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.

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The past year has changed the way a lot of people see the world and brought the importance of global change to the forefront. However, even social impact entrepreneurs have had to adapt to the changing circumstances brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic.

"The first barrier is lack of funding. COVID-19 has deeply impacted many of our supporters, and we presume it will continue to do so. Current market volatility has caused many of our supporters to scale back or withdraw their support altogether," said Brisa de Angulo, co-founder of A Breeze of Hope Foundation, a non-profit that prevents childhood sexual violence in Bolivia and winner of the 2020 Elevate Prize.

To help social entrepreneurs scale their impact for the second year in a row, The Elevate Prize is awarding $5 million to 10 innovators, activists, and problem–solvers who are making a difference in their communities every day.

"We want to see extraordinary people leading high-impact projects that are elevating opportunities for all people, elevating issues and their solutions, or elevating understanding of and between people," The Elevate Prize website states.

Founded in 2019 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Joseph Deitch, The Elevate Prize is dedicated to giving unsung social entrepreneurs the necessary resources to scale their impact and to ultimately help inspire and awaken the hero in all of us.

"The Elevate Prize remains committed to finding a radically diverse group of innovative problem solvers and investing unconventional and personalized resources that bring greater visibility to them as leaders and the vital work they do. We make good famous," said Carolina García Jayaram, executive director, Elevate Prize Foundation.

The application process will take place in two phases. Applicants have till May 5 for Phase 1, which will include a short written application. A select number of those applicants will then be chosen for Phase 2, which includes a more robust set of questions later this summer. Ten winners will be announced in October 2021.

In addition to money, winners will also receive support from The Elevate Prize to help amplify their mission, achieve their goals, and receive mentorship and industry connections.

Last year, 1,297 candidates applied for the prize.

The 10 winners include Simprints, a UK-based nonprofit implementing biometric solutions to give people in the developing world hope and access to a better healthcare system; ReThink, a patented, innovative app that detects offensive messages and gives users a chance to reconsider posting them; and Guitars Over Guns, an organization bridging the opportunity gap for youth from vulnerable communities through transformational access to music, connectivity, and self-empowerment.

You can learn more about last year's winners, here.

If you know of someone or you yourself are ready to scale your impact, apply here today.

Maybe it's because I'm a writer, but I'm a bit of a pen snob. Even if I'm just making a list, I look for a pen that grips well, flows well, doesn't put too much or too little ink into the paper, is responsive-but-not-too-responsive to pressure, and doesn't suddenly stop working mid-stroke.

In other words, the average cheap ballpoint pen is out. (See? Snob.)

However, Oscar Ukono is making me reevaluate my pen snobbery. Because while I'm over here turning up my nose at the basic Bic, he's using them to create things like this:

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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