This simulator nails why you should never judge someone with autism.

Flashing lights, screeching noises, disorienting colors.

That is what 10-year-old Alex Marshall saw, heard, and felt — not while playing an intense video game or watching an action flick on the big screen, but while standing in the middle of a shopping center with his mom. 

Many people on the autism spectrum — people like Alex — have varying issues with sensory input. That is, they may be over- or under-sensitive to sights, sounds, and other stimuli around them. An everyday experience like walking down an aisle in the mall can be overwhelming. 


The U.K.-based National Autistic Society recently set up a virtual reality experience to give mall shoppers a taste of what someone like Alex may experience during an everyday errand in public:

A virtual reality experience doesn't mean others can truly know what having autism feels like, of course. And not every person on the autism spectrum experiences sensory sensitivities the same way (or at all). But still — this video can make a big difference.

The National Autistic Society wants more people to have a better understanding of what life is like for people like Alex.

When our understanding of another person's experience deepens, so does our empathy for them.

"Autism is complex and autistic people and their families don’t expect or want people to be experts," Mark Lever, chief executive of the organization, said in a statement regarding the campaign. 

Lever noted that while many people don't want to be judgmental of those with autism, they often fail to "see the autism" in others. Instead, they simply see a "strange" man acting out in public or a stubborn child who refuses to listen to their parent. 

As the shoppers concluded after trying out the virtual reality simulator, however, we shouldn't let preconceived notions about "normalcy" dictate how we view others who may be simply experiencing the world differently.

The simulation "just shows you the panic," one woman said. "How they feel. You don't realize how they feel." 

Learn more about autism and how you can help the world become a more welcoming place for people like Alex at the National Autistic Society's website.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.