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10 Big Autism News Stories of 2013

December 11, 2013

In 2013, autism awareness spread further than ever and made strides in permeating mainstream culture. From Hip Hop to videogames to athletics, the autism community made their presence known. Here's a look back at 10 high-profile stories from the last year. This list is based on popularity and importance.

10. Who Rescued Who: Dog Helps Boy with Autism Find His Voice

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Xena, a rescue dog, was a given a 1% chance of survival. But she has recovered and become a wonderful companion for Johnny, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Xena was recently honored the as the ASPCA's dog of the year. Watch the story below.

9. Disney Parks' New Program for Families with Disabilities

On October 9, following widespread abuse of Disney Parks' Guest Assistance Card, Disney unveiled the Disability Access Service Card. The new program lets families visiting parks like Disneyland or Disney World sign up for a scheduled time for each ride and, unlike the old system, does involve some wait times. The initial reaction was mixed at best among many famlies who frequented the park. Read some of the experiences we got about the new program here.

8. Susan Boyle Reveals Asperger Diagnosis

Singer Susan Boyle rose to fame in 2009 when she sang Les Miserables song, "I Dreamed a Dream" on Britain's Got Talent. Susan was an instant hit and a recording contract soon followed. As of 2013, Susan has sold 19 million albums worldwide. Susan's Asperger syndrome diagnosis (which is now folded into the umbrella diagnosis of ASD in the US) made headlines but for her, it was a relief. "Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself," said Boyle.

7. Anonymous Hateful Letter Sent to Family Sparks Outrage

An anonymous letter remarking on the behavior of an Ontario boy with autism went viral in 2013 and sparked an outpouring of support for the family. Karla Begley, the Canadian mother who received the hate-filled letter from a neighbor was touched by the support and spoke with us about the incident that got national attention.

6. Autcraft - A Safe Haven for Minecraft Players with Autism

Blogger, dad and gamer Stuart Duncan's Minecraft server for gamers on the spectrum blew up in 2013. After Autism Speaks posted the story, he became flooded with thousands of requests to join the autism-friendly server of the hugely-popular game. Stuart spoke with us about why he started Autcraft and passing down his love of videogames to his son on the spectrum.

5. Non-verbal Boy with Autism Sings Katy Perry's "Roar"

The video of 8-year-old Jack Robbins from Frisco, Texas singing a Katy Perry song is anything but ordinary. Jack rarely speaks so his family was more-than-thrilled to hear him sing. The video went viral in 2013 and currently has almost 600,000 views on Youtube.

4. DSM-5 Redefines Autism Diagnosis

In May of 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released a new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. The DSM is the standard reference that healthcare providers use to diagnose mental and behavioral conditions. Most notably, the new manual folded the previously separate subtypes of autism, such as Asperger syndrome, into one diagnosis of ASD. Check out our DSM-5 FAQs.

3. Hip Hop Artist J.Cole Apologizes to Autism Community

American Hip Hop recording artist J.Cole's 2013 song, "Jodeci Freestyle" included offensive lyrics about individuals with autism. After a backlash of negative press from Autism Speaks and the community as a whole, J.Cole issued an apology and acknowledged his ignorance of what individuals with autism and their families actually go through.

2. Football Kicker with Autism Wins Unprecedented Fifth Year of Play Eligibility

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In 2012 high-school football player Anthony Starego made national headlines after a video of him kicking a game-winning field goal went viral. Anthony's story then took a turn after he was denied the right to play a fifth year with his high school team. Gary Mayerson, Autism Speaks Board Member and founder of Mayerson & Associates (The very first law firm in the nation dedicated to the representation of individuals with autism) took the case to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). A settlement was ultimately reached that allowed Anthony to play an extra year. Read Mayerson's post about why this case is so important for individuals with autism and other disabilities. Last week, Anthony made history by being the first varsity football player with autism in the United States to play in a high school state championship football game and contribute points to the game. His team won the championship!

1. The Issue of Wandering

Wandering among children with autism hit the national spotlight this year following a string of high-profile incidents by children and adults like that of Avonte Oquendo in Queens, N.Y. A new study this year revealed that nearly half of children with autism tend to wander or bolt from a safe, supervised place.

What stories did you find most significant this year? Did we miss anything you think should have been included? Tell us in the comments!