What is Autism?

Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with autism? Are you left confused, afraid and wondering what exactly this condition is? Are you stuck with media stereotypes about an autistic person’s lack of functioning? If so, keep reading. This article will explain what autism is, without invoking any of the stereotypes commonly associated with the condition, stereotypes which are not true for all or even most autistics while giving a plain-English definition of the features and symptoms of the condition. Do not give up hope. A diagnosis of autism is not a tragedy, though it may feel like it at first, and it is not the end.

 

Definition and Symptoms

When people talk about autism today, they are generally talking about Autism Spectrum Disorders. According to the DSM-IV, the Autism Spectrum Disorders are a set of five developmental disorders that effect the person’s ability to engage with others. These deficits in social interaction can vary in severity from very mild to extremely severe, and in type as well though all people with autism will have some of these core symptoms. People with autism tend to have trouble with developing or using nonverbal social cues. They do not like to make eye contact, for example, and may find it very overwhelming. Autistic children may also not want to make friends with children of the same age, or have any desire to share interests and achievements. People with autism also have delays in development of speech or never develop it at all. As many as forty per cent of autistic individuals never talk. Some people with autism also deal with echolalia, which is the repetition of a phrase they have previously heard. They will repeat this phrase over and over. Other symptoms of autism can include sensory integration difficulties and problems with processing stimuli, as well as atypical movements and fascination with sensory stimulation. These symptoms can make social contact very overwhelming and draining for them.

 

Diagnosis

The mean age of diagnosis for autistic individuals used to be between five and eight years. However, due to more sophisticated methods of diagnosis and the creation of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule by Catherine Lord, Ph.D the age at which autism is diagnosed has been significantly reduced. Most children are now diagnosed near their second or third birthday. This earlier diagnosis means that parents can be more aware of what is going on and can then help their children better adjust to their limitations and the expectations of the world around them. This early intervention to help these children can mean that the child gets the early education they need.

 

Causes

Over the years, many things have been thought to cause autism, everything from drinking milk to getting your children vaccinated. However, none of these is the real cause, and as of yet no one is sure what the cause actually is. The most prevalent theory seems to posit that autism is a very strongly inherited genetic disorder, probably with several genes being affected.

 

Autism may seem like a nightmare. The person with autism may seem unresponsive and hard to reach. However, with some learning on both your parts, and understanding of the person’s abilities and limitations, this condition does not have to be a nightmare.

The Origins of Earth Day

The origins of Earth Day are not very well known. The history is not taught in schools as it is for Christmas, Thanksgiving and even Columbus Day, and children are not expected to make little clay globes or plant seeds in honor of the holiday. In fact, it usually goes rather unnoticed overall. This article seeks to change that lack of education as Earth Day is just as important as any of the other holidays and worthy of just as much publicity. If you are curious about the origins of this often under-represented holiday, read on as we cover its origins and history.

 

In the Beginning

The year is 1970. It is the height of the counter culture in the US. Environmental concerns are not mentioned often. Americans are driving gas-guzzling V8 cars and industry is belching black smoke into the sky. Smog is considered a sign of prosperity and not a concern. Offenses against the environment are not punished, but things were about to change.

 

Setting the Stage

The stage for environmental change had been set by the publication of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962. This book, which was very controversial at the time, detailed the introduction of DDT, a very popular pesticide into the world’s food supply. It also showed how it accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals including humans, causing cancer and genetic damage. The book also stated that DDT remained toxic in the environment even after being diluted by rainwater. DDT had been banned. However, Americans still remained relatively oblivious to the problems at hand.

 

Earth Day

In 1969, there was a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson saw this oil spill and the destruction that had been wrought on the environment and wanted to do something about it. Taking a cue from the student anti-war movement, Gaylord knew that if he could infuse that energy with the knowledge of environmental issues, the issue of environmental protection would be forcibly pushed onto the political stage. Gaylordproposed the idea of a national teach-in on the environment to the national media and coaxed a conservation-minded Republican, Pete McLoskey to be his co-chair. He also hired Dennis Hayes as his national coordinator. Hayes then built a staff of eighty-five to coordinate events across the country. April twenty-second was chosen as the day, as it fell between spring break and finals at many colleges. The first Earth Day mobilized twenty million Americans and by the end of that year, the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts had been created. In 1990, Earth day went global, mobilizing two hundred million people in one-hundred forty-one countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world political stage.

 

Earth Day is a very important holiday. Without it, we might still be using harmful pesticides, using leaded gasoline in our cars, and treating our environment as if it were invincible. Next Earth Day, take a moment to stop and remember the good work that Gaylord Nelson did for the environment, and be thankful he had the wonderful idea he did.

What is Earth Day?

Earth Day is an annual awareness event created to honor the Earth and the concept of peace. It takes place on April 22 each year, and marks the emergence of modern-day environmentalism.

As people became more aware that our everyday actions, like running our water excessively or guzzling gas in our cars, has an affect on the environment, there was more of a push to take action to protect our planet. Earth Day inspires us to remember the environment not just on April 22, but throughout the year, and to take positive steps to preserve it.

Founded in 1970s and originally celebrated in the United States, Earth Day went global in 1990 with a special worldwide celebration on the event’s 20th anniversary. Since then, it has become the largest secular holiday celebrated in the world, with over a billion people participating every year.

There are plenty of ways to join the celebration—spread the word, plant a tree, or reduce your ecological footprint, or check out these additional ways to join in.

Cancer: Managing Emotionally

Often people underestimate the emotional toll that cancer can have. Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing event – no matter which stage you are at.

Dealing with these life changes as well as undergoing treatment and side effects can be just as hard on a person emotionally, as it is physically.  From the time you get the diagnosis to the time you finish up with your treatment, cancer can bring about a broad range of feelings – ones that you are often not prepared for. Cancer can be disruptive to almost every facet of a person’s life including relationships, home life and hobbies or interests. Depending on how serious the diagnosis is and what sort of treatment will have to be carried out, it can make you re-evaluate everything in life, from relationships, to working situations, to the future.

During this difficult time, a person may experience a range of different emotions including depression, anxiety, a sense of isolation and even anger. Whether you are currently experiencing these new feelings, or are watching a loved one experience them, it’s important to read on, and realize that these feeling are normal and that everyone deals with their emotions differently.

 

Feeling Overwhelmed

When someone first learns that they have cancer, they may feel overwhelmed.

They may be overwhelmed by thoughts of their future and whether or not they are going to live, by the changes and disruptions in their normal routines, by the amount of medical information that they are suddenly being exposed to or by the feelings of losing control that they may be experiencing.

Though it can be a lot to take in at first, the best thing to do is to try and organise your thoughts and then begin to understand your condition as best you can. Try to learn as much as possible about your cancer and ask lots of questions at medical appointments. This will help to ensure that you are comfortable talking about your condition and are well informed and able to make decisions about your treatment.

 

Feeling Angry

It’s completely normal to feel angry about cancer. People who have been diagnosed with cancer often feel anger or resentment toward themselves, their loved ones or even their health care providers. While this type of anger normally surfaces when a person is diagnosed, anger can surface at any time throughout the cancer journey – even after treatment has finished and survivorship has begun.

It is helpful for people experiencing these feelings to know that this anger is a common response to have for someone living with cancer, and is completely natural.  When one considers the toll that cancer-related symptoms and treatments can take on the body it is understandable why even these things alone would cause someone to become angry.

While most people associate anger with negative connotations, anger is not necessarily a bad emotion – and sometimes, it is one that people need to feel. If anger is expressed in a healthy way it can be a safe, positive thing to experience and can often motivate people with cancer to overcome the obstacles they are facing.

The best way to cope with feelings of anger is to recognise them – identify anger for what it is and acknowledge that you are struggling with it. Once you have recognised it, it will be easier to identify when you are feeling angry, making you are less likely to confuse your emotions or take anger out on others without realizing it. Once you have identified your feelings, find a safe and healthy way to express it. This might include talking about it, undertaking a physical activity such as kickboxing, beating on a pillow or just having a good yell and cry to release some of your frustrations.

 

Feeling Stressed or Anxious

Cancer can be one of the most stressful experiences in life – for both the patient and their loved ones. Cancer can put strain on every area of life – from financial to work. It is completely normal to experience feelings of stress or anxiety when you are diagnosed with cancer. Often this results in feelings of tenseness, and can include many symptoms such as an increased heart rate, aches and pains, changes in diet, weakness or dizziness or an inability to sleep.

It is important that these symptoms are not simply overlooked, as stress and anxiety can actually inhibit the body from undertaking its natural healing processes, making your recovery longer. Studies have also shown that chronic stress can be detrimental to the immune system and affect overall wellbeing. If you are concerned about stress or anxiety, consult your doctor and consider the following tips for reducing stress:

  • Stay organised. Keep track of your appointments and activities using a day planner or a suitable app. Avoid overbooking yourself and try not to book too many appointments in one day or week. Know your limits and how much energy you have and be sure to prioritise – some things can wait.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask your loved ones for help. People will likely offer their support so think about specific tasks they could help with and take them up on the offer.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. If you have large tasks that need to be completed, try breaking them down into smaller, more manageable steps. This might seem silly, but it makes otherwise overwhelming things seem easier to handle. If you need to clean the house, do just one room at a time, and have a break in-between.
  • Get on top of your finances. Cancer can hit your wallet hard, so be sure to manage this as soon as possible. Organise any insurances you have and how you will manage the cost of your cancer care before the bills start piling up.
  • Try to get some exercise in. When you have the energy, incorporate 30 minutes of exercise into your day. This can lower stress levels and give you time to regularly reflect and clear your head.
  • Consider what other support you might need. There are lots of other people going through the same journey so if you are finding yourself feeling stressed or anxious consider joining a support group or talking to a counsellor or social worker.
  • Make time each day to do something that relaxes you – this might be reading a book, listening to music or taking a bubble bath. It is important to set this wind-down time aside to destress each day. You may want to consider incorporating some relaxation techniques into your day to lower your stress levels – this might be deep breathing, meditation or yoga.
  • Talk to your doctor about medication. If you are finding that your stress levels are becoming out of control, speak to your doctor about whether or not you would benefit from medication. Ensure that your doctor also knows what cancer related medicines and treatments you are taking so that they don’t prescribe a medication that could interact with them.

 

Feeling Depressed

As well as experiencing anxiety about your cancer, you may also experience sadness or depression. Depression can occur at any stage of your cancer – from the time you receive the news, till after treatment is finished, and is a completely normal response to the onset of any major health problem.

Depression can affect many facets of physical and mental health including energy levels, eating, emotional feelings, mood, concentration, sleeping and can even lead to thoughts about hurting yourself or others. Like stress, depression can lower a person’s quality of life and make it difficult for them to go about daily activities. Though it is common for people to experience depression during or after cancer, it should not go untreated as it can undermine the strength (both emotional and physical) needed to get through the cancer journey.

You will need as much support as you can get from your friends and family, and may also want to consider what other support you may need. Tell your doctor what you are feeling and talk to them about what else might help – whether it is support in a group environment, some medication or other treatment such as counselling. Most importantly – don’t bottle up your feelings. Talk to someone you can trust about how you have been feeling and be open about your struggle.

 

Feeling Guilty

A common emotion suffered by cancer patients is that of guilt. You may feel guilt over getting cancer and how that has affected your friends and family, you may feel as though you are a burden on those around you or you may be feeling that your lifestyle choices are to blame for your cancer and are experiencing guilt for this reason. You are not alone – many people with cancer have these feelings.

Guilt can be experienced by those with cancer – and by those surrounding them. Often loved ones also experience guilt for many reasons. It is important to express these feelings of blame or regret with those around you. Feelings of guilt can come in many forms:

  • Guilt for not having noticed symptoms or seeking medical attention earlier
  • Guilt for feeling like a burden to your family
  • Guilt over not being able to cope with a normal schedule or workload due to your health
  • Guilt over the financial costs of your cancer treatment
  • You may even have ‘survivor’s guilt’ which is associated with feelings of guilt related to why you survived your cancer when other’s did not

Whatever the guilt is that you are experiencing, it is important to let go of it. A lot of the guilt that you might experience may be misplaced. Even if the guilt is justified, it is not healthy to dwell on these feelings and it is detrimental to your wellbeing to continue to be drained by them. Try to remember that cancer is nobody’s fault. There is a lot about cancer that even doctors and scientists are yet to fully understand so let go of any mistakes you think you have made and focus on what’s ahead.

 

Express Yourself!

The most important thing to do is speak up! Research has proven that those who express their feelings are able to let go of them more than those who choose to bottle them up. If you are comfortable, the best people to talk to are family and friends. If this is not possible, then talk to another survivor, a counsellor or consider joining a support group. Here are some last minute tips to keeping your chin up during this turbulent time in your life:

  • Stay Positive. Easier said than done, but making a conscious effort to be hopeful and positive can help. Try and redirect your energy to focusing on what lies ahead and getting well.
  • Accept Bad Days. You will have your bad days, and sometimes you need to just put your pyjamas back on and wallow. This is okay – if you can’t be positive and life is just getting you down then just declare it a ‘cancer day’ and crawl back into bed. People will understand.
  • Be Open About Your Cancer. It can be difficult for many people to talk about your cancer so talk about it , if you are comfortable doing so. People will want to support you but may not always know how to. Make them, and yourself, more at ease by discussing it and being open about what you are going through.
  • Control What You Can. Cancer can make you feel like you’ve lost control of everything. Take some of that control back by being actively involved in your health care, keeping yourself informed, setting and keeping your appointments and making changes in your life that will help you to manage while you are having treatment. These little things will not only help you to manage your care better, but will also give you back your sense of control over your life.

 

Just remember: there will be good days, and bad days. Try to let the good ones be more frequent than the bad and focus on what you can control and what is good in your life: family and friends.

 

What Are Special Needs?

As of the 2012-13 school year, 14 percent of all public school students were receiving special education services, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But what does it mean for a child to have special needs?

Broadly speaking, “special needs” is used to describe children who require any kind of special support due to a physical, mental or emotional issue, beyond the average student. It’s a term that covers a wide variety of needs—one student may simply require a ramp to access the building from a wheelchair, while another may need special therapy.

Classifying the many different kinds of special needs can get complicated—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) identifies 13 separate categories. At a broader level, special needs can be broken into four general types: physical, behavioral, emotional, and sensory. 

Physical Special Needs
A physical special need is a physical limitation that permanently makes typical mobility or bodily control more challenging. It often requires special equipment like a wheelchair. Examples of physical special needs include children with muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, or chronic asthma.

Sensory Special Needs
Sensory impairments are conditions that limit one or more of a child’s senses. This includes blindness, deafness, visual impairments, and more.

Developmental Special Needs
Kids with developmental disabilities experience challenges with skills needed for certain aspects of life, such as language, mobility and learning. These include conditions such as dyslexia, Down syndrome or autism.

Behavioral/Emotional Special Needs
This type of special need refers to disorders that affect a child’s ability to respond to traditional discipline or struggle with psychological conditions. These include conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, and oppositional defiance disorder.

Empowering Special Needs Kids to Take On Challenges

While children with special needs all have one thing in common—a need for a little extra support—this term refers to a broad range of unique needs. But special needs kids are much more than this label. Understanding the challenges these children face is a great first step to helping them overcome them for full, satisfying lives.

Take Action: Wear Your Cause

From ribbons to bracelets to t-shirts, it seems there is gear for every cause and every style these days.

And sure, it’s great to join in when it comes to a cause you believe in, but does sporting your awareness swag really make a difference to researchers and patients? Sometimes it can feel like a hollow gesture.

But don’t be deceived! When you wear your cause support, you take positive action on behalf of your cause awareness in three important ways.

1. Honor Survivors and Remember Those Lost
By wearing your awareness gear, you’re honoring those who have fought against that cancer, disease, or other struggle.

In 2015, the American Cancer Society projects an estimated 1,658,370 new cancer cases in America alone—not to mention the millions of loved ones impacted by each patient’s fight. Even if no one says anything to you, it’s likely that your act of support touched someone personally impacted by the fight against cancer.

2. The Positive Side of Peer Pressure
Peer pressure isn’t just for teens with attitude. In its simplest form, peer pressure just means that people tend to go along with what those around them are doing. By advocating for a cause, you tilt those mainstream currents in a positive direction of informed support and action.

3. Trigger Conversations
Be careful—if you’re wearing awareness swag, it’s likely someone will ask you about it.

When they do, it’s a fantastic opportunity to share about a cause you’re passionate about. Tell a little about why awareness matters to you, and if you’re willing, share your personal story. Before ending the conversation, tip them off on where to learn more about the cause, donate, and get their own support gear.

One Easy Action, Many Ripples of Impact
Because wearing your support for a cause is so easy to do, it can be easy to think that this action doesn’t matter. But in reality, wearing your support can make a big difference to others affected by the cause and trigger a chain of awareness in those around you.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your swag and start a positive chain today.

Are We in an Autism Epidemic?

One in every 68 children in America is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control.

This is a much higher diagnosis rate than about 10-20 years ago. Scientific American cites the rate from 1993 to 2003 as one ASD diagnosis for every 2,500 individuals. That’s a major increase.

So are we experience an epidemic of autism? At a glance, it looks like it.

An early study investigating the issue linked autism to vaccines. But this study has since been disproven, and ten of the 13 researchers on the project have denounced its findings. Most notably, as vaccine numbers have remained the same, autism diagnoses have continued to rise.

Since then, additional studies have indicated that the increase in cases of ASD may be inflated. One such study was performed by the Child Development Center in England. By investigating autism diagnoses over a closed time period in the same area of the country, the researchers found that when the same criteria for diagnosis is used consistently, there is no increase in the rate of diagnosis.

Another study by psychologist Paul Shattuck at the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed that as the rate of ASD diagnoses increased, the rates of diagnosis of mental retardation and learning disabilities decreased.

A third study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that when the parents of children diagnosed with autism were asked if their children exhibited specific symptoms of autism, the number of children who met the criteria for ASD remained consistent over time. A Danish study had similar findings, concluding that about two-thirds of the increase in ASD diagnoses in Denmark were because of how the disorder is diagnosed.

It’s possible that there has been some rise in cases of ASD, but the most up-to-date science indicates much of the apparent epidemic is in fact due to changes in how ASD is diagnosed.

Can Diet Cure Autism?

The myth that diet can cure ASD may have stemmed from the belief some people hold that autism is linked to certain types of foods—particularly, gluten and casein. These are proteins found in foods such as wheat, barley and oats; and milk, cheese and yogurt, respectively.

Many parents of autistic children have tried eliminating these foods from the autistic child’s diet completely. Anecdotally, many of these parents report a reduction of symptoms using this method.

However, scientific research into the effects of this diet have shown no difference in symptoms between consuming casein or gluten, neither, or both of these substances, when executed in a double-blind experiment. Researches said that it’s possible the diet may help certain subgroups of people with autism, and more research would be necessary to determine whether this was the case.

While this elimination diet does not have negative effects, parents of children on a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet need to be mindful of the nutrients this removes from their child’s diet and be sure to replace them from alternate food sources to support their child’s healthy growth.

5 Reasons Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper is Thought to Be On the Spectrum

Is The Big Bang Theory’s starring character Sheldon Cooper on the autism spectrum?

Co-creator of the show Bill Prady has side-stepped attempts to label the character. But the question keeps coming up, because a lot of fans of the show see startling commonalities.

“On the Spectrum”
To say someone is “on the spectrum” refers to Autism Spectrum Disorder—a single disorder with a wide range of symptoms and severity that used to be considered separate disorders including autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

The question of whether the quirky and quite particular character of Sheldon is on the spectrum is hotly debated, and has come up in fan panels and media interviews ever since the show’s first season.

The show’s co-creators have declined to label Sheldon with this term—Prady says he got his inspiration for Sheldon not from the autism spectrum but from a computer programmer he once worked with. However, that was long before awareness about the spectrum was established. Some argue that it’s entirely possible those co-workers were in fact on the spectrum, but didn’t have the terms to diagnose it.

Either way, Sheldon has been held up as a great example of a person on the spectrum thriving in everyday life. How does Sheldon show traits of being on the spectrum?

  1. Struggles with communication— Some of Sheldon’s funniest moments come from his literal interpretations of people’s comments, and his inability to interpret sarcasm. People on the autism spectrum often have difficulty understanding expressions of emotion, taking expressions too literally and struggling to read people in conversation.
  1. Extreme attachment to rituals—That’s Sheldon’s spot on the couch. When a guest is sad, you offer them a hot beverage. Wednesday is comic shop day. Much like Sheldon, individuals on the spectrum can be extremely rigid in their rituals, and have an extreme distaste for change.
  1. Disconnect from others—People on the spectrum often struggle to make emotional connections or to handle demonstrations of physical intimacy … something that becomes a significant hurdle for Sheldon in his friendships and his relationship with Amy.
  1. Extreme likes and dislikes—Much like many on the autism spectrum, Sheldon is extremely enthusiastic and loyal to the things that he likes. His dislikes, on other hand, can become a disruption for the entire Big Bang Theory crew.
  1. Brutally honest—Another common trait associated with being on the spectrum is brutal honesty. As any of Sheldon’s friends know, he doesn’t parse words when sharing his opinion, so if you don’t want to know, don’t ask—or even let the subject come up. His inability to lie or keep secrets has led to many a quandary on the show.

Even if the show wants to avoid putting a label on its character, that Sheldon Cooper demonstrates characteristics that many who are on the spectrum, or have loved ones on the spectrum, can relate to.

And that’s a wonderful thing. While people on the spectrum have some unique challenges, they also often share some genuinely positive traits, too—much like Sheldon Cooper, they can be extremely honest, loyal, intelligent, and dependable.

How To Get People Involved

Are you inspired to join a cause or start one in your community? That’s great—there are so many different make a positive difference. Odds are, you don’t intend to do it all by yourself—not only can you make a bigger impact with others’ help, but it’s also more fun.

But how do you get other people involved?

It’s one thing to be motivated yourself, its quite another to motivate others to join you. Regardless if you’re looking for donations for your next fundraising run or volunteers to help build a house—asking for favors is usually uncomfortable for most of us.

 

But, no matter. A few simple steps can make it easier, both for you to ask and for others to say yes.

 

  1. Give before asking.
    Before you can build a community around your cause, you’ve got to be part of a community. That means contributing to something and building genuine relationships. Regardless of the cause, people are more willing to join in when they care about you and feel connected.

You don’t need to start form scratch to do this, though. What groups or communities do you already engage with?

 

  1. Make a personal ask.
    People are more responsive to requests when they are addressed on an individual level, rather than when part of a group. Who doesn’t appreciate being singled out as valuable?

So when you want to get people involved, take the time to invite them personally, one-on-one, and if possible, in person. Don’t forget to share why you want that person involved, and how much it would mean to you.

 

  1. Be clear about what you want.
    Whatever it is that you’d like a person to contribute to your cause, be sure to be clear and specific. If someone is not sure about what they’re being asked to do, they’ll usually just take a pass, instead of risking committing to something they didn’t intend to. 

 

  1. Make it easy.
    This tip might sound obvious, but it gets overlooked all the time. The easier you make it for people to complete your ask, the more likely people are to help you.

So before you ask someone to support your cause, think about it: What can you do to make it easy for people to do what you’re asking?

 

  1. Show the big picture.
    Most people have a desire to give back and help others out … but you have to show them that their action will, in fact, make a difference.

Be clear about the problem your cause is trying to address, what your effort will do to help, and how what you are asking the other person to do fits into that effort. For example, don’t just say that a $20 donation helps you meet your goal of $5000—explain that their $20 can provide food for a child in need for a week.

 

  1. Recognize people for their contribution.
    People need to feel valued. After someone gets involved with your cause, thank them for it. This can mean calling them out in a meeting for their contribution, including their name among your donors or volunteers, or a simple phone call to say “thanks.” 

 

7. Spread Your Passion

It’s easy to get inspired to contribute to a cause. But it can be harder to ask others to get involved, too. But there’s easy steps you can take to make asking for involvement easier … and to make it easier for others to say “yes” when you do.

 

 

With these simple tips you’re sure to gain lots of support for your cause—your passion will be contagious.