As we turn the corner on the first quarter of the year, 2015 continues to be a banner year for autism breakthroughs, whether they be through research, legislation, or local activism. This week we look at promising neural research being conducted at Hofstra University, exciting bills being passed in Georgia and Minnesota, and how a simple solution is making trips to the airport far easier for families that have members with autism.

First, families living with autism on Long Island are hopeful that new research conducted at Hofstra University will lead to life-altering treatments for individuals with autism. A group of parents of children with autism that meets in Westbury, Long Island to offer each other emotional support, regularly share stories of anxiety about how their children respond differently to social cues, facial expressions, and additional nonverbal communication and how they will be able to express themselves after their parents pass.

However, thanks to the work of Professor Keith Shafritz and a team of medical scientists, these parents might now be able to better understand why their children have to work harder to evaluate the emotion behind an expression. According to Shafritz, he and his team discovered that there exists a marked difference between how blood flows to specific brain regions between those with and without autism.

According to Shafritz, “This research is exciting because we identified two areas of the brain that aren’t working efficiently or correctly in autism, and we hope to be able to target future treatments to those areas.” It is the hope of Shafritz and his team that their work will help children with autism to better understand nonverbal communication through specially targeted treatment programs.

At the state level, recent legislation in both Georgia and Minnesota has increased the amount of coverage families and children with autism can receive. In Minnesota, the work of a Somali immigrant mother has achieved a massive triumph in her work to expand care for poor children with autism.

The federal government has given approval to Minnesota’s request to pay for expensive one-on-one therapies to improve language and social skills, giving hundreds of low-income families the benefit of treatment that has previously only been available to wealthier families.

In similar news, the Georgia Senate approved last week legislation that will require insurance companies to cover young children with autism, a measure more and more states are approving.

Finally, as trips to the airport can prove hectic and stressful for any family, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) initiated a new self-identification program for families with autism in order to defuse potential behavioral incidents between travelers, police, airline, and airport personnel before they become problems. The program comes in the form of stickers that can be worn by children on the back and front of their clothing.

All in all, looking at all of the above progress and changes, it is clear that we continue to make positive steps forward in the support of families with members with autism in 2015.