TJ was diagnosed with autism in August of 2002.

It’s easy to go back to that sad, scary day. In an instant I am sitting on that couch with Sean, hearing those words, “He has autism.” And in an instant I feel that mix of pain, relief and complete grief.

I felt pain and grief for dreams we had to say goodbye to, and for a future we envisioned that was not to be. But I felt relief because finally, after months of knowing something wasn’t right, we could begin to help our boy.

Although I can be back there in an instant, with one single thought, I don’t stay for long. Now, a world away, we have a very capable almost 15-year-old (“A month and 3 days until my birthday mom!”).

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He is in high school.

He gets himself from class to class.

He studies.

He does homework.

He bathes himself.

He dresses himself.

He has friends.  Good ones.

He texts with his brother. They razz each other back and forth.

He loves raunchy movies. Not too raunchy (think “Dodgeball”).

He loves to repeat the worst lines of those raunchy movies.

He laughs.

He smiles.

He loves.

He is TJ. He is his own growing, changing kid. He is amazing.

So while we think of that day almost 13 years ago, we don’t stay there for very long because there is no need to. He is forming his own future, with our help. And we can’t wait to see what happens next.

A version of this post originally appeared on I Don’t Have a Job

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Michael Hanrahan is an artist with a painting method you may not have considered before.

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Via Facebook

Hanrahan, 29, has cerebral palsy. He cannot speak and uses a wheelchair, according to The Telegraph. But the artist has devised inventive ways to surpass his body’s limitations — he uses mops, attaches paint tubes to sticks and fastens paint brushes to his helmet to produce his works of art.

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Via Facebook
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Via Facebook

The London-based painter, also known as “Stigy,” gets inspiration from abstract artists like Jackson Pollock and Banksy, according to his website. His subject matter covers a broad range including landscapes, favorite bands, the concept of color and a sport he plays called boccia. He also turns to art when he feels frustrated about the way people perceive his disability.

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“Frustration” via Facebook
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“Boccia” via Facebook

Social media platforms have helped Hanrahan achieve worldwide success. He started receiving commissions for his work as soon as he began posting pictures of his canvasses on Facebook. He’s since created a website, a Twitter account and an online portfolio. Now, his paintings sell online for hundreds of dollars, and he receives commissions from as far away as Italy and Hong Kong, all thanks to his social media presence.

For Hanrahan, social media has offered more than just a successful career — it’s provided him with a forum to communicate with others and make friends. “It turned my life around,” he told The Telegraph. “[It] turned my social life around.”

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“Sunset Over a Beach” via Facebook
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“Cash In Then Cash Out” via Facebook
Under the Sea
“Under the Sea” via Facebook
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“Beach” via Facebook

To see more of Hanrahan’s paintings and to purchase his work, visit his website and Facebook page.

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“Autism” is quite the buzzword.

We have our own month.

Our own day.

Walks and runs and lightbulbs.

I struggle with the gimmicky nature of it all.

I also benefit from it.

So does my boy.

There are a million diagnoses in our world.

We could be living with any one of those.

We could be wishing that everyone or someone or anyone knew or understood our struggles on any level.

We could be voiceless.

But because so many have gone before us, our path is already a path.

Our voices are heard.

Our struggles and triumphs are televised and memorialized in blogs and documentaries and T-shirts and banners.

While we may choose to forge new paths or we may look to different voices to advocate for us, gratitude for those who first began awareness campaigns is paramount.

Be grateful.

That doesn’t mean you can’t make your own way.

But be grateful that when we say, “He is autistic,” people have heard the word.

That neighbors have YouTubed Temple Grandin.

That teachers have researched for IEPs.

That therapists have created sensory equipment and mothers have blogged curriculum and doctors have studied causes and correlations.

Be grateful that we are not invisible.

As we begin the month of blowing up Facebook newsfeeds and mailboxes campaigning for our loved ones, be gracious.

Remember those who still have no advocates.

Remember that no advocacy is ever perfect.

Remember that no parent or child or teacher or therapist is ever 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong.

Remember that we are doing this not to be superior or to demand respect or to get “more.”

If we are doing it for the right reason, we are doing it for him.

And for others like him.

We are doing it to say,

“He’s here.

He’s loved.

He’s worthy.

And we want you to know.”

That, my friends, is autism awareness.

That, my friends, is the point of sharing.

And I am grateful for the opportunity.

Happy April.

Joy

This post originally appeared on Letters from a Spectrum Mom.

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People who are unsure of how to react to a loved one’s diagnosis sometimes distance themselves, intentionally or not. This can cause lasting pain and confusion on both sides.

To help clear the air, we asked our readers this question: “If you could say something to a close friend or family member who has pulled away since your diagnosis, what would it be?” 

Here are some of their responses:

1. “Don’t be afraid and hide. We’re going to be all right, and we’re going to learn the true meaning of unconditional love and joy together.” — Joyce Cabrera

2. “I don’t hold a grudge. I understand this isn’t for everyone. But if you finally feel ready to be a part of our lives, I’d welcome you like I would anybody. We all make mistakes. This has been a learning experience for me, too.” — Elizabeth Pasten

3. My daughter can’t change her disability, but you can change your perception.” — Gemma Bryan

Gemma Bryan

4. “I’m here if you have questions. It’s OK if you don’t know what to say or do. The door is open, but I’m not going to chase you.” — Heather Schulze Sciacca

5. “I hope you can learn from the experience and be better prepared when the next person in your life has a tough diagnosis.” — Kerith Zaccaria Stull

6. “Don’t be afraid. I will teach you what it is all about.” — Katy Purr

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7. “I hope you one day find courage for those who will be in your life.” — Rebecca Marcario

8. “I may be different from your child, but I’m amazing, unique, kind, caring, creative, smart, funny and so much more. Things aren’t always easy, and the journey can be a bumpy one, but the end result is beautiful. I have so much to teach the world, and it starts with you.” — Chloe Rothschild

9. “My daughter loves you no less.” — Shen Mager

10. “I not only want you here, I need you here.” — Melissa Pelitera

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11. “I would say nothing because I have not been perfect for everyone who has been diagnosed with something.” — Angela Loeppky

12. “I’m sorry to see you go, but you made realize who my true friends really are.” — Lisa Hayes

13. “I hope someday you will awaken to the beauty and gratitude you have been missing.” — Melanie Perkins McLaughlin

14.I wish you could look beyond what you see.” — Chris Morrison-States

15. “When you’re ready, I’ll be here. Tomorrow, next week, next year.” — Lynea Kilduff

Lynea Kilduff

16. “Welcome to the new normal. I still need you.” — Wayne Kirk

17. “Take a bit of time and patience to remember that no one has changed since the diagnosis. Don’t miss out on my son’s life because it will change yours for the better.” — Victoria Helen Holdsworth

18. “I wouldn’t be quick to write that person off. If I give them a chance, they could end up being one of my kid’s best supporters.” — Ruth Fannin

19. “I love you.” — Josh Hersom

Josh Hersom

20. “Just because I don’t have time for you like I used to doesn’t mean I don’t still love you. You haven’t been replaced in my life. I miss you.” — Jessie Foster

21. “I forgive you.” — Kate Sytsma

22. “You’re missing out on an amazing little boy and his journey of strength and perseverance.” — Kim Hanner-Calandri

23. “Come on in, the water’s fine!” — Kim Peterson

Kim Peterson

What would you say to someone who has become distant since you or a loved one received a difficult diagnosis? Let us know in the comments.

*Some responses have been shortened and edited.

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Timothy Eli Thompson was born on March 4, 2015 at South Baldwin Hospital in Alabama to Brandi McGlathery and Troy Thompson, according to his Facebook page. He weighed 6 pounds and 8 ounces and was born with a rare condition called congenital arhinia. This means he doesn’t have a nose.

 

Congenital arhinia is the absence of nasal passages and structures at birth, and fewer than 30 cases have been reported, according to the Journal of Medical Case Reports. His mother says that the chances of being born with Eli’s condition is 1 in 197 million, according to the Mobile Press-Register.

Baby Eli began breathing out of his mouth immediately after birth, McGlathery told the outlet. Then, at 5 days old, he had a tracheotomy which further helps him to breath. He’s been a happier baby ever since.

 

It’s possible that someday a plastic surgeon could build Eli an external nose, but his family will cross that bridge when the time comes.

We think he’s perfect the way he is,” McGlathery told thePress-Register. “Until the day he wants to have a nose, we don’t want to touch him.”

Check out some more photos of Baby Eli below:

 

For more information on Eli, visit his Facebook page or go to his GoFundMe site.

h/t BuzzFeed

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I remember my wedding day vividly for a number of reasons. I married the most amazing man who loves me for all that I am. Our wedding was planned with love. We spent hours crafting a ceremony that was perfectly us. We found poems and stories to include that spoke of our relationship. It was impossible for me to read the final draft of our wedding ceremony without tears in my eyes.

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Our bridal party included our dear friends and siblings. My brother, Jamie, was one of our groomsmen.  Jamie has been diagnosed with PDD/NOS and mental retardation. Sometimes Jamie was happy to be a part of our bridal party. Sometimes he told me that he was too nervous to be a part of it, but we talked him through it. We explained what would happen.

My husband, James, told him how much it would mean to both of us for him to be up there with us. James said he would have another brother. So Jamie agreed.

We’ve talked to so many people since our wedding day. They tell us how beautiful our wedding was, and how happy James and I were. But, without fail, the part that people remember the most is Jamie.

When the minister asked if the community around us affirmed our wedding, everybody was quiet, still listening. Into that silence, Jamie shouted YES. He didn’t hesitate. He shouted. YES. There was a pause, and then laughter. And clapping. Because Jamie’s declaration of YES was exactly what our wedding needed.

Jamie didn’t know that we would be asking for an affirmation, or even what that meant.  But he did know that that was the moment to say it, and if you’re going to say it, you may as well say it as loud as you can.  The ceremony stopped as everyone cheered for Jamie, who was grinning from ear to ear.  He didn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.

I think back on this moment often. It was perfect. Jamie was perfect. We would have had a lovely day regardless of what happened; we were getting married! But the fact that Jamie took that day and really made his mark on it made it another thing all together.

Our wedding photographer managed to capture that moment after Jamie said yes. You can see our joy, and the joy of everyone around us. What better wedding gift could we have asked for?

The Mighty wants to read more stories about siblings, whether it’s your favorite memory or a tough moment that taught you something. 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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