Unraveling the mysteries of Autism

By Karen Kennedy

“My child doesn’t play well with others and regularly throws tantrums. Could he have autism?

“My toddler isn’t talking yet. The doctor says she might just be a ‘late bloomer,” but I’m worried she has autism.

“My preschooler is obsessed with one certain object and won’t play with any other toys. I’ve read that’s a warning sign of autism. Is that true?

These are the kinds of inquiries therapists at autism treatment centers field every day, along with panicked phone calls from parents whose fears have been confirmed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis, and who desperately want to know, “What do we do now?”

What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a group of nearly a thousand complex disorders of brain development. It can manifest itself in atypical social interaction, repetitive behaviors, lack of empathy, obsession with a particular object or topic, a strong aversion to physical contact or changes in routine, and almost always, moderate to severe language and communication breakdown (25% of those with autism are completely non-verbal and must rely on alternative forms of communication.) While significant numbers of autism patients are also afflicted with an intellectual disability, others are extremely gifted in visual arts, music or math. 

Despite its prevalence today (currently, one in sixty-eight children in the U.S. receives an ASD diagnosis each year,) the causes of autism and other related brain disorders are still not fully understood. While research has definitively linked the disorder to genetic mutations, the jury is still out as to what affect other environmental factors (such as pollution or food additives) might have on the development of the disorder. Boys are four times more likely than girls to develop it, and heredity plays a factor as well.

Over the years, desperate parents have tried special diets, essential oil treatments, weighted blankets and vests, hyperbaric chambers and chelation (a chemical process in which heavy metals are removed from the blood.) Currently, the scientific community endorses only one form of treatment—applied behavior analysis (ABA.)

Help Is Right Here

BACA

While parents in other parts of the country may struggle to find help locally, those who live in Hamilton County are fortunate that one of the preeminent treatment facilities in the world is just around the corner.

Headquartered in Fishers since 2009, the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism (the BACA) was founded by Dr. Carl Sundberg, who studied behavior disorders and therapy, along with his brother Mark, under Dr. Jack Michael at Western Michigan University. Michael was a colleague of noted behavior researcher B.F. Skinner, whose “operant conditioning” work with lab rats proved that behaviors can be modified by immediate positive or negative reinforcers. Skinner also posited that there was a significant difference between the formal properties of language (simply being able to name something) and the functional properties of language (understanding the use or context of the same item.) This theory is key in teaching language to the developmentally delayed, who, for example, might be able to identify a “cup” but be unable to identify what a cup is used for.

The Sundberg brothers were on the leading edge of the ABA approach to treating autism, which was based on Skinner’s theories, and have since become internationally recognized authorities on the subject. And while Mark currently resides on the west coast, Carl has chosen to practice in Indiana.

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Beyond Beethoven

Performing arts organizations seek the next generation of patrons

By Patricia Pickett

In the last two decades, Hamilton County’s quality of life quotient has risen considerably as leisure activities like parks, shopping and entertainment have burgeoned at a remarkable rate. Klipsch Music Center rose from the cornfields like a beacon to touring musicians as “Deer Creek” in 1989; with much fanfare and some controversy, The Center for the Performing Arts -- including the palatial Palladium -- opened in 2011.

These venues filled the void for Hamilton County residents seeking national touring acts and high-caliber entertainment in close proximity to their homes.

But then comes the tenuous job of cultivating audiences and filling the seats. It’s the business of the arts.

Seeking Millenials

 According to local arts leaders, it’s a bit of a balancing act: While nurturing the patrons who regularly purchase season tickets and may even be donors, there’s the simultaneous challenge of attracting new audiences, including millennials. Add to the mix the national trend of the traditional “season subscription” lessening in popularity – with so many choices, audiences don’t want to commit to an entire season.

Much like their business counterparts, arts organizations are constantly on the hunt for customers. According to Mark Truett, vice president of marketing and communications for The Center for the Performing Arts, it really comes down to programming followed by reaching potential ticket buyers.

“It’s about making sure we’re programming relevant content,” said Truett, who joined The Center earlier this year. “We have our core constituency of ticket buyers and want to provide what they are looking for and meeting our mission. But there’s no doubt that the millennials are our next-generation audience, and we need to connect with them as well.”

According to a 2016 survey of 25 arts organizations throughout the country conducted by the Wallace Foundation, there are four success factors in growing a millennial audience.

  • Dispel their perceptions of ticket prices which they believe are much more expensive than they are in reality
  • Create experiences that challenge them emotionally and intellectually, encourage self-discovery, and offer them a release from the stresses of everyday life.
  • Create social experiences.
  • Create “buzz worthy” experiences they can share with friends via social media

Yoga

Janna Hymes

As the newly appointed Music Director and Maestro of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Janna Hymes is familiar with these trends. A guest conductor for orchestras throughout the country as well as serving as music director for the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), she points to a performance of Star Trek music that orchestra will be performing this season. “A friend’s adult son came up to me and was so excited … we’re doing it four times, and he’s coming to two shows,” she said.

In another programming twist, when Williamsburg audiences were treated to violinist Elena Urioste, the WSO tapped into her “Intermission” yoga program and hosted a yoga class the Friday evening before the concert. 

“It just created an amazing vibe with not just the musicians, but the community as a whole,” said Hymes. “It underscores what I believe about performing arts. It is an integral part of the community. The arts give the community a heartbeat, provide economic growth and bring in fascinating people. That’s a much bigger story than, ‘Hey did you hear Beethoven on Saturday?’”

As Hymes begins her tenure with the CSO, she says her challenge will be discovering what makes Carmel and the surrounding community tick and programming accordingly. “One thing I know is that Carmel has one of the most beautiful halls I’ve ever seen,” she said. “We’ve been able to create a palpable ‘buzz’ in Williamsburg, and I know we can do the same in Carmel.”

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Look at Fishers Today

This could be FishersThis was our cover story just 3½ years ago. This could be Fishers! It was hard to believe because the town had grown (quickly) on a suburban scale. Wide streets, single story buildings, large fields with trees around the municipal center. This rendering didn’t look anything like that. But Fishers had unveiled a plan for downtown that was designed to make the area around Town Hall more walkable, urban and business-friendly. This was the view from the second floor of Town Hall then.

This the view today

View of Downtown Fishers

It’s a remarkable transformation, especially considering the time frame. In three short years the (now) city has seen amazing activity in the city core. Not everyone likes the change, and some question the public investment, but you have to admire the ambition that’s gone into the dozen or so buildings erected around the Municipal Center. They are creating a sense of place that was missing before, and luring residents and businesses that were nowhere to be found just a few years ago.

Nickel Plate Trail

 One part of those plan for downtown Fishers includes a trail that would run on the right of way of the Nickel Plate Railroad, which runs north to Noblesville and south to downtown Indianapolis. Of course, turning it into a trail means the train tracks would likely have to come out.

For the past 30 years or so, the Indiana Transportation Museum has run a Fair Train on those tracks from Fishers to the Indiana State Fair in the Summer. All those fields around the Town Hall served as convenient parking lots for tens of thousands of people who enjoyed giving their kids a taste of railroading while avoiding parking hassles at the Fairgrounds.

The Fair Train was cancelled last year over track safety issues raised by some within the ITM’s own ranks. It doesn’t look like it will run this year either. The Fair Train was the museum’s main revenue generator and the cancellation has strained its finances.

We take a closer look at this unusual museum in this edition: what constitutes its collection, how it operates, and what are its prospects. It’s run a by a dedicated group of people who love trains and have made countless memories for families over the years. Here’s hoping the wheels of progress don’t claim one of Hamilton County’s most unique assets.

And, while we’re on the subject of trains, let me direct your attention to the Northern Hamilton County chamber page, page 28. Most of it is devoted to promoting a new festival called Atlanta Express. It celebrates our railroad heritage and promises to be a great time for both young and old. Sounds like a great opportunity to head up to the northern part of the county.

The Fixer

When quality lags, its SQ to the rescue

StratosphereWhen large manufacturers of cars, trucks, medical devices, lawn care and other equipment discover they have a quality problem, they know just who to call to solve it for them. They call Stratosphere Quality LLC, an 8-year-old Fishers company founded by Steven Cage.

Cage and his CEO, Thomas Gray, send one of their several teams to the factory having trouble, sometimes within just a few hours from when they received the call.

“We are flexible and so are our employees,” Cage said. “They know they can be called at a moment’s notice to travel anywhere to handle a problem.”

$10,000 a minute

Once they arrive on site, team members assess the operation, determine where the problem is and what needs to be done to fix it. These problems usually involve fixing defective parts that are supposed to go onto a car, a machine or device that for some reason won’t fit or won’t work properly.

These large corporations don’t hesitate to hire Stratosphere because shutting down most production lines in such factories costs an average of $10,000 a minute, Gray said.

The best-case scenario in Stratosphere’s work is when the problem they are called to solve is discovered while the equipment or vehicle is still in the manufacturing or assembly stage in the factory. Then Stratosphere’s team can go in and get the problem ironed out before anything is ever shipped. But sometimes, a problem isn’t discovered until later.

Unfortunately for one manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, one model had a defective fuel line that wasn’t discovered until the equipment had already been shipped to 2,200 retail stores. Stratosphere sent teams to every one of those stores to repair and/or replace every defective fuel line.

Stratosphere“The manufacturer was under tremendous pressure from the retailers,” Gray said. “It was the quickest solution for us to go directly to the stores to fix the problem so there was no additional waiting time for shipping and re-shipping the equipment.”

A word that Cage and Gray both use frequently when describing their work is “fun.” Adrenaline flows when they quickly get their teams in motion and deploy them to where ever the problem is. They serve companies across the United States and in Canada and Mexico.

Stratosphere has 75 employees in two different Fishers locations, 552 total in Indiana and about 2,200 employees total in its warehouses located in strategic locations to best help their clients.

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Indiana Academy: A Higher Education

Cicero boarding school offers unique experience for diverse student body

Hidden in plain sight on a 500-acre campus along Ind. 19 in Cicero, Indiana Academy has been educating high school students for 114 years, yet maintains a low profile in a county nationally recognized for its excellence in education.

The boarding school, owned and managed by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, teaches beyond academics, emphasizing work skills and ethics, physical health and service to others. Students are required to work on campus as well as participate in community service programs and mission trips.

Real World Experience

Principal Steven BaughmanProject 58 is one such community outreach opportunity. Principal Steven Baughman says Project 58 is based on Bible passages Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25:40, which call Christ’s followers to serve others as a fulfillment of His commission.

“Once a month we modify our school day to allow the entire student body, staff and faculty to participate in various types of community service,” said Baughman. “We bake bread and cookies to deliver to local businesses and homes, a group of students sews and prepares care packages for the Birthright organization in Cicero, we work with both Gleaners food bank in Indianapolis and the Hamilton County food bank in Noblesville, a group of students helps at the Hamilton County Humane Society, while another group volunteers at the Agape Therapeutic Equestrian Center.”

The academy integrates the classroom with service projects as well, giving students tangible, real-world opportunities to problem-solve for their community.

“Our biology teacher, Art Miller, had his students collect and analyze macro-invertebrates from the Little Cicero Creek running behind our campus to determine water pollution levels,” Baughman explained. “What we're striving to do is incorporate elements of service with this education model. In this case, Mr. Miller had his students prepare and present their findings to members of the Cicero Stormwater Advisory board to help them as they develop methods to inform the greater community of their impact on local water contamination levels.”

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Women Mean Business in downtown Noblesville: Feminine touch helps draw customers

Downtown Noblesville brands itself “hipstoric.” Another apt description might be “chick magnet.”

Women-owned businesses are prolific around the historic Courthouse Square, strengthening its appeal to shoppers as well as clients of professional or medical services.

“Everyone has read the stories about vibrant downtowns serving as attractors for the young and the empty-nester for quality of life — and that trend follows for women-owned businesses,” said Brenda Myers, president and CEO of Hamilton County Tourism, Inc. Noblesville’s downtown is everything a business owner wants. It’s “active, safe, accessible and affordable.”

In a 2010 report, the Indiana Commission for Women said 129,559 – nearly 27 percent – of the state’s 483,242 businesses were owned by women. They produced $20 billion in annual sales and receipts, averaging 9.6 employees each.

Two Hamilton County firms, Avant Healthcare of Carmel and Hare Chevrolet of Noblesville, ranked fourth and fifth among the state’s largest businesses owned by women.

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New Life for Dead Trees: Recycled Wood makes Beautiful, Functional Furniture

The death and disposal of area trees led to an unexpected silver-lining for one local business. 

Vine & BranchVine and Branch, Inc., in Carmel, specializes in tree care and arborist services, recently expanded its business to include creating custom, heirloom-quality furniture and rough-hewn benches for nature centers in Hamilton County. The company anticipates further growth as word gets out that trees lost to pests, disease or age can have a purpose beyond death.

 “I have always been interested in reusing wood, and frankly have felt bad when beautiful wood went into the firewood pile,” said Jud Scott, founder and president of Vine and Branch. A combination of inspiration from a client clearing property and a suggestion from his daughter led Scott to explore the possibilities of creating works of art from the trees typically hauled off and forgotten.

“My daughter sent me some pictures of live-edge slab tables and log-end tables, and said ‘Dad, you need to do this!’ About the same time, a couple of Vine and Branch employees suggested we get rid of these clunky fiberboard desks and make some desks ourselves,” Scott recalls. “Thus, the idea was born.”

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90 Years in Reel Time: No Biz Like Show Biz for the Paikos Family

Martha Paikos says you have to love a job if you’re going to work seven days a week.

Spend a few minutes with her, spot the twinkle in her husband’s eye as he staffs the ticket window, talk to her son, Nick, and you’ll be convinced that all of them love every minute of what they do: Run the Diana Theatre in Tipton.

It's been their family business for 90 years. It's been the delight of audiences night after night, decade after decade.

“More than 300 people erupting in laughter is one of the most satisfying experiences you can imagine,” said Nick, whose first job at the Diana was cleaning, followed by usher, concession seller and projectionist. 

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Virtual Reality: Shooting simulator offers safe, interactive alternative to live-fire practice

Retired Navy SEAL Jesse Barnett knows the difference between firing a weapon at a gun range and engaging a moving target that may be shooting back.

“A traditional range is like a bowling alley: You go up, get your lane, load your gun and shoot your piece of paper,” he said. “You’re not being challenged to turn and face the target, to come up from a carry position. You’re not being challenged with multiple [targets] at different angles, next to somebody or something you don’t want to shoot. When I put people in those situations, it’s miss, miss, miss, miss—including professionals.”

Consistent, repeated practice is the only way to hone those skills, he said, and that’s far too dangerous to attempt with live ammunition. So Barnett is harnessing the power of technology to teach Hoosiers how to master their weapons.

And with more than 11 percent of the state’s population licensed to carry a gun, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, we all could be safer for it.

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