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.

Joy

Meet Eva, the hero dog who risked her life saving her owner from a mountain lion

Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva when a mountain lion suddenly appeared.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash

A sweet face and fierce loyalty: Belgian Malinois defends owner.

The Belgian Malinois is a special breed of dog. It's highly intelligent, extremely athletic and needs a ton of interaction. While these attributes make the Belgian Malinois the perfect dog for police and military work, they can be a bit of a handful as a typical pet.

As Belgian Malinois owner Erin Wilson jokingly told NPR, they’re basically "a German shepherd on steroids or crack or cocaine.”

It was her Malinois Eva’s natural drive, however, that ended up saving Wilson’s life.

According to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva slightly ahead of her when a mountain lion suddenly appeared and swiped Wilson across the left shoulder. She quickly yelled Eva’s name and the dog’s instincts kicked in immediately. Eva rushed in to defend her owner.

It wasn’t long, though, before the mountain lion won the upper hand, much to Wilson’s horror.

She told TODAY, “They fought for a couple seconds, and then I heard her start crying. That’s when the cat latched on to her skull.”

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Arming school personnel as a response to school shootings is a terrible idea.

Every time a school shooting happens, the idea of arming teachers and school administrators gets floated out by folks who believe the NRA mantra, "the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." That notion is so ingrained in parts of the American psyche that a common response to repeated mass shootings of schoolchildren in their classrooms is to add more guns to the equation.

I understand the argument being made. If someone already on the scene was armed and prepared to respond to an active shooter without having to wait for law enforcement, perhaps a maniacal killer could be stopped sooner. And if maniacal killers knew that teachers and administrators were likely to be armed, perhaps they wouldn't target schools as much. I get the seeming logic of the idea. I really do.

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Sandy Hook school shooting survivors are growing up and telling us what they've experienced.

This story originally appeared on 12.15.21


Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, "be quiet as a mouse," but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.

You're in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You're excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.

And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.

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