and milestones for doctors and teachers. “Features include expert-recommended activities, which can help autistic children who have issues with fine motor and sensory, socialization, tantrums and more,” she says.

Cost: Free, available for Android and Apple products and online.

10. Pictello

Pictello is a simple way to create visual stories and talking books, explains Aucoin. “Each page in a Pictello Story can contain a picture, a short video, up to 10 lines of text, and a recorded sound or text-to-speech using natural sounding voices.” The app can be used to teach social skills or to help kids remember events, and supports non-verbal children in communication with others. Better yet, stories can be shared with other Pictello users and even non-users.

Cost: $18.99, available for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

11. Dreampad

This unique app uses a pillow with embedded transducers that play relaxing music through vibration to induce relaxation and sleep. A study on kids with autism conducted by Dr. Sarah Schoen of the SPD Foundation concluded all 15 participants showed improvements in sleep initiation, duration of sleep, reduction in night waking, and improved daytime behavior.

Cost: the pillow is $169, and the accompanying app is free; available for Android and Apple devices.

Check out Assistive Ware and I Get It apps for more apps that support autistic children. Parents should also note that while not specifically created for kids with ASD, developers, such as Toca Boca, Oceanhouse Media, Duck Duck Moose and Spinlight Studios are consistently developing apps being used in treatment settings.

But Aguayo wants to caution parents: “It is also important to keep in mind that, just as with typically developing children, electronics can become an obsession, and their use for breaks, reinforcers, and during free time should be monitored and limited. Apps, even those that can help children with ASD, should never replace real-world interactions and interventions that help to develop social and communication skills in natural settings.”


What I Want You To Know About My Children With Special Needs

When I look at all the paperwork from doctors and therapists (that I try and keep track of but somehow never really get under control) I can see it’s a lot.

When we have a tough day, when both boys are exhibiting the more difficult signs and symptoms of their diagnoses, I know it’s a lot.

I do my best to explain it, so you know what the heck is happening with my children and their ever-evolving list of medical needs.

But apparently, all the diagnoses up in here are getting a little confusing.
For the record, my oldest son is 13 years old. He is on the autism spectrum, has an anxiety disorder diagnosis and two autoimmune diagnosis – Sjogrens Syndrome and Lupus.


My youngest is 10. He is profoundly dyslexic, has a processing delay and anxiety disorder, and is also in the process of being further evaluated for neurological and/or mood disorders.


Yes, it’s a lot to keep track of.
But it is no where near enough information about these two.
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I want you to know they are so freaking smart and funny.
I want you to know my oldest says he loves me now, sometimes, and means it. I wasn’t sure that was possible a few years ago.
I want you to know that no one snuggles better than my youngest, and that he just read me an entire chapter. A year ago he struggled to read the word “the”.
They both love their friends and love seeing them.
I want you to know they are young men – they are people first.
I want you to know that they are loved more than I ever thought possible by a mom that messes up more than I ever thought possible.  I want you to know that by the grace of God, she keeps it together enough to keep going, to make progress, to live life.
I want you to know that my sons see the looks, the disapproval, the judgement. They are old enough now to perceive it, and it hurts.
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I want you to know that the basics we take for grated are difficult feats for these kids. Things like showering, sleeping, eating and socializing – they all require more effort than seems fair.
I want you to know that nothing stops my boys. Not physical pain. Not emotional torment. Not the darkness of depression nor the accusation of anxiety. Not overwhelming fatigue or irrational fears.
They are the bravest two people I have ever met, with or without diagnoses.
I just wanted you to know.

Can medical marijuana treat ADD/ADHD and autism?

Today, things are a lot of different.

Filled with the sound of high-tech machines, a pristine growing operation in Tempe is one of many across the country taking the pot plant to new highs.

“It’s been a miracle drug,” said JP Holyoak.

Holyoak is behind the setup along with two medical marijuana dispensaries in the Valley.

The financial advisor by trade says it’s a massive undertaking that began very close to his heart.

“This is very personal for me,” said Holyoak.

His daughter Reese is the reason.

Today, she’s non-stop — getting around is no problem for the 7-year-old.

“Reese was born with a rare neurological disorder and for years was simply non-responsive. She wasn’t moving. She wasn’t developing. She wasn’t even making eye contact with us,” describes Holyoak.

He said Reese suffered dozens of seizures every single day.

“It was absolutely miserable. It’s a living hell,” Holyoak said.

Holyoak said she was on a pharmaceutical merry-go-round, trying drug after drug to control the seizures, but nothing worked and the side effects were horrible.

Then Arizona passed the medical marijuana law, and one of the qualifying conditions was seizures, which caught the attention of the conservative Republican.

“Up until this point, I had been anti-marijuana. I was simply a desperate parent,” describes Holyoak.

Holyoak said Reese went from seizures day and night to just one, every few months. It was a game changer.

“Because we were able to essentially stop those seizures, she’s able to start developing. She started smiling. She started looking at us. She started to crawl,” describes Holyoak.

At her latest checkup at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Holyoak said 23 separate doctors came into Reese’s room to see her because they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They said a child with Aicardi Syndrome shouldn’t be doing any of the things Reese was doing.

The little girl who was bound to a wheelchair was now free. The marijuana he says was working.

“The single and sole difference between a child that’s non-responsive, unable to feed herself and is in a wheelchair, and the bright, vibrant, loving and beautiful girl we have today is marijuana. That’s the only difference,” said Holyoak.

Reese takes an oil Holyoak’s dubbed, “Reese’s Peace.”

It’s made mostly with CBD, one of dozens of cannabinoids in marijuana.

CBD is a non-psychoactive part of the plant known for its medicinal qualities, unlike the well-known and prevalent THC which causes the high.

Not only has CBD helped Reese, Holyoak says it’s benefiting countless other Arizona families as well.

There are 103,122  medical marijuana cardholders in Arizona, 191 are minors.

Holyoak shared the story of another young patient. A 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy whose dad became emotional after seeing a major difference in his son.

“The dad called me with tears. He said for the first time, his son walked to the door and gave him a hug. It’s the first time he’d ever done that,” described Holyoak.

And now, more parents are turning to CBD for help.

Some of them, for “non-qualifying conditions” like ADD and Autism — something Holyoak doesn’t encourage, but understands.

“The standard treatment today for ADHD are drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, which are essentially methamphetamine. There needs to be more research on it,” said Holyoak. “If this could be an alternative treatment to many of those other extremely harmful drugs, what a blessing that would be for all of us.”

More marijuana research is key.

The current U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, agrees, as do many high-ranking officials.

Dr. Jonathan Lifshitz from the University of Arizona is on the verge of that research.

“Cannabis is a source of potential medical breakthroughs. It could be a source of medical busts, but until we investigate, we don’t know,” said Dr. Lifshitz.

Dr. Lifshitz is an Associate Professor at the U of A’s College of Medicine. He’s also a research scientist at Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Voters may have passed a law to allow marijuana to be used as medicine in Arizona, but Dr. Lifshitz says, under federal law, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, and by that definition has no medical benefit.

“It’s not because no one has proven there’s no medical benefit, it’s that very few people, if any, have done research to determine what the medical benefit might be,” explained Lifshitz.

Dr. Lifshitz says getting the approval and licensing and funding to do research on a Schedule 1 drug is extraordinarily difficult. He describes the process as “a catch 22.”

In the meantime, he’s not surprised that some parents are taking matters into their own hands, giving CBD oils to kids for “off-label” or unauthorized uses.

“With the information age and the amount of information at our fingertips, both through somewhat verified sources like Web MD and even unverified sources like Facebook pages, there’s a lot of medical information and misinformation out there,” said Lifshitz.

He says right now mostly case studies and professional opinion show marijuana can be beneficial under certain circumstances.

Actual research would provide verified data so decisions can come from an informed position.

“What we really need to do from a scientific standpoint is understand which components of the plant, meaning which cannabinoids that make up that cannabis plant, are having beneficial effects, which are having no effects and which may have negative effects,” explained Lifshitz.

He says heart-warming stories like Reese’s motivate him as a scientist.

Right now, though, it’s not clear how her case might compare to others.

“The question at hand is, will all children like Reese respond to it, or only children exactly like Reese respond to the same treatments,” said Lifshitz.

As Reese’s life has changed for the better, Holyoak has since become a crusader of sorts.

He’s the face of the campaign to regulate marijuana like alcohol and was recently touted one of the Valley’s “Maestros of Medicine” by Onthespot247 Magazine

“When I look at my daughter, when I look at other children like her, and I look at the adults that this is helping as well, it’s worth it. It’s always worth it and I’ll never stop doing it,” said David Mervacy.