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Family

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

autism, sensory room, parenting, society, events
Images from Pixabay.

Autistic children at high-energy events benefit from a place to get quiet.

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 (video link below.) 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.

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 by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

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 by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash

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."

Planet

Easy (and free!) ways to save the ocean

The ocean is the heart of our planet. It needs our help to be healthy.

Ocean Wise

Volunteers at a local shoreline cleanup

True

The ocean covers over 71% of the Earth’s surface and serves as our planet’s heart. Ocean currents circulate vital heat, moisture, and nutrients around the globe to influence and regulate our climate, similar to the human circulatory system. Cool, right?

Our ocean systems provide us with everything from fresh oxygen to fresh food. We need it to survive and thrive—and when the ocean struggles to function healthfully, the whole world is affected.

Pollution, overfishing, and climate change are the three biggest challenges preventing the ocean from doing its job, and it needs our help now more than ever. Humans created the problem; now humans are responsible for solving it.

#BeOceanWise is a global rallying cry to do what you can for the ocean, because we need the ocean and the ocean needs us. If you’re wondering how—or if—you can make a difference, the answer is a resounding YES. There are a myriad of ways you can help, even if you don’t live near a body of water. For example, you can focus on reducing the amount of plastic you purchase for yourself or your family.

Another easy way to help clean up our oceans is to be aware of what’s known as the “dirty dozen.” Every year, scientists release an updated list of the most-found litter scattered along shorelines. The biggest culprit? Single-use beverage and food items such as foam cups, straws, bottle caps, and cigarette butts. If you can’t cut single-use plastic out of your life completely, we understand. Just make sure to correctly recycle plastic when you are finished using it. A staggering 3 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans annually. Imagine the difference we could make if everyone recycled!

The 2022 "Dirty Dozen" ListOcean Wise

If you live near a shoreline, help clean it up! Organize or join an effort to take action and make a positive impact in your community alongside your friends, family, or colleagues. You can also tag @oceanwise on social if you spot a beach that needs some love. The location will be added to Ocean Wise’s system so you can submit data on the litter found during future Shoreline Cleanups. This data helps Ocean Wise work with businesses and governments to stop plastic pollution at its source. In Canada, Ocean Wise data helped inform a federal ban on unnecessary single-use plastics. Small but important actions like these greatly help reduce the litter that ends up in our ocean.

Ocean Wise, a conservation organization on a mission to restore and protect our oceans, is focused on empowering and educating everyone from individuals to governments on how to protect our waters. They are making conservation happen through five big initiatives: monitoring and protecting whales, fighting climate change and restoring biodiversity, innovating for a plastic-free ocean, protecting and restoring fish stocks, and finally, educating and empowering youth. The non-profit believes that in order to rebuild a resilient and vibrant ocean within the next ten years, everyone needs to take action.

Become an Ocean Wise ally and share your knowledge with others. The more people who know how badly the ocean needs our help, the better! Now is a great time to commit to being a part of something bigger and get our oceans healthy again.

Pets

Family brings home the wrong dog from daycare until their cats saved the day

A quick trip to the vet confirmed the cats' and family's suspicions.

Family accidentally brings wrong dog home but their cats knew

It's not a secret that nearly all golden retrievers are identical. Honestly, magic has to be involved for owners to know which one belongs to them when more than one golden retriever is around. Seriously, how do they all seem have the same face? It's like someone fell asleep on the copy machine when they were being created.

Outside of collars, harnesses and bandanas, immediately identifying the dog that belongs to you has to be a secret skill because at first glance, their personalities are also super similar. That's why it's not surprising when one family dropped off their sweet golden pooch at daycare and to be groomed, they didn't notice the daycare sent out the wrong dog.

See, not even their human parents can tell them apart because when the swapped dog got home, nothing seemed odd to the owners at first. She was freshly groomed so any small differences were quickly brushed off. But this accidental doppelgänger wasn't fooling her feline siblings.

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All images provided by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

Collins after being selected by Prudential Emerging Visionaries

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A changemaker is anyone who takes creative action to solve an ongoing problem—be it in one’s own community or throughout the world.

And when it comes to creating positive change, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective can hold just as much power as years of experience. That’s why, every year, Prudential Emerging Visionaries celebrates young people for their innovative solutions to financial and societal challenges in their communities.

This national program awards 25 young leaders (ages 14-18) up to $15,000 to devote to their passion projects. Additionally, winners receive a trip to Prudential’s headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, where they receive coaching, skills development, and networking opportunities with mentors to help take their innovative solutions to the next level.

For 18-year-old Sydnie Collins, one of the 2023 winners, this meant being able to take her podcast, “Perfect Timing,” to the next level.

Since 2020, the Maryland-based teen has provided a safe platform that promotes youth positivity by giving young people the space to celebrate their achievements and combat mental health stigmas. The idea came during the height of Covid-19, when Collins recalled social media “becoming a dark space flooded with news,” which greatly affected her own anxiety and depression.

Knowing that she couldn’t be the only one feeling this way, “Perfect Timing” seemed like a valuable way to give back to her community. Over the course of 109 episodes, Collins has interviewed a wide range of guests—from other young influencers to celebrities, from innovators to nonprofit leaders—all to remind Gen Z that “their dreams are tangible.”

That mission statement has since evolved beyond creating inspiring content and has expanded to hosting events and speaking publicly at summits and workshops. One of Collins’ favorite moments so far has been raising $7,000 to take 200 underserved girls to see “The Little Mermaid” on its opening weekend, to “let them know they are enough” and that there’s an “older sister” in their corner.

Of course, as with most new projects, funding for “Perfect Timing” has come entirely out of Collins’ pocket. Thankfully, the funding she earned from being selected as a Prudential Emerging Visionary is going toward upgraded recording equipment, the support of expert producers, and skill-building classes to help her become a better host and public speaker. She’ll even be able to lease an office space that allows for a live audience.

Plus, after meeting with the 24 other Prudential Emerging Visionaries and her Prudential employee coach, who is helping her develop specific action steps to connect with her target audience, Collins has more confidence in a “grander path” for her work.

“I learned that my network could extend to multiple spaces beyond my realm of podcasting and journalism when industry leaders are willing to share their expertise, time, and financial support,” she told Upworthy. “It only takes one person to change, and two people to expand that change.”

Prudential Emerging Visionaries is currently seeking applicants for 2024. Winners may receive up to $15,000 in awards and an all-expenses-paid trip to Prudential’s headquarters with a parent or guardian, as well as ongoing coaching and skills development to grow their projects.

If you or someone you know between the ages of 14 -18 not only displays a bold vision for the future but is taking action to bring that vision to life, click here to learn more. Applications are due by Nov. 2, 2023.
Pop Culture

A-ha's stripped-down, slowed-down performance of 'Take On Me' is a must-see

The slower tempo and simple instrumentation creates a sadder, more haunting version of the 80s monster hit.

A-ha performing live for MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice

According to NPR—and the ABBA blaring from my young adult daughter's headphones—we're in the midst of an 80s music revival. As a Gen Xer who came of age in the 80s, I think most of that decade should stay locked in a time capsule, but there are a few songs that have managed to remain timeless despite the synthesizers and bad hair.

A-ha's "Take On Me" is one of them. Despite its consummately-80s sound, the song with the famous sketch animated video is still enjoyable (if not a little earwormy—good luck once it gets stuck in your head).

But a lesser-known 2017 arrangement of the song is actually, miraculusly, even better. A-ha performed "Take On Me" for an MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice album, and it's significantly different than the original. The Norwegian band filmed the performance live on the island of Giske, dropping the electric piano as well as the tempo for a stripped-down version that has become a fan favorite. As of this writing, the video has 97 million views on YouTube.

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Photo via Rob Lopez/YouTube.


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Photo via Rob Lopez/YouTube.


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Photo by Chris Farber/Getty Images for Gates Archive

The 2023 Goalkeepers Awards honored activists from opposite sides of the globe.

The past two centuries have seen humanity transform into a truly interconnected global community. Like any community, we have our virtues and strengths as well as our challenges that require collective effort to overcome.

The United Nations created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 to help us focus our efforts on vital areas of concern, including poverty, gender equality, education, food security, health, climate and more. And every year since then, changemakers have arisen to meet those goals in various ways. Some of these changemakers are already leaders on the world stage, from heads of state to global celebrities. But others are grassroots activists doing incredible work on the ground to move us toward meeting our SDG targets by the 2030 deadline.

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Up until recently, Caleb had been in the "never had a pet" camp, then one day he found a tiny little kitten. He knew when he saw how little and helpless she was that he just had to rescue the sweet baby.

"I was walking home and I looked down and there was this little kitten," Caleb told The Dodo. "I feel chosen, this is my first pet."

He named the itty bitty kitty, Nala Jaye and takes her everywhere he possibly can.

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