Copper Country Autism Awareness "Bringing awareness to the issues facing those living with autism spectrum disorders"
Copper Country Autism Awareness"Bringing awareness to the issues facing those living with autism spectrum disorders"
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Click in the "Resources" tab or the "Autism Information" tab to access valuable resoruce information as well as some of the most recent information on autism specrum disorders.

We continue to provide information on news that we find in the media regarding autism and its treatments, but our readers are encourged to use thier own judgment on the contents.

Opinions and articles republished here are not necessarily the opinions of Copper Country Autism Awareness

Guinea Pigs Are Autistic Child’s Best Friend

  June 29, 2015 11:14 am
A child feeding a guinea pig while wearing a skin conductance monitor wrist band that measures arousal.

CreditDr Marguerite E. O’Haire

Guinea pigs do not judge.

They do not bully. They are characteristically amiable, social and oh-so-tactile. They tuck comfortably into child-size laps and err on the side of the seriously cute.

When playing with guinea pigs at school, children with autism spectrum disorders are more eager to attend, display more interactive social behavior and become less anxious, according to a series of studies, the most recent of which was just published in Developmental Psychobiology.

In previous studies, researchers in Australia captured these results by surveying parents and teachers or asking independent observersto analyze videotapes of the children playing. In the new report, however, the researchers analyzed physiological data pointing to the animals’ calming effect on the children.

The children played with two guinea pigs in groups of three — one child who was on the spectrum and two typically developing peers. All 99 children in the study, ages 5 to 12, wore wrist bands that monitored their arousal levels, measuring electric charges that race through the skin.

Arousal levels can suggest whether a subject is feeling anxious or excited.

The first time that typically developing children played with the guinea pigs, they reported feeling happy and registered higher levels of arousal. The researchers speculate that the children were excited by the novelty of the animals.

Children with autism spectrum disorders also reported feeling elated, but the wrist band measurements suggested their arousal levels had declined. The animals seem to have lowered the children’s stress, the researchers concluded.

Geraldine Dawson, the director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development, described the work as “very promising.” Autism, she said, is often associated with high levels of arousal and anxiety that interfere with social interaction.

This modest intervention, she said, could readily be adapted by teachers coping with a scarcity of resources.

“We don’t know what the mechanisms are,” Dr. Dawson said. “Maybe it’s easier to interact with others when you have a third object, rather than face-to-face interaction.”

Yet when children on the autism spectrum played with toys in the presence of the other two children, their levels remained elevated. “They found something about the animal itself that was helpful,” Dr. Dawson said.

The project began because the lead researcher, Marguerite E. O’Haire, now an assistant professor at the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University, wondered whether there were measurable benefits to having animals in the classroom, a common practice.

Her studies unfolded from 2009 to 2012 in 15 schools in Brisbane, Australia, where the trend is to include children of all abilities in a classroom whenever possible. Over eight-week stretches, groups of three children were pulled out for twice weekly sessions to play with two guinea pigs.

The overall results, which included 64 children with spectrum disorders and 128 typically developing children, showed improved sociability for all children, according to surveys of parents and teachers.

The activities with guinea pigs were low-key and unscripted. The children could feed, pet, photograph, groom and draw the animals, and clean their cages. After eight weeks, said Dr. O’Haire, a research psychologist in human-animal interaction, many children, both typical and on the spectrum, described the guinea pig as “my best friend.”

“If you ask the children what the guinea pig is thinking,” Dr. O’Haire said, “a common answer would be, ‘That he loves me.’ ”

Children with autism, who have difficulty interacting socially, are vulnerable to being teased and excluded by mainstream peers. But after 16 sessions with guinea pigs, parents would tell Dr. O’Haire, “‘Now my child feels like she has friends she can sit with at school.’”

In the new skin conductance study, arousal levels in the groups were assessed with four tasks. First, the children read silently. Then, each had to read aloud to the others. Next, they played with toys.

Each time, the arousal levels of the children with autism became elevated. Being with the other two children, no matter the task, made them anxious.

But when the guinea pigs — antically chirping, squeaking, purring — were introduced, these children’s arousal levels dropped. Dr. O’Haire and her colleagues suggest that the animals may function as “social buffers” for these children, for whom social engagement is bewildering and taxing.

Many studies in the emerging field of human-animal interaction address the benefits of companion animals. But much of the work has been theoretical, or with small samples, or without a control group.

Hal Herzog, a psychology professor at Western Carolina University and author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat,” about humans and animals, commended this study’s rigor. “They didn’t overextend their claims,” said Dr. Herzog, noting that the researchers were careful not to describe play with guinea pigs as a type of therapy.

Deborah Fein, an autism expert at the University of Connecticut, underscored that distinction. “People might think that if you lower the anxiety of these children, they’ll pick up social skills incidentally,” she said.

In fact, she said, they still need direct teaching of those skills. The presence of the guinea pigs would offer “a great ancillary treatment to practice those skills,” said Dr. Fein, a clinical neuropsychologist.

The animals could also be a means to introduce the children to empathy and responsibility. “There really is no downside to this intervention,” she said.

Copper Country Autism Awareness' Kathe Lanctot and Mike Gilles discuss our organization with Rick Allen, News Director at TheWolf 97.7 radio in Houghton.

Thank you River Valley Bank,  Calumet Branch for your support

River Valley Bank held an Autism Awareness day at their Calumet Branch to promote Autism Awareness by lighting up their bank in blue and holding a special day at the bank on April 2nd and raised money throughout the month of April to support our programs. Their support and financial help is greatly appreiated. 

Autism Benefit

Information for caretakers and professionals


                                               KEWEENAW AND ONTONAGON COUNTIES


What is the Autism Benefit?

It is a benefit to provide intensive ABA interventions for children 18 months through 5 years with the diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Children must have either Medicaid or

MI Child.


What is ABA?

ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is a scientific approach to changing behavior and teaching skills and is internationally recommended for children with autism. With ABA, skills are taught in small steps with many opportunities to practice, and positive reinforcement is used contingently to motivate the child to improve skills and reduce problem

behaviors.  ABA programs include high levels of data collection to demonstrate progress. Each child’s program is custom‐designed to meet the needs of the family and learning style of the child.


What are some Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders?

• Limited social interaction and/or communication

• Flapping of hands


• Rocking of the body

• Sensory sensitivities

• Repetitive behaviors both physical and verbal

• Avoiding eye contact

• Doesn’t respond to name

(This is not a complete list nor for the purpose of diagnosing.)


Who is eligible through Copper Country Mental Health?

  • Medicaid, Upper Peninsula Health Plan (UPHP), and MI Child recipients
  • Age 18 months through 5 years (benefit ends on 6th birthday)
  • Qualifying diagnosis of ASD



How is ABA delivered?

ABA through Copper Country Mental Health’s Autism benefit consists of about 5 to 20 hours per week of one‐to‐one individualized instruction and engagement activities.  This can take place either in the home or in an office setting.


Who can make a referral?

A referral can come from family, school, primary care doctor, or any other source.

Diagnostic Process:

Several assessments will be administered by Copper Country Mental Health and the final diagnosis confirmed by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.


What happens after the testing?

If an Autism Spectrum Disorder is confirmed there will be further testing to determine the intensity of services required.  This can range from 5-20 hours per week depending on the medical necessity.  There will be an opportunity for additional supports and services through Copper Country Mental Health.


 To Begin the Referral Process Call the NorthCare Network at:






Autism Awareness

School Support Program

We are proud to have been able to help support our local school districts by awarding grants of $400 each to the Dollar Bay/Tamarack City Schools, Lake Linden-Hubbell Schools and Adams Township School to allow them to purshase items for their efforts to support children with autism spectrum disorders in their special education classrooms.  


We will once again be offering grants to all our local schools again in the fall of 2015. 


You can help us by supporting Copper Country Autism Awareness' School Support Program:  You can mail donations to Copper Country Autism Awareness, 118 2nd Street, #201, Lake Linden, MI 49945


Autism Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental and social well-being for all infants, children, adolescents and young adults. The AAP has guidelines and recommendations for the effective diagnosis and treatment of autism.

Autism Society of America (ASA)
Autism Society of America is dedicated to increasing public awareness about autism and the day-to-day issues faced by individuals with autism, their families and the professionals with whom they interact. The society and its chapters share a common mission of providing information and education, and supporting research and advocating for programs and services for the autism community.

Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatment and cure for autism; in raising public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Autism Information Center
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a Web information site with current information and resources for those interested in learning more about autism. The CDC’s "Learn the Signs. Act Early" Web site provides information about childhood developmental milestones and delays. Maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the “Learn the Signs. Act Early” site helps you to track the developmental milestones your child should be reaching, see how milestones change as your child grows, and download fact sheets on developmental milestones for children from 3 months to 5 years. The site also includes information on developmental screening and developmental disabilities.

If you would like to be on our email list to receive information about future meetings and events, please email us at: or fill out our just click on the CONTACT US tab above and fill out the contact form.


Parents of children with autism are not looking for sympathy, but hope for understanding.  The next time you see a child "misbehaving" in Walmart or the super market, this may not be a "bad" child or a "bad" parent, but it just may be a child with autism who has had a "meltdown" because of over stimulation caused by the number of people, the lights, the noise or all of these things that can be so overwhelming to a child with autism.  Don't judge, don't feel sorry, just be understanding!


Persons with autism may possess the following characteristics in various combinations and in varying degrees of severity.  

  • Inappropriate laughing/giggling
  • No real fear of dangers
  • Apparent insensitivity to pain
  • May not want cuddling
  • May avoid eye contact
  • May prefer to be alone
  • Difficulty in expressing needs
  • Inappropriate attachments to objects
  • Insistence of sameness
  • Echoes words/phrases
  • Spins objects or self 


You can support us through the Keweenaw Community Foundation. Click on our FINANCIAL SUPPORT tab and scroll to the bottom of the page for directions.


The Keweenaw Community Foundation administers a number of community funds.  Established in 1994, the mission of the Foundation is to promote philanthropy, develop and manage permanent endowments from a broad range of donors, and award charitable grants that enhance quality of life in the Keweenaw.

Family Support Subsidy offered through the Michigan Department of Community Health

Click on the AUTISM INFORMATION tab above for more information. 


Have a plan if your child wanders off!



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