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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What Bill Has to Teach Us

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This is Bill, and Bill is SERIOUSLY Not Boring. He is 50 years old (almost 51!), lives with his sister who is his loving caretaker, and his favorite things are his sister’s homemade cookies, his nieces and nephews, and Reba McEntire. Bill has Down Syndrome, and he has a lot to teach the rest of us about love and enthusiasm. Bill has some BIG feelings, and it is contagious.

I had the privilege of meeting Bill this winter. We were at a chili cookoff at our church, I introduced myself and we started talking. He started telling me about his nieces and nephews (he has their pictures in his wallet and proudly shows them to everyone he meets) and how much he loves kids. He told me that he would like to help and volunteer with the children’s activities at our church. I found it interesting he would mention that to me since I am not involved in the leadership of that ministry. I think now that it was divine intervention. I told him his idea sounded great, and that I would have to talk with his sister and the children’s ministry leadership and I would get back with him.

Then you know what I did? I am shamed to say, not very much. His sister agreed that he could help out and that she could bring him. I mentioned it via text or FB to a couple people involved with the ministry and didn’t receive a response. I don’t think they realized I was asking permission to move forward, OR they didn’t see my message. It was an incredibly busy time of year so I let the issue drop for a couple months. I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, and I knew that helping Bill get involved would take a bit of logistical work. I was worried that people would see that as an inconvenience (as an aside, that is exactly why a lot of families of children with special needs avoid church, because they are afraid their children would be seen as an inconvenience). I should have given more credit to my church and the loving people that are a part of it, and I should have followed through. Thankfully, I was given a second chance to give BILL a chance.  Continue reading

Inclusion In Action: How My Son’s Classmates Responded When They Learned About Autism

 

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After my son was first identified as Autistic* I constantly worried about how the world would treat him. Those worries escalated when he was at school interacting with classmates and under the care of others, but with the help of his teachers we found a way to help foster a positive, supportive community for him. It was accomplished by talking to his classmates about Autism, and the results have been more effective and encouraging than I ever hoped.

My son is outgoing, energetic, and has a knack for improv comedy. His big brother is his best friend and his favorite things are Minecraft, sea lions, and Lego. He is also Autistic with some social, sensory, attention and impulse control issues. As “Twice-Exceptional” it seems at times that he is caught in between the typical and special-needs world, so sometimes he struggles to find a sense of belonging and acceptance. As he grew older those struggles became greater, and we hoped to find a way to help.

Some of you may be wondering why I would want my son’s classmates to know about his Autism label. Wouldn’t that complicate things because he would seem MORE different? I believe honest dialogue about special-needs is crucial to acceptance, and that children can be surprisingly open-minded about diversity and uniqueness. If you tell them, “Different is cool,” they will believe you. The trick is to explain those differences in a matter-of-fact and positive way, before they can be affected by the prejudices of the world. (It also helps if you do it in a voice like Matt Smith’s Doctor when he said, “Bowties are COOL!” And yeah, I totally made this meme.)

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I once read these words, “If you’re the parent of a child with AS & worried about what will happen if other students find out, here’s a thoughtthey already know. They know they have a classmate who has different and difficult behaviors. But they don’t realize the reasons. And the reasons they imagine are much worse than the facts.” I felt that my son’s classmates were more likely to be kind if they understood more about him. As the article stated, “… children are never too young to learn that…we need to treat each other with patience, kindness and understanding.” I was also inspired by a presentation given by the Executive Director of our local Autism Society chapter, who had talked with her own son’s classmates when he was in school. She felt that it was important to share with classmates about strengths first, then weaknesses, and then involve the other children by stating ways that they could help.

Taking that into account, my son and I first shared with his classmates about Autism when he was in 1st grade. We did it again when he was in 2nd, both times in conjunction with his Star Student presentation. Any time I discuss Autism it is with his permission and his input, and he is proud to talk about his “special brain.” We wanted to show that Autism was just one of the many things that makes him interesting (if you want to read the script I used you can click here, The Star: Telling classmates about Autism). We made sure to point out that even though my son was a little bit different that was okay, because he also was just the same as the other students. Both times I contacted the teacher first to gain permission, and gave her a copy of what would be said so that she could be prepared to answer any questions the students may have later.  Continue reading

Autism Action Month. DO Something!

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Image Source: Autism Acceptance Month website http://www.autismacceptancemonth.com/

April is “Autism Awareness Month.” I say that’s not enough. Parents of children with Autism are aware of the isolation that their children feel when they are mocked by their peers, and they are aware of the lack of sufficient resources to help their children thrive in schools. Adults with Autism are aware that many who claim to speak for the Autism community don’t actually ask Autistic people for their opinion. They are aware that many businesses refuse to give them a chance at meaningful employment.

It is not enough to be aware one month of the year. Honestly, it seems like the only people really paying attention to Autism Awareness month are people in the community. Others seem to just want to donate money to an Autism charity to ease their conscience and feel like they made a difference.

Here’s an startling, heartbreaking example of why we need to do MORE. My friend, Cindy, shared a story of what happened when she was shopping at Walmart this week with her son, Ty. Ty is Autistic and has limited speech. He’s also sweet and funny and we love Ty, but moving on… Cindy described an encounter they had while in the store:

We were approached by an employee who seemed to have an intellectual disability of some kind. “Is he special?” He asked, pointing at Ty. “He sure is!” I said. “He is VERY special and I love him very much.” The man said, “I’m special too. So I understand. He can be my friend”. I assured him that we could be his friend too, and agreed we’d high-five him whenever we shopped there. He liked this. “Of course, everyone else thinks we are freaks”, he said. What could I do but laugh? “Well maybe we are ALL freaks”, I said.

My emotions changed from inspired to heartbroken as I read it. Everyone else thinks we are freaks.NO ONE should have to feel that way. If you want to make a difference then YOU should be a friend to this man too. Not just in April, but EVERY month.

Want to REALLY make a difference? ACCEPT. APPRECIATE. ACCOMMODATE. ADVOCATE. Take ACTION. Keep reading for some suggestions of ways that you can improve the lives of people with Autism.  Continue reading

The School Conference That Made Me Cry

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I recently attended a conference at my 3rd grader’s school and it totally made me cry. This time, however, it was a GOOD cry (although also a borderline “ugly cry” too). All because my youngest son has incredible teachers, and he has some amazing, supportive classmates. But let me rewind…

Parents of children with special needs are used to crying in conferences and IEP meetings. We walk into the room bracing ourselves because we feel raw, vulnerable and are afraid of what we might hear. (We brace ourselves every time the phone rings during the school day, too!) In some school settings our children do not always get the support and services that they need. Resources are limited, teachers are exhausted, and classmates can be cruel. I feel blessed to say that has NOT been our experience at my son’s school. From the beginning Team Ninja has been full of exceptional, patient, caring teachers who have found creative ways to help my son THRIVE.  Continue reading