When I Was Honest About My Autism in My Online Dating Profile

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10398525_1104670020650_2626378_n Do you remember the old saying that there are plenty of fish in the sea? Well, I’ve had a hard time accepting that the past couple of months. In the process of losing a special girlfriend, I fell into a bad place. I thought she was amazing. In my efforts to work on myself to show her I could be better, I wrote several blogs about our relationship — “The One That Got Away” was featured on both The Mighty and The Autism Society of America’s blog.

During this time, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. Out of all the women I dated, this one clearly mattered the most to me. But I learned you can’t wait to see how things are going to turn out; you need to live your life the best you can and let whatever will be, be. I needed to move on and make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes twice.

That’s when I entered the world of online dating. It was something I’ve always encouraged my mentees with autism to try. It seemed like a good alternative for those who have difficulties with face-to-face communication. For me, communication with my peers, no matter the method, now comes easily. It wasn’t always this way. Being able to speak on a national level about my life with autism gave me the opportunity to build confidence in who I am.

With the end of this break up, though, I wanted to try something new and something I’ve advocated for in our community for years. I decided to try it for one month. I started off with eHarmony and later joined Match.com, OkCupid and Coffee Meets Bagel.

As the trial month went on, I noticed both positives and negatives to the online dating scene. First, there’s no guarantee when you reach out to someone that they’re going to contact you back. This was probably the hardest part of my experience. How do you make that amazing first impression? I tried many things: I complimented photos, asked questions about interests listed on their profiles, told jokes, etc. The first week was definitely the most challenging of all because nothing seemed to work. I was beginning to lose hope.

When I thought all was lost the “aha!” moment happened inside my head while I was pitching a story to a local news station about my giving a speech about autism awareness at J.P. Morgan. I had a moment of clarity. I didn’t need a gimmick. I didn’t need a pick-up line. Maybe I just needed to tell them who I was. Who I really was.

I start telling these women my story — how I was nonverbal until I was 2 and a half, how I was diagnosed with autism at 4, how many people thought I may never have a girlfriend, how now, at 27, I’ve become a professional speaker who’s had several relationships. It was just a shot out of the dark. “Why not?” I kept telling myself. What do I have to lose at this point? I sent my first message to one woman on eHarmony before I went to bed, and at 2 a.m. my email ring went off on my iPhone with a response.

“Jasmine wants to get to know you.”

That moment right there was enough for me. The next day we started talking, and even though we ultimately didn’t end up dating, that wasn’t my last message on a dating site. The next day, I sent out more messages; more and more women were responding positively.

I’ve begun talking with a few amazing women, and I have to say, I’m excited to see what happens next. My confidence was low, but the best lesson I think I learned from a rocky and shaky couple of months is that there’s a right person out there for everyone, you just have to be willing to work on yourself and be true to who you are and what you have to offer.

For those on the spectrum, I hope you hold that dear to you every day. We all have our quirks out there, but at the end of the day you have to be comfortable with who you are before you can expect someone else to do the same. Be who you are, love who you are, and ultimately, whether it’s in a relationship or not, you will be happy with your results every time.

You can read this original blog at Kerrymagro.com.

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This Burn Victim Turned Tattoo Artist Is Helping Hundreds of People Regain Their Confidence

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When Basma Hameed was 2 years old, she and her 8-year-old brother were playing in the kitchen. He decided they should surprise their parents by cooking a meal for them. While trying to move a pot of boiling oil to the sink, he tripped over his sister and spilled on her. Hameed suffered burns to 40 percent of the left side of her face.

“Growing up I would hate going to school because you’re constantly being stared at and made fun of,” Hameed told The Mighty. “This was on my face; it’s not like I could hide it.”

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Until she was 16, Hameed underwent 100 different surgeries and procedures but still lived with red discoloration on her face and visible scarring. Plastic surgeons told her over and over again they’d done all they could for her and she would just have to live with the marks. Finally, she grew sick of hearing “no.”

When Hameed was 17 she became an apprentice at a tattoo parlor in Toronto while simultaneously studying medical aesthetics. She applied her knowledge from both fields to herself — she began tattooing her own face. Little by little, she worked on covering up and blending her scars and discoloration with tattoos.

“I was so happy,” she told The Mighty. “When I started seeing improvement, it was everything. That little bit of improvement gave me the confidence to go outside and live my life.”

Basma Hameed (left) with a client (right).
Basma Hameed (left) with a client (right).

Hameed knew right away that she wanted to help others regain their confidence as well. After four years of freelance work with several plastic surgeons, she started her own business — the Basma Hameed Clinic.

“It’s the best feeling in the world because you know you’re doing something that’s literally changing people’s lives,” Hameed told The Mighty. “I’ve seen the transformation in front of my eyes so many times. After we do a few treatments, [the patient] becomes a brand new person. I’m so grateful that I’m able to do that for them.”

Check out some before and after photos of some of the clients at the Basma Hameed clinic below: 

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Her clinic has locations in both Toronto and Chicago, and she’s received widespread media attention for her success as a paramedical scar camouflage specialist. She’s even developed and marketed her own scar-concealing makeup.

But despite the success of her business, the most important thing to Hameed remains the message she represents.

“I want to share my story because it gives hope to people,” she told The Mighty. “Don’t let anything like that stop you from living. Don’t let it control your life.”

See Hameed in action in the video below: 

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Why I Consider Myself Lucky To Have Siblings With Autism

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I’m no autism expert.

Who I am is a sister, daughter and mom of autism, which makes me something of an autism student.

Our home was uniquely balanced. There were eight kids — four girls and four boys. The four boys all have a range of disabilities. Us girls became mom’s right-hand ladies: babysitters, walkers-to-school, sharers-of-chores and all around brother-helpers.

Yes, our home was uniquely balanced. It was also beautifully unique.

Most of our neighbors never liked us for long. We challenged them to change, to open their minds. My mom never allowed my brothers to be treated as little disabled boys. She believed in them and treated them as boys who were uniquely challenged to learn skills. She knew those skills could be learned if the world would allow for unique answers. This, coupled with the different places my brothers landed on the spectrum, often looked wild and weird to outsiders. (Also, the neighbors weren’t fond of us teenage girls having noisy parties when mom worked. Oops!)

So, siblings, hear me when I say, I get it. We’re put in a unique position, and we don’t always like it. We’re sometimes looked at with pity and distaste and expectations, and we don’t always like it. But please also hear me when I say, We’re the lucky ones. We’re put in a unique position.

Helping my mom teach my brothers has made me a better person, a better daughter, a better sister and a better mom. I learned to see ability where others see none. I learned to follow clues and symptoms to find actionable answers. I learned to feel the love returned where others might fear it’s lacking.

And now that we’re all fully grown, I have four fantastic friends in my brothers. Yes, they sometimes annoy me, as I’m sure I annoy them. Yes, they sometimes seem like work to me, as I’m sure I seem like work to them. We’re siblings. That’s what we do.

Because of each other, we’re better, happier and more successful. Siblings have a unique opportunity to connect with someone who truly knows them and who truly loves them for who they are and who they’ve been.

No matter who you are or who your sibling is, don’t let that opportunity slip away. You may not become best friends in the end, but you can always be best siblings.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

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This post originally appeared on Autism Answers With Tsara Shelton.

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Why Our Daughter With Autism Is Everything We Dreamed She’d Be and More

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We loved you long before we ever knew you. From those early wishes and hopes for what your untold future would be, to the first beats of your heart and kicks of your feet. We made plans for you, aspiring deeply to paint a picture hand-over-hand of the future you would have, one as beautiful as the love we felt for you.

We read to you every night as you nestled deep inside my womb, uncertain if you could even hear us, but believing that you could. As we lifted the words off the page we let them be your story, written by another, but told by our hearts. We allowed ourselves to think you owned them as if they were meant for you.

We engraved those words upon your baby blanket so when you made your entrance into this world we could wrap you in their warmth and familiarity. We folded you tightly like a package, the visible corner underneath your Heaven-made face read:

           Gaze at the stars,

           and watch the moon rise.

           Each day there are miracles,

           in front of our eyes.

           Dance to the music,

           and sing like the birds.

           Let stories and books,

           bring the magic of words.

           Enjoy friendship and laughter,

           your whole life through,

           and the love that we feel,

           as we welcome you.

        My Little Miracle by J. Beck and J. Croydon

We watched you grow, and it was ever clear you marched to the beat of your own drummer. You did things your own way, in your own time and within your own expectations. There was never a dull moment within your presence. You lit up each room you entered like the Fourth of July, all eyes on you, everyone else taking a back seat. There were days we feared you would fly so high you would never come back down.

We worried when they said the you that was so special and yet so hard to read, had autism. What would that mean for all the things we wished for you? Would all of our dreams for you now be just out of reach enough to make us ache?

We watch you grow now with this invisible label you wear upon your sleeve, always shedding your layers to reveal what’s underneath — the raw, take-all-or-take-nothing you. You are this amazing force inside a pint-sized body, a constant tangle of knots we’re trying to undo. You refuse to be unwound.

We’ve overflowed with joy as you have checked off each of the dreams we had for you, one by one without even knowing it. You just love looking at the stars. You take in everything like it’s art; the sky to you is like a giant canvas, the stars small specks of paint. Music moves you, your body constantly moving to a silent symphony that plays only for you. You’ve loved books since you could hold one. The first thing we learned you loved to do was count words and letters. When you were 4 years old you told me there were 12,052 Z’s in Daddy’s chapter book. You were so proud of yourself. Words are definitely your magic, and boy do you love to laugh. Your laughter echoes through our home and down the street.  It’ss impossible not to join in.

We know you will always be uniquely you, and that is just fine. You’ve paved the way, so just continue to lead us behind you, sweet love. We didn’t even know what we wanted until we got it. It’s funny how life works out that way.

Today I realized my heart couldn’t be any more full when you approached me to give me a card you had made. You told me you had been reading your baby blanket every day and that you wanted to write me back a letter to tell me how you felt. Before I even read it I felt my emotions take away my words, no matter what your feelings were; just knowing you were willing and able to share them with me was more than I could ask for. What it said was far more than anything I could have expected:

Dear Mommy,

I am really glad that you are my Mommy.

I love you so so much.

No matter where you are I will always love you.

Love,

Me

We know you feel loved. You my love are our little miracle.

This post originally appeared on Learning to Let Go: A Different Dream for Us.

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To the Woman Who Noticed My Daughter Wearing a Make-a-Wish Shirt at the Zoo

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When my daughter, Brooklynn, was 20 months old, she had a two-hour-long seizure and was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. They ran tons of tests to try and figure out why she had this seizure. They also inserted a G-tube for feeding. Two months later, her doctor called and asked me to come in the next morning. She had some news. I knew there was only one test result they’d been waiting for — Alexander disease, a form of leukodystrophy.  No cure, no treatment. I was told Brooklynn would never walk or talk and to enjoy my time with her.

Alexander is a neurological disease that attacks the nerves system. Kids rarely live past 6 years old with this disease. After finding out this info, I researched everything I possibly could. The only researcher for Alexander disease I could find was in Madison, Wisconsin, only two hours from us. Suddenly, I found hope — someone out there wants to find a cure, a treatment, something.

20141224_174015 When Brooklynn turned 3, I applied to The Make-a-Wish Foundation. Her wish was to go to the San Diego Zoo; she loves animals.

In November of 2012, we went to California. We found ourselves in a beautiful place, with a few days of no worries and no doctor appointments. We just lived and did everything Brooklynn loved. On our second day there, we went to San Diego Zoo, where Brooklynn would get a behind-the-scenes tour. We arrived a bit early.

Brooklynn was wearing her Make A Wish t-shirt. As we stood there, we started talking to another family. They were super nice people, and we found out they were also from Wisconsin. They asked me what was going on with Brooklynn. I explained Alexander disease to them. You could just see their hearts drop. How could this beautiful, full-of-life child, have something so terribly wrong?

They immediately gave me a hug. Brooklynn is one of those kids everyone falls in love with. The lady who we talked with for only momnents reached in her pocket. She pulled out a $20 bill and handed it to my daughter. Brooklynn’s eyes lit up with excitement — “Money for me!”  The generosity of someone we just met made my daughter’s day. She used that $20 to buy a spray fan at the zoo. The little gestures of people go a long way.

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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Would I Choose a Life With My Husband and His Disease, or One Without Him In It?

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Seventeen years ago, my husband and I sat in a neurologist and were told 1) Get power of attorney over him 2) He can no longer work at his job 3) He can no longer drive on the roads, and 4) This disease will shorten his life.

Adult Onset Metachromatic leukodystrophy at the age of 42. What in the world is that? The Internet was just beginning, and even at the medical library at Mayo Clinic, there was little information. What I remember the most was this: We were living on borrowed time.

If I could go back to that day, I would tell myself that your life will never be the same. It will be better.  You will meet new friends and experience things you can never imagine. There’s a whole world out there you know nothing about. People who you thought were your friends will shy away and disappear, but you will make new friends who will last a lifetime. Your children (all young adults) will no longer have the father they remember. Your actions will profoundly affect your grandchildren.

Take lots of pictures; make lots of memories. Share times with family as much as you can for as long as you can. Keep a journal of all the little things, and keep it up. As the years go by you won’t remember all the little things you wish you could remember.

Life will go on and you will be OK. You’re no saint, but you will get through it. Life will be different, but the people who matter the most will grow from this experience, and they will all be OK.

Early on, I used to tell people I’m where I belong. He could have been diagnosed as an infant or a child or a teen, and I would not have known him, and we would not have our two great children or our wonderful granddaughter. We had 21 good years before his diagnosis, so I’m grateful for what we had. He’s been gone for six years now, and life does go on, but it’s so different then I ever imagined.

Would I go through it all again? Yes, in a heartbeat. Would I change anything? Well I guess in hindsight there must be things I would do differently. But I believe everything happens for a reason, and we wouldn’t be who we are today if we’d done things another way.

Joe Dec 2005

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