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.



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.



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.

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.

Direct Mail Fundraising


Even in the digital age, direct mail has continues to be a powerful method for nonprofits to connect to supporters for fundraising. In fact, one in three consumers reported they had taken action for a nonprofit in response to a piece of direct mail, according to the Direct Marketing Association’s 2015 DMA Fact Book.

But not all direct mail is equally effective—the writing and layout rules for direct mail are different from many other kinds of communication. If you want to be sure your materials catch donors’ attention and inspire action, follow these best practices.

Use a Call to Action
It may sound obvious, but people are a lot more likely to do what you want if you ask them. That’s what a call to action is: asking your audience to take a specific action to help your cause.

What action do you want your donors to take? Polish it into a short, simple, and specific phrase that you can use consistently across your direct mail and other marketing materials to drive readers to become donors. Be clear about what you want, and also about the benefits of this action.

Example: “Provide a month of clean water for $25.”


Write for Skimming
Most people will only give your direct mail a few seconds of consideration before deciding to read it in full or not. To grab attention quickly, create your mailer to be easily skimmed.

This means using big headlines, engaging images, bullet points, and white space to establish a clear order for the eye to follow. Think about what it’s most important for a person to understand immediately, and then provide supporting details once you’ve got their attention.


Repeat Yourself
In marketing, it’s often advantageous to repeat your key message multiple times, and direct mail is no exception.

Why? As Bloomerang explains it, donating to a nonprofit lights up the brain’s pleasure center. Each time they read a mention of this action in your direct mail piece, it creates the simulation of the action in the brain, resulting in that same pleasurable feeling—which motivates a person to fulfill the action.


Mix it Up
While you want your branding and call to action to be consistent, change up your direct mail with a variety of materials that have different supporting content. This helps grab readers’ attention, while letting you reach out to your mailing list more frequently.

Keep these materials organized by planning out your full campaign and various messages beforehand.


Stand Out
Strategic design choices can help your direct mail get noticed. To stand out, stay way from the standard white envelopes and letter sizes and get creative. Bold colors (consistent with your brand, of course) and big or unusual sizes can earn your direct mail a few extra seconds of attention.


Suggest an Amount
People are more likely to make a donation when a specific amount is suggested to them. Keep the amount reasonable, and tie it to a tangible result (see the call to action example above).

For example, if your suggested donation is $25, create checkboxes for $10, $25, $50, and “As much as you’re able!” with a fill-in-the-blank option so the donor can choose their own amount if they prefer.

Reinforce your message yet again by circling your recommended amount on the form.


Make it Easy
The easier it is to donate, the more likely people are to do it.

Include everything needed to make a donation in the mailer. This may mean including a donation form and return envelope, and/or directing people to an easy-to-remember URL with a user-friendly form.

On the donation form, include checkboxes for the donation amounts, and be sure your organization is prepared to accept as many payment options as possible, including all major credit cards. Ask only for as much information from the donor as necessary.


Remember the Most Important Word
In direct mail, the most important word is you. 

Rather than focusing your message on what your donor’s money can do for you, focus on how a donation serves your donor. Remember, without donors, your organization’s work isn’t possible. Make them a part of the action.


Direct Mail Should Help Donors Help You

Most people want to give, but the clutter of every day life and other demands on their attention get in the way. A strategically crafted direct mail piece can cut through that clutter to get donors’ attention, and make it easy for them to give.

With these best practices, you can win more attention, optimize your response rates and draw in more donors. When it all comes together, your organization has the support to make a real impact, while donors get the satisfaction of knowing they helped make a difference, and everyone wins.

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.

15 Tips for Teaching the Highly Functioning ASD Child

The needs of a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the classroom can be very different from those of typical students in the class—even high-functioning ASD students require extra, and often, different kinds of support compared to typical students.

ASD students have unique challenges including difficulty reading social situations and making friends; adapting to changes in their routines; and remembering complex ideas or directions; among other things.

These unique challenges of ASD students require a different kind of support than the typical student, and often more support. Here are some ways that teachers can give their high-functioning ASD/Asperger’s student support to help him/her succeed in the classroom:

  1. ASD students can benefit from opportunities to socialize with other students—when the engagement is structured, such as offering a group game to play.
  2. Seat the ASD student next to an appropriate buddy who can share notes and provide a friendly, patient presence.
  3. Give your ASD student directions in writing when working independently.
  4. Offer visual cues like underlining or highlighting to help draw the child’s attention to the most important parts of test directions or homework assignments.
  5. Break complex or long projects into simpler tasks.
  6. Break down worksheets and long tests so there are fewer questions on each page. This gives the ASD student more room to write, while also letting him/her digest smaller amounts of information at once.
  7. ASD students often have very strong interests in certain areas. Implement those interests to keep them engaged while learning new concepts.
  8. If possible, work with your ASD student on keyboarding skills and let him/her take notes on a laptop instead of with pen and paper. Many ASD children have difficulty writing, which does not improve with practice.
  9. Provide a written/illustrated schedule for the ASD student to help them navigate through the day. If there is a change to the normal schedule, give the student early and frequent warning of the change.
  10. Allow the ASD student to fidget—such as chewing gum, doodling, or squeezing a ball—as this can actually help him/her maintain focus.
  11. When you see the ASD student getting restless, move so that you are positioned nearer to his/her seat, and offer reminders to stay focused as needed.
  12. Be clear about expectations for any activity before the ASD student begins. Have the student repeat the directions in his/her own words.
  13. A visual record of accomplishment, like a progress chart, can help reinforce appropriate behaviors.
  14. The ASD child may sometimes struggle when there is a lot going on around them. Provide a “quiet time” space s/he can go to for a time-out.
  15. Talk to other students in the class to help them understand the ASD child’s differences in a positive way, embracing differences.

When you find that things are running smoothly for your ASD student, this doesn’t mean that s/he is “cured” or that the issues have disappeared—it means that you’ve found a way to cope with those challenges that work well.

It can be difficult to predict when an ASD child will have outbursts sometimes, and it’s completely normal to feel frustrated at times. Be patient with the ASD student, keep communication open with the student’s parents. With persistence and understanding, these tips can help your ASD student find success.

Understanding Asperger’s: A Teacher’s Guide

Students with Asperger’s syndrome present a unique set of challenges—challenges that many teachers are not provided with the appropriate training for. This can make welcoming a student with Asperger’s into the classroom seem daunting.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help teachers fill the gap and educate themselves, so they can make learning a positive experience and help students with Asperger’s feel comfortable and empowered, while managing the disorder’s more challenging traits.

Here, we’ve pulled resources from the Internet’s most authoritative Asperger’s resources to serve as a guide for teachers seeking to learn about Asperger’s and how to support students with this condition in the classroom.

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s syndrome is a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a set of conditions that affect a person’s ability to develop basic skills, such as the ability to engage socially and use the imagination.

Children with Asperger’s are typically of average or even above-average intelligence, and although they can struggle to communicate, they have close to normal language development.

Kids with Asperger’s may act eccentrically or make repetitive movements, struggle with change to their routine, and have coordination problems. However, they are also extremely enthusiastic about their interests and highly talented in particular areas such as music or math.

Learn more:
Asperger’s Syndrome, WebMD

Asperger’s in the Classroom

Because students with Asperger’s tend to be highly intelligent, they usually function well in most aspects. However, they struggle to relate to other students, make friends, and participate in group activities in the classroom.

They are also prone to outbursts or tantrums, which can seem sudden, but are likely related to their struggle to communicate or to cope with a busy environment, etc. It can help a student with Asperger’s to cope if you can provide a “quiet space” s/he can retreat to when feeling over-stimulated.

Students with Asperger’s become anxious in unstructured settingswhere people are moving at random, and struggle with change to their regular routine—such as a substitute teacher.

Learn more:
Understanding the Student with Asperger’s Syndrome, OASIS @ MAAP
Challenges for Asperger’s Students, My Aspergers Child

Helping Asperger’s Students Succeed

Because of the unique challenges discussed above, students with Asperger’s syndrome have different support needs in the classroom compared to typically-abled students. There are a lot of ways teachers can modify their lessons and approach to help Asperger’s students succeed.

For example, it can help students with Asperger’s to have visuals that illustrate their daily schedule, and to get as much warning as possible of any upcoming change to the normal routine. They tend to take language very literally, so avoid slang or metaphors when addressing a student with Asperger’s, and give directions in short and direct sentences. Keep an eye out for when the student shows signs of feeling overwhelmed, and help the student break away for quiet time to regroup.

These are only a few of many ways teachers can help students with Asperger’s find success. Teachers should also be aware of all relevant laws and tools available to them, such as the school’s special education specialists and the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Learn more:
Classroom Tips for Students with Aspergers, School Behavior
Teaching Strategies for Asperger Students, Johns Hopkins School of Education
Individual Education Programs, Organization for Autism Research 

Promoting Understanding with other Students

Because students with Asperger’s struggle to make social connections, they have a hard time connecting with their peers and forming friendships. In their eagerness to make friends, they can develop a willingness to do almost anything to participate—something their peers may sometimes take advantage of. They often cannot discriminate between positive play and mean-spirited actions against them.

Research has shown that when students are given clear and accurate information about Asperger’s, they are more sympathetic to and accepting of peers with the disorder. Take the time to educate the other students in the class about what Asperger’s is, emphasizing the value of diversity and highlighting both the strengths and weaknesses of those with Asperger’s.

Meet with the school psychologist and the student’s parents beforehand to ensure everyone is on the same page about what to say, and don’t disclose the student’s name during the talk unless the parents and the student both agree to it.

Learn more:
Helping Kids Understand Aspergers, School Counseling by Heart
6 Steps to Success for Asperger Syndrome, Organization for Autism Research
Helping Peers Support Students with Autism, Autism Speaks

Working Together

Parents can be your best ally when it comes to addressing issues and finding what will work best for an Asperger’s student in the classroom. It’s best to maintain regular communication with the parents, and don’t be afraid to ask questions—most likely, they’ll be impressed that the teacher is putting forth the effort to learn more.

Teachers should also take advantage of additional support resources available to them, too. Most schools will have a school psychologist and special education specialists who can provide additional insights into how to help an Asperger’s student succeed.

There is also an abundance of information to help teachers understand and support students with Asperger’s online.

Teachers and Administrators, Autism Speaks
An Educator’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Danya International Inc. and the Organization for Autism Research
The Complete Guide to Teaching Students with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism, My Aspergers Child

Unique Challenges, Unique Strengths

A student with Asperger’s brings a unique set of strengths and challenges to the classroom, for themselves, the teacher, and the class overall. But with patience, education, and understanding, a student with Aspergers can do well in a traditional classroom setting.

What is PDD?

Pervasive developmental disorders (often shortened to PDD) is a term used to refer to a group of conditions that cause a delay in the development of basic skills. These basic skills most commonly include the ability to socialize, communicate and use imagination. People who have a PDD often struggle to understand the world around them. 

Examples of PDDs include:

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Rett syndrome
  • PPD, not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)

Though PDDs are typically present in a child very young, but most commonly become evident around the age of three, when it becomes clear that the child is not keeping up with their peers’ development milestones.

PDD symptoms can range from mild to severe. They often include difficulty with communicating verbally, difficulty with gestures and facial expressions, difficulty relating to others, difficulty adjusting to changes in routine, repetitive behavior patterns or movements, sensitivity to sounds, and more.

According to WebMD, an estimated one in 88 children has a PDD, and it is more common in boys than girls. The outlook for a person with a PDD can vary significantly depending on how severe the individual’s symptoms are. However, though most will have some issues with socialization throughout their lives, many can reduce their symptoms and enhance their functionality with therapy and early intervention.