Dear Good Samaritan,

Let me start by introducing myself: My name is Courtney. My husband and I have an 8-year-old son with autism and then some. Our little boy struggles with more labels than a clearance item, I have many chronic illnesses, and my husband has more metal in his body than bones.

I know the church doesn’t tell you who we are; I know they don’t tell you our story, for confidential reasons. I’m reaching out to tell you our story, because I want you to know.

Christmas is my favorite holiday, full of magic and wonder, love and family, yet every year, I dread that countdown.

Paying our bills is a stretch, so of course, buying presents for our son is something that isn’t possible. I worry that he won’t get a visit from Santa. I worry about how we’ll put presents under the tree.

My son doesn’t worry; he believes in the magic of Christmas. Every year during the week before Thanksgiving, he starts in about the tree. You see, part of being autistic is a mind that fixates on something and then hyper-focuses on it, so it’s around this time the Christmas fascination begins in full swing. (He starts his wish list before Halloween, though.)

We, of course, have a fake tree because we can’t afford to buy a real one, but it’s a little tree, and we love it for its memories. So with tradition, the day before Turkey Day, my son and I get out the tree and assemble it.

He then helps me string the lights, and we plug it in. Making him wait until the next morning to decorate is a chore, but he’s getting better at knowing why we wait.

On Thanksgiving morning as we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we as a family decorate our tree. My son is all a-chatter about Santa coming soon, ooing and ahhing over his special and most prized ornaments. He’s in his glory.

We, too, are happy, but we’re still wondering, still praying, that our family has been “adopted” by a good soul such as yourself.

Of course, our son doesn’t know this. As the days turn into weeks and we run our errands, each time we see a red-kettle bell ringer my son gets all excited. He gathers all the change in the car, and crams it into his pockets.

He drops them a lot because his motor skills are off, and he gets upset with himself. Nevertheless, we gather everything up, and he proudly deposits his change into the kettle.

His face glows with pride, and so do ours — we may not have a lot, but as the saying goes, together we have it all.

We can’t afford a lot, but we know and have taught our son about the good the Salvation Army does for others, and he never forgets.

Then we get a call from the church that our prayers have been answered. A kind soul, an anonymous good Samaritan, has chosen our family to help with Christmas.

What a true blessing. Each year when my husband picks up the boxes, there are presents for the entire family. Stockings stuffed to the gills with goodies and small toys. (Perfect for little ones with sensory and motor skills needs.)

And each year, we cry in secret, in sadness, because we can’t make Christmas magical, but also in relief that someone else, someone who doesn’t even know us, cares enough to make it happen.

I thank you: for the relief, for caring, for making our holiday so special, for answering my son’s wishes.

I can’t yet tell my son about you. He’s 8, and he still believes. You know how I know? I know because he said to me the other day, “Momma! I know that Santa Claus is real! You know how I know?”

I replied, “No, buddy, how do you know?” and he looked at me with his chubby little cheeks and his adorable little grin and replied, “I know ’cause we are poor, but I still get presents. So that means that Santa has to be real!”

I smiled and walked away. I had to “go to the bathroom.” I closed the door, turned on the faucet to drown out my noise, and I cried.

I cried because my son knows we’re poor. I cried because he still believes in the magic of Santa. I cried because of you. Because of your love and kindness for our family.

I’m not telling you our story for sympathy. I’m not sharing this for attention. I am reaching out because from one human to another, I want you to know, just how much what you do means to us.

I want you to know that we are thankful. We feel blessed by your kindness. You are keeping the spirit of Santa alive for a little boy who truly deserves the world.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,

A Family in Need

xmas 2013


This morning I delivered a video to an elementary principal who wants to learn more about autism. While I was at the school, a paraeducator asked if I’d read the essay about “THAT kid.” It’s been floating around the internet. She said I might appreciate it.

Click here to read the essay “Dear Parent: About THAT Kid…” 

The essay, written by teacher Amy Murray, describes kids with different needs and the role of the teacher to protect the privacy of those children and their families. THAT kid’s behaviors cause other parents and kids to question why THAT kid gets special attention, why THAT kid is aggressive, why THAT kid comes to school late or why THAT kid has certain accommodations, sometimes to the detriment of others in the classroom. My twin sons with autism have both been THAT kid at different times and places in their young lives.

“Yes, I’ve read it,” I said. “I know THAT kid. I know many THAT kids.”

“So do we,” the principal said softly, as she nodded. She has a calm, gentle demeanor. Her kind eyes and smile seemed to say, “I have a soft spot in my heart for THAT kid. It’s a challenge, but we do our best every day to teach and support THAT kid.”

I am THAT kid’s mom. I’m grateful for any teacher who’s worked passionately on behalf of my kids and advocated for their needs. I am the squeaky wheel behind the scenes. I am the one who has gotten dirty looks from other parents. I am the one who explains my sons’ odd behaviors.

Two boys, one wearing a button-down shirt with a tie, the other wearing a hoodie with the hood on his head

My twin boys are in eighth grade, each on different paths and in different places. Isaac attends a school solely for kids with disabilities, which has been a good place for him to grow and flourish. His class size is small, and he gets a lot of individual attention. I’m grateful he loves school because his kindergarten experience in a different school was difficult for everyone. He was THAT kid.

Noah had the assistance of a 1:1 paraeducator from kindergarten until sixth grade. He was THAT kid who made tremendous gains with the help of his teachers, his paraeducator, his principal, his school counselor, his speech-language pathologist and everyone who embraced him. His behavior was never an issue, but his needs took considerable teacher time away from other learners. He was THAT kid who was academically bright, but he struggled with speech and fine motor delays.

I’m grateful for the teachers and other school staff who have worked with THAT kid. I appreciate anyone who has shown our family support and compassion. It’s not easy being THAT kid. It’s not easy working with THAT kid. I applaud you.

I’m grateful for the early childhood special education preschool teacher who stopped by our house with Dream Snow, a book Isaac loved because of the story and sound effects. She said he could keep it as long as he needed it. It was her only copy.

I’m grateful for the teacher who tapped me on the shoulder at Family Video and said, “Are you Isaac’s mom? I met Isaac when he was in special ed preschool. He was the reason I became a teacher.” I’d never met her before that day, and I’ve never seen her since. Her words deeply moved me.

I’m grateful for the teacher who told her class that everyone has a disability. She said her disability is that she has to work extra hard to become organized. Every student then shared their disability. Noah said, “My disability is that I have autism.” Another kid said, “Wow, that’s why you’re so smart!”

I’m grateful the preschool teacher only had good things to say about Isaac during an IEP meeting, even though she could have pointed out more of his weaknesses. Nobody had ever done that in such a kind way.

I’m grateful for the bus driver who spent 20 minutes each morning trying to get Isaac on the bus. She brought toys and music to assist him in the transition.

I’m grateful for the early childhood special education teacher who said, “Isaac is the most stubborn kid I have ever taught – and I’ve taught for more than 25 years.” She was a great teacher and a good advocate for Isaac’s needs. I was happy to hear her honest remarks. She validated my feelings. He was challenging!

I’m grateful for the kindergarten teacher who called me the first day of school and said, “I just wanted you to know Noah had a good day.”

I’m grateful for the speech-language pathologist who created a book for the twins when I was pregnant with Henry. The book told Isaac and Noah what to do with a new baby in the house. (The baby on the cover looked a lot like Henry when he was born. How did she do that?) I was never sure Isaac understood the book, although we read it every day. When the baby was born, Isaac insisted he take the book to school to show his classmates. I cried.

I’m grateful for the teacher who said she would take Isaac to Special Olympics overnight (for two nights!) if we gave her permission. We trusted her, so we agreed. It was a good experience for him and our family. Weeks later the teacher gave us a photo of Isaac jumping on the hotel bed. He was laughing and holding hands with the teacher who was in midair, too.

I’m grateful for the band teacher who sat down with me to discuss his personal experience with autism and to reassure me he would do everything he could to help my son succeed in band.

I’m grateful for the special education teacher who worked tirelessly with Noah on his handwriting.

I’m grateful for the secretary who talked with Noah every day in preschool as part of his conversation/communication goal.

I’m grateful for Isaac’s teacher who got a little teary-eyed when she said she didn’t think he would be in her classroom next year.

I’m grateful for Noah’s paraeducator who helped him develop his independence at school, while giving him just the right amount of autonomy.

I’m grateful for the preschool teacher who met me every day at my van and took my boys inside the school, one in each hand. They wouldn’t go with me, but they went with her. She made it look easy.

I’m grateful for the principal who pulled me aside after a vocal concert and said, “I got goose bumps when I listened to your son sing.”

I’m grateful for the teacher who said, “I don’t like to talk about Isaac in front of him because we all know he is listening and absorbing every word.”

I’m grateful for the teacher who let Isaac shoot hoops every day at the end of school because he followed directions and listened to the teacher. That reward motivated him.

I’m grateful for the teacher who said she loves talking to Noah every morning when he stops by her room. She said sometimes she has to think of interesting stories to share because she wants him to return every day.

I’m grateful for the teacher who emailed me to say she overheard Noah telling another teacher, “Congratulations and happy birthday! You’re now officially older than dirt!”

I’m grateful for the teacher who told Noah, “As much as you want to be in my first grade class forever, I can’t bear to think of you as a 70-year-old man sitting in those little desks.”

I’m grateful for the teacher who told the school custodian that Isaac has autism, which was why he was obsessed with the elevator and wouldn’t respond to her questions.

I’m grateful for the teacher who videotaped Noah doing a weather report at a time when his dream was to grow up and become a meteorologist. She made a little boy’s dream come true.

I’m grateful for the paraeducator who emailed me to say, “I always knew Isaac had wonderful parents because of his perfectly packed lunches.”

I’m grateful for the teachers who have created theatre and music opportunities for kids on the autism spectrum.

I’m grateful for the teacher who met our family at Noah’s band concert and sat in the bleachers with Isaac to help with his challenging behaviors.

I’m grateful for the teacher who provided free swimming instruction for kids on the spectrum as part of his research, and he asked my kids (all three!) to participate.

I’m grateful for the art teacher who said, “Your child is a joy to have in the classroom!” instead of “He has a fine motor delay and can’t draw worth a hoot.”

I’m grateful for the teacher who offered to take our family picture in her classroom two years in a row when I told her how difficult it was to get a good family picture. We used one of the pictures for a Christmas card.

I’m grateful for the principal who rode the bus home with Isaac while he has having a meltdown so he would arrive home safely.

I’m grateful for the custodian who let Isaac help load and start the dishwasher at preschool, just because he knew how much Isaac wanted to help. I’m grateful for the teacher who sent me a picture of Isaac doing just that.

I’m grateful for the teacher who gave me a “Sounds Like Fun” CD that Isaac enjoyed singing in the classroom. We listened to it so much in the van that once as I drove up to a drive-thru window I sang, “Kitten, kitten, k, k, k…” to the woman who took my money.

I’m grateful for the teacher who texted “Happy Mom Day” to me on Mother’s Day.

I’m grateful for the principal who was patient and calm with Isaac, even when he stole the potato chips she brought for lunch.

I’m grateful for the early intervention teacher who spent hours in our home every week when my boys were toddlers, helping them learn a work/play system.

I’m grateful for the teacher on the last day of sixth grade who said to Noah, “I was going to tell you good luck in junior high, but I won’t because you don’t need it. You’re an amazing young man.”

I’m grateful for the school counselor who went to a historical site during the summer and sent Noah a brochure in the mail because she knew how much he would appreciate it. (She even asked for permission before sending it.)

I’m grateful for the teacher who never complained that my son couldn’t tie his shoes.

I’m grateful for the early intervention teacher who came to our home, brought donuts and listened to me cry.

Thank you, thank you.

This post originally appeared on Turn Up the V.

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This is a kid who’s been through a lot and still finds reason to sing.

Christopher Duffley, now 12, weighted one pound and 12 ounces when he was born premature at 26 weeks, in May 2001, according to the YouTube video below.

He was in critical condition but managed to pull through and was eventually adopted by his aunt and uncle. In addition to being blind and on the autism spectrum, Christopher has had to live with many health issues. He didn’t talk until first grade, but once he started singing, his parents noticed he had perfect pitch. Since then, the has been singing and playing music constantly.

Watch the story of Christopher’s early years in the video below:

We’ve had challenges, and we’ve had joy,” Christine Duffley, Christopher’s mom, says in the video above. “One of the greatest joys was to hear Christopher make noise, sing and keep beat.”

Last year, Christopher sang “Lean On Me” at the “Winter Ball for Autism,” hosted by Autism Speaks and New York Collaborates for Autism. The moving performance included The Harlem Gospel Choir and famous recording artists, including Grammy-winners, Michael Bolton and Kelly Rowland, according to Autism Speaks.

Check out his show-stopping number at the “Winter Ball for Autism:”

Christopher continues to sing and perform for audiences and worship groups across the country. For more of videos of his shows, visit his YouTube page or his website

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It all started with the purchase of a sparkly red tuxedo.

He bought the sparkly red tuxedo because he wanted to dress like Shoji Tabuchi when he fake played his fiddle. My son Casey is 28 years old, has autism and epilepsy and is an avid Shoji fan. He has all of Shoji’s music in all its various forms: VHS tapes, DVDs, CDs and cassettes. He silently plays along with Shoji, physically scripting if you will, the movements Shoji makes as he plays. His own fiddle never makes a sound.

Casey and I had set off that day in search of fall colors, but the farther we drove the more I realized I might have planned this trip a little too early; all we saw was a forest of green. Trying to save the weekend outing, I headed to Branson, Missouri, knowing Casey would forget all about red and yellow leaves if I offered a Shoji show instead.

Sure enough, the excitement grew as we began to see the numerous billboards that dotted the highway promising oodles and oodles of musical fun. The closer we got to our destination, however, the worse I was feeling. I was coming down with something, and by the time we checked into a hotel the last thing I wanted to do was leave. So I promised Casey I would bring him back for the Christmas Show the following month and maybe we could do some shopping on our way out of town the following day.

One of the few things Casey likes more than a Shoji show is shopping, and I vaguely remember mindlessly repeating, “Yeah, Casey, sure we’ll get you one of those,” as I fell into a deep sleep. I woke the next morning to him on his phone with my dad telling him that I was taking him shopping for a Shoji Tabuchi sparkly American flag jacket… oops!

After an exhaustive search (thankfully I was feeling better) we stumbled upon the Touch of Class formal wear store. Aside from regular formats, they also carried stage clothing — not much, just a few suits, but Casey spotted the red sparkly tuxedo the second we walked in and went straight to it. They didn’t have an American flag version so there was no way he was leaving without that tux. The price was a little much, but he had some money he’d saved up, and I covered the rest, which cost less than another night in the hotel and tickets to the show.

The day we bought the tuxedo there was a beautiful young lady getting a final fitting on her wedding dress. Casey kept giving her sideways glances as he tried on the tux (it surprisingly fit perfect), which I thought meant he was shy and nervous. But to my surprise it meant so much more. He knew that soon his younger cousin, JoAnna, would be getting married and apparently as he watched the young lady twirling happily in front of the three-way mirrors, he started to plan how he would play a leading role in his cousin’s upcoming nuptials.

The red sparkly tuxedo seemed to have magical powers on Casey. He had a confidence we’ve never seen before. Usually Casey is terrified of crowds, and in the past we’ve always had to stand at the back during family weddings because he’s so nervous and finger-stimming throughout. But as the wedding day approached Casey announced he would be walking Jo down the aisle.

10805384_10203946092991486_298487718_n JoAnna was thankfully excited that Casey wanted to play a part in her wedding and didn’t mind at all that someone in a sparkly red tuxedo might upstage the bride, as long as that someone was Casey. We had no idea how Casey would react when the doors opened and all eyes were upon him so we had arranged for him to walk Jo down the aisle for the photographer before anyone else arrived. This way her father would retain the traditional role, but Casey would have his special moment with Jo without the stress of an audience.

I cried. Oh yes, I cried when my son confidently walked his cousin down that aisle.

In that one joyful moment, there was also sadness — sadness in the knowledge that he will never walk his own daughter down the aisle.

Each time one of his younger cousins has achieved a life moment like this, there’s a little piece of my heart that aches. That poor little tattered piece of my heart has been through a lot…

I remember when his cousin, eight months younger than he and raised like a sibling, went on her first car date; I bawled like a baby. How was it possible that she was dating when Casey was still in diapers?

When his sister, Sam, got her driver’s permit, she jumped behind the wheel of the car, and I got in the passenger seat. From the back seat, we heard Casey’s panicked voice: “She’s not suppose to do that! The cop’s gonna ‘rest you, Samanda N’cole Wason!” He simply couldn’t believe that I was going to allow his sister to drive the dangerous car. We knew he meant business; it’s bad when he uses all three of her names. For some reason this broke my heart. It was the first time he seemed to notice that the others, his younger cousins and his baby sister, were growing up and leaving him behind.

When my nieces welcomed their babies into the world, I cried. Even these most joyful of moments had pangs of heartache, as I was reminded once again that this was not my reality, not Casey’s reality. I’m Granny Bill to those babies and my sisters have graciously shared the grandmother role with me for Lexi, Avery and Chase (and two more are on the way), and I’m thankful. But these moments, blessedly brief as they are, still hurt.

That’s why this moment in time meant so much to me. Seeing Casey, confident in his red sparkly tuxedo, walking JoAnna down the aisle as if she was royalty. The significance of that moment brought tears to my eyes and was not lost on Casey either, who was focused on his carefully measured steps. We had practiced… a lot.

My tears were for the future that would never be, but then JoAnn’s 5-year-old daughter, Lexi, who was standing next to me as Casey and Jo, came near said, “I wanna walk the aisle too!”

Casey didn’t hesitate, he simply reached out and took her hand in his and escorted both mother and daughter down the aisle. Seeing Lexi look up at him with love — in that instant the heartache was gone and pure joy filled the void. Because when he took her hand, I saw a future where he plays an important role in Lexi’s wedding. I could see Jon, her daddy, on one side and Casey on the other walking this precious girl down the aisle.

Casey not only walked that aisle with confidence, he went on to rock the whole wedding. Even though Casey knew very few of the groom’s family members he spoke to several and hugged more than a few people he’d never met before.

But the real shocker was his desire to dance. He danced with us all, stopping briefly for a snack from the nacho bar, then went back on the dance floor. He would finish a dance then look for and choose his next partner. Without a word and while standing in the middle of the dance floor with all eyes upon him, he would point to his next choice, then wave her out onto the floor. He didn’t just reserve himself for the girls. The groom got a dance too, as did his Papa and his cousin, Jimmy. It was such a joy to watch.

JoAnna had included (just for Casey I believe) the chicken dance song among her reception music choices. This thrilled Casey to no end, and his eyes lit up as he recognized the song within the first few bars. A large group of us danced the chicken dance with him which was followed by The Cotton-Eyed Joe (another of Casey’s favorites).

He made it almost to the end of that song before I felt his grip tighten on my hand, seconds before he went into a seizure. It was a mild one, and we got him into a chair, but it was the end of his dance moves for the night. Someone got his wheelchair out of the van, and we headed home soon after that. But wow, what a night!

I know that Casey is going to walk a lot of aisles in his lifetime; this was really just the first. That red sparkly tuxedo is going to come in handy again someday! His sister, who, as Maid of Honor to JoAnna, got to see the behind-the-scenes aspect of a wedding for the first time has announced that she will be skipping all that mess and going to Vegas when her time comes. But for her brother’s sake, she plans to have Elvis officiate the ceremony… which will make it every bit as much of a joyful experience for Casey as it is for Sam.

I bet Elvis will love Casey’s sparkly red tuxedo.

Hear more from Conversations with Casey on Facebook.
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Several years ago, during one of our holiday trips, we went shopping at Downtown Disney. For those who aren’t familiar, Downtown Disney is an open mall, filled with shops and restaurants. The stores were crowded with vacationers and locals enjoying the holiday decorations.

As always, my son, Mike, was walking in front of me. I typically walk behind him. I guide him through crowds verbally and redirect him as needed. He tends to walks at an extremely fast pace; whenever I get ahead of him, he speeds up to pass me.

As we were walking through one of the stores, Mike spotted a young man standing in line to check out of the store. The man was in his twenties and had two prosthetic legs. His father was standing behind him and noticed Mike’s course correction in their direction.

Mike was on a mission and, in his excitement, picked up his pace. I immediately knew where he was heading and started chasing after him, calling his name – anything to slow him down. In my mind, I was hoping I could explain his autism before he invaded their space.

As I was rushing over, I locked eyes with the young man’s father, he smiled and mouthed, “It’s OK.” I immediately felt some relief – at least he understands.

As we approached, I began apologizing. I started explaining that Mike is attracted to uniqueness in individuals. Before I could get the words out, Mike hit the floor to examine this young man’s prosthetic legs. Did I mention we were standing in a crowded store? The young man and his father were extremely kind and understanding – assuring me it was all right.

As quickly as he hit the floor, Mike stood up. He looked the young man in the eyes and said this:

“High five, Robot Legs – awesome!”

The young man gave Mike the high five, looked at me, and said:

“Thank you – I needed that.”

This post originally appeared on Autism Hippie.

“This is Max, my baby brother. Don’t hurt him.”

That’s how Stevie would aggressively introduce her little brother to people when she was 3 and he was 1. It made me laugh, but I knew then that she’d always have his back. I just didn’t realize the extent to which it would go. It wasn’t until more than a year later that I learned Max had autism.

Being a single mom isn’t the easiest gig, especially when one of your little ones tends to wander — or more often bolt, as kids with autism do — because he doesn’t understand the dangers of crowded places, parking lots and busy streets.

Stevie has grown to become my second pair of eyes, always watching over Max. I never asked her to and she doesn’t think twice about it. It’s second nature. It’s just the way it is in our family. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Crotty order-0103
Idie Atencio Photography

She tells him to come back when he skips down the driveway before he gets too close to the street. She grabs him when he jumps out of the car in a parking lot before I’ve even had the chance to get my seatbelt off.  She runs after him in Target when he races down one of the isles for fun. She follows him in the grocery store when he wanders off to the freezer section to watch the auto-sensor lights go on and off.

Stevie taught Max how to buckle his own seatbelt. She talks to him in a sweet, calming voice when he’s getting aggravated in the car. She translates his words when people can’t understand him. She tells him he’s going to be OK when he’s getting anxious during a haircut, a doctor’s visit or any place where he feels uncomfortable.

At just 10 years old, she’s the ultimate big sister. And until now, I’ve never properly thanked her. I am so grateful to her for just being herself: kind, helpful, protective and funny as all get out. I don’t know what I’d do without her as she keeps me laughing every day with her quick wit and comedic lines that you’d think an adult wrote.

She didn’t choose this position of big sister to a little brother with autism. It’s not always easy. He breaks her stuff, yells a lot and needs a ton of undivided attention. Sure, she gets mad –maybe sometimes a little jealous — but she takes it all in stride. I’m so thankful to her for always having her brother’s back and for being the eyes in the back of my head. Thank you, my Stevie, for being the best big sister. 

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