Danya20: “Different, Not Less”

Image of a rainbow umbrella in a sea of black umbrellas, with the caption "Different, Not Less"Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behavior expert and author of The Autistic Brain, once stated, “I am different, not less.” Danya International has believed in this sentiment from our very beginning. Many of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants that we received throughout our early years focused on how to help facilitate inclusion and communication with the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) community.

Since 2002, we have developed and evaluated a number of educational products for individuals with ASD and their caregivers, peers, professionals, and advocates who work with them. Our goal was to create products that would help build effective communication and listening skills within the ASD community, advocate for social inclusion in the general education system, and support the emotional and behavioral health of individuals with ASD.

As we began researching best ways to reach our target audiences with our programs and products, we realized that, while many websites offered products and information about autism, we could not find one online resource for individuals to go to find research-based, high-quality products that meet the needs of individuals with ASD.

Logo for Autism Online So Danya decided to become what we were looking for. In 2009, we took over management of AutismOnline, a site started by the parent of a young girl with autism. This parent’s vision of a website that would provide resources on a global scale to people with autism and their caregivers fell in line with our own ideas for an online ASD community.

AutismOnline was the first website of its kind devoted to providing research-based, effective, high-quality resources, products, and information on ASD across the lifespan. It also is a place where parents and caregivers of children and individuals with ASD can visit and know they are not alone. Visitors can access the Caregiver Community, an online community where autism caregivers can find information and connect with other autism caregivers.

Our mission to provide products for all individuals within the ASD community makes AutismOnline a unique and extensive resource. We provide information divided into four age categories: young children with autism, children with autism, young adults with autism, and adults with autism. Within these categories, we provide handouts, activities, and links to external websites and organizations.

We also offer our line of ASD-related products, which we have painstakingly designed to target the unmet needs of this growing population. Some of our more recent products include:

Image of Charting the Course curriculum binderCharting the Course, a curriculum designed to help parents of adolescents with an ASD from ages 10 to 18 years to support and educate their children in learning the skills needed to navigate sexual health, sexuality, and relationships. Charting the Course includes a 315-page Parent’s Guide that contains chapters on topics such as puberty and personal hygiene, relationships, sexuality, and sexual health. Also included is a complementary interactive game, Boardwalk Adventure, designed to help adolescents solidify learning about sensitive topics, such as puberty and personal hygiene, friendships and relationships, dating etiquette, and sexuality-related topics in an interactive and fun way.

Image of Caring for Caregivers cover artCaring for Caregivers, an education and support group curriculum designed for professionals or paraprofessionals to use to help caregivers of individuals with autism across the lifespan reduce the stress, burden, depression, and anxiety related to caregiving. This four-part program is designed for groups of caregivers of: young children, school-aged children, adolescents and young adults, and adults with ASD. Each individual program contains a Facilitator’s Guide, Participant Workbook, and audiovisual program. Caregiver Community is a complementary website that visitors can use to find and share resources with other caregivers in their Caring for Caregiver groups or in their local community.

These products and many more can be found on AutismOnline.

In addition to our SBIR work, Danya recently assisted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a holistic evaluation of their Learn the Signs. Act Early. program, which aims to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. We also have been helping to fill a need among Tribal communities, where resources are scarce, by giving out copies of our AutismVision: Creating Autism Awareness in Elementary School Staff curriculum during Head Start-related workshops. Our workshop attendees have provided excellent feedback for our much-needed assistance to these communities.

As Dr. Grandin and so many others with ASD prove consistently, those who are “different, not less” can make extraordinary contributions to society—it is up to us as their advocates, friends, and family to make sure they have the chance. For this reason, Danya has been deeply committed to our efforts to enhance and support the lives of children and adults with ASD as well as their community.

Celebrating Autism Awareness Month

Autism_awarenessFor some of us, it’s that time of year again. April is Autism Awareness Month, and, just 2 years ago, President Obama asked the nation to recognize April 2nd as Autism Awareness Day, a day to bring light to what is a growing public health concern.

While public perception of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) has evolved over the years, for the other half of us, April 2nd is just another early spring day. When I ask my friends and family who are far removed from the mental health field what they know about autism, I hear things like, “All people with autism are savants in some way,” or “All people with autism are mentally retarded.” Often, the stereotypical rocking child comes to mind. Most have never even heard of Asperger’s Syndrome or High Functioning Autism (HFA).

These myths and stereotypes are most likely due to poor mental health education and fueled by film and television that popularize interesting, yet uncommon aspects of the disorder. The effect is that children and families struggling with this developmental disorder have to fight ignorance and stereotypes everywhere in their life.

So, what should people know about autism? ASD is currently thought to affect 1 in 88 children, and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. It is characterized by social, cognitive, and communicative impairments. However, most children with autism develop at a similar rate as their non-autistic peers, many have average or above average IQ, and not all display language problems or repetitive behaviors, particularly those with HFA or Asperger’s. More than likely, you know or knew someone at your high school or university that is affected by ASD. And, most importantly, not all cases of autism look the same from person to person. This makes education about and for autism complex and important.

ao_09-01-10Danya has a rich history in autism education. We have developed programs and products to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and support from experts in the field and families affected by ASD. Currently, Danya is offering free viewings for research-based, high-quality videos from our autism products online. Videos to promote social inclusion in elementary and middle school settings by teaching neurotypical peers about ASD and increasing awareness about autism in elementary school staff; videos to support adolescents and young adults with ASD in planning, applying for, and transitioning into a postsecondary educational setting; and videos to reduce stress and anxiety in caregivers of individuals with autism across the lifespan are all available to view now on AutismOnline’s YouTube channel.

Currently, the Danya team is working on an educational curriculum for parents of teens with autism to teach their child about relationships, dating, sexuality, and sexual health. An interactive, web-based video game for teens is also being developed as a complement to the course.

So, what can you do to recognize Autism Awareness Month and celebrate all that science and research has done for this developmental disability? I suggest you strive to tell one person, whether it be a friend, coworker, or neighbor, about Autism. Let them know what you know and ask them to share this information with another person themselves in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

If you want to learn more about ASD, or about other ways you can support Autism Awareness Month, please check out some of these important sites. Connect with Autism Speaks and help them “Light it up Blue” on April 2nd. Visit the Autism Science Foundation to help support autism research, or check out AutismOnline, Danya’s website devoted to providing research-based, effective resources, products, and information on ASD across the lifespan.

By Amanda Bowen

AutismOnline to Host Autism Twitter Town Hall

Danya’s AutismOnline will hold a Twitter Town Hall on autism from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EST Wednesday, April 27, 2011. The Town Hall—a focused discussion using Twitter—offers a chance to engage with others sharing an interest in autism.

To participate, please include the hashtag #autismtownhall in all tweets during the Town Hall.

Since 2002, Danya has developed and evaluated a number of educational products for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the caregivers, professionals, and advocates who work with them. Through the AutismOnline Web site, Danya strives to provide products for all individuals affected by ASD, including individuals with ASD themselves, caregivers, advocates, teachers, and professionals, making AutismOnline a unique and extensive resource for the autism community.


Autism Classroom Connections is a multimedia program designed to facilitate the social inclusion of children (ages 8 to 11) and adolescents (ages 12 to 15) with autism, high-functioning autism, or Asperger syndrome in general education classrooms.

Caring for Caregivers is a multimedia curriculum on stress reduction and coping strategies for professionals and paraprofessionals to use while supporting caregivers of individuals with ASD across the lifespan. Web site coming fall 2011.

Educating Adults about Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders is a training curriculum for personnel and staff (paraeducators, cafeteria workers, librarians, administrators) who work with and/or interact with children with ASD in school settings to increase their knowledge about ASD in children and to engage children with ASD and manage challenging behaviors effectively.

Supporting Teens with Autism on Relationships is a skill-building resource that adapts empirically based sexuality education approaches and interventions for families of children and teens (ages 10 to 14) who have high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome.

Supporting Transition in Vocation and Education is a skill-building resource designed specifically for late adolescents and young adults (ages 16 to 21) with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism as they transition from high school to post-secondary education or work.

Organization for Autism Research (OAR): Life Journey Through Autism Guide is a series of guides related to autism. Danya worked with OAR to develop guides that include: A Parent’s Guide to Research, An Educator’s Guide to Autism, An Educator’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome, A Guide for Transition to Adulthood, and A Parent’s Guide to Assessment.

These projects are funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health Small Business Innovative Research grant program.



Autism Awareness Month

Danya Celebrates with Autism Twitter Town Hall

Friday, April 1st, marked the first day of Autism Awareness month. Excitingly on that day, in a presidential proclamation, President Barack Obama declared that April 2nd will forever be known as Autism Awareness Day. He noted that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are now known to affect almost 1% of all children (1 in 110) and, therefore, constitute an “urgent public health issue.” This recognition and the rising awareness of autism here in the United States and around the world is heartening, as not too long ago autism was grossly misunderstood, ignored, misclassified, underdiagnosed, and undertreated. We have come a long way toward accurately and efficiently recognizing, identifying, treating, and researching autism.

Since 2002, Danya has been working to increase public awareness about ASD, and to develop programs and products to improve the lives of individuals with autism and their families. For example, with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), we developed AutismVision: Creating Classroom Connections, which is a DVD-based intervention designed to teach neurotypical peers about ASD to enhance the social inclusion of students with ASD in elementary and middle school settings. Danya also developed STRIVE, a training curriculum to support adolescents and young adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism in transitioning successfully from high school to postsecondary educational settings. We recently redesigned and overhauled our website, AutismOnline, which is devoted to providing individuals with autism and their families, educators, and professional caregivers access to research-based, high-quality, affordable resources and products on autism across the lifespan.

To help promote autism awareness, Danya is organizing a Twitter Town Hall event focused on autism on Wednesday, April 27th, from 2:00–3:00 p.m. EST. The goal of the Twitter Town Hall is to engage participants in a lively discussion about autism and, in the process, raise awareness about autism. A Twitter Town Hall is simply a focused discussion for a set period of time over Twitter, and open to all personal and organization Twitter accounts. It is a chance to engage people from anywhere in the world with a shared interest—in this case, autism. We invite anyone interested to participate. Please include the hashtag #autismtownhall in all tweets during the Town Hall.