Captivating Photo Series Shows What Autism Looks Like Around the World


In the last two years, Debbie Rasiel has traveled through six countries to photograph families affected by autism. She’s met children across the spectrum — some don’t talk; some have physical, maybe even violent, outbursts. She’s met their parents and siblings, too — with a translator, she’s spoken to many of them. She’s watched and learned about different types of therapies available in countries like Mexico, Iceland and Indonesia. She’s experienced differences in culture and language, in weather and in class.

“The thing is, it’s always so similar,” Rasiel, 53, told The Mighty. “At the end of the day, even with the cultural differences, it’s the same. It’s a mother who is worried about her child’s future. It’s a special needs family. It’s autism.”

The New York City-based photographer calls her two-year endeavor, “Picturing Autism.” This past May, it debuted at SOHO20 Chelsea Gallery, but the project is ongoing — Rasiel is currently planning a trip to Vietnam. With the help of autism Facebook groups and the Global Autism Project, she’s found ways to connect with families from all over the world.

She’s comfortable photographing autism because she’s familiar with the disorder; her 23-year-old son, Lee, is on the spectrum. So when she talks to families, she’s talking as an artist and photographer, of course, but she’s also speaking as a mother.

“I’m not rattled,” Rasiel told The Mighty. “I’ve seen it all.”

When someone affected by autism, either directly or through a loved one, sees her photos, she hopes, above all, they feel less alone.

“[Autism] is in every country. It’s a global village we’re in. It’s everywhere. No one is alone,” Raisel said. “You’re a part of something larger.”

Take a look at “Picturing Autism” below and view the full series here.

Queens, New York

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Cuzco, Peru

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Oaxaca, Mexico

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Lima, Peru

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East Harlem, New York

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Reykjavick, Iceland

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Hveragerði, Arnessysla, Iceland

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Jakarta, Indonesia

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RELATED VIDEOS

Woman Sheds Her Clothes and Insecurities to Show What’s Truly Underneath


Jillian Mercado doesn’t mind when she gets attention. Especially when it’s for her style.

“I’m here, I’m present,” the model and editor says in the video below. “This is me, deal with it.”

Mercado, who was born with muscular dystrophy, shakes her head at the notion that someone with a disability cannot be fashionable. She thrives in her clothes — and she doesn’t use them to hide her insecurities anymore. That’s why she became a model — most recently for Nordstrom. And that’s why she participated in the video below — an interview for the “What’s Underneath Project,” where she sheds an article of clothing after answering each question.

“I think I woke up and was like, ‘I’m so over this. I’m not going to sit in a corner all my life just crying about something that I really can’t change,” Mercado recalls when asked about turning her struggles into strengths. By the video’s end, she sits, smiling and confident, in her underwear.

Then she says this:

“If you’re different, that’s sunlight in somebody’s world.”

Watch her full interview here:

h/t Upworthy

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I’m Just an Ordinary Mom in Extraordinary Circumstances


There has been a few videos in the past few months about my daughter, Pip, Happy Soul Project and my little family that I honestly can’t watch without shedding a few. Awhile back this tear-jerker from Station 14 Kingston came out, and then, well, there possibly will never be anything in my life again like the Indie88 Billboard reveal video:

I adore that my family gets to have these keepsakes, if you will… these moments in our lives captured so beautifully to remember, be proud of and have a good cry at.

But I wanted to address one small thing in all of this…

Since all this media attention, be it videos or articles, I’m constantly getting messages about what an amazing momma I am. And while it’s always nice to hear and really lifts me up, I want it noted that I am indeed just a ordinary, everyday momma. It’s just, in my case, I am in extraordinary circumstances in which the very best of me is being being showcased.

These videos, news articles, even my own pictures or blog posts, show me kissing my babies, laughing and dancing, fighting for advocacy and awareness. It doesn’t show me yelling, “Dammit!” after my toddler son refuses to eat the eggs he just demanded I make or my eyes having their own pulse because I am so bloody tired. It doesn’t show me crying in my minivan when Pip has a discouraging appointment or sobbing in my pillow when I find out another babe with Down syndrome didn’t make it. It doesn’t show me texting my girlfriends when I’ve spent hours trying to get Noal or as I refer to him “my demon” to bed, frustrated as all hell. It doesn’t show me in my pajamas having a day filled with Dora and Franklin because just the thought of lugging all of us out is beyond exhausting. And it certainly doesn’t show me making beans and toast again for dinner or stepping on yet another dinky car while swearing & throwing it, marking up the wall.

It shows the best of me — or so I like to think.

Take yesterday… Pip and I were on Cityline (Hello amazing!!!), and what you saw was a momma who loved her daughter and was fighting the fight to spread #differentisbeautiful a little further.

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And while that is the case, what you didn’t see was:

  • I got lost and missed my exit coming into Toronto — I drove around downtown in traffic for two extra hours with Pip losing it, me needing to pee like it was my job and swerving my big momma van to avoid you fearless Toronto bikers.
  • I stayed up too late with my cousin drinking too much wine and scarfing down the most garlic of all garlic-tzatziki sauces as if I didn’t have an uber important TV interview in the morning.
  • I was up four times with Pip from 1 to 6 a.m. and was at my wit’s end about to lose it from lack of sleep, a teething baby and nervousness at the day ahead when she woke me up with this:


  • My hair started out curly — then Toronto humidity beat it down, and I was worried it was going to get all big and bad for the interview. Instead of thinking about what I was going to say or what questions I might be asked, I was wondering how I was going to manage the frizz.
  • I waited in a parking lot outside Cityline for almost 45 minutes begging Pip to sleep because it was gonna be prime nap time when we were supposed to be filming. No such luck, which in turn caused hair pulling and glasses rip-offs live on air.

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  • I chatted with my husband numerous times before I walked in because he somehow in his straight-forward-way calms me the heck down.
  • When we had the Today’s Parent shoot, I desperately wanted them to do my makeup but they said I looked fine. This time I was making sure it happened, and I looked a bit “rougher” coming in, blame the wine or the baby up all night. Either way I wanted to see what I could/would look like done up by a professional.
  • Not only did the makeup artist have to work around and with Pip in my lap reaching for her brushes, but she had to endure my still rancid tzatziki breath — so sorry about that.

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  • They had trouble getting the microphone in my dress because it was so bloody tight – that’s a whole other blog in itself… I mean what does one wear on TV? We all know I struck out big time live with the Huffington Post. So you’d think I’d learn to step it up a notch, but no — went big with an Old Navy Dress and Ardene’s belt.
  • One of the first things I did when I sat in the chair to be interviewed was nervously ask if the mug full of water was “for real” and could I have it so that I felt like I was on a “real talk show” — I’m seriously such a twonk. The audience laughed and they played along with me but who knows what they thought when I announced and then stole the mug as a souvenir.

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  • Everything happens so fast — one minute you are watching the show in the greenroom, next you are watching a few steps away and then wham — you’re in the chair and the camera is on. And the whole time I was wondering, how the heck are my legs supposed to be in this scenario? I looked over and the lovely Sasha, Editor-in-Chief of Today’s Parent had her legs crossed all lady like, but I had Pip on my lap, so quickly made the decision to cross at the ankle. Bad call, but y’all gotta realize that was honestly what was going through my head.

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  • But then the questions started and, not knowing it at the time, but reflecting back after watching it a mere 32 times, I talk too much with my heart and way too much with my hands.
  • Add the granola bar I gave Pip and called lunch on the way home and trying to change out of my too-tight dress in a busy parking lot and there you have it…

You see, I’m just an ordinary, everyday mom being showcased by all the best points…

Don’t get me wrong, I do really think I am an awesome momma to my two little hooligans… most days.

But I have to state — I think we all are — Being a momma is beyond anything I imagined. The happiest, the hardest and the most humbling experience by far in life.

But it’s us everyday mommas that are so awesome — It’s that momma I saw the other day who had a baby and was entertaining a busy toddler. It’s that momma who has twins and is determine to breastfeed them both. It’s that momma who just knows something is wrong and fights and pushes for her babe. It’s that momma who makes homemade muffins and baby food or who, like me, lives off those squeeze packs. It’s that momma who volunteers at school, takes on play dates or goes to a job and works her arse off. It’s that momma who, at the end of the day, kisses her sweet babes and thinks to herself, “I love you, I love us but tomorrow I am going to be an even better momma.”

Being a momma is what is amazing and inspiring. And I just happen to get this awesome opportunity to show others how I do it.

So, truly thank you for all the kind and uplifting comments, messages and words — Right back at ya though, mommas, right back at ya.

This post originally appeared on Happy Soul Project.

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Dear Special Needs Mother in the Grocery Store, I Have a Question


I think we squash children’s genuine curiosity about differences by telling them we are all the same. I don’t think it’s just my children who regularly see the differences – in their shoes from another’s, in their skin from another’s, in their eye color from another’s. They say it in passing, like you or I might comment about the sky being so blue or the weather feeling hot. Thus far, their comments about differences and similarities are without judgment; they’re really just commenting.

I think that many times we, as parents, superimpose the judgment over their innocent comment and then hurry to rush them away or cover up their statement. The more I think about who I hope my kids will be in the future – the kid who sits next to the kid who’s being left out, the kid who stops others from mocking someone – the more I think that I need to allow comments and questions to happen without me worrying and overlaying a judgment on their comment. Kids are different. People are different. Different doesn’t equal bad.

Parents of children with special needs, I promise to teach my kids compassionate understanding. Sometimes I may need a favor, though. Can you help me?

Could You Spare a Moment?

The loud hum
of the combined voices
that fill the room
like an airplane’s engines
pack your ears
drops
in an instant
and, it seems, that all noise has stopped.
Except for one
voice
of my little boy who fills the silence
with his question,
“Does he have special needs?”

I just needed a loaf of bread.
And some eggs.
But this is it:
the moment
that mother wit
is supposed to fill up my head.
For these were the questions
before I had kids
that I was sure
I’d rise up to meet
so that my kids would be
aware, unafraid, compassionate,
if not discreet.

I glance at the child first.
Then, at the mother.

I try to read her face,
a mirror of tired and just-trying-to-get-through-the-day-ness of my own:
Are you just trying to get
bread and eggs, too?
Could you spare a moment?
Could you help me teach
my kid about your kid today,
or is today just not the day for that?

Or,
has today
only been the day for that?
Have you had to answer
this question
at the library when you just wanted to drop off books,
and at the preschool when you just wanted to pick up your other child,
and at your own home when the plumber asked, too?

I look away.
I look down at my own son.
He’s confused now.
He is confused
the way your son is confused
when he is left out
or left behind.

We are all the same in that
we are all different.

“Yes, it seems he does.”

And, “Yes, he is different than you.”
And, “Yes, he is the same as you.”
And, “Yes, we can talk about this.”

And, “Yes, I will rise up to meet
the promise I made
to try and raise kids
who are aware and accepting.”

I promise you this, Mother in the Grocery Store.
I promise you this, My Son.

This post originally appeared on AnnieFlavin.com.

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A Life With Multiple Sclerosis Is Not a Death Sentence: 6 Myths About MS


Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a part of life for over 400,000 people in the United States, with an average of 200 new diagnoses each week. There is much about MS that we still don’t understand, such as the root cause of the disease, however, those that have been diagnosed with MS are finding new tools for coping and fighting the symptoms that MS can bring. There are many misconceptions about MS, and shedding light on these myths is one very big way to help bring awareness to MS and its effects.

1. Multiple Sclerosis is going to kill me.

A diagnosis of MS is not a diagnosis of a short life. Thankfully, research has shown that individuals with MS have, on average, a normal life span. There are instances where a severe case of MS may bring about complications or side effects that can impact one’s life span, however, the majority of MS sufferers will not have a shortened life span.

2. Multiple Sclerosis will make me paralyzed/disabled.

This is another myth. The majority of MS sufferers will not face paralysis. In fact, two thirds of individuals with MS will not suffer paralysis or a major disability. You may need to use a crutch, cane, or other walking aid, however, these aids are not due to paralysis or numbness, but can be due to fatigue or balance issues.

3. Only old people get MS.

While it’s scary to think about, the majority of new MS diagnoses are given to those between 20-50 years old. There are always exceptions to these figures, however, as those as young as 2 and as old as 75 may develop MS.

4. Those with MS can’t get pregnant.

This is one myth that is not only untrue, but holds a chance of relief for MS sufferers. Women with MS have the same fertility rates as non-MS sufferers. Additionally, many women report that during pregnancy, their MS symptoms completely disappeared. There is a 40-50 percent chance of relapse within the first six months after pregnancy.

5. I can’t have children because I can pass my MS down to them.

While genetic factors do play a role in developing MS, there is no evidence that a woman with MS will pass the disease down to her child. Statistics show that there is a 2 percent chance that a child will develop MS from an MS-diagnosed parent.

6. I won’t be able to stay active or work.

Thanks to the continuous efforts of modern medicine, there are many different treatment options for those with MS. Most of those diagnosed with MS will be able to continue their everyday activities. When it comes to exercise, many doctors believe that staying active can actually help the symptoms associated with MS. Not only does exercise help keep the body in shape, but it also helps fight off depression and anxiety, which many MS sufferers struggle with.

This post originally appeared on MS Living Symptom Free.

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I Laugh at My Kid (and You Can Too)


I laugh at my son. Often. I like to think that most people laugh at their kids (you do, right?) so that makes me pretty normal.

Kids are hilarious. They say weird stuff, are embarrassingly easy to trick (*cough* Santa), and generally act the fool. In the animal kingdom, baby humans take the cake for comedy.

So we laugh at them — because they’re cute and because we can. At least I do.

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But when your child has a disability, sometimes people aren’t sure if they’re allowed to laugh along with you.  And that can get awkward.

Recently, I was swapping funny kid stories with a couple of friends. I told them about this weird thing that happens when Simeon crawls — and it didn’t go so well.

Here’s a recap:

Sim isn’t doing a four-point crawl but he has mastered the art of commando crawling (which is clearly the manlier of the two crawl options and obviously superior).  During these military-style crawling expeditions he scouts for things that don’t belong to him (Daddy’s PlayStation games), forages for treats (discarded Band-Aids) and pivots in circles like a break dancer.

And that’s where it gets a little funny. Because Sim can’t move his legs, he runs into a problem I like to call the “Friction Affliction.”

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Looks crazy, right? It isn’t hurting him, and it’s not dangerous (especially since we straighten him out quick), but Sim comes off looking like some kind of baby-contortionist. I have stage mom fantasies of putting him in the circus where — with his good looks and my sparkling personality, we would make millions.  

So that’s what I told my friends. The problem is, I don’t think they heard anything past “can’t move his legs.”  What was intended as a funny story fell on their ears like the groans of a Shakespearean tragedy–  no laughing matter. Observe this reenactment:

Here’s M.E:

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Here are my friends:

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It was awkward, you guys — for everyone involved.

Maybe the problem is that, unlike my friends, I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that Simeon doesn’t move his legs. Maybe the problem is that we all need to lighten up when it comes to how we treat people who are different. Or maybe my story just wasn’t funny (gasp!), and I need to work on my comedic timing– but I kind of doubt that since I’m a riot and you know it. Whatever the reason, it felt really crappy (pardon my French).  Everyone was allowed to laugh at their kid except for me — because my kid is different.

You think your kids are funny — you chuckle when they sleep with their faces mashed up against the crib bars, you giggle when they say “truck” but it comes out as the very-baddest-word-in-the-world and you even laugh when they crawl like a weirdo.  Instead of being strange, laughing at my son actually makes me just like the mom of a typical child.

So I’m here to say that yes, I think my son is hilarious — even though he has a disability.  And if I laugh at him, that means you can, too. I mean it, you guys. It’s OK.

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 This post originally appeared on What Do You Do, Dear?

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