Austin Peay State University (APSU) is launching a pilot program aimed at improving the college experience for students on the autism spectrum.

This fall, APSU students who have autism will be invited to enroll in Full Spectrum Learning, the university’s pilot program to support students with autism in all aspects of college life. The program will include one-on-one tutoring, peer mentoring and support from students and faculty on Full Spectrum Learning staff, according to the APSU website.

Full Spectrum Learning is modeled after a similar successful program offered at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. The program, known as MoSAIC, is based on research about autism and input from experts. Like Full Spectrum Learning, it centers on academic and life coaching, peer and faculty mentoring and mandatory supervised study sessions, according to the program’s website.

One key element that sets Full Spectrum Learning apart from programs like MoSAIC is that it’s actually being designed by students with autism. Full Spectrum Learning will be heavily structured around feedback from students with autism rather than solely on research and autism experts.

“Earlier this year, we put out a call for people to join us in a focus group because we wanted to see what Austin Peay could do to better support students with autism,” Dr. Gina Grogan, an Associate Professor at the university who works in special education, said, according to the APSU website. “We received input from so many different people, including professors, students with and without autism, APSU staff and even community members as we tried to see what the university needed.”

Programs like Full Spectrum Learning are an important step toward ensuring everyone has the opportunity to receive an education, regardless of ability. Colleges like APSU could be a viable choice for young adults with autism and their families who may not have considered college to be an option.

“Many [students with autism] look like everyone else, but they just need some extra help,” Grogan said, according to the APSU website. “And that’s why special education exists — so that everyone can get the help they need to have a fair opportunity to succeed.”

Learn more about APSU’s Full Spectrum Learning program here.


Baby Jack was born with craniosynostosis, meaning the joints connecting the bones in his skull fused prematurely. To make room for his brain to grow, Jack underwent corrective surgery to repair his bones, according to an entry Jack’s dad posted on Reddit. After the surgery, he had to wear a head-shaping helmet to keep the bones in place.

Jack’s dad, who we can safely assume is a “Star Wars” fan, decided to spice up his son’s medical equipment. In the year following Jack’s surgery, Jack’s dad turned his son’s head-shaping helmets into “Star Wars”-themed masterpieces. Take a look:

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Jack recently celebrated his first birthday, and with that comes an end to the helmets.

Today is the last day of helmets,” a friend of Jack’s dad posted on Reddit along with photos of the helmets. “Happy birthday, Jack!”

Since photographs of the helmets were posted to Reddit on August 11, they’ve made the rounds all over the Internet. The post also garnered hundreds of comments from Reddit users applauding the father’s artistic abilities and from parents whose children have gone through experiences similar to Jack’s. Some parents even shared how they decorated their kids’ head-shaping helmets.

“My second son was a helmet boy. He had a few bumps to even out and had to wear one about nine months. SO GLAD to get that off! We never decorated ours, but I love this idea!” one user wrote.

We put butterfly and flower stickers and her name on our daughter’s helmet,” another added.

This isn’t the first time creatively-designed head-shaping helmets have made the news. In April 2014, The Mighty reported on Paula Strawn, a woman who started her own business painting imaginative designs on head-shaping helmets like the one Jack wore. Strawn calls her business Lazardo Art, and her work still regularly pops up on Reddit and other social media platforms.

View the original Reddit post here.

h/t Fashionably Geek

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit against Amtrak that claims the company discriminated against a potential employee with epilepsy, according to The Associated Press.

Latest estimates say 4.8 million people in the United States have had an epilepsy diagnosis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. While epilepsy can certainly impact day-to-day life, people with epilepsy can hold jobs and have successful careers. It’s often discrimination, not the diagnosis, that gets in the way of people with epilepsy finding employment, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Amtrak was allegedly on track to hire Shawn Moe as a journeyman machinist, but withdrew the job offer in 2013 after discovering Moe has epilepsy, according to The Hill. Moe had worked in a similar position with a locomotive company in the past. The EEOC says refusing to hire someone because of a disability doesn’t comply with the Americans Disability Act, according to The Associated Press.

Update: Amtrak sent the following statement to The Mighty.

We do not comment on pending litigation. However, Amtrak takes very seriously its obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act and does not discriminate against employees or applicants based on disability.

I wonder if I’m too sensitive to people’s remarks, reactions and responses to my son, Caleb. When you’re a parent of a child with special needs, especially a parent of a cute kid with spiky hair in a blue wheelchair, people notice and say things. They stare. Sometimes, often times, they say the absolutely wrong thing. But do they mean to? Are they intentionally trying to be rude? Let’s discuss.

I’m going to share one recent example:

We were at a birthday party at a skating rink. Caleb was free to take his wheelchair on the rink and go as fast as he wanted, do wheelies, spins, etc. People stared; that was nothing new. But one man really seemed to get a kick out of Caleb. He asked Caleb to show off by doing some wheelies. He even called his daughter over to see Caleb performing his tricks. He asked questions like, “How old were you when you started using a wheelchair?” Afterwards, the man looked at my husband, Glenn, and said, “He’s an inspiration to me.” On the way home, Glenn and I started talking about it. My first reaction was to be annoyed. Caleb isn’t a circus act; he doesn’t need to perform tricks for you! And the “he’s an inspiration to me” comment. He’s 10, he’s a kid, he’s not here to be your inspiration.

I could feel myself getting all fired up about this stranger at the skating rink. Then I took a breath. The truth is that the man was really interested in Caleb. He talked to him. He smiled at him. The man had 100 percent good intentions, I have no doubt. And Caleb loves doing wheelies and looks for any opportunity to show off. Caleb loved every second of it. And Caleb is an inspiration to a lot of people. He inspires me.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve been too sensitive about these things over the years. Maybe we’ve all been too sensitive. For fun, I did an informal survey on Facebook to see what comments or questions bother other special needs parents. I’m going to share the main issues and then share why I think I (or we) have been too sensitive about each one. I’m also going to share some of the comments I received.

1. “What’s wrong with him/her?”

I know I’ve heard this from so many people over the years. Obviously it sounds like the person asking this question is saying there’s something wrong with our kid, and we take offense to that. I agree it’s a poor choice of words. But a poor choice of words doesn’t mean ill intent.

Here is what I think happens. The person asks, “What’s wrong with him/her?” but what they really mean to say is: “I’m curious why your child is in a wheelchair (or has a different special need). I don’t really know how to ask about your child. I’m nervous and I’m curious. I don’t mean to say the wrong thing… but I don’t know how to ask.” Sometimes, often times, people blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

2. “Ahhh, bless his/her heart,” “Poor thing” or “I’m so sorry.”

Yep, I’ve heard these many times as well. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for Caleb. But the truth is that people do feel sorry for him. And honestly I know people feel sorry for me as his mom. I know they do. Before I was on this journey, before I had Caleb, I could totally hear myself saying any of these phrases to someone. Maybe they don’t mean it to sound like pity. Maybe they are trying to be sympathetic but it comes out wrong. Again, people often blurt out the first thing that comes to their minds.

3. “As long as the baby is healthy.”

I’ve heard “as long as the baby is healthy” a hundred times from pregnant women over the years. I think this one bothers me because I hear them saying Caleb isn’t healthy and therefore they wouldn’t want Caleb. But the truth is every pregnant woman on the planet wants a healthy baby. And I think women say “as long as its healthy” because they’re scared. They are wishing and hoping that nothing is wrong and that everything goes perfectly.

4. Not using people first language.

We want our kids to be seen as a person, not a diagnosis. Caleb has spina bifida, he isn’t the spina bifida kid. Fair enough.

5. “I don’t know how you do it.”

Honestly, I think “I don’t know how you do it” anytime I see a mom with more than two kids. And I think this about some of my fellow spina bifida moms that have kids with higher medical needs than Caleb. I’m overwhelmed by all they have on their plate and wonder how they do it. But the truth is that I could do it and would do it if I had to.

I’ve heard all of these and then some over the past seven-plus years. I’ve had my feelings hurt more times than I can count. I’ve wanted to smack people for staring and for saying inconsiderate things. But I’m realizing that the vast majority of people mean no harm. I think I have been too sensitive, too quick to assume everyone who stares is being ugly or everyone who gives me the head tilt along with “I’m sorry” is expressing pity. Maybe, just maybe, most people are nice. They are curious. They want to ask questions but they might not ask the way we want them to. And that’s OK.

I fear we’ve made it too hard for people to say the right thing. I think most people want to say the right thing, but they just don’t know what it is so they say the first thing that comes to mind and often it’s the wrong thing to say.

I guess my point in this ridiculously long post is that I’ve been too sensitive. Maybe we all have. So the challenge to myself (and to you as well) is to filter the reactions, whether it’s a comment or a stare, with the assumption the person means well. Assume they have good intentions. Use it as an opportunity to educate. We know our kids are awesome, so let everyone else know it too. Are there some people who are just plain mean and will say awful things on purpose? Yes. But I do believe those folks are the minority and not worth our time anyway.

The more things we add to the “Don’t say this!” list, the less we make ourselves available. We have made it hard for people to know what to say because we keep adding to the list of things not to say.

I’ll get down from my soapbox now.

Follow this journey on Beyond Measure.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one commonly held opinion within the community surrounding your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) that doesn’t resonate with you? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

On Tuesday, Reddit user Thugzz_Bunny posted a screenshot in the site’s “Funny” subreddit of a tweet advertising a minor league baseball team’s epilepsy awareness night.

My hometown minor league team must not know what epilepsy is,” the user wrote, with this photo attached:

The tweet was for the Chattanooga Lookouts‘ first annual “Strike Out Epilepsy” awareness night, which featured a postgame fireworks show on August 7. More than 4,000 people attended the event in Chattanooga, Tennessee, according to the Epilepsy Foundation Southeast Tennessee. Players also wore purple, an epilepsy awareness color, for the game.

Some Reddit users found the postgame activity ironic because for someone with photosensitive epilepsy, flashing lights or contrasting light and dark patterns can trigger seizures, according to the Epilepsy Society. If viewed too closely, fireworks can be dangerous for someone with photosensitive epilepsy. It’s important to note that contrary to popular belief, not everyone with epilepsy is affected by flashing lights or fireworks. Of the 65 million people who have epilepsy, about 3 percent have photosensitive epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

This Reddit user is not alone in pointing out the potential threat of flashing lights to people with photosensitive epilepsy, though. Recently, both Twitter and Virgin Media came under fire from an epilepsy charity group for posting flashing videos that could potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

h/t Reddit

When people meet me, they don’t usually realize I have Asperger’s syndrome and a brain tumor. After years of utilizing coping skills, I finally got the tool I needed to function optimally: a service dog. 

My husband and I knew it might bring some challenges since people would want to ask questions, so I carefully practiced answers and educated the staff at stores and restaurants where I often went before I took my dog with me. My first solo trip with my service dog seemed simple. Drive two miles from my home and walk into a convenience store where I was known to the staff, pick up a Diet Coke and a candy bar and drive home. Taking my service dog with me shouldn’t have been a problem since I had already educated the manager and staff about bringing my dog.

It was a sunny fall day, and I pulled the door open and my service dog, Bella, walked calmly at my side as we entered. Unexpectedly, a shrill scream pierced the air. “Are you blind? Get that dog out of here!” Shocked, shamed and confused, I glanced at a new clerk who stood at the nearest counter. She pointed at the door. “Get out! Are you dumb? And deaf?” I could not believe the insults; they burned into my heart.

From the corner of my eye, I saw a second clerk I knew wave at me as Bella and I hurriedly left and other customers watched this rude display. I had no words as tears flowed down my face and I drove home. I sat wordless as Bella pressed against me, silently comforting me. I was in turmoil and couldn’t sort or express my emotions.

My husband came home 20 minutes later, and the phone was ringing off the hook. He had stopped at the same convenience store and heard a very interesting story. The second clerk came forward and educated the new clerk about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). She indicated that service dogs had public access and, if necessary, there were two questions to ask: Is the dog necessary for a disability and what work or tasks does the dog do? IDs and vests were not necessary. 

My husband suggested I answer the phone. The clerk who had been so rude made the effort to call and apologize to me. I listened and accepted her apologies, but it didn’t erase the deep hurt and shame I felt when I left the store.

The clerk also attempted to ask many questions about my disability and medical condition. It was difficult for me to deal with this conversation, but I took it as an opportunity to discuss the ADA and service dogs, so other service dog teams who entered the store would have an easier time. 

We ended our conversation on a good note. Despite the apology, it took hours of work to process my emotions due to my disability and days passed before I went back into the local convenience store. When I did, I noticed a sign that stated, “No pets, service dogs welcome.” I felt I had been a small part of that change in our community. If you have a service dog, you may face questions and access challenges no matter how prepared you are. But be strong. You never know how you might help change a piece of the world.

Lesley Nord the mighty.1-001

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