Holiday Social was a huge hit!!

The FACT socials are free family events packed with fun for all ages. Our annual Holiday Party co-hosted by the Tidewater Autism Society in December is always a huge hit. We had games, crafts, face painting, prizes, an an inflatable obstacle course and a visit from Santa.
To check out all the fun click here.

F.A.C.T Holiday Float

Olivia Fisher’s Gold Award Girl Scout project is really coming together. Teens with ASD, parents, and peers are pitching in to help build the F.A.C.T. float for the Virginia Beach Holiday parade. Be sure to come out to the ocean front on Saturday, Dec 6 and wave to us as we cruise down Atlantic Avenue decked out and showing our holiday spirit. Click here for pictures of our progress.

FACT Teens & Tweens are Admirals Fans!!!

We’ve been attending hockey games for years. Maybe it’s the fast paced action, maybe it’s the concessions ad seeing our friends, but we love it. Check out the candid shots of last weeks event.

Little Black Dress Fundraiser

Last Sunday the director, Pam Clendenen hostelbd1d a brunch and Little Black Dress Fundraiser, Champagne and shopping what could be more fun? It was lovely. If you missed it, we’ll be having another event when the spring line of dresses premiers. See you then.

Scavenger Hunt for Autism 2014 Recap

The 3rd annual Scavenger Hunt for Autism was a huge success both EVMS autism research and FACT programs like Cam Gonnnaannagoagin will receive much needed funding. The donors and volunteers all did a great job for making this years event the best yet. Congratulations to Taylor’s Troopers, Team Daniel, The VB Pirates and the Sandwiches who all won prizes on Sunday! To see our favorite pictures from the day click here.

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Our Youth Reaching Out

The Girls Scout Gold Award is the greatest and most esteemed accolade to ever be awarded in Girl Scouts. In fact, only about 5.4% of Girl Scouts manage to attain it. By achieving this honor, young girls are making astounding differences within their communities and across the globe. This is no leisurely task either; these altruistic females are required to complete-in addition to other prerequisites- a series of complex standards of excellence. These standards are created to challenge these young females to the fullest extent, in hopes of developing them into compelling, influential leaders. There are seven criteria to meet in order to meet these standards of excellence: identifying the issue, investigating thoroughly, gathering a team, creating a plan, presenting a plan and accepting feedback, taking action, and inspiring others. These girls are suggested to spend a minimum of 80 hours immersed in their projects in order to accomplish this great feat.
But why is this relevant to F.A.C.T.?
Olivia Fisher is an experienced Girl Scout and Camp Gonnawannagoagin’ veteran. Her previous work with children with autism, along with her desire to take a leadership role within her community, has compelled her to make F.A.C.T. the nucleus of her Gold Award pursuit. In order to execute this goal, she is organizing a project to create a F.A.C.T. float for the famed Holiday Parade at the Beach. Olivia wants to help generate awareness of F.A.C.T. specifically, and include teens with autism in a community event.
After doing the initial research necessary for the parade requirements and speaking to the administrative leaders of F.A.C.T., she is ready to gather her team and set her plan into action. Her team idea…genius. In case you are not familiar with F.A.C.T.’s teen night, we host a monthly excursion for high-functioning teens with autism so that they can engage in social opportunities with their peers. Olivia has decided to interweave her holiday float project with teen night, thus providing an outstanding chance for our teens to socialize with their peers, while simultaneously experiencing the fulfillment of accomplishing a group project. Olivia also plans to ask our teens for their design ideas, so that she can hopefully incorporate a little part of everyone into the mission.
This girl is, to say the least, unbelievable. She soon plans to launch an ice cream social fundraiser in order to raise money for float construction expenses, and I for one, am looking forward to supporting it. I can’t help but think of the activities I was involved in at 17-years-old. I think the most impressive thing I accomplished at that age was a grueling weekend schedule at Chuck E. Cheese. I do know one thing, I’m keeping this girl on my radar. I look forward to being impressed!
Lauren Cook

Behind the Scenes of Camp Gonnawannagoagin’

What you don’t know about our Super Woman

Everyone involved has a different perspective about Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. As donors, sponsors, volunteers, counselors, board members, or campers, we all have our own understandings of how the camp operates. Until recently, my personal connection was that I had been a senior counselor for over 10 years, and I did my best to pour my heart and soul into our occasional fundraisers. However, it wasn’t until I accepted a year-round position that I finally had the opportunity to experience the magnitude of Camp Gonnawanngoagin’. I was completely naïve about the intensity of preparation and the degree of travail necessary to pull this off year after year. Above all, I was fundamentally oblivious to the remarkable capacities and efforts of our Executive Director, Pam Clendenen.
Each year, Camp Gonnawanngoagin’ looks relatively similar: Everyone shows up, receives their color-coded schedules, acquires their t-shirts, and heads to their assigned groups where they begin to get to know one another. Soon after, they head to their bus or van and are swept off to whatever activities are scheduled for that day. All in all, it seems relatively simple, right? Wrong. Here is a little glimpse behind the scenes and the one woman behind the proverbial curtain.
Since FACT does not have a permanent campus, every year this woman reinvents the wheel. She brainstorms, she researches, she exhausts all of her contacts, and she engages in one meeting after another until she finds the perfect place to have camp. Once this is done, applications go out. And although spots fill up faster than Paul McCartney tickets are sold, she manages to find a place for the majority of applicants. Once we have campers, we need something for the campers to do. To make this possible, Pam proceeds to contacting every local amusement park, aquarium, zoo, sports facility, farm, bowling alley, skating rink, etc. in order to provide age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate excursions for our campers. Next are the details; behind every schedule, law, safety check point, camper, volunteer, staff member, bus, van, insurance policy requirement, and t-shirt, there is Pam. She averts potential crises and minor mishaps seemingly with ease, while remaining overwhelmingly positive and energetic. The entire process is seemingly endless and too massive to handle, but she does it and she does it well every single year.
Pam Clendenen isn’t the type that would ever give you a laundry list of what she does well while awaiting a pat on the back. I chose to share this with the public with no ulterior motives, but simply because it’s worth sharing- simply because I am impressed. Sometimes it takes even the most perceptive people to truly understand and appreciate what is happening right in front of their faces. It is a reminder to never take certain people in your life for granted, especially the humble ones.
-Lauren Cook


Have you ever stopped to think about how beneficial the ability to ride a bike is?
Riding a bike isn’t something that most people think about unless they are the parent of a young child and the time has come to face the reality-and the tantrums- that they must teach the wee one how to ride. After a few days (and several tears later), the daunting task is over and it magically becomes a part of everyday life. But what does being able to independently ride a bicycle mean for those with disabilities?
Think about it. Being able to ride a bike-especially for those who will most likely never be able to drive a car-is priceless. A person with disabilities is most often limited when it comes to access to leisure activities, social inclusion, and dependable transportation to the work force. In addition, regular physical activity is almost completely absent from the lives of many people with disabilities, obviously leading to terrible health issues such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. Something as simple as riding a bike could offer a fuller life to so many of these people because they would gain the freedom of increased access, an enhanced sense of empowerment, the independence of transportation, and endless health benefits.
The iCan Shine Program is a nationwide charity organization that helps students with disabilities accomplish this great feat. With the assistance of highly experienced staff and volunteers, 80% of students with disabilities will learn to ride independently in just 5 consecutive 75-minute sessions. Yes, only 5 DAYS! Because of the generosity of the beautiful people from the Virginia Beach Youth Services Club, Vintage Car Rally Association, and Virginia Wesleyan College, FACT will be fortunate enough to team up with this outstanding program again this year. If you know someone whose life would be forever transformed because of this program, please encourage them to visit our website under “Programs/ Special Programs.”

Peer Buddy Point of View

This is a blog post that was written by one of our Peer Buddy volunteers here at F.A.C.T.

F.A.C.T. is a non-profit organization in Tidewater. This organization holds dozens of fundraisers and activities for autistic children in our area. Some of the activities are bowling leagues, scavenger hunts, spring, summer and winter camps, bike camp, an adult party to raise money and many more. This organization does wonderful things for autistic children. Any one of the children that participates in any of these activities usually leaves saying “Mom, when can we go back?” The camp is a week long program and every day the autistic children go swimming and go somewhere else in the community. This helps them to build up their social skills and make new friends with their counselor and junior. This helps a lot because most of these kids have to be in a special ed or a secluded classroom with no regular kids like you and me. Many of these kids do stuff like run away, bite, scratch and kick sometimes. It is not because they hate you or want to hurt someone it is because they do not understand.  They do not know any better. Some of these kids may never be like you and me but in the long run this camp helps them so much in ways we may never understand.

The reason why I keep coming back each and every summer to this same camp is because of my brother. My brother has Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism). He was diagnosed at the age of 3…the year I was born. My brother is one of the lucky ones out there with autism because I have seen children with much worse cases then my brother. I hope that all my efforts towards these children while they are young will help them in the long run. What I mean is I hopefully could teach them what they need to now to succeed in life. The only reason why I even want to help all of these kids is because of my brother. He has had a huge impact on my life. I hope I can keep going to this camp to help make a difference in all of these children’s lives’ love my brother. I hope he keeps influencing people’s lives.

One of the kids I’ve been a peer buddy for is Tommy. Tommy is special to me. Every summer I want to be with him. I don’t know why something just clicks when I am with him. He is another reason why I come back to camp each summer. He may not be the best behaving kid. That is ok though because I enjoy a challenge. He is very different from the rest. Something about him makes me want to love him so much. Tommy has impacted my life very much, I hope I did the same and he feels the same way. Tommy is so amazing I never want him to change. Tommy is a great kid I hope he stays that way.


You may remember the hype. Almost one year ago, the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was published. Unless you are in the field, it may not ring a bell. However, what you most likely DO remember are the thought-provoking (yet incredibly uninformative) news headlines that read something along the lines of, “Autism Diagnosis Reduced by a Third!” No, unfortunately, there was no overnight cure for autism or even a sudden dramatic decrease of those who are affected by it. What happened was a change in diagnostic criteria, and I’m going to tell you why this matters while sparing you a ton of reading. You’re welcome.

Here is what happened. Many psychiatrists and other like professionals were uncomfortable with there being such a broad range of standards comprised with testing “on the spectrum”; they were too vague. Therefore, a team of psychiatrists, or the DSM-5 committee, created what they considered to be clearer and more precise diagnostic criteria, hoping that these new standards would effectively translate to those who are involved with screening for autism. Categories contribute to mutual understandings and psychiatrists love categories. Lo and behold, instead of three categories of ASD symptoms, which were previously lumped into one key diagnosis, there are now two – social-communication impairment and repetitive/restricted behaviors. However, here’s the “but”, and it’s a big “but”… Now, a Social Communication Impairment without at least two repetitive/restricted behaviors (think here of the odd fascinations, awkward body movements, inflexible routines, etc.) are no longer considered autism, but are now categorized as Social Communication Disorder (SCD).

Stay with me, because this part is important. Although the DSM-5 committee recommended the contrary, many schools and health insurers are asking that children be rescreened under the new guidelines, hence losing their diagnosis. As a result, several children are losing crucial services because they are now identified as having SCD instead of ASD. Automatically one would assume that these children would simply apply for services related to SCD and begin to receive relevant methods of intervention and therapy, right? Wrong. How about this for a caveat:  SCD is a newly refined disorder and there are no formal guidelines for treatment. Talk about putting the cart before the horse, eh?

Autism Speaks wants to ensure that autism services are provided to all who need them. Currently, they are conducting a survey and study for those whose services have recently been revoked as a consequence of reevaluation under the DSM-5. Please share your DSM-5 experiences.

A good read: Why are Children Losing their Autism Diagnosis?