When Julian Maha and Michelle Kong’s first infant was diagnosed with autism, their world turned upside down.
Maha and Kong’s son Abram was an easy, delightful, precocious newborn at first. Around age 2, his behaviour abruptly changed. He stopped talking. He stopped sleeping. He wept inconsolably half the night.
Though they are both physicians themselves, his mothers were at a loss. They consulted several physicians, finally landing an appointment with one of the top speech postpone specialists in the country.
After a short examination, the doctor abruptly delivered the daunting news: Abram has autism. He would probably never speak, never tell, “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 speedily became aware 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 ailment are nonverbal totally or merely at times, which can stimulate communication difficult. The vocalizations that sometimes come with autism can be fazing to people without autism who are unfamiliar with them. Too many noises, suns, people, or other stimuli can push people with autism into sensory overload, which can lead to meltdowns.
And then there are the premises. Because they communicate differently, people with autism are often perceived to be unintelligent or unfeeling.
Abram and two brothers 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 very intelligent and experience a full range of feelings. Many utterly can and do feel and understand — it’s only that sometimes, they just can’t demonstrate 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 the persons with autism — and helps make it happen.
Based out of Birmingham, Alabama, where Maha and Kong live, KultureCity seeks to transform national societies to be accepting and inclusive of neurodiversity.
“Everyone’s aware of autism now, ” says Maha. “I think it’s the next step of adoption and inclusion that’s really going to start construct 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 developing people in guest service positions on how to interact with guests with sensory processing differences. They also help stimulate spaces more all-inclusive through minor adjustments and accommodations. The educate 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 made sensory overload, everyone’s experience is more positive.
KultureCity has helped generate 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 offer lower noise levels and mob, but such accommodations might obstruct 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 feeling 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 generated 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 adoption and inclusion, they want to be part of the community, and it’s our mission to help embrace them regardless of their differences.”
Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com