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Autism and Culture Round-Up: The Colors of Autism, the Imagination Station, and Videos to Watch

In this week’s look back at the intersections between autism and culture, researchers have developed a color system to classify degrees of autism, a new adult autism center had opened in Vermont, and we recap two of the past week’s must-see viral videos.

First up, in a bit of news that would usually be in our weekly news round-up save for its artistic applications, researchers at the CanChild Centre for Childhood Disability Research at McMaster University have developed an autism classification system that defines levels of social communications ability among those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The classification system is designed to assist caregivers to better understand every communication made by a child with autism while helping each one to better communicate.

“This is not a test, but more like describing the colours of a rainbow,” said Briano Di Rezze, a scientist with CanChild. “Currently we hear terms like ‘high-functioning’ or ‘low-functioning’ to describe children with ASD. However there is no common interpretation of what those terms mean, which makes them unreliable because clinicians, therapists, and parents aren’t using them in the same way,” he said. Thus, the new system is designed as a standardized and simple way for caregiver and doctors of all types to better communicate with one another about a particular patient. Unlike past systems designed to categorize patients, part of what makes this new system–called the Autism Classification System of Functioning: Social Communication or ACSF:SC–truly unique is that patients are defined by what they can do, not by what they cannot.

In other news, a new autism center has opened in Barre, VT that is called the Imagination Station and is literally covered from head to ceiling with activities, colors, and activities to engage all types of individuals who find themselves on the spectrum. In describing her first visit, 20-year-old Maleia Darling said “Neat to see all the colors and neat stuff. My favorite was the bubble tubes, I really like how the colors changed based on the music or steps. Yes, I look forward to going again.”

The space cost $75,000 to renovate and features light displays, interactive music stations, things to touch, smell, climb on, and explore. It was a gift from the Autism Puzzle Foundation, which is based in Barre and was founded by Maleia’s loved ones. As Randy Lambetti of the foundation said, “This is really a gift from us to them. They’re going to be running it to service Washington County kids with autism and we’re also hoping to get statewide response, as well, and have kids maybe bused in to use it.” Here’s to hoping that such initiatives take place elsewhere in the country as the reaction in Barre has been almost univocally and unanimously positive.

Finally, in our weekly recapping of the videos and photos you need to watch and see, we have two this week. First up, a North Carolina police officer has become a bit on an online celebrity now that a photo of him has earned over 250,000 views. In the photo, Officer Tim Purdy is seen talking with and calming down a possibly suicidal teen with autism. According to Purdy, while this is a scene that likely plays out a few times a day across the country, it’s served as a great reminder for local police stations’ roles in protecting those who can’t always protect themselves. The photo can be viewed here.

Finally, in a video that’s been moving people to tears and action around the country, 16 year old Dillon Barmarche, who is nonverbal, recently got the opportunity to speak due to augmented and alternative applications on his iPad. And in doing so, he’s hopped online to record a series of videos to increase awareness about autism and give people a peek into his world: “I get to experience the world in a very unique way. I can see the wind, hear the flowers. I can feel incredible emotions flowing from those I love.”