Cryptocurrency: a brief explanation
A cryptocurrency, or crypto, is a digital currency that uses an encrypted system to verify and record transactions. Unlike traditional banks, cryptos use blockchain technology and cryptography to create a medium for exchange in a digitally decentralized economic network. This lack of centralized authority allows for encrypted peer-to-peer transactions without a third-party handler. Coins (one crypto unit) can be used to pay employee wages, trade for other cryptocurrencies, donate to nonprofits, and much more.
A blockchain is a digital ledger of every transaction within a cryptocurrency. A non-fungible token (NFT) is a record on a cryptocurrency (i.e., Ethereum, Bitcoin) blockchain that is associated with a physical or digital asset (making it non-fungible). Some token types create hashes (cryptographic information) that include NFT ownership information, and the holder can transfer ownership. NFTs are increasingly used for representation and access to digital spaces where individuals have voting power in a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). These communities/organizations allow for network collaboration in creating set terms and member functions (i.e., charity, surplus reinvestment, member values, and ideals).
Cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and the Autism Community
Cryptocurrencies and NFTs have facilitated a more connected global community and a new economic platform bursting with potential. Individuals and organizations worldwide use digital peer-to-peer transactions to create positive change through member engagement and purposeful charity. Below are several such projects (NFTs, DAOs, cryptocurrencies) created by members of the autism community.
Autism acceptance via NFTs
Matthew Landon and Michael Clark co-founded The Hedgie Fund, a collaborative NFT project that aims to support autism acceptance with an animated short film about autism. The short film, Sam the Hedgehog, uses an innovative combination of stop motion and 2D composite animation to portray the life of a hedgehog (Sam) who is raised among sheep. The story aims to evoke acceptance and understanding of different lived experiences. To fund the final stages of production, the artists created NFTs (utility tokens) of Sam in his colorful sets and brought The Hedgie Fund to life.
“Once Sam The Hedgehog is complete and available to the world, free of charge, we hope that the film inspires a change in mindset, enabling the public to ultimately embrace and accept people who are different – particularly people who think, behave, and experience the world differently to the way so-called ‘normal’ people do.”
– Michael Carl, Director & Co-founder
Michael Carl, director, and co-founder, suddenly passed away in 2022. Project movement has seemingly paused, but to keep track of production progress and opportunities, visit their Youtube channel for updates.
Autism awareness via NFTs and digital communities
Extraordinary Attorney Woo is currently one of the most-watched non-English (South Korean) series across the globe. It chronicles the life of Woo, an autistic lawyer who draws inspiration and support from their love of whales. In collaboration with Polygon (a blockchain company), the show’s production company has created an NFT community to engage fans and increase public awareness of autistic individuals’ lived experiences. They made a soulbound token (non-transferrable) representing membership in a DAO called the Extraordinary Whales Club. Members purchase an NFT in the form of a “mystical” whale story to portray Attorney Woo’s source of creativity and comfort.
“The show’s protagonist, Woo Young-Woo, an autistic lawyer, gives hope and courage to millions worldwide. It is none other than the many whales that always give strength, courage, and sometimes flashing ideas to Woo Young-Woo’s difficult life. We are preparing the Extraordinary Whale Club NFT to support Woo Young-Woo’s fans worldwide and to give courage and hope to many others affected by ASD.”
– Han Se-min, CEO of AIMC
The Extraordinary Whales Club is an ongoing social NFT that aims to build a collaborative community to support awareness and accommodation for the autism community. You can follow them on Twitter for updates.
Autism advocacy and awareness via NFT art
Sevi is ten years old and lives in the Philippines. He was diagnosed with autism at age two and started art therapy when he was five. He found comfort and creative courage in painting and quickly excelled in his style. Sevi’s work is stunningly colorful and imaginative, and his expressions of the world are captivating. He has participated in physical and online exhibits and is an up-and-coming name in the world of NFT artists. The family uses proceeds from Sevi’s NFT art to fund continued health care and accommodation for Sevi moving forward. They also use their platform and digital community to start conversations about living with autism and the benefits of art therapy.
You can follow Sevi on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under “Sevi Loves Art.”
A cryptocurrency for autism
Chris Bills and Richmond Sodokpo created AUTZ in 2021. AUTZ is “the world’s first cryptocurrency network that empowers autistic people” via artwork NFTs and by “transforming one-time donors into engaged community members as the shareholders of tokens that actively participate in the success of the entire network.” AUTZ tokens assign ten percent of the token supply to a charity wallet which later distributes to underfunded autism charities. Simultaneously, three percent of the token transactions’ value is automatically redistributed weekly to AUTZ token holders according to asset weight. Sodokpo and Bills value the community aspect of crypto and hope to blaze a trail for autism empowerment, advocacy, and economic success using crypto technologies.
“We wanted to focus on something specific, not just charity in general. This is the moment we connected the dots and utilized smart contracts to turn the beautiful paintings and drawings done by autistic children into NFTs […] If a child with autism draws a picture and we put it on the NFT marketplace and sell it for $1,000 then that $1,000 is going straight to their organization. There are no third parties involved.”
– Chris Bills
Autism research and charities funded by NFTs
Several autistic individuals and community members use NFTs to impact their local communities. For example, the Autistic Buddies NFT collection aims to increase awareness and acceptance of the autism community by donating 50% of the proceeds to their local Autism Society in New Orleans. Similarly, Cooper, a 14-year-old boy with autism, and his family have created an NFT representing the connectedness of neurodiversity, including neurotypicals. Double Pops, made by Cooper’s father, Joe, use the shape of a double popsicle to describe and ignite discussion about the differences between autistic and non-autistic experiences. Guest artists assisted in creating 100 Double Pops of different shapes, colors, styles, and meanings. Twenty percent of all NFT proceeds go to the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.
“Unlike the stereotypes portrayed in the media, autistic people don’t all have a special interest or engage in outward repetitive behaviors. The DoublePops series reflects this. Each DoublePop is different but is part of a whole—just like people, who can be neurotypical or neurodiverse, but are all part of the same human family.”
Autism Research Institute and crypto philanthropy
Nonprofit organizations use cryptocurrencies to raise funds, expand networks, and achieve a broader impact. One way users harness crypto’s potential is through Crypto Philanthropy, a novel and exciting donation avenue for nonprofit organizations like the Autism Research Institute. Crypto Philanthropy facilitates tax-efficient donation methods and allows organizations to interact directly with wider audiences. Institutions can facilitate purposeful fundraising by allotting donations to organizations or programs within their scope.
In alignment with the Autism Research Institute’s objective to pioneer autism research and cooperative efforts, ARI has stepped into the crypto universe. ARI now accepts more than 80 leading cryptocurrencies, making donating accessible to a new and expanding community of autism advocates and supporters. Eighty-eight cents of every dollar donated to ARI is used to facilitate new autism research and educational endeavors through collaborations and global networks. Thus, the primary mission of ARI and the legacy of Dr. Rimland continues into a new and exciting age of global autism communities, research, and advocacy.
Autism advocacy and beyond
Other autistic individuals and organizations are taking to blockchains to make a difference. The Autisme Collab Artistique aims to sensitize the world to autism through NFT art and music. Other autistic creators are using the platforms to advocate for issues like climate change. For example, Autistic Adventures sells NFTs to support the Bee Collaborative – they are “Saving the Bees with NFTs!” Specifically, they are building a physical bee apiary (place to keep honey bees) on a live stream to instigate interaction and education around bees and their roles in our food systems. They provide incentives for joining the community and plan to build a real-world business through collaboration with token owners.
The digital nature of NFTs makes selling artwork more accessible to artists worldwide. Millions of people who may not have access to physical art exhibits, shows, or museums, can suddenly make money from their artwork right where they are. This simultaneously opens opportunities to build global autism communities and allows autistic individuals like AmirReza to capitalize on their diverse skills and qualities for their personal well-being and benefit.
While the universe of NFTs and crypto is sometimes vast and confusing, it provides abundant potential for advocacy, connection, and collaboration. Such tools could be significant assets in autism communities’ creation of a future predicated on advocacy, understanding, acceptance, and accommodation for all.
Learn about ARI’s global research and support networks HERE
Learn about ARI’s impact through research and education HERE