Men’s Aspirations May 2024

For May, Men’s Aspirations adventured to Quarry Trails Metro Park in Columbus, Ohio. We hiked nearly 4 miles, cooled off under a waterfall, and relaxed on a group hammock.

Coming up in June–We’re heading to The Garden of Roses, followed by ice cream.

Congratulations Meera Nadathur!

Ace! student Meera Nadathur graduated in December of 2023 with her Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife degree from The Ohio State University.

TOPS staff interviewed Meera asking her a series of questions.

The Q & A is below:

Q: Who had the greatest impact on your academic success and why?

A: The math tutors did a lot to help me get through calculus, the hardest class I’ve taken at OSU.

Q: What was your favorite part about college?

A: I enjoyed learning a lot about several different subjects , including wildlife which interests me the most. I also enjoyed getting to know many different great people.

Q: What are your plans post graduation?

A: I am working on obtaining a career that involves helping endangered species.

Q: How would you rate your overall college experience? (1 being the worst and 5 being the best).

A: 3.5/5

Great work Meera!

Rate & Review Books with NCBC


Welcome back to Rate & Review Books with NCBC! 

May’s book review comes from a Columbus area Next Chapter Book Club that first began meeting in 2013. The club continues to meet at a local Barnes & Noble each Tuesday evening.

Book or series of books: The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

First, please tell our readers a little about your book club.

“It’s pretty nice,” says Sam. “We meet at Barnes & Noble each week.” Like many other Next Chapter Book Club members, Sam often arrives early to browse around the bookstore and get a snack.

Some people have been in this club since the beginning, and others have joined along the way. Over the years, the group has generally preferred science fiction/fantasy books, as well as a few beloved non-fiction titles.

Brian adds, “Sometimes we’ll play games instead of reading.” Scrabble is a favorite game of several members in this book club.

Shalom shares, “It’s nice that a group of adults can meet to improve reading and social skills and do positive things.” Others nod in agreement with Shalom. “It’s a very welcoming group,” he says.

Co-facilitator Cassie adds with a smile, “It’s a great way to end a day.”

A group of six people at a bookstore smile for the camera.

Left to right: Brian, Cassie, Alex, Scott, Shalom, Sam (standing); Not pictured: Luci, Manisha

What is The Poppy War about?

According to, The Poppy War is “an epic historical military fantasy, inspired by the bloody history of China’s twentieth century and filled with treachery and magic.” The Poppy War is the first book in a fantasy trilogy that offers a magical yet violent reimagining of Chinese history.

Co-facilitator Alex states that the main character, Rin, “does not want to marry, so she joins a military academy and becomes a soldier.” Everyone in the story is surprised by Rin’s talents, even Rin herself.

“She controls fire,” adds Cassie, who says that Rin has special powers.

In the story, “humans use hallucinogenic drugs to access the gods, while the gods are using humans for their own personal agendas,” Alex explains.

“Yeah, there are some magical creatures in the book,” says Sam, “but there’s a lot of substance abuse and a lot of other negative things. I didn’t like it.”

“But you asked for months to read it,” Alex responds while laughing.

“I know, but I didn’t know what was in it,” Sam replies. He shares that the book sounded good at first, but ended up being darker and more graphic than he would have liked.

Calling the book a “grim, dark fantasy”, Sam continues, “I guess it’s supposed to be a social commentary on how war can scar generations.”

To learn out more about The Poppy War, click HERE.

How easy was this book to understand?

“I’ve had easier things than this, to be honest,” shares Brian, and the group laughs in agreement.

Scott adds, “It was kind of hard to follow.”

“There’s a difference between reading and understanding,” Shalom notes. “Everyone took their time.”

Despite taking things slowly, it appears that The Poppy War was a more complicated story than most of the book club members would prefer.

Cassie also notes that in some cases, it was “tough to read aloud the graphic parts of the book,” as it contains both physical and sexual violence.

What did you like about the book?

Despite the dark elements in the book, Cassie says, “I liked the fantasy aspects.”

Alex notes that she enjoyed some of the worldbuilding in the book. Worldbuilding is the process of building an imaginary world or setting, such as the fantasy version of China in The Poppy War.

Were there any parts you didn’t like? If so, what were they?

This book includes both historical events as well as entirely made-up events, which sometimes seemed “convenient” to club members. For example, Alex says, “The author invented a whole new people group just to make them the scapegoats.”

Cassie shares, “The main character arc also took a dark turn.”

Unsurprisingly, Sam states, “I didn’t like the tone in general.”

If another Next Chapter Book Club was thinking about reading this book, what would you tell them?

Brian says, “Yes, if they know before beforehand what is in it!”  Everyone agrees.

What book or series of books has been your favorite so far?

Please rate this book on a scale from 1 to 5 stars.

This club gave The Poppy War 2.67 out of 5 stars.

Congratulations Ace! Graduates!

Ace! wants to congratulate its three winter graduates: Hunter Mastin, Meera Nadatur, and Ben Pearlstein as well as its two spring graduates: Hunter Mastin (again!) and Ashvini Rulshrestha.

Hunter Mastin graduated in December with his psychology degree and then again in May with his computer software engineering degree.

Meera Nadatur graduated in December with her computer science degree.

Ben Pearlstein graduated in December with his wildlife degree.

Ashvini Kulshrestha graduated in May with his Masters degree.

Stay tuned for one-on-one interviews with each of these graduates! To be posted soon…

Great work everyone!

Summer: Actually Having Fun

Summer vacation is a time we look forward to.  The time when people can disengage from work and school.   A time to possibly travel and relax.  Autistics, like other folx, like to have that break too.  There is a slight problem with that: sensory overload. 


A lot of summer activities are high energy, loud, and crowded.  Let’s examine an amusement park.  Let’s say we’re going to Six Flags.  Of course you are not alone at Six Flags.  You most likely have friends and/or family with you. 


You have to enter the park.  That means you need to get in line with a ton of people.  There is no organization.  It’s pure chaos!  Then you must fit through a narrow confining space, which means you must coordinate your body.  And you must interact with staff to give them your ticket.   


You are now inside Six Flags.  All around you there are people.  People moving in groups, waiting in lines, playing games, eating, laughing, and crying.  You can smell food.  Maybe something you like.  Maybe something you dislike.  You can smell body odor EVERYWHERE!  You smell chlorine and dampness.  Amusement parks are loud.  There is no way around it.  The sounds of games, a roller coaster clattering, music playing over loudspeakers… You get it.  People bump into you.  You step in puddles.  You are either too hot or too cold.  You get food.  The popcorn has a lot of salt, maybe too much.  The hot dog is filling, but greasy.  After drinking a ton of soda, you can feel the corn syrup coating your tongue. 


I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a nightmare to me! Yeah, you can have fun, but the amusement park drains you for at least three days.  Well, for me at least.  There are tons of other examples:  fairs, parks, tours, music halls, zoos… So, how can you have fun?  Well, there is some good news!  Columbus, OH does have some sensory friendly places and activities. 


COSI hands out free sensory bags to anyone who requests them.  They also have a quiet room for decompression.  They have periodic low sensory hours.  Those are usually announced in their newsletter or on their website.  Staff are responsive to customer needs and promptly provide information or resources.  

 For more information on COSI and accommodations go to: 


Another place that provides excellent accommodations and sensory friendly environments is the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium have constant activities and programs, and of course amazing animals.  Quiet hours are offered periodically.  They will be announced on the website or in their newsletter. Like COSI, they also have free sensory bags that you can use.  The coolest accommodation they provide are sensory maps.  These maps allow for you to plan where to go based on your sensory needs.   


For more information go to:  or 


Summer blockbusters… I don’t know about you, but I love the movies!  However, it is not fully enjoyable for some people.  Theaters get crowded and loud.  Food and bathrooms smell.  The theater is either too hot or too cold.  So, what can you do?  My favorite movie theater is the Crosswoods Marcus Cinema.  It is always clean.  It has great staff.  It also tends to be quieter, even when there is a major premiere.  The Crosswoods Marcus Cinema is known for its accessibility among certain populations.  They will have sensory friendly screenings for the public. They are announced in their newsletter or on their website.  You can also get a private screening or reserve the entire theater during off hours.  I have been at Crosswoods Marcus Cinema at a reserved theater and screening.  It was one of the most relaxing movie experiences I have ever had. 


For more information go to: 



Rate & Review Books with NCBC


Welcome back to Rate & Review Books with NCBC! 

Our April book review comes from a Next Chapter Book Club in Columbus that has been gathering on Saturday mornings since 2011.

Book or series of books: Kira-Kira

Author: Cynthia Kadohata

Please tell our readers a little about your book club.

“It’s awesome!” says Susan, member of this club since it began in 2011. For Susan, book club is a treasured activity that she and her sister Ann share each week. Ann began co-facilitating the Saturday morning group in 2013. After book club, Susan looks for the latest Royal Family news at the bookstore. Then the sisters often head out for lunch.

Nate joined the book club ten years ago. He says, “Book club is a chance to do different activities and talk to people. We talk about many subjects.” Nate knows quite a lot about animals and their habitats, and often shares interesting animal facts with the group.

Mother-daughter team Morag and Christina also joined book club in 2014. Christina says, “I like reading books. Coming here to read helps me read more books at home.”

“We learn new things,” adds Morag, and Christina nods her head. Christina’s outfit is always complete with one of her many plush characters. Sometimes, she can even match her plush doll with the book the club is reading!

As members and co-facilitators file into Barnes & Noble each week, member Ali keeps close track of who is there and who is not. Ali also joined NCBC in 2014. While she waits on others to arrive, Ali likes to stay busy with a word search.

Julian is also a member in this club. He began coming to book club in summer 2023, and the others are always glad to see him when he joins. Julian shares, “I like to socialize and meet new people. Book club is a good program for people to get out and enjoy themselves.”

Hannah has been volunteering as a co-facilitator last fall. On this day, she and co-facilitator Jillian laugh at the lively and clever illustrations in the club’s new book, The Wind in the Willows.

“It’s almost like a family,” Susan says about book club. Others in the club nod their heads and smile.

Six NCBC members at Barnes & Noble smile for the camera

Back row, left to right: Ann, Christina; Front row: Nate, Morag, Hannah, Susan; Not pictured: Ali, Julian, Jillian

What is Kira-Kira about?

“The magic in ordinary things,” Ann says.

In the book, Katie’s older sister Lynn makes the world seem glittering, or kira-kira. When their family moves from a Japanese community in Iowa to Georgia in the 1950’s, Katie’s parents begin working very long hours at a chicken hatchery with other Japanese American families.

“We learned about Japanese language and culture and how Japanese people in America have struggled with racism,” Nate says.

Ali says, “The book is about how Katie, Lynn, Sammy and their mom and dad struggled. There were sad parts.”

Nate agrees. “Yeah, this book was kind of sad.”

This bittersweet story follows Katie and her family as they face terrible loss and find a way to go on and see kira-kira in the world. Kira-Kira is the 2005 winner of the Newbery Medal.

How easy was this book to understand?

Everyone says that the book is easy to understand. Morag adds, “We help each other.”

What did you like about the book?

“I liked seeing how the kids interacted. It was interesting to see how Katie’s responsibilities grew as Lynn got sick,” says Hannah.

“It did offer a realistic view of the world back then,” says Morag. Others agree that the book did a good job describing life in rural Georgia in the 1950’s, where Katie’s family lived and worked.

“I like the name ‘Katie’,” says Susan.

“I liked Uncle Katsuhisa. What a funny character he is,” Jillian says. Uncle Katsuhisa is a talker and prides himself on being a chess champion, even though his niece Lynn beats him at chess regularly. While there are sad parts in this story, there are also very humorous parts, especially when Uncle Katsuhisa is involved.

Were there any parts you didn’t like? If so, what were they?

Everyone quickly agrees that their least favorite part of the book is when Lynn gets sick.

If another Next Chapter Book Club was thinking about reading this book, what would you tell them?

Susan says, “Do it!”

Nate adds, “But warn them there are some sad parts.”

What book or series of books has been your favorite so far? (some of us couldn’t pick just one!)

Please rate this book on a scale from 1 to 5 stars.

This club gave Kira-Kira 4.25 out of 5 stars.


Congratulations Colin!

Colin Batten is the recipient of the 2024 Clancy Isaac Award that Block O gives out at the end of each school year!

Here is what those who nominated him had to say,  “This award is given to the Block O member that shows the most leadership, dedication, and spirit…It is because of members like you that our organization is able to thrive, and we thank you deeply for the commitment you have given Block O.”

Great work Colin!

Thanks SHARE!

TOPS has had the privilege of creating a partnership with SHARE (Sexual Health and Reproductive Education) to teach students comprehensive sexual education.

For more information about SHARE, check out their website with the following link.

Autism Acceptance Month

April is Autism Acceptance Month! In celebration, we would like to highlight our community partner OCALI and the many resources offered on their website. Check out this page for current “Staff Picks” of resources developed and/or curated by OCALI staff. Included are podcast episodes, local event suggestions, featured articles, and a host of online training modules.

Additionally, this month OCALI reminds us that A + B = C, or

Access + Belonging = Community.

According to OCALI, “The concepts of access and belonging are central to everything we do.” So, what exactly do we mean by access and belonging?

When something is accessible, it means that it is easy to find and use and understand. For example, websites are accessible when they are easy to navigate and offer multiple ways for users to take in the information. Buildings are accessible when everyone can not only enter the front door but use all parts of the space. Conversations are accessible when we use clear language, avoid (or define) acronyms and jargon, and vary the style of our questions. When we think about the diversity of needs among humans and then design projects, products and spaces to embrace that diversity, we can create more welcoming and inclusive environments for all.

Belonging is a human need. In fact, some argue that belonging is a human right. In some way, shape, or form, each of us needs to feel like we belong. We need to feel that we are welcomed and accepted for who we are. This can happen in our families, friend groups, classrooms, places of worship, places of employment, or another social group. However, we don’t have a space where we feel like we belong – when there is nowhere we feel welcomed, supported, or included – it often has significant negative impacts on our quality of life.

One important distinction highlighted by popular researcher, author, and social worker Dr. Brene Brown is the difference between belonging and fitting in. When trying to fit in, we must often change parts of ourselves to be more like the group. On the other hand, Dr. Brown explains, “True belonging never asks us to change who we are. True belonging requires us to be who we are.” For autistic people who often strive to mask autistic traits, the opportunity to belong, “to be who [they] are” can provide tremendous relief.

It is well established that the quality of our relationships is strongly linked to our overall wellbeing. This is true for people of all abilities, temperaments, and preferences. We all need communities that are easy to reach and supportive of our true selves, whether or wherever we may find ourselves on the autism spectrum. For autistic people and their families, such communities can provide a lifeline of validation and social support. We invite you to join us and our colleagues at OCALI in ensuring access, nurturing belonging, and fostering inclusive communities for all.