Autism & Acceptance as Explained by an Autistic 10-year-old

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My 10-year-old son decided to create a short video describing his experience as an autistic person. After all, who better to explain autism than someone who is actually autistic? The video is a simple, honest, and even funny description that is less than two minutes and was created using the program Scratch. Yes, he did all the writing, drawing, and coding by himself.

(audio transcript at the bottom of the post)

Alex loves to draw, as he stated in the video. For your reading amusement, here is a comic that was included in the video:

My comic

I am incredibly proud of my son, not only for his creativity but also for his bravery and willingness to share his story. In the video he talks about his strengths and is also honest about some of the struggles that he has experienced. He even explains a bit about sensory issues (as seen above) and stimming. His insights at the end about “the secret to a good life” brought me to tears.

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See Different, Be Different: Thoughts on Neurodiversity and More

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I was recently asked to speak at at Autism Awareness Month event that was held by the exceptional education department of our local school system, and the audience was parents of autistic children. This is the transcript from that event, and is basically most of what I want to say about autism and neurodiversity all crammed into one post. But first some disclaimers: I am not perfect, I screw up all the time, and am still fumbling my way through this parenting thing.

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I am also not an “expert,” nor am I Autistic, although I am neurodivergent. I am a mom and an advocate and a writer,  and I learn through experience, by asking a lot of questions, and by doing a lot of research.

My perspective may also be different than yours, but one thing I have learned along this journey is to not devalue someone else’s opinion just because their situation isn’t the same as my own. We should be open to considering one another’s viewpoints. We also should avoid the danger of turning this into a competition of whose struggles are worse, and unfortunately we have all seen that happen.

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(Image is inspired by the post “20 Things That Parenting a Child With Special Needs has Taught Me About Life in General.”)

We ourselves may have fallen prey to the dangers of comparison, by saying things like, “Well, at least your child can…”, or “You don’t know what it’s like to…” Friends, let me warn you that kind of thinking is a trap. Parenting is hard, I know that. Some days are exhausting and even sad. Life in general can be hard, and living with any sort of disability can be hard. But we are all in this together, and no matter where we are, or where our children are in the journey, we can learn from one another. Then when we get weary we have each other for support.

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One way I try to help encourage other parents and support the Neurodiverse community is by writing and sharing my voice. I hope to help make the world a safer place for those who are different. I want to help de-stigmatize DIFFERENT. Because without our differences, the world would be VERY boring. Different is the new normal!

So I came up with the slogan: See Different, Be Different (image at top of post). Different is not bad, it’s not broken, or as Temple Grandin says, different is not less.

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The Day a Sea Lion Wanted to Play: Autism Acceptance in Unexpected Places

SeaLionPlay

We all want to feel happy, connected, and accepted. Sometimes that is found in ways we least expect.

One late winter day my family visited the zoo in Washington, D.C. It was early and we had the underwater viewing area at the sea lion exhibit all to ourselves. My youngest son had on a jacket with contrasting colors and we noticed it seemed to catch the attention of one particularly curious sea lion. I starting recording as the two darted back and forth on opposite sides of the glass, and she followed his every move. When my son realized what was going on he joyfully cried out, “She likes me!”

My son is *Autistic, and social interaction as well as playing with other children is sometimes hard and complicated. Some research has shown that children with Autism and other disabilities are actually  2-3 times more likely to be bullied by their peers. They also often find it easier to relate to animals and can connect with them more easily than with people.

My son was thrilled to find a playmate that day and to feel free to be himself. It came so easily. All the sea lion wanted was to play, and nothing else mattered; not social rules, not appearance. Just fun.

We learned later that the sea lion was named Sophie, and she was famous for interacting with her visitors. She accepted all potential playmates equally, but I would wager that few were as enthusiastic as my youngest son. As their game of follow-the-leader continued, he exclaimed, “THIS IS THE BEST THING OF MY LIFE!”
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Autism DOES NOT Create Mass Murderers

Today

Autism does NOT equal mass shooter. However, the media often includes information in their stories that may lead the general public to make that assumption. Right now the tragic and senseless shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is all over the news, as well as the subject of Autism. For example, the Today show ran a news clip on 10/6/2015 (the day of this post), with the description that “Information about the gunman in last week’s mass shooting in Oregon is emerging, indicating that his mother may have had an impact on his fascination with guns.” Then the first part of the piece proceeded to discuss not guns, but Autism. Here is a link to the clip:

http://www.today.com/video/new-details-emerge-about-oregon-shooters-mother-539317827583

The reporter Miguel Amaguer says, “Starling new revelations about the mother of Chris Harper-Mercer, a shooter who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week. For over a decade Laurel Harper, a registered nurse, offered online advice on various medical issues like Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder that she wrote both she and her son struggled with.”

The story also mentioned that Harper wrote of dealing with a “screaming autistic head banger.” Why was that necessary? It then without explanation segued into the portion that was actually related to the story’s description: that the mother’s involvement with guns and the way she exposed her son to them may have possibly helped contribute to her son’s obsession with firearms.

So what was the link that viewers were supposed to make between the “new information” about Autism within the family, and the new information about their involvement with guns? What was Today trying to imply? Why was Autism even relevant to a story that seemed to be about the fact that the mother taught her son how to shoot guns?

It seemed to me to be to be a sensationalistic treatment of Autism, NOT relevant to the story, and disrespectful to Autistic people in general.

Stories like these are potentially damaging and can help foster the fear and stigma that is so often faced by Autistic individuals.

(Update: I did not address the gun issue in this post because this is a discussion about Autism. My point is that the news report purported to be about guns, but then also included seemingly unrelated information about Autism. I am not making any sort of commentary about guns one way or another. While it is an important discussion, that was not my focus here.)

Years ago, while the world was reeling from what transpired at Sandy Hook, best-selling Author John Elder Robison wrote an article for Psychology Today called “Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder.” Speculation had arisen then, as now, that the shooter may have had Asperger’s. Robison is himself Autistic (he describes himself using both terms Asperger’s and Autistic), and warned, “Let’s stop the rush to judgment.” He also stated plainly, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Continue reading

The Top Five Autism-Related Posts from Seriously Not Boring

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Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.

#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.

#4. The Talk: How I explained my son’s Autism diagnosis to him.

MightyNinja

There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The MightyContinue reading