Wednesday, June 26, 2013

ATC is Growing!

by Anna Hundley, ATC Executive Director

In the early 1980s, when I started working at ATC, the incidence of autism was 1 in 10,000.  ATC was a small program serving 25 school age children in an educational and residential program.  Now, the incidence of autism is 1 in 50.

These days if you sit in the lobby of ATC in Dallas you will see 9 school buses from different schools dropping off and picking up students.  Young children of all ages come to ATC daily for ABA, speech, occupational, and physical therapies.  In addition, families frequently bring their children for diagnostic services.  After hours a group of 10-15 young men and women with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) come for leadership and self-advocacy classes.  There are also many college students with a passion for teaching students with autism interning at the Center.  Our residential program is expanding as well.  We are excited to announce that ATC is opening its 21st residential home on August 1st, 2013.

I just described what is happening at ATC Dallas, but the same services are provided in San Antonio, and our Fort Worth program has been open one year as of June 2013.  How did we accomplish all of this?  A great Board of Directors who understands autism, a long term professional staff, and tremendous community support!

For 25 years an event called Roundup for Autism has raised funds for special autism services at ATC.  The event founder, Bobby Norris, has given freely of his time, talent, and resources to ensure its success.  Over the years Roundup has raised more that $2.5 million to help support and grow the programs and services at ATC! This year's event will celebrate its 25th year and will take place on September 20-21, 2013.  Learn more about this amazing event at  We hope you will join us!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Thank you for letting me help"

You know the feeling, a wide smile across your face, a sense of purpose, maybe a little tired but completely satisfied with the day - you just spent the day volunteering for a worthy cause. It's hard to leave a volunteer opportunity not feeling like you, one person, has made a difference.Often, we also leave with a new skill. If you've ever helped at a Habitat for Humanity build, had you ever built a house before? Volunteering exposes us to new environments, people, and experiences. 

As a nonprofit organization we understand the importance of volunteers. Some things just wouldn't be able to happen without them, like the annual Roundup for Autism (  We at ATC are given so much by our volunteers, we want to give back too.  And, we do!

Many of the adults with autism in our program do just that; giving back to the community by consistently volunteering with other nonprofits like Meals on Wheels and World of Goods. Collectively, our adults give over 1,500 hours of their time volunteering each month. These activities allow the adults in our program to gain job experience, build self-esteem, and make new friends.

We asked a few of the adults what they think of volunteering at Meals on Wheels, and here is what they had to say:

     "I deliver food in the community to people that need it. I enjoy it. My favorite thing about it is just being able to help people in the community. I give the meals to old and sick people. I love the cat person. (A man we deliver to with many many cats.)" - Daniel

     "We deliver food. I pick up the meals and deliver it whenever they need it. I give it to the old ladies in the apartments. I like doing it all the time." - Bobby

     "I deliver food to old people! I like it. My favorite thing is giving people their meals and everything. I want to tell them thank you for letting me help." - Lora

On behalf of Lora and everyone in the volunteer program, we extend a big Thank You to all of the programs giving us the opportunity to give back!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Asperger’s—Disease or Difference?

by Ken Kellam

Not too long ago, I was talking to a friend from high school and said, “I know everyone thought I was weird back in school.” He replied, “Ken, I never thought you were weird. I think we all knew you were different. We just didn’t know why.”

That sums up the “Aspie” in a nutshell. Everyone knows he’s different, including him. But they don’t know why. He may be seen as slow, undisciplined, maybe even retarded. The reality is, his brain is simply wired differently than that of most people. Because of this, he may struggle with things others take for granted, and may take longer to learn things than others. However, this also means he can probably do things others couldn't do to save their lives.

A classic example of this would be Temple Grandin. While watching “The Temple Grandin Story,” it occurred to me why her differences were both a blessing and a curse: Because nobody had a brain that worked like hers, nobody else could understand her, and so oftentimes, she was dismissed as an eccentric or kook. But by the same token, because no one’s brain worked like hers, nobody could do the things she did. Similarly, I struggled with a lot of things that came easy to my classmates in school. But I could also do things they could never do, such as figuring math problems in my head.

At one point in my life, I thought my entire way of looking at things was off-balance, out-of-whack, and just plain wrong. I struggled to think like others. But eventually, I came to realize my perspective on things wasn't wrong, it was simply different. Too often, the Aspie doesn't understand how others think, and others certainly don’t understand how he thinks. As a result, he gets ridiculed, possibly harassed, bullied, maybe even dismissed and not taken seriously.

But just because the Aspie is different, that doesn't mean he isn't intelligent. In fact, he may just be smarter than you. He’s simply trying to adjust to life in a world that wasn't made for him. And trust me—if most of the people in this world were Aspies, the world would be a much different place. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

Suppose you were built like a mesomorph. That is, you were short, but stocky, with rather short limbs. Now, suppose you found yourself trapped on a planet where almost everyone was tall and thin, and into running. Because you were not built like everyone else, people might assume you’re an overeater, undisciplined, etc. But because of the way you’re built, you’d have an edge on most other people when it came to strength, and you’d be able to do things most of the tall-and-thin crowd couldn't.

The Aspie is a mesomorph in a world of tall-and-thins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the way his brain is built—it’s simply not built with this world in mind. That’s why I refer to Asperger’s Syndrome as a difference-not a defect, disease, or flaw. Having Asperger’s sometimes makes it harder for me to live in this world, but it also has its good points.

Ken Kellam III was diagnosed with Asperger's in his late 30's. He recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at ATC, where he works as Administrative Assistant to Dr. Carolyn Garver. He has been married for two years, and his wife also works at ATC as a Teaching Assistant.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Give Thanks

by Emily

Emily is the niece of Michelle Hammons, a mother of two boys, one with autism.  You can read Michelle's story A Big Dose of Diversity & Jacob's story. Emily attends Central High School in San Angelo, Texas. She wrote the following piece on diversity for her English class last year. It is about how Jacob and other special friends have impacted her life.

Most people will tell you that they are accepting of all people; people of all races, of all ethnicities, and all backgrounds. I personally think that this is very far from true. When people take into account all those who face hardships for who they are they often leave out a very important group, the mentally challenged and those that have special needs. My experience with people who have disabilities has shaped my life in such a way that every person I meet in turn, gets to meet a totally accepting me.

My younger cousin Jacob was born a beautiful, healthy baby when I was around the age of six. I was thrilled to have a new baby in the family and thought he was the best thing since my Barbies. As Jacob grew older, my aunt and uncle noticed that he was not very responsive and knew that something was not quite right. They had him tested for many things and came to the realization that he had a type of autism.

Through the years, Jacob has brought many surprises to family events. He’s gone through stages where he will not let anyone cross their legs, no matter who they might be, even innocent strangers who might be sitting on a bench at WalMart. Jacob also went through a karate chopping phase where every door, table, and car had to be satisfactorily chopped and slapped before anyone could move on to their business.

Being with Jacob in public attracts many stares and I know it is definitely hard for my aunt to deal with all day, every day. Many people do not understand that Jacob is just a boy who needs some special help, and it is easy to see that most people automatically judge him at first sight. My aunt has worked so hard with Jacob all his life and at age ten he is finally beginning to talk and read some words.

Many would say that Jacob is not “normal” but I think the thought that everyone has to be the same definition of normal is a great flaw in our society. Jacob is just himself and that is how things are supposed to be.

After being around Jacob all of my life, I thought it would be great to be in my school’s PE Partner program for a semester of my sophomore year. In the PE partners class, you are paired with a student from the school’s special education program and do many fun activities for a class period each day. I walked in the class on the first day fully expecting to see students all exactly like Jacob, but I was wrong.

There were people in this class that had Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and many other types of mental and physical disabilities. My partner for the majority of the year was really an amazing guy. We had so much fun talking about anything and everything, and I can’t remember a day that he didn’t have a smile on his face. He could tell me every fact in any book about Michael Jackson and every important date in his life.

He knew about almost every movie, song, or music group that you could think of. There are so many varying degrees and types of mental and physical disabilities, and with this class I saw many of them. I see my PE partner from last year around school, and this Christmas I received a wonderful gift from him. We always had an inside joke about me and one of my girlfriends being his “monkey girls” and we both were surprised with stuffed animal sock monkeys for Christmas. His enormous heart makes me so glad to call him a friend and I am lucky to have met him.

My cousin and my time in PE partners have both taught me many things. I have learned that you must accept everyone for all that they are; all of their uniqueness, quirks, and the things that make them, them! Many people judge others with disabilities and make fun of them for being who they are, and this is not right.

Every person deserves the right to be themselves just like they have the right to live in their culture, or be the color that they are. I wish everyone could be in a PE partners class or have experience with people who have disabilities. They don’t apologize for who they are and accept everyone as a new friend. I think a lot of people could benefit from this lesson, and I know the way I view others has forever been changed. I am even considering a career helping those with special needs. 

I truly give thanks for the differences we all have, and even though they might not be the textbook definition of “normal,” make us who we are.