A Train Conductor’s Sweet Act of Kindness for a Boy With Autism

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You could say this act of kindness stopped us in our tracks.

Matthew Mancil, a 12-year-old with autism, loves trains so much that he refers to himself as “train conductor Matthew.” And at the summer camp he attends in Clinton, Utah, he always waves to trains that pass on nearby tracks.

But last Thursday, instead of waving back or honking the horn, a Union Pacific Railroad conductor stopped his train to make Matthew’s day. He even gave the 12-year-old his own safety vest, gloves, sunglasses and lantern.

It may not have been a big deal to him, but it was a big deal to us,” his dad, Aaron, told KSL. “Matthew will always remember this, and he’ll probably be talking about this for the next two or three years.”

Watch the full story in the KSL video below.

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To the Garbage Truck Driver Who Stopped for My Son

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Dear Frank,

You have no idea the impact you have on a Wednesday. What you don’t know is that your presence has been a calming and reassuring force in our week for years now. No matter how good or how bad our week was, there you were every Wednesday reminding me that we could go on. The weeks I couldn’t count on anything, I could count on you, Frank, to light up my boy’s face. My 4-year-old son, Greyson, has autism. Some days it’s nearly impossible to get into his world. I still remember the first time he heard and processed the hum of your engine coming down our street. My son who barely speaks said to me, “I want truck.” You better believe we ran.

You broke into his world when I couldn’t, and moments spent watching you go down our street together brought him back to me. And almost every week after that first time he asked, I would hold my breath and wait and hope he would ask for you again — “I want truck.” And so often he did, and we would run outside in whatever discombobulated state we were in to see you.

I remember Grey started preschool this past fall. I was so sad and not at all ready to let go of my little buddy. I was mournful to say goodbye to our trash truck Wednesdays. And on that first Wednesday morning after the school year began, I heard your hum on our street as we were leaving for school. You came early, and we still got to see you. Suddenly I knew we would be OK.

Today I heard your melodic engine roar and hum, your brakes squeaking with each stop of your truck. We went outside and waited for you.

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And Grey’s eyes came alive when we finally saw you turn the corner onto our street.

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And today as you were driving away you abruptly came to a stop, reversed, and you opened your door.

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“I see you two out here every week,” you said. “Do you want to get a really good picture?” And you opened your world and your heart and your truck to me and my boy. You have no idea what that moment meant to me.

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I asked you your name, and I shook your hand when I really wanted to grab you and hug you. I tried to hold back my tears. I wanted to tell you everything but all I could do was squeak out, “thanks.”

Sometimes I worry — How will the world treat my boys? And today was a beautiful reminder that people are good — all because of you, Frank. I saw the way your face lit up with joy that my son put there, and I was so proud and so honored and so humbled to be a part of such a magical moment. Sometimes I hear phrases like, “People are so stupid,” or “crazy” or “mean.” To them I say — No they aren’t. You haven’t met Frank.

Love,

Chrissy

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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How Special Needs Parenting Is Better Than Sea Monkeys

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Like so many are, this is a story about love. It’s also about worry, doubt, confusion, acceptance, tiny and gigantic miracles, friendship and family, joy, celebrations and life. Oh, and sea monkeys.

Mostly though, it’s about love.

Five years ago, while the country headed home from “oooh”-ing and “ahhh”-ing over Fourth of July fireworks shows, my son, Tucker, was born. I spent hours marveling at how there was no way that his very small ittybitty, teenyweenie perfect little face could not be a single bit more perfect. I knew that nobody had ever loved anybody else in all of the history of time as much as I loved him. Except, you know, the people who have and do.

I had a baby. One that I never ever thought was possible. One that I was scared to hope for but dared to hope for, anyway.

I said, “Thank you.” I said, “Please.” I said everything and felt everything but mostly was like, “WOW, LOOK WHAT I DID!” and was unbelievably thankful because 40 years is a lot of years to wait to be a mom.

Time passed, a kazillion baby books were consulted and early milestones were met.

We celebrated. We worried. We doted, and we played. We lived.

We lived while the whispers of worry and doubt over unmet milestones got louder, and the unmet milestones got bigger. Or at least more obvious.

We lived while it was finally time to seek doctors and evaluations and teachers and early intervention, and we lived and died — but mostly lived — when we heard The Words.

The Words that Tucker was and is and maybe-probably-always-will-be developmentally delayed. We lived through The Words.

Autism Spectrum Disorder. Severe speech and language delays. Atypical development. Typical in some areas. Atypical in so many others. Which, in itself, is atypical.

Even though it doesn’t actually happen that people become special needs families overnight, it feels that way, because until the doctor or the teacher or the evaluator, or all of them — all at once — say it out loud, you think your kid and your family is just like all kids and all families.

Then, you feel scared.

Maybe a little bit like you totally screwed parenting up and maybe this whole thing is your fault because if you’d just talked to him more, or made him go to daycare to socialize, or maybe if you’d let him watch less “Caillou” when you selfishly took a shower — maybe — he really would be the imagined just-like-all-the-rest-of-the-kids kids.

But, probably not.

And everything is scary and terrifying all over again, just like that first night in the hospital when you realized that maybe being a parent is just as terrifying as it is amazing.

Everything is scary and hard and worry-filled and a little bit dark.

Until it’s not.

One day, you wake up and realize that life looks exactly as beautiful and messy and disorganized as it did before you heard the words. The sun still shines, the clouds still cloud and the laundry still sits there, undone. Your kid is still the best boy ever.

You meet people. Therapists and other parents and other kids and, while they have lots of similarities to each other, they have lots of similarities to everybody else in the whole wide world, too.

The Big It gets less scary. And mostly, hardly-at-all even sad any longer, when you know that your kid won’t learn to ride a bike or a scooter until later, or possibly never, and that’s not what matters anyway, because he’s still totally perfect. As perfect as all of us are.

Which is not that perfect. But it’s magic and happy and a trusting little boy’s hand gripping your own, full of confidence that you’ll lead him through the parking lot safely. And maybe even through life safely.

Being a special needs mom means giving up dreams. But it also means that the new ones are just as awesome.

It’s awesome, as in, please don’t feel sorry for us.

In fact, I’d even say that being a special needs mom is better than Sea Monkeys.

Because Sea Monkeys sound like the coolest thing, ever. I mean adorable little monkeys swimming around a fish bowl?! Playing with each other and playing with you, and smiling at you and having their cute little monkey faces have adorable, unique little features so you can tell them apart and know that the one named Benito will never be mistaken for Carter, because Benito has that little tuft of Sea Monkey hair!

The stupid Sea Monkeys are not cool at all.

Nor are they monkey-like in a single, solitary way. They are so un-monkey like, in fact, that not only do they not have monkey hair, or arms or little monkey hands with which to wave to you from their sea in your room, they have no faces.

And you can’t tell them apart at all and obviously they are the worst pets ever invented.

Being a special needs mom is the opposite of Sea Monkeys because when you think about being a special needs mom before being one, it sounds like it will be hard and sucky and hard and judgy and hard and maybe you might even think that if your kid can’t do the stuff you had always dreamed about doing with him, that it wouldn’t be fun. You think it might be as faceless (because, until now, it has been, as the Sea Monkeys really are).

Except that it’s not sucky — it’s full of faces and expressions and love, and it is fun.

It’s magical and wonderful and amazing and beautiful and even better than Sea Monkeys would be if they were actually little Benito and Carter with their funny little monkey faces, being the friends you’d hoped for.

It’s better than you’d even think about dreaming for.

One day, you start planning a beach vacation. Because the little baby with the ittybitty, teenyweenie perfect little face that could not be a single bit more perfect is turning 5.

Whoever said that the moments are boring and that the years are too short was right.

I love the moments, though. Because these moments, right here, are lifetimes. Full of wonder, light, and are, my friends, the faces of 5.

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We have had pool time and beach time,and water park time and flying.  We had boardwalk roller coaster rides and fearlessness (Tucker’s, not mine).

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We had swinging, high up into the air.

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We’ve had heart-stopping ocean moments, when Tucker was twisted and turned in the post-hurricane waters that left me shaking and crying and him asking to do it again.

We have a funny, crazy, amazing, shy, crawling-on-his-knees-to-avoid-his-best-friend’s-grandparent’s-faces, daredevil boy.

We are celebrating special needs, because we are celebrating this kid.

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We are celebrating Five. Saturday night, one night too late due to the hurricane, we celebrated with a fireworks show on the beach. I sat there, my legs resting in the cool night’s sand, with my not-so-little-but-still-little little boy in my lap, snuggled against the ocean breeze, “oooh”-ing and “aaah”-ing to the fireworks that we missed five years ago for his birth, and life was perfect.

Firework2(pp_w307_h338) We were young and old and everything in between.

Connected to all of the betweens and all of the people, everywhere.

We were just the regular family, and we were the best family. We were the best and the youngest and the oldest and the most complete.

And when Tucker asked me what the fireworks said, because maybe the patterns looked like words, or maybe, because he, too, felt the importance of the moment and wanted to be sure he wasn’t missing the message. I answered, “They say, ‘Happy Birthday, America. Happy Birthday, Tucker. Happy Birthday, This Life.’”

He smiled.

And I knew, again, that this is exactly, perfectly, my perfect, perfect boy.

My perfect, perfect, messy, messed up life.

As the firework’s peak ended, and people began to get up and leave, we sat, sighed and gave thanks.

Tucker looked at me and said “Hm. I say?”

“Yes, Baby? What you say?”

And he said, “I say, thank you fireworks.”

Yes. Thank you, fireworks. Thank you, life.

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This post originally appeared on Finding Ninee.

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The Real Battle Special Needs Families Face

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“It’s all well and good for higher functioning people who have autism to talk about how unique and precious their lives are and how important it is for everyone to accept their differences, but for families who are dealing with low functioning individuals, this is not their experience. Those families are in an ongoing battle.”  

The above is a version of a comment I’ve read countless times over the years.

Aside from the curious conflation of the first part of the sentence discussing autistic people’s sense of themselves, to the last part, which discusses the family’s point of view, as though the “low functioning” individual is incapable of having a point of view, there is no point arguing with anyone about their lived experience. However, do not make your experience mine. This is NOT my experience of my child. This is NOT my family’s experience. This is not the experience of many, many families I know. And do not assume this is my daughter’s experience either. Just because this is the way you view your child or sibling or relative or the person you know, does not mean that is their experience of the world or their family member’s experience.

I do not assume that because I choose to celebrate my daughter — every family and every autistic person will agree or feel the same. Nothing is as simple as any one-word descriptor. The ongoing battle I find myself in is with the inaccurate information about autism and autistic people. The ongoing battle is not my daughter’s neurology, it’s the misperceptions people have that they then apply to my daughter. The ongoing battle is not about her at all, it’s about functioning labels, what people continue to say and believe autism means, how people view disability, the stigma attached and how people fear, reject and punish what they do not understand.

That quote? That is exactly what I am battling – the idea that because someone cannot use spoken language, they do not have an experience of the world, the misconception that if someone cannot interact with another person in a way the majority of the population can understand or recognize, it means they are less than, unworthy and therefore excluded. Exclusion is the battle. Non-acceptance is the battle. Intolerance is the battle. Hatred is the battle. Prejudice is the battle. Discrimination is the battle. Misinformation, inequality, superiority, arrogance, ignorance and all the ways in which people then behave because they believe these things and all the things they tell themselves that lead to any of the above being acted upon — that’s the battle.

This post originally appeared on Emma’s Hope Book.

 

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The Land Where Empathy and Wonder Rule and Our Differences Don't

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I’d like to live in The Land of Empathy and Wonder.

I’d like to live in a land where my son, Tucker, is one of many, and the many have a variety of differences. None of those differences are considered afflictions, disabilities, special needs or delays. In this land, everybody’s quirks and uniquenesses and differences are celebrated. They’re not noticed because they are not important.

The only thing important in my imagined land is a person’s heart. And his empathy. And his ability to find wonder — to find joy in blowing bubbles on a breezy spring day rather than worrying about a job, a disease, a bill, a blog…

A place where every resident is able to abandon her phone to follow her son on his quest to best imitate a butterfly. To experience Wonder. To celebrate it.

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I’d like to live in a land where skin color matters as much as the color of a person’s underpants. Where couples that fall in love ARE a family without having to lobby for the right to be legally recognized as one by a government. Where a person’s actions toward others is noticed and the cost of her handbag is not.

I’d like to live in a world where I can take my son to the playground and the fact that he’s playing amazingly well with an unknown younger friend is what’s noticed rather than the fact that his new friend is miles above him in language. In knowing how to play. In, well, everything.

I’d like for all of us, including yours truly, to simply “Aaaahhh” at the joy on two boy’s faces bonding over finding an abandoned ball.

To be.

To be.  Ahh… can you imagine?

I can.

I see that joy and wonder in my little boy’s face every single day. He sees magic.

I want to get back to seeing the magic.

This land of mine would allow me to see Tucker’s recent school photo and not analyze it. It would allow me to remain in the belly-laugh moment my husband and I shared when we first saw it and thought, “Oh my… he looks so mischievous! So grown up! And so funny!” Instead, I returned to it later and wondered whether this photo looks like autism.  Whether Tucker’s beautiful eyes all squinted up as if he’s hiding something meant instead that he was at his “I need a break” point. That he may have been scared or intimidated or overwhelmed and didn’t have the words to say so.

I’d like to live in the land where empathy and wonder rule.

Where our differences don’t.

The best part? This land exists.

It exists right now in some of you, if only ideally. We, my friends, have the power to transform our worlds, our ideal places and our homes into The Land of Empathy and Wonder.

It starts with you. With me. With our children. With how we choose to spend the next five minutes. With being able, tomorrow when we’re stressed out and overwhelmed and busy and annoyed, to be able to take a moment to NOT look away. To try and make eye contact with the boy who makes you uncomfortable. To say hi. To give his tired mom a smile.

To give her a smile that conveys the message that we’re all in this together.

And that there is empathy and wonder.  Everywhere.

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This post originally appeared on Finding Ninee

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Man With Autism Performs Beautiful Tribute to Paul McCartney

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In 2011, when Michael Korins watched James Durbin, a singer with Asperger syndrome, compete on American Idol, he knew he wanted to take his music to the next level. Autism wouldn’t stop him from sharing what he loved with the world.

The 20-year-old began singing when he was 3 and started performing when he was 7. Today, he’s made somewhat of a name for himself on YouTube. Korins sings inspirational songs in hopes of changing the way people view autism.

“When someone watches a video of Michael’s, I want them to realize that the label of autism does not define a person who has autism,” his dad, Dan, told The Mighty in an email. “Mike and I also want others with autism to be inspired to be the best they can be. Just as importantly, we want to give hope to parents of children who have recently been diagnosed with autism.”

In the video below, Korins performs Paul McCartney’s “My Love” at a Life’s Connections Through Music concert. Definitely take a look:

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