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A mom fights Autism-LIVE

Shannon Penrod hosts a weekday web-based radio show to give hope to parents of children with autism

Posted: May 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Shannon Penrod, right, and autistic son Jem, 9, of Canyon Country, play a new board game. Shannon Penrod, right, and autistic son Jem, 9, of Canyon Country, play a new board game.
Shannon Penrod, right, and autistic son Jem, 9, of Canyon Country, play a new board game.

When Shannon Penrod gave birth to her son Jem, now 9, she never dreamed her young son would go from socially interacting with others and speaking almost complete sentences to banging his head on the kitchen floor and not responding to the sound of his own name. 

Between 18 months and 2 years of age, Penrod said, Jem regressed into autism.

At age 2 1/2 he was officially diagnosed with autism and at the age of 3 began a treatment known as Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA.

It was through ABA Therapy that Penrod and Jem’s father, Jim Miller, discovered Jem was suffering from headaches, but was unable to communicate that he was in pain.

So he banged his head on the floor to get the attention and to create temporary relief from the headache pain.

Mundane child rearing experiences — such as toilet training and learning to walk — became nightmares.

Then came ABA Therapy.

“It was through ABA Therapy at the Center for Autism Related Disorders, that we found out this behavior is quite common with kids on the autistic spectrum,” Penrod said. “We also found out how to communicate with Jem to change such behaviors and ABA was the key.” 

ABA Therapy was developed in the 1960s as a scientific teaching method to reach kids with developmental disorders and was later re-introduced in an article by Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas, of the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children” was published in 1987 in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.

The article described the ABA treatment which focuses on everyday skills being broken down into small tasks. The key is to teach the tasks on an individual basis. 

This could include eye contact, imitation, motor skills, academics, language and conversation. 

Students start with small tasks and gradually work their way to larger tasks, each task being repetitive in nature.

The therapy is designed to create repetitive behaviors and responses conducive with the child’s environment the child.

At the end of each successfully completed behavior or task, the child is rewarded.

Jem’s parents tried ABA Therapy on Jem — and the results were more than rewarding.

“I have my life back thanks to ABA,” said Penrod. “I can walk down the street holding my son’s hand without him suddenly darting out into traffic or lying down on the sidewalk, because he now understands the concept of how his environment works.”

Grateful her son was improving thanks to the ABA Therapy, Penrod’s focus shifted to a constant question in her mind.

“I suddenly began thinking, ‘What about all the other moms in this same situation who don’t have access to ABA or any treatment at all for that matter?’” Penrod said.

“ABA is a scientifically proven effective treatment for autism that gave us our lives back, and not just my husband and I, but it gave all of us, especially Jem, our lives back.”

She also wanted to debunk what she called a growing myth that she hears occasionally that a child can outgrow autism.

“Any child, teenager or young adult you see out there functioning normally today who ranges somewhere on the autistic spectrum had ABA or a similar treatment,” Penrod said. “There is no such thing as outgrowing autism. There is therapy and hard work behind the scenes and that is how those positive results happen.”

ABA Therapy has become a proven successful treatment, but can be expensive because of its intensive nature and long-term status, Penrod said.

The state of California funded her son’s ABA Therapy, but that is not the case in all 50 states, where costs can range from $72,000 to $100,000 per year, according to Penrod.

This bothered Penrod, so she decided to do something about it.

The Center for Autism and Related Disorders, based in Tarzana, was looking to start a web-based daily talk show about autism and they wanted a host who had been through the autism experience.

Penrod fit the bill and today she is the host of “Autism Live.”

The show is streamed in 53 different countries, in all 50 states and Penrod said they are looking to broaden the horizon to television.

“We just want to get relief to the moms and families out there living with autism,” said Penrod, “It’s all about giving people hope with results they can see.”

Three hours a day the show discusses the latest treatments for autism.

Topics may include the use of ABA Therapy, along with other rotating subjects, questions of the day and an explanation of the jargon of autism simplified to layman’s terms as well as other phrases surrounding the diagnosis of autism disorders.

The guests on the show range from scientific experts in the field, to parents who just need a question and answer session to maintain their sanity.

“This is a dream come true for me,” said Penrod, with tears in her eyes. “Even beyond our 50 states we can now reach out globally to the mom in India or Africa and get them connected with help and hope. I mean just last week we had a caller from Pakistan.”

The show is available in both video and audio formats, and can be viewed live or re-broadcasted. 

Downloads are available 24 hours a day from the website or iTunes free of charge.

The show can also be streamed on Blip TV and the goal is to also to broadcast soon on Smart TV. 

“We want to give families 24 hour access to answers and options with tangible solutions,” said Penrod. “But most importantly we want to give families out there relief.”

Autism-LIVE with Shannon Penrod can be heard live Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. The radio show can also be accessed as a video at To contact Autism LIVE email: or call 708-328-8476.


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