On Board: one Plus One staffer's personal experiences

Living with a brain or a body that doesn't work the same as other people's is hard. It's hard physically, and mentally; socially, as the world expects things that your brain and body can't deliver. One of my family members grew up with and lives with Autism. She was born in 1944, so Autism and the spectrum weren't commonly understood diagnoses. She was held to a standard which she could not reach and then punished for her differences. She's had a hard life. She's hyper focused, prone to paranoia, and full of fear but her life is not all darkness. The things that bring her joy light her face up and make such a difference in her life. Her laugh is so cute. As a caretaker, it's important for me to maximize those joy-related activities as much as possible.

Getting her active and out of her care facility is one of the things that brings her the most balance and happiness. Having access to physical activity in a caring environment is so important to her. For people like her who have limited access, who have perhaps fallen through the cracks in the system for most of their life, the opportunities Plus One provides can make the difference between good brain chemistry and depression, between isolation and a full life. I've seen personally the difference that swim therapy can make, that exercise can have for people like her.  I'm now on the board of Plus One and I'm so proud of the things that we're doing. I can't tell you how much it means to me to be able to work on a program that grants access to people who've never been considered or prioritized before in their lives. Some of my family member's life stories break my heart, but the program's she's participating in now, and the help that she's receiving gives me hope. 

Thank you Plus One, for all the people you prioritize, for all the brain changing services you enable, and for all your care.

A Reflection on Autism Awareness Month

We're coming to the end of April, Autism Awareness Month. But have any of us become anymore aware? Do any of us know that 30% of people who live with disabilities live below the poverty line? This includes those who have autism spectrum disorder. Most people don't know that this condition is called Autism Spectrum Disorder for a reason. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD. While other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS)." Most of those who live with this condition are diagnosed at a younger age due to unusual behavior and the inability to meet miles stones such as talking by age two. There has been success in helping treat symptoms with therapy but like no person with Autism is the same, no treatment can be the same. Most of these catered services and therapies are not covered by insurance and can be too expensive for these individuals and their families to afford.

Plus One Foundation held an event geared towards individuals with ASD, it was our Free Art Care for Everyone Work Shop. This event allowed these people to express themselves in the company of one another through paint and arts and crafts at Seattle Pacific University. According to the American Art Therapy Association, "art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.” A lot of individuals that have autism lack the ability to speak or process language and verbal communication, but what they can do is process information visually. They record information through images and visual information. This makes expressing themselves through this way by using art is essential.

Art Workshop 1Art Workshop 2

Plus One Foundation will be hosting more Art, Pilates, and Melt workshops. We invite those who have autism or care for someone with ASD to join. For more information about these workshops and the opportunity to apply for one on one programs visit our website.

The Study of Neurological Disorders

This last month the Board of Plus One Foundation was once again able to approve and distribute more grants for our Occasions Program ( ). It is always an exciting time for us as when all the logistics of running a foundation are said and done, and we are able to review applications. Allocating funds for people in need is truly where the rubber meets the road. One thing that struck me this round while reviewing the background of our recipients was how different each individual disorder was. We throw around the term "Neurological Disorder" for convenience to explain a large group of people that we work with, however, it still amazes me on how complex the spectrum of neurological disorders really are. Most of the disorders I read about deal with Autism, Head Injuries, Multiple Sclerosis,and Cerebral Palsy but there are over 600+ classifications of brain injury and disease. You can view a complete list at the National Institute of Neurological disorders ( ) or the disorder index at: At these sites you can browse the different classifications. Some definitions are straightforward like Head Injuries or Autism, others are a bit of mystery as to why they are classified as neurological disorders like Back Pains. Others are simply too clinical for me to comprehend like Dyssynergia Cerebellaris Myoclonica. What I marvel at is the advancement in not only our understanding of the brain and neurological disorders but also the advancement in the studies of the brain.

The academic discipline of neurological studies started some time in 16th century beginning from observational science and the physical study of the brain. Thomas Willis in 1664, published his Anatomy of the Brain, followed by Cerebral Pathology in 1676. Willis removed the brain from the cranium, and was able to describe it more clearly, setting forth the circle of Willis – the circle of vessels that enables arterial supply of the brain. Willis was able to develop some notions as to brain function, including a vague idea as to localization and reflexes, and described epilepsy, apoplexy and paralysis. Willis is also credited with one of the first people to use the term Neurology (

Of course neurological studies kept evolving. The most famous milestone and one of the most referenced case studies is that of Phineas Gage. Gage was a foreman for a railroad company when a blasting accident sent a long railroad rod through his frontal lobe. He survived the accident and provided a platform for scientific discussion and theory on the parts of the brain that control both physical and emotional elements. Even today the case of Phineas Gage and the theories that followed his accident are still reviewed and challenged (

Which bring us to the complicated studies happening today. For example the Human Connectome Project (HCP). Taken from their website, HCP writes, "Mapping of the human connectome offers a unique opportunity to understand the complete details of neural connectivity (Sporns et al., 2005, Wedeen et al., 2008, Hagmann et al., 2007). The Human Connectome Project (HCP) is a project to construct a map of the complete structural and functional neural connections in vivo within and across individuals. The HCP represents the first large-scale attempt to collect and share data of a scope and detail sufficient to begin the process of addressing deeply fundamental questions about human connectional anatomy and variation." For me the Wikipedia description of the HCP was more clear: "The goal of the Human Connectome Project is to build a "network map" that will shed light on the anatomical and functional connectivity within the healthy human brain, as well as to produce a body of data that will facilitate research into brain disorders such as autism, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia." The right brain side of me personally enjoys the digital visuals HCP supplies in it's gallery: The brain is a work of art on its own.

The point to take away is that when it comes to the study of Neurological disorders the education never ends. I have only referenced a few examples but it is clear education happens on all fronts, at all levels from acknowledging the large spectrum of 600+ classified neurological disorders or ongoing learning about injury & disease such as the recent trend in concussion articles to the complex mapping of the brain, the cells and the proteins that enable us to do what we do. The challenge is that Plus One has 600+ reasons to keep on working hard. No matter what the classification of disorder we want to do our best to support treatment and make life more enjoyable for people living with a Neurological disorder.

Mark Nieves Plus One Foundation Board Member