A major autism advocacy org just gave up on finding a cure. That's great news.

There's a notable absence in Autism Speaks' new official mission statement.

The country's largest nonprofit for autism advocacy removed any language that made autism sound like an illness or disease.

Gone is the reference to autism as an "urgent global health crisis," and funding research toward a cure is no longer a priority. In fact, there's not even any mention of "hardship" or "struggle" anymore.


Now, their first objective is "promoting solutions." Their updated mission statement — which went into effect in late September 2016 and was the first change since the organization was founded in 2005 — focuses instead on things like "support" and "understanding" and "acceptance."

Photo by Mircea Restea/AFP/Getty Images.

It might sound strange that a massive nonprofit organization committed to autism spectrum disorder is no longer searching for a cure.

But the truth is that people with autism often live happy, healthy lives. This doesn't mean life isn't frustrating for people on the spectrum or for families and friends of people with autism, of course. But for those 1 in 68 people who fall on the spectrum of autism disorder just because their brains work differently doesn't mean they don't work.

In fact, some companies actively seek applicants with autism in hopes of harnessing the cognitive qualities that make them unique. This demonstrates a larger shift toward viewing autism as a set of functional behaviors rather than a problem or disorder that needs to be "solved."

(This is also why some people with autism prefer to be called "autistic people," too, as a way to embrace something they consider to be an central part of them.)

"Autism is here to stay and may be considered a part of the diversity of the human gene pool," said Dr. Stephen Shore in an interview with Huffington Post.

Shore is the one of the first people with autism to join the board of directors at Autism Speaks along with Dr. Valerie Paradiz, who was appointed at the same time.

The organization's founders were actually the grandparents of a man with autism. And however well-intentioned they may have been, they've faced a lot of criticism and controversy over the years due in part to the fact that they were making decisions about how to spend their $60 million dollar budget without any real buy-in from the people they were purporting to help. (They also promoted the oft-debunked vaccine connection until as recently as 2009.)

"After ten years of telling us 'it’s time to listen,' Autism Speaks now visibly listening to people on the autism spectrum is a very good sign," Shore said in an interview with The Art of Autism.

Dr. Stephen Shore. Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Autism Speaks.

This shift toward more support-oriented language is just one small step in a major organizational transition.

There are certainly some skeptics when it comes to the changes Autism Speaks is making, too. And to be fair, the executive director of Autism Speaks, Megan Hoffman, was still talking about a "cure" as recently as October 7, 2016. So even though the official language has shifted in a better direction, it'll still take some work to change the organization's internal culture to go along with this new mission.

But if Autism Speaks can find a way use their vast funding and connections in a way that actually works, it could make a huge difference for people with autism and their families across the country.

Because neurodiversity means more minds put together — and even better things can come from that.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash
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This story was originally shared on Capital One.

Inside the walls of her kitchen at her childhood home in Guatemala, Evelyn Klohr, the founder of a Washington, D.C.-area bakery called Kakeshionista, was taught a lesson that remains central to her business operations today.

"Baking cakes gave me the confidence to believe in my own brand and now I put my heart into giving my customers something they'll enjoy eating," Klohr said.

While driven to launch her own baking business, pursuing a dream in the culinary arts was economically challenging for Klohr. In the United States, culinary schools can open doors to future careers, but the cost of entry can be upwards of $36,000 a year.

Through a friend, Klohr learned about La Cocina VA, a nonprofit dedicated to providing job training and entrepreneurship development services at a training facility in the Washington, D.C-area.

La Cocina VA's, which translates to "the kitchen" in Spanish, offers its Bilingual Culinary Training program to prepare low-and moderate-income individuals from diverse backgrounds to launch careers in the food industry.

That program gave Klohr the ability to fully immerse herself in the baking industry within a professional kitchen facility and receive training in an array of subjects including culinary skills, food safety, career development and English language classes.

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Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."