The story of autism spectrum disorder has always been told largely through statistics. Professionals speak of the costs to families of autistic children, the earliest age for diagnoses, and the percentage of children who develop the disorder. Many people have heard the term autism but don’t really know what it means because the statistics can’t fully convey what it means to be autistic. Autism spectrum disorder is difficult to explain and grasp because it’s a very wide spectrum. According to psychologist Kathleen Platzman, “We need an educational model wide enough to take in the whole spectrum. That means it’s going to have to be a fairly broad model.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) proposes three levels of severity for autism spectrum disorder, which is meant to describe its impact on everyday functioning. Individuals who require “very substantial support” are rated level 3; those who require “substantial support” are rated level 2; and those who require “support” are rated level 1. While these ratings provide important information, they don’t do a lot to help visualize the complexities of the disorder. Michael McWatters is a designer and UX Architect at TED, the organization responsible for TED Talks and various other initiatives. He’s also the father of a boy with autism spectrum disorder. When his son was diagnosed, McWatters wanted to know where he fell on the spectrum, but quickly became frustrated by the lack of an accurate visual representation of the disorder. He had envisioned the spectrum as a straight line that looks something like this: Autism image Was his son’s condition mild, severe, or somewhere in between? It seemed overly simplistic. But then McWatters had a revelation—the spectrum isn’t a single line or flat continuum at all! So he decided to create his own diagram, basing his visualization on the three generally accepted axes for the disorder: social, communication, and behavioral. autism-disorder1 (1) In his visualization, the greater the impairment on any of the three axes, the further the point moves away from the center. This visualization of the symptoms acknowledges the dimensionality of the disorder in a way a simple spectrum line cannot. We had the opportunity to speak with McWatters. He indicated that this is just the beginning of his efforts and that he views this as an experimental project. He is currently working with two leading autism researchers to revise his visualization to align more closely with DSM-5 and hopes to find a way to demonstrate both the strengths and deficits associated with autism. For Michael McWatters, autism spectrum disorder can’t be reduced to statistics and percentages—it’s deeply personal. “People have responded very positively to this visualization,” he says, “and I think it’s because it not only provides a more accurate view of autism, it demonstrates just how unique each person on the spectrum is.” You can learn more about Michael and his son on his Web site, ASDDad. We’re looking forward to his new discoveries and the graphic representation that he will create as a result. What do you think? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave your comments below.
PAR is proud of our ongoing relationship with United Way. Last week, we took part in our annual fundraising campaign. For more than 20 years, 100% of staff members have contributed during our annual United Way drive. This year was no different. We exceeded our fundraising goal, resulting in employee contributions of $81,661.72 being donated to United Way to help continue its mission of helping others in our community. [caption id="attachment_2303" align="alignleft" width="291"]Meet Opie, the newest recruit to the PAR family. Meet Opie, the newest recruit to the PAR family.[/caption] This year, our United Way week theme was PAR Boot Camp. Staffers were broken into five teams, each representing a different branch of the military, and took part in a host of activities, ranging from puzzle building to a mental tug-of-war. Ten staff members even went head-to-head in a push up contest! Our friends from the Humane Society of Tampa Bay stopped by… and one lucky pup found his forever home. Want to learn more about how you can help United Way in your community? Visit www.unitedway.org.  
The negative effects of poor sleep habits have been well documented; however, research has also revealed a little-known negative effect—repeated nights of sleep deprivation can lead to problems with self-control. There is a complex relationship between glucose levels, glucose utilization, and the human capacity for self-control. Lack of sleep interferes with the brain cells’ ability to absorb glucose and, thus, to control impulses. According to researchers at Clemson University, a sleep-deprived individual is at an increased risk for lack of self-control, which leads to impulsive desires, poor attention capacity, and compromised decision making. Self-control allows individuals to monitor responses; make decisions when presented with conflicting desires; forego temporary pleasure to meet long-term goals; and control damaging social behavior such as addictions, excessive gambling, and overspending. The Controlled Attention Model maintains that sleep-deprived individuals suffer from low performance on tasks that require too much effort to complete. One study indicates that, when given a choice, sleep-deprived persons will choose less demanding activities to accommodate for decreased capacity. Therefore, good sleep habits could enhance a person’s ability to choose and tackle difficult tasks. In the same way that physical activity depletes physical energy, self-control exertion depletes mental energy. Not only that, but the energy resources that allow for better self-control are more quickly depleted than replenished. This means that the capacity for self-control can vary as each day progresses. Because sleep restores physiological energy resources, a good night’s rest replenishes the ability for self-control and helps provide the necessary willpower to make better decisions, such as choosing a healthier snack, being more honest, or resisting temptation. Individuals prone to lack of self-control can evaluate their sleep habits and pay attention to red flags such as the inability to fall asleep, poor sleep quality, inconsistent sleep times, and excessive sleep deprivation. Preventative measures for any of these issues begin with implementing good sleep hygiene, which comprises regulating sleep and wake-up times, preparing an environment conducive to sleep, avoiding caffeine and exercise close to bedtime, limiting or avoiding naps throughout the day, and engaging in relaxing activities to wind down at night. Sleep and self-control have long been viewed as separate processes but can now be seen as a more integrated system. Scientists in the sleep field and scientists in the cognitive-based self-control field who once worked separately can now work together. By combining studies of sleep and self-control, we can better understand how the interaction among good sleep habits, physiological energy reserves, and an individual’s personal choices impact self-control, providing a valuable means to improve long-term health and productivity.
This interview is a part of an ongoing feature on the PAR blog to better acquaint Customers with PAR staff. We hope you enjoy this inside look into what goes on behind the scenes to develop, create, and deliver your most trusted assessments. Melissa Messer, Senior Project Director How many years have you worked at PAR? 13 What does an average day at PAR look like to you? Every day is different depending on the status of my projects. Typically, I am working on some type of data analysis. Other days, I may be solely focused on writing, which also involves doing extensive literature reviews and interpreting/explaining data analysis. I have lots of team meetings, generally getting input and feedback on print and digital projects. What have you learned by working at PAR? A small group of really excellent people can accomplish a lot when they work together. In comparison to some of our competitors, we are a very small company, yet we remain very competitive. When you aren’t at work, where can you be found? With my two children. I spend as much time as I possibly can with them when I am not at work. When you first started working at PAR, what were your plans? I thought I would stay for a year and go back to school to get my PhD. Instead, four positions and almost 13 years later, I can’t imagine leaving PAR. If you could switch jobs anywhere in the company for a day, what department would you choose? Customer Support. I really enjoy talking to our Customers at conventions, and I think it would be great to have a chance to talk directly to our Customers more. What product or project have you learned the most from? The Neuropsychological Assessment Battery® (NAB®). I got to work with the director of Research & Development, who had a ton of experience working on project development, and he was also the author of the test. It was by far one of the largest projects ever completed at PAR, and the experiences I gained while working on it definitely had an impact on my future success at PAR.
Earlier this year, PAR received national recognition as one of the 2014 “Healthiest Companies in America” by Interactive Health, the country’s leading provider of health management solutions. PAR was one of 158 honorees from across the United States recognized for embracing the mission of implementing life-changing preventive health care in the workplace. The Healthiest Companies in America award is given to select organizations across the nation that have helped transform—and even save—the lives of employees by offering wellness programs that combine thorough health evaluations with fast, personalized results. With the help of these strategic, flexible initiatives, winning organizations like PAR have accomplished tremendous success in moving employees from high-risk health status to lower risk, achieving remarkably high employee participation. “We are honored to be named as one of the healthiest companies in America,” said R. Bob Smith III, PhD, CEO of PAR. “The health and wellness of our employees is a high priority, and we will remain committed to helping them improve their quality of life.” In 2005, PAR created the Swellness Committee, which is charged with creating programs and events that promote health and well-being. The Committee has sponsored a walking contest each year for the past few years and has encouraged employees to join the Commit to Stay Fit Holiday Challenge. In addition, PAR participates in various community walks and other events. The Swellness Committee offered various health-related classes this past year and has an elliptical machine available to all employees. PAR also provides an employee wellness benefit each calendar year. Many seminars on healthy eating have been provided, and PAR has modified its company-sponsored dining activities to include a healthy food option. A healthy snacks cabinet takes the place of vending machines. Each year, PAR provides free on-site biometric screenings, which include full bloodwork analysis, mental health screening, and blood pressure testing. “These winners are improving health outcomes throughout America,” said Cathy Kenworthy, president and CEO of Interactive Health. “Preventive care programs are about much more than just losing weight or quitting smoking—they are a catalyst to transform the way people look at health, well-being, and their lives overall. Heathiest Companies in America winners exemplify the long-term positive effects comprehensive wellness programs can have on the health status of large populations. Our work is done exclusively through our people… it’s personal to us.”  About Interactive Health Interactive Health, the country’s leading provider of health management solutions, creates innovative wellness programs designed to increase overall company health and actively engage employees to make lasting behavior changes. Interactive Health has a 20-year track record of creating the Healthiest Companies in America.