Folding paper to help teachers spot Asperger's in kids

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- There is a massive paper-folding effort underway and a free meal reward being offered at Sweet Tomatoes, all in support of an Arizona autism campaign to help teachers detect early indications of Asperger's in students.

It's a bold effort by the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) to give every Arizona educator the tool they need to help detect early signs of Asperger's in students.

The goal is to fold and deliver "chatterboxes" to every teacher in the entire state. That means 450,000+ folds of paper. It's a true 1-to-1 campaign, putting these educational "chatterbox" tools in the hands of every teacher in Arizona.

Asperger's, which is under the umbrella of autism spectrum disorder, is characterized by difficulties with communication and social behaviors. In Arizona, one in 64 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

"Asperger's is often overlooked and misdiagnosed," Patty Dion of SARRC explained to 3TV's Heidi Goitia. "The signs for Asperger's can be very subtle. These kids usually go under the radar until they start getting into a school situation. … The socialization becomes a real problem."

The chatterboxes, or paper fortune tellers, salt cellars or whirlybirds, as they are sometimes called, are something many will recall fondly from their elementary school days. A question is asked, and then the fortune teller operator manipulates its shape using an algorithm, ultimately revealing additional information.

The Think Asperger's chatterboxes work just the same, but help the user spot potential signs of autism in a child and indicate when more attention may be needed.

"It's important to understand that autism spectrum disorder can be diagnosed at any age. If a child is quirky but seems to function well, no one is concerned. However, a functional impairment may emerge at any time when the demands of the environment exceed their social-communication skills," explains Christopher J. Smith, Vice President and Research Director of SARRC. "For school-age children, the demands of initiating group play with peers, transitioning between classroom activities or making friends are just a few examples of activities that children with autism spectrum disorder may struggle with during the school day."

The mass paper folding event is Thursday, Sept. 4, 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Volunteers must reserve and confirm a spot. Email for details. The Sweet Tomatoes locations in Tempe, Desert Ridge, Scottsdale, Uptown and Ahwatukee are taking part.

To learn more about Asperger's, go to