Skip navigation

Calls to Action

10 Big Autism News Stories of 2014

December 11, 2014

2014 has come and gone in a flash. From autism video simulations, to a friendly trash man, to a non-verbal teen's inspiring graduation speech, these are our most-read autism news stories of 2014.

10. Pawn Stars' Rick Harrison Sends Touching Letter to Boy With Autism

Gruff reality TV star Rick Harrison's softer side was on display on Reddit earlier this year when user MrsLeslie posted a note he sent to her son who has autism. It seems MrsLeslie's son is a huge fan of "Pawn Stars" and wanted to sell his his Gameboy to the pawn shop for $30. MrsLeslie sent her son's offer to the show and got a reply from Pawn Star boss Harrison who sent a check for $30 and a nice note for the boy. Wrote Harrison: "You have a wonderful Mom who loves you very much. You are a lucky Boy. Always pay attention to what she tells you." You can read the full letter on Reddit.

9. Man Dies Trying to Save Boy With Autism from Drowning

This heartbreaking story deserves a spot in our memories this year. A Yonkers, NY, community called 40-year-old Boyce “Scoop” Coleman a hero after he died tragically while trying to save a 6-year-old boy who jumped into the Hudson River. The boy's mother, Thelma Martin says she went to use the bathroom during a community barbecue and asked a friend to watch her son Stephen, who is on the autism spectrum. That's when he wandered off, jumped a fence and ended up in the Hudson River. Boyce Coleman and another man jumped in to save the boy. Stephen was rescued but Coleman drowned in the process. Watch the CBS2 report above for more on the heartbreaking story. 

8. Man Who Has Never Spoken a Full Sentence Has Pitch-Perfect Voice


Martin Finn has autism and he barely speaks but his voice is a thing to behold. Martin can string together a few words but has never spoken a full sentence, according to his family. On stage, Martin's soulful voice soars. His family says that he not only mimics the singing style of artists he likes, but their stage presence as well. Now Martin sings for weddings and events regularly. He even took part in the BBC 3’s “Autistic Superstars” program. Watch his inspiring video above.

7. Non-Verbal Teen With Autism Gives Inspiring Graduation Speech

Dillan Marmache, a 14-year-old with autism, is non-verbal. While attending Hale Charter Academy in Woodland Hills, LA, he felt like he could truly find his voice for the first time. With the help of his communication support aide Debbie Spengler and his iPad, Dillan was able to graduate and to give his school's graduation address. During his speech, Dillan talks about his journey up to this point and what he expects in the future. After he was done speaking, he was given a standing ovation from the entire school. Find a full transcript of his touching speech at the link above.

6. Five Video Simulations to Help You Experience Autism, Highlighted by Mashable

Note from Mashable: Those with epilepsy or who are prone to seizures should not watch these videos. Viewers should also be prepared for increased volumes, which are intended to simulate the intense auditory simulation associated with ASD.

Mashable interviewed our own Dr. Paul Wang, Autism Speaks senior vice president and head of medical research, about sensory issues in an article highlighting autism video simulations. "It is hard to appreciate what it is like to be in the shoes of someone with ASD," said Dr. Wang. "To the extent that these simulations can illustrate how noxious sensory stimulation can be for individuals with ASD, they may help the general population to better understand the difficulty of living with ASD." Find the full list at the link above.

5. What to Know About the Able Act

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act won final Congressional approval Dec. 16 in the Senate on a 76-16 vote. It now heads to President Obama for his signature. The vote culminated an eight-year campaign to gain Congressional approval for tax-free savings accounts to help individuals and families finance their long-term disability needs. What’s next for ABLE and how does it affect you? Stuart Spielman, Senior Policy Advisor at Autism Speaks, answered questions about this important piece of legislation and what it means for the disabilities community. Find out at the link above.

4. The Story Behind #JusticeforAaron

Earlier this year, two adults were arrested in Okeechobee, Florida after a video surfaced showing a teenager on the autism spectrum, 16-year-old Aaron Hill, being attacked at a party while several people stood around and watched. The graphic video went viral, sparking a national outcry, a  Facebook page and the use of #JusticeforAaron as a pubilc call for the arrests of those involved. His mother said she appreciates the support overall, but urged the more than 85,000 Facebook followers of "Justice for Aaron" to remain positive. "Cruelty does not deserve cruelty, ignorance does not deserve ignorance, and bullying does not deserve bullying. Everyone needs to be patient. Justice will come," Hill said. Read more about this heartbreaking story at the link above.

3. Major Medicaid Breakthrough Announced for Autism

In July, families impacted by autism received a huge Medicaid breakthrough. A federal agency directed the states to cover medically necessary treatments for autism for children and young adults, including behavioral health treatments such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). An estimated one-third of all children with autism receive primary coverage through Medicaid. The announcement by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) makes clear that autism treatment must be addressed under Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic and Treatment (EPSDT) services which cover Medicaid-eligible children up to the age of 21. Read more about this important Medicaid update at the link above.

2. Story of Stranger's In-Flight Kindness to Girl With Autism Goes Viral


Eric Kunkel was a passenger on a flight whose kindness to Shanell Mouland's daughter, Kate, inspired Mouland to write 'Dear Daddy' in Seat 16C, a heartfelt blog post that became an internet sensation. Watch a video interview with Mouland above.

1. Trash Man's Act of Kindess for Boy With Autism

An autism mom, Robin Newberger, wrote to us with this story and video that was then watched more than 3 million times! Her son, Daniel, is 5 and became fascinated with trash trucks after watching YouTube clips of them. It became a ritual for him, and so when the family's recycle man, Manuel, arrives each week, it's an exciting event. "To him, trash pickup is like a symphony," Newberger wrote. "We have so many 'Trash Day' videos, but this one is like no other." Watch this trash man's act of kindness in the video above.

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