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The Biology of Autism

  1. The gut.

You may recall me talking about a ground-breaking new study in January (Hope in Poo) where alterations in the gut ecosystem were linked to autism traits. These scientists used Microbiota Transfer Therapy (Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), also known as a stool transplant, is the process of transplantation of fecal bacteria from a healthy individual into a recipient) which was tested and proven to improve gastrointestinal and autism symptoms.

The gut has always been under observation in autism study. That’s why a gluten-free and casein-free diet is an alternative treatment. In “Best Food Critic in Town” I mentioned: Marilyn Le Breton, who explains:

“When you eat, the food you consume is broken down in your stomach. The bits that are not used by the body are flushed out as waste matter. In autistic people, the breakdown of two proteins present in some foods, gluten and casein, is not completed properly. The resulting fragments of these proteins are called peptides. Peptides are small enough to pass through the wall of the gut, rather than being processed in the normal way. As the peptides journey around the body, they make a pit stop at the brain, where they do untold damage before continuing their journey and finally making their way out of the body, via urine. Both are very similar to morphine, a highly addictive drug.”

2. Stem cells

In “Dog Treats, Ice Cube and Rutgers University for Autism” I mentioned stem cells research, a first-of-its-kind study at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The study assessed whether a transfusion of the children’s own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells could help treat their autism.
Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, who heads the Robertson Clinical and Translational Cell Therapy Program, teamed up with Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development began a trial over two years ago. During this time 70% of the 25 children, age 2 to 6, were found to have behavioral improvements by their parents and tracked by the Duke researchers. The children traveled to Duke three times over the course of a year. They underwent a series of evaluations such as autism assessments, MRIs and EEGs to track their brain activity. On the first trip, the children received the cord blood infusion along with the intense evaluations. Each child received 1 billion to 2 billion cells, given through an IV in their arms or legs. At six months and then a year later, the children returned for more tests and observations.

Both Dr Kurtzberg and Dr Dawson have personal experiences with autism which shaped them and what they wanted to do in life. They are now in the midst of the definitive trial on whether cord blood can treat autism — a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 165 autistic children, ranging in age from 2 to 8. The FDA has oversight of the study.

At present they are overseeing the definitive trial on whether cord blood can treat autism. This is tested by using a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving 165 autistic children, ranging in age from 2 to 8. The FDA has oversight of the study.

The hypothesis of the study is that certain immune cells within the cord blood are crossing the blood-brain barrier and altering brain connectivity while also suppressing inflammation, which may exist with autism.

3. Genes

 Autism Speaks‘ MSSNG Project, has highlighted an additional 18 gene variations linked to the development of ASD. Nature Neuroscience Journal, published a report on this project which found that the 18 newly-identified autism genes can be instrumental in understanding the pathways in the brain that affect how cells ‘talk’ to each other. Furthermore, the report talks about ‘copy number variations’ and abnormalities, which are  essentially copy variations found in areas of the genome once considered to be ‘junk DNA’. These areas, full of the copy variations, help to control when and where our genes switch on and off and appear to be crucial to brain development and function.

Genetic sequencing for autism is paramount if we are ever to understand what autism is and  how we can prevent or treat it. Understanding the biological factors that contribute to the condition can lead to better treatments for each individual case, as no two people on the spectrum present the same traits.

4. Mutations

Ten years ago, Michael Wigler and his colleague, Jonathan Sebat, reported that ‘de novo’ mutations (mutations occurring spontaneously) occur more often in people with autism. The mutations they noted were in the form of ‘copy number variants’ (CNVs), deletions or duplications of long stretches of DNA. Data from more than 600 families, they identified CHD8DYRK1ASCN2A as some of the leading ‘autism’ genes.

Right now, 10 years later, researchers pinpointed 65 genes and six CNVs as being key to autism.  “More and more, we are erasing this idea of autism being a stigmatizing psychiatric disorder, and I think this is true for the whole of psychiatry. These are genetic disorders; this is a consequence of biology, which can be understood, and where traction can be made.” says Stephan Sanders, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-led the study.

Conclusions:

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The stigma attached to autism comes from the early link between autism and

schizophrenia. Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler coined the term ‘autism’ to describe a key feature of schizophrenia. Specifically, Bleuler used ‘autism’ to describe how people with schizophrenia tend to disengage from the outside world. It was not until 1943 that an American child psychologist, Leo Kanner, reclaimed the word for the range of traits we know today as autism. Psychologists Noah Sasson and Amy Pinkham hope to build up a new vocabulary to help disentangle the two conditions in “The social ties between autism and schizophrenia“.

Autism is also commonly misinterpreted as a learning disability. Despite the fact that a good percentage of people on the spectrum may face learning difficulties in addition to an autism diagnosis, or may present the familiar autism symptoms, the two are separate. Intellectual disability, also known as learning disability, is currently defined as a significantly reduced ability to understand new or complex information, to learn new skills and a reduced ability to cope independently. Typically, this is measured by intellectual functioning (commonly referred to as IQ) and adaptive functioning  (day-to-day independent skills), both of which are significantly below that which would be typically expected with difficulties in most, if not all, areas of intellectual functioning and daily living skills.

This is why we need to learn, read and understand autism. Appropriate assessment and formulation can facilitate early intervention and help people on the spectrum get the help they require early on.

Our generation is lucky enough to be living in a time where autism is at the forefront, our stories are being heard and the research is ground-breaking. Stop wasting your time reading about Blac Chyna and the Kardashians and read these reports. Maybe next time you use the word ‘autistic’ you’ll know a more about what it means. Maybe if you learn about autism and teach your children about it, they will be inspired enough to become the ones that solve the puzzle. It may be that you are the one.

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Dog Treats, Ice Cube and Rutgers University for Autism

What is Silver Linings?

I go to Silver Linings to watch for any balloons we can reach and move to our world, and here are the ones I have been following in the last couple of months:

  1. Finley’s Barkery in Minnesota “embraces neurodiversity and empowers people to do what they love. 80-90% of adults with Autism and other developmental disabilities are unemployed or underemployed. Finley’s Barkery set out to change that statistic. By utilizing one’s unique strengths, our team takes pride in their roles from handcrafting the treats, to marketing and sales.”
  2. McDonald’s in Indianapolis: Leif, is 7 years old and has autism. His mum explains that “A classmate brought one of the toys to school and Leif saw it and spent the next two weeks hardly talking about anything else with us. He gets really fixated on things and creates stories around toys.” So, like any mum, they went to Mc Donalds and asked for the toy. Unfortunately, the toy had been sold out. *Enter Awareness*TaQualliyia, a 16-year-old employee, overheard that encounter spoke to her manager about the situation. With the manager’s approval, TaQualliyia spent 15 minutes dismantling the display behind the counter as Kandel and her family were eating lunch to get the toys for Leif. Read the story here.
  3. Results of a new study have revealed that brain scans might help predict autism in babies before symptoms appear. “We see an increased rate of growth in the outer surface of the brain, the folds, the sort of waviness of the surface that’s followed by an overgrowth of the brain in the second year,” says senior study author Joseph Piven, M.D., of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The overgrowth of the brain they observed coincided with autism-related behaviors that start to emerge when the child reaches their second year, the researchers said. Read the story here.
  4. Represent, a social merchandising and marketing platform that enables influencers to create and sell custom apparel, announced their collaboration with Ice Cube in launching a limited edition apparel campaign to benefit Autism Speaks. Ice Cube is very vocal about his autism family. “I’m proud to support the great work that Autism Speaks does, a cause that is so important to me,” said Ice Cube. “My goal through this campaign is to not only help raise awareness but to also support this great organization’s efforts in promoting solutions for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.
    Ice Cube’s design is available on a variety of products for men and women, starting at $24.99, available at Represent.com/IceCube.
  5. In Oklahoma: Children on the spectrum were able to practice their pre-flight skills and how to be an airline passenger through the Wings for Autism program. The free event, which was held Will Rogers World Airport for families, brought children from across the state to participate in the program and had a waiting list. Watch the video here. Wings for Autism will be held in Allentown, PA May 6, 2017, Fresno, CA May 13, 2017, Appleton, WI – May 13, 2017, Denver, CO – May 13, 2017.
  6. Special Books by Special Kids: Founder and teacher, Chris Ulmer, began Special Books by Special Kids (SBSK) to share the unique talents and incredible personalities of the students in his special education classroom.
    Special Books by Special Kids is leading a global acceptance movement that brings awareness to the joys, needs, and struggles of the special needs community and promotes the acceptance and celebration of neurodiverse individuals by all. You can watch a beautiful video of Jon teaching his classmates about planets here.
  7. Legoland Park, Florida: Since 2016, Legoland has been working with Autism Speaks to make its amusement parks more friendly for guests on the autism spectrum. The resort in Winter Haven, Florida, explained some of the features it has added since then including “quiet rooms” and a pass specifically for guests with autism who may have difficulty waiting in line in a press release. Disneyland Paris also offers this.
  8. Speaking of Disney, as always. Disney, in association with Amaze announced an Autism-Friendly Performance of Aladdin – The Musical will be staged in Melbourne. This special performance will be held at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 12th August, 1.30pm. Aladdin was one of our favourite Disney films growing up.
    You can watch the video here.
  9. Stem cells research: This is the story of Gracie. Gracie is 7 years old and was one of 25 children who took part in the first-of-its-kind study at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The study’s goal was to assess whether a transfusion of the children’s own umbilical cord blood containing rare stem cells could help treat their autism.
    The results? More than two-thirds of the children showed reported improvements. A larger second trial is underway, one its researchers hope will lead to long-term treatment for children with autism.
  10. Autism Involves Me: Cathy Lomond is the owner of Hotel Port Aux Basques in Port Aux Basques, Nfld. Cathy, working with Autism Involves Me, decided to create a space where those with autism disorder spectrum (ADS) can relax and enjoy their vacation. “The hotel has a lounge with a calming mural, a swing, a climbing wall and a sensory boat to create a comfortable environment for children with autism. There’s also a kids’ menu available with pictures of the food items, which can help foster independence for children who may have trouble speaking.”
  11. 9 million donation to open Britain’s first international autism centre: The money will be donated by Phones 4U billionaire John Caudwell.  The research and therapy centre will be based at Keele University and will cost £18 million. It will specialise in autism. “I have been deeply affected by the families I’ve met whose lives have been devastated by autism, and rebuilt thanks to the support of the charity. I am proud to support what is set to be a landmark development in the provision of services for the millions of people who are affected by autism on a daily basis.”The Caudwell International Children’s Centre (CICC) will include state-of-the-art assessment suites, a sensory garden to help children interact with nature, family training suites, training kitchens for cooking classes to encourage a healthy diet. It looks beautiful and it stand for something you cannot describe, only feel.
  12. Ambitious About Autism: The Ambitious College has opened its doors at Pears Campus at College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London and West London College. Ambitious College was created to give everyone the opportunity to lead a fulfilling, happy and rewarding life; and this includes young people with autism.“Our learners are at the heart of everything we do, their curriculum is highly personalised to help them achieve their goals.” Read more about it here. You know that I have worked with Ambitious on various different projects, therefore this College is very very close to my hear and I cannot wait to watch it succeed and become part of this amazing opportunity provided to the autism community.
  13. Have you stopped reading yet?
  14. Maryborough Correctional Centre: A pilot program in Queensland has had overwhelming success with inmates training special needs assistance dogs. Unexpected? Over 10 months, the prisoners taught the dogs complex tasks including wheelchair work, opening doors, picking up dropped items and turning on lights, all to prepare them for life with a special needs child. Smart Pups CEO, Patricia McAlister, said the pilot program had been very successful as the increasing demand for trained dogs was “huge” and outweighed the number of assistance dogs available.
  15. Rutgers Center for Adult Autism Services (RCAAS), based in Rutgers University, will “..feature a comprehensive program that is designed to support adults ages 21 to 60 with mild to moderate ASD through a wide range of services specifically tailored to meet their individual needs.” Will offer up to 60 adults with autism, and who live off campus, university jobs supported by clinical staff and graduate students. The second phase of the center will offer a pilot residential program for 20 adults with autism who will work on campus and live alongside Rutgers graduate students in an apartment-style residence.

I chose to end with Rutgers because this time last year we got emails from Rutgers University wishing Christo a happy birthday as part of #Project324. Avramis and Florentina were the 2 friends I asked to distribute the cards and so Rutgers because a familiar name during those months. I’ve copied some below because reading them makes me happy and I hope that reading them will prove to you that awareness is everything.

I hope that with all these new initiatives and stories circulating in the media, not a day will go past without you hearing the A word.

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Hope in April – Until everyone understands

World Autism Awareness Week: 27 March–2 April 2017

World Autism Awareness Day: 2nd April 2017

USA National Autism Awareness Month: April 2017

As I write this, I am listening to Theresa May trying to answer questions about triggering Article 50 earlier on today. And then I look over at Christos playing on his game boy and I think “What can I do?”. I’m home until Sunday, which incidentally is World Autism Awareness Day. This is the day that Autism Speaks launches Light It Up Blue – where thousands of iconic landmarks and buildings join the hundreds of thousands of homes and communities around the world to “light it up blue” in support of people living with autism. Autism-friendly events and educational activities take place all month to increase understanding and acceptance and further support people with autism. Join this initiative here. You can register your business, you can wear a blue t-shirt, a blue accessory, you can use the official hashtag for the event #LightItUpBlue, you can donate, or you can just read one article about autism. Whatever you do, all that matters is that you do something. Autism Awareness Day/Week/Month is all about knowledge, and it’s all up to you.

Every year I post about what you can do and what is being done around you. So here goes:

  1. Display the puzzle: The Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon is the most recognized symbol of the autism community in the world. Wear the Autism Awareness Puzzle Ribbon – as a pin on your shirt, a magnet on your car, a badge on your blog, or even your Facebook profile picture. The puzzle pattern reflects the complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colours and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and access to appropriate services/supports, people with autism will lead full lives able to interact with the world on the own terms.
  2. Find out what’s happening near you: Connect with your neighborhood. Many Autism Society local affiliates hold special events in their communities throughout the month of April.
  3. Watch a movie or documentary about autism. Louis Theroux’s documentary “Extreme Love Autism”, Oscar nominated “Life, Animated”, “Autism in Love” on Netflix, “Girls with Autism” on ITV are just a handful of recent depictions of autism.  You can also read about Autism, and it doesn’t have to be a journal, or research. It can be fiction, like “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon, “House Rules” by Jodi Picoult or “Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend” by Matthew Dicks.

IMG_73964. Wear blue.

5.  Watch the National Autistic Society’s video about how you can get involved.

6. Fundraise. In your community, your school, your work or within your group of friends. NAS has released free teacher resource pack too. Each pack is level-specific, and contains teacher guidance, lesson and assembly plans, presentations and activities to help you improve understanding of autism at school. For fundraising ideas see what Connor is doing this year. A fundraising pack is also available for you to get for free or get ideas. Join a bucket collection or create your own. From 27 March–2 April, collections will be taking place across the UK at different train/tube stations! Participating stations include: King’s Cross, Waterloo, Euston, Paddington, Victoria, Baker Street, Charing Cross, Liverpool Street, Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, Cardiff Central, Bristol Temple Meads and Nottingham station. Each day will be split into 3 hour shifts and if you’d like to get involved please email Caroline who will tell you which places are still available. If you are not in the UK or there isn’t a bucket collection near you, you can try collecting at your local supermarket, local train or bus station, workplace, local community centre. Top tips and important information for bucket collections can be found here as well as information on sending money. If you are in Cyprus and you want to hold an event like this you can contact our Autism Support Group Famagusta, or me to pay into a local organisation.

7. Join a Night Walk for Autism in London, Manchester or Bristol if you are in the UK or create your own! Watch the 2016 Night Walk video and be inspired!

8. Talk to someone on the spectrum, or their family. Or me.

9. Autism-Europe will be focusing on the theme “Break barriers together for autism – Let’s build an accessible society”. The aim of this campaign is to understand the barriers to inclusion autistic people are up against and how our society can work together to overcome and remove them. The campaign toolkit explains the idea behind the theme and outlines in detail how and when you can support the campaign in whichever way you prefer. The toolkit bring together recommendations on how you too can be part of our mission to make people more aware of these barriers, and to build momentum in pushing for their removal.

10. Tell someone April is Autism Awareness Month.

It really is that simple. Awareness does not need a voice, it needs understanding. Awareness is achieved within oneself before it can be transmitted to others.

 

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Hope in Love

I’ve gone back to fiction books now. I’m reading A change of Heart by Jodi Picoult. You may remember her name through the floods of tears that consumed you if you read My Sister’s Keeper.

This book is about a lot of things, but mostly it’s about love. Overwhelming, unconditional love that makes us do things our brain cannot comprehend and our/or our society’s ethics and morals find inexplicable. It’s really good – read it.

So, this month’s hope write-up finds hope in love. Cliche? Maybe. But February is to many a month of love. It’s also the month that I celebrate my mum’s and my pappous birthday so it’s overflowing with love.

I searched the word ‘love ‘ on the blog so that I could refer to any previous posts I made about the topic. Apparently, I use it in nearly every post. My favourites are: 100 posts

PS Love?

When living with Autism, love is something that you never think your kid will miss; because you love them so unconditionally. But then you’re driving and he sees a girl walking down the street and he waves at her; it’s so unexpected, it’s so out of character. Mum and I laughed so loud when Chris did that one time. However, it reminds you that love – that feeling that we all need, seek, treasure – is in all of us. Whether we can express it or not, we want love in our lives. Everyone who has Autism in their life has thought about how their kid might never have that feeling, might never find someone to love, live with and have a family with. It hurts. It’s a feeling that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Back to love

I was on the bus yesterday when a couple sat in front of me and another sat behind me – I was trapped. Almost immediately the couple behind me (Couple 1) started tickling each other and the girl sat in front of me was stroking her boyfriends hair (Couple 2). Let me make the point that I am not a fan of PDA, I am not a fan of eavesdropping, lets just say – I am not a fan of couples. But, one of these two couples moved me so much – they were inspiration.

Anyway, to the point. I read the love story of Ron and Kristen Sandison the weekend. He jokes “My wedding anniversary is December 7th, and due to autism, I came into my new family like a kamikaze—a blazing whirlwind of fire.”

On their 3rd date Ron recalls that he revealed his “quirks” to Kristen: “After work every night, I spend 2 to 3-hours in Bible memory time. This daily routine empowers me to be able to quote over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament, and over 5,000 quotes.”

At the 3 month point, he shared with her a story about how he carried around a stuffed prairie dog named Prairie Pup from kindergarten to sixth grade and that he collected and continues to collect Calico Critters; 3” tall animal figurines dressed with handmade outfits; hundreds of unopened boxes lined up in perfect rows against his bedroom wall at his parents’ house.

On their one year anniversary of their first date Kristen gave him the Calico Critters Meerkat Family.

On their 3 year anniversary, they had on Calico Critters on their wedding cake; the bride and groom were cats and the priest a beaver.

In March 2016, they welcomed a baby girl.

Ron thanks his wife for demonstrating compassion and sensitivity to his sensory issues by not using nail polish in their apartment or playing music with bass. He thanks her for proving everyone who doubted that Ron could be loved wholly and unconditionally by someone one day, wrong.

Ron writes for magazines and does guest lectures on autism. He wrote A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice, Biblical Wisdom. Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and Charisma House. Find out more about him here.

There is love out there for all of us. Refusing love because someone can’t stand the smell of bleach, because they are this, that or the other is judgement embedded in us by made up standards society imposes on us. It’s up to us to stand up to these moral, ethical, political barriers and believe that love trumps hate. For eons gone and for eons to come, one thing has been constant and one thing have we not been or will not be able to live without – love.

Happy Love month love bugs from me and my eternal Valentines:

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#Project324 – Exception or Exceptional?

I find it really difficult to explain if awareness means making Autism the exception – which would include special learning methods, special units, training, etc; or if it means accepting that Autism is exceptional – and whether exceptional means rare/uncommon, or inspirational/remarkable.

Exception:

Making Autism the exception would include all the initiatives I have seen come into place these last few years. For example, Microsoft, Apple, BBC, Light it Up Blue, #EmployAutism, First Repondent training, police training, teacher training and the Israeli army which uses autistic volunteers to interpret complex satellite images. These organisations have put in place procedures, other than their usual, to accommodate individuals on the spectrum. Their training is tweaked to provide for sensory overload/deprivation, social abilities and employability. Is this the answer? Will awareness make Autism the exception? And if it does, will that force our global community to become more inclusive?

Will being the exception finally give Autism it’s place in our society?

It feels like a really roundabout and oxymoron-ish (yes, i made that up) way to make equality and inclusivity a reality.

So, a couple of new initiatives that have taken place this week – which make Autism the exception are:

  1. The Asda “Quiet Hour”: The Manchester branch is pioneering a ‘quiet hour’ in aid of autistic shoppers.The Asda Living store in Cheetham Hill is aiming at the people on the spectrum who have sensory sensitivity and will experience a sensory overload when in big crowds, noise, lighting etc. This is what Chris use to go through when he was little, and still does sometimes. The plan is for the store to open one hour earlier in the mornings to allow people who suffer from sensory overload to come in. This hour will lack electronic distractions, such as escalators, music and display TVs, and the public address system will not be used for announcements. Simon Lea, the manager, started thinking and brainstorming with colleagues and customers after he saw one of his customers, a boy with Autism, struggling to cope in the store.“If we can make a few small changes to give these customers a better shopping experience and make them comfortable then I know the store will be a better place to shop for everyone.”The store will open its doors to ‘quiet time’ on Saturday 7 May at 8am, the day after Chris’ birthday. And I KNOW that they aren’t doing this for Chris – but it kind of feels like they are. It kind of feels like we have had an impact, we have been a part of the wave of change which brought on this beautiful idea. That small boy in Asda has inspired an exception which will make a massive difference for the autistic community of Cheetham Hill, Manchester, and hopefully all the UK Asda branches.  Because of that little boy, the store manager asked, learned more about Autism and put together a plan to include people on the spectrum. That’s how awareness works, like an infection, like the plague. The Autism Awareness plague.
  2. Autism Puzzles, a Cardiff-based charity, trained a group of Cardiff Airport staff on how to better respond to the additional challenges faced by those living with autism, related conditions and their families. I mean, if you think bed time is difficult, travelling with Chris was torture when he was younger. Cardiff Airport is now equipped to offer support to the people that fall under the Autism exception. Kind of like wheelchair access, but for Autism; and what a wonderful thing wheelchair access is! I get furious when a building is not wheelchair accessible, now we can start getting mad at buildings that aren’t Autism accessible.

    The airport staff even hosted an open day on the first floor of the main airport terminal to promote Autism Awareness Month and to offer advice to staff and passengers regarding the condition.

    We appreciate that some aspects of the airport experience can be daunting for those living with autism and related conditions, so we are dedicated to continuing our partnership with Autism Puzzles and delivering the highest levels of customer service” Debra Barber, managing director and chief operating officer.

  3. On Thursday 28th April (this Thursday) the House Of Commons will host a three-hour debate about Autism. The debate is a motion on World Autism Week (which ended on 8 April). It cites “a lack of understanding of the needs of autistic people and their families”, and calls on the government to “improve diagnosis waiting time”. You can watch it or read the transcript here – no excuse for not knowing where to look! The debate will call for “a public awareness campaign so that people can make the changes that will help the UK become autism-friendly”.

Exceptional:

Accepting that Autism is exceptional needs further definition. If we view exceptional as meaning uncommon, rare, weird then we fall under the exception bracket of awareness. Accepting Autism as being remarkable/inspiring is the meaning I am going for here.

This sort of awareness requires a very broad kind of thinking, it needs you to bulldoze all your established conceptions of Autism. This kind of awareness comes from inspirational people committing inspirational acts in the name of Autism. The kind of acts that touch your heart instead of your brain. The ones that speak to your soul, your humanity, and draw your body to get out there and help, not the ones that make you brainstorm in order to develop plans and initiatives. The irrational rather than the rational, if you like.

Making Autism exceptional is only achievable through the telling of personal experiences. Only through the eyes and words of people who have been inspired by Autism can inspiration be spread.

  1. Castle Newnham pupils have made 1,000 paper cranes to raise money for a sensory room at their primary school, as part of Autism Awareness Week.Ancient Japanese legend tells of Gods granting a wish to anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes. Does it make sense? No. Does it touch your soul? Yes. Does it make you want to take up origami? Uh maybe. Does it make Autism exceptional? YES.
  2. On Sunday, the BBC ran a story about a father running the marathon for his son, Dylan, and in support of the National Autism Society. Jon Barbuti’s words are very similar to my own and he did this so that “Next time you see a kid have a meltdown you might see it differently, when a random kid grabs your arm to ask you if you know what Minecraft is you might see it just as their way of trying to engage in conversation.” Jon made Autism inspirational.
  3. You may have seen the, now gone viral, video of a boy with autism crying at a Coldplay concert because they are his favourite band. If you haven’t – you have to. Autism can feel, it can love, it can cry and it can laugh – and this video will make you feel all the things.

There are so many inspirational stories I could share with you that make Autism exceptional. The point of this week though is that we can make Autism a topic by making it an exception and by making it exceptional, it’s not a question of either/or – because Autism is both an exception and exceptional. I think the worst outcome would be if we made it either/or. Autism doesn’t need your pity or fear; it needs you to learn and adapt. It wants you to be inspired.

Autism doesn’t need an attitude of exceptions – it needs acceptance of the exceptional.

The struggle for awareness has reached a critical point. The point where we now know we can make a difference and have come a long way but, still have light years to get to where we want to be.

Happy Week 10! Here are some pics 🙂

England:

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Paris:

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Wales:

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#Project324 Week 9

Week 9 begun with France and Switzerland receiving their cards and starting to distribute this week. Christos’ 18th birthday is ONLY 2 weeks away today.

List of Fab Things in Week 8 & 9:

FAB 1: After my fab auntie Eleni gave me the idea, I have spent most of my wage on Disney dresses and masks for his big day. The princesses will include Belle, Snow White, Elsa and Cinderella, Christos will be Woody the Sheriff and the guests can pick and choose from a range of masks – including Mickey, Donald, dwarfs and Princesses. I am hoping that surprising him with his favourite characters will be well received and that he won’t just want us to wear normal clothes. He does this thing when he gets too excited where he hides things for months until he’s ready for it – I’ve mentioned our DVD fights before. We are also expecting lots of birthday cards from Switzerland from people who found #Project324 and wanted to send him an actual card instead of an email – how amazing??

FAB 2: On April 2nd 2015 16,000+ buildings joined Light it Up Blue and raised awareness. This year, on April 2nd, 157 countries lit it up Blue for Autism Awareness. What’s amazing about 2016 LIUB is that it was not limited to landmarks, local businesses, houses, hotels signed up for it and lit it up blue for Autism. That is awareness in practice. Organisations, campaigns, fundraising, and the tireless community that dedicates every moment to raising awareness made the topic so visible that local businesses pledged their buildings for Autism Awareness. You can see the breathtaking pictures here.

FAB 3: Another great thing that has been happening  was the first  AsIAm conference, which took place in Dublin on the 16th April. AsIAm wanted a conference where it could bring people together and promote the idea that every single person with Autism must have the opportunity to meet his/her personal potential.

FAB 4: In Tampa Bay, Florida, small businesses have announced that they will be partnering with the University of South Florida to become more autism-friendly. This will include customer services, AND an internship programme. “All of the students internships are in careers they think they might be interested in when they leave” said Susan Richmond, head of The Learning Academy at the University of South Florida. The Academy provides a custom transition program to prepare adults on the spectrum for employment. Kaleisa Tea Lounge on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa was one of the first to enter the programme. Owner Kim Pham is proud to talk about her new intern: “He is great. Really hard working, really funny, and he fits in really well with everyone on staff. You can’t even tell he’s an intern. Right away he rolls with the punches. When we get really busy he runs around hectic, and really pitches in, working so hard, we appreciate that”. Didn’t use the word Autism, difficult, didn’t have lower expectations – he’s just another intern.

FAB 5: After his birthday, I will be joining Ambitious About Autism and writing for the UN’s 2016 Theme: Families, healthy lives and sustainable future. This is the International Day of Families which is celebrated on the 15th of May every year. The Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 with resolution A/RES/47/237 and reflects the importance the international community attaches to families. The International Day of Families inspires organisation to promote a series of awareness-raising events, including national family days, workshops and conferences, radio and television programmes, newspaper articles and cultural programmes. So find out whats happening in your area and join in. This isn’t just about Autism, it’s about families.

Pictures from #Project324:

Cyprus sipped on wine to celebrate their final card:

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Ukraine was chillin’ with some coffee:

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Dubai was a bit famished after trekking in 40 degrees leaving cards everywhere:

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and Belgium got creative:

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