If you spot a 'sensory room' at a sports stadium, you likely have this couple to thank.

When Julian Maha and Michele Kong's first child was diagnosed with autism, their world turned upside down.

Maha and Kong's son Abram was an easy, delightful, precocious baby at first. Around age 2, his behavior suddenly changed. He stopped talking. He stopped sleeping. He cried inconsolably half the night.

Though they are both physicians themselves, his parents were at a loss. They consulted several doctors, finally landing an appointment with one of the top speech delay specialists in the country.


After a short examination, the doctor abruptly delivered the daunting news: Abram has autism. He would probably never speak, never say, "I love you." And the doctor's opinion was that there was a good chance Maha and Kong would end up institutionalizing him because he was only going to get worse.

Maha and Kong were stunned.

"It was as if someone had dropped a bomb in our lives, and we were just standing there holding the pieces," Maha said in a TED Talk. Abram's diagnosis changed everything — including what would become the couple's life calling.

Maha and Kong quickly learned that families affected by autism often feel isolated and excluded from society.

The couple found themselves thrust into a whole new world, and soon discovered that many parents of kids with autism find themselves with little social support.

Some people with an autism spectrum disorder are nonverbal completely or just at times, which can make communication difficult. The vocalizations that sometimes come with autism can be unnerving to people without autism who are unfamiliar with them. Too many noises, lights, people, or other stimuli can push people with autism into sensory overload, which can lead to meltdowns.

And then there are the assumptions. Because they communicate differently, people with autism are often perceived to be unintelligent or unfeeling.

Abram and his brother Juda. Photo via Julian Maha.

However, Maha and Kong realized that many of society's perceptions of autism are simply wrong. People with autism are often highly intelligent and experience a full range of emotions. Many absolutely can and do feel and understand — it's just that sometimes, they just can't show it in ways that most of us without autism understand.

Maha and Kong believe that many of these prejudices can be dissolved through awareness, acceptance, and inclusion. So they set out on a major mission.

They founded KultureCity, an all-volunteer nonprofit that advocates for acceptance and inclusion of people with autism — and helps make it happen.

Based out of Birmingham, Alabama, where Maha and Kong live, KultureCity seeks to transform our society to be accepting and inclusive of neurodiversity.

"Everyone's aware of autism now," says Maha. "I think it's the next step of acceptance and inclusion that's really going to start making changes for so many kids."

Noise-cancelling headphones can help a child with autism in sensory overload. Photo via Julian Maha.

KultureCity works toward that goal by training people in guest service positions on how to interact with guests with sensory processing differences. They also help make spaces more inclusive through minor adjustments and accommodations. The training is the most important thing, though, Maha says. When non-autistic people know what to expect and have tools for interacting with someone who may hit sensory overload, everyone's experience is more positive.

KultureCity has helped create sensory-inclusive spaces at more than half of NBA stadiums, in addition to other venues.

The organization works with zoos, aquariums, professional sports venues, and other public spaces around the country to help them be more sensory-inclusive.

Maha points out that there's a difference between a sensory-friendly space or event and a sensory-inclusive one. A sensory-friendly space provides lower noise levels and crowds, but such accommodations might hinder the experiences of others. A sensory-inclusive space provides accommodations that have little to no impact on anyone else, but make a big difference for people prone to sensory overload.

Such an accommodation might be a room where people can escape the crowds and noise in a sports stadium, for example. Or it could be a grab bag filled with things like noise-cancelling headphones, stimming tools, and weighted lap pads (which can help people feel grounded).

Calm lighting, minimal decor, and various grounding activities give people a respite from sensory overload. Photo via Julian Maha.

But that really only scratches the surface of what KultureCity is doing. Most recently, they've created a free app that provides various resources for people with sensory processing differences and parents of kids with autism.

It can be a challenging diagnosis, but Maha wants people to know that people with autism are no different from your children or loved ones who don't have it.

"They view the world differently and they take in the world differently from us, but their wants and needs are still similar," Maha notes. "They still seek acceptance and inclusion, they want to be part of the community, and it's our mission to help embrace them regardless of their differences."

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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