Here’s an offseason story we’re actually psyched about.

In April, players from the Seattle Seahawks traded in their jerseys for aprons and their play books for menus when they volunteered as waiters to raise autism awareness at the “Prime Time: A Spirited Celebrity Waiter Event.” On May 9, ESPN released footage of the fun-filled night:

The event was thrown by Seahawks General Manager John Schnieder and his wife, Traci, whose son, Ben, is on the autism spectrum. Together, the family started “Ben’s Fund” in 2012 to provide grants to families in Washington “to help cover costs associated with medical bills, therapies and numerous other aspects of supporting a child, or children, on the autism spectrum,” according to the Ben’s Fund website.

At “Prime Time: A Spirited Celebrity Waiter Event,” attendees could purchase “Ben Bucks” to then use to pay players for pictures, hugs, food, etc. In its fourth year, the event raised more than $574,000, according to Seahawks.com.

At an event like this, we’re all together,” Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said, “trying to do something for a good cause.”

To learn more or donate to Ben’s Fund, head here.

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 1. Autism shows you who your true friends and family are.

Nothing will show you someone’s true colors faster than having a special needs child. We’ve lost friends (and even some family), but the ones who are still here are the best of the best. We’ve decided that our family includes anyone we deem family!

2. I’m a better person with a stronger marriage.

I have a lot more understanding, compassion and love for all who are different. My daughter, Lila, has opened my eyes to so much and I’m forever grateful. Bill and I are even stronger now than before we had Lila. He’s the most amazing husband to me and Daddy to Lila. We’re a team, we’re the only ones who truly “get it” and there’s no one I’d rather have in my corner than Bill.

 3. My daughter’s self-esteem is rock solid.

Lila is always her true, 100 percent authentic self – she isn’t swayed by public opinion and gender stereotypes or influenced by corporate advertising. If she shows you affection, it’s a big deal. She never acts any specific way just to try and please someone. She is who she is and that is such a beautiful way of being. I have and will continue to learn so much from her.

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 4. Autism teaches you to live in the moment.

Her future is unclear – Will she talk? Be able to be potty-trained? Be able to live independently? Who knows – and honestly, that’s all way too much to take in – so we worry about things one day at a time. It’s been a whole new way of living, and I’m a much happier person for it.

 5. I have more appreciation.

We’re grateful for every single thing. Those moments where we’re totally connected – eye contact + giggling + smiling = priceless. We have no idea what her future holds, so there are no givens. Each and every tiny step forward is met with both celebration and gratitude.

This post originally appeared on Dancing With Autism.

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My middle brother, Gabe, is almost 27. He has a syndrome called Cornelia deLange Syndrome (CdLS). He can’t use the bathroom on his own and does not really speak. Growing up with a special needs sibling taught me a lot of lessons and helped shape me into the person I am today.

1. Music is a universal language. Gabe is a talented piano player and is completely self-taught. His music speaks from his soul, since he composes the songs himself. His music is his way of expressing his feelings to us and of finding his voice for the world to hear.

2. Perfection is overrated. When most people look at Gabe, they notice the things that make him different — his teeth that don’t quite fit together or his bushy, combined eyebrows. What they don’t see is the amazing, sweet person inside. He may not be perfect to others, but he is perfect to me and I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Perfection means being able to see the good inside yourself.

3. A little silliness goes a long way. I’ll be the first to admit that Gabe and I have some very silly moments together — from the times I danced upon our basement table to children’s music videos to entertain Gabe to the times when I swung around the columns in our house to Gabe’s piano playing. Gabe taught me not to take life too seriously and to embrace my silly side.

4. A smile goes a long way, too. When Gabe smiles, the whole world just seems to light up and everyone melts. Gabe taught me that smiles are powerful things and that when you smile, people like to smile back and be happy.

5. It’s OK to share the attention. I was used to Gabe being the center of my parents’ attention due to his disabilities. While sometimes I did want more of the limelight, the times when I did have the focus on me became all the sweeter.

6. Find things that make you happy — and do them! Gabe taught me that there’s no reason to make yourself sad and miserable when you can do things that you actually enjoy. The last time we celebrated Gabe’s birthday, he didn’t enjoy all the fanfare and instead just wanted to go for a car ride, something that makes him incredibly happy. Sometimes you shouldn’t have to do things for other people and should just do what makes you happy.

7. Food=happiness. While it’s not a good idea to overeat, sometimes just enjoying your favorite foods can make your day a bit better. Gabe always is content when we get him french fries, white rice or bagels to eat on a car ride. Some of the best moments Gabe and I had when we were younger happened while we were having dinner together.

8. Being smart is not the same as being educated. Gabe is incredibly smart — he has made it clear he understands everything we tell him and taught himself how to play the same notes on the piano over and over again. Gabe might not be able to discuss a novel with me, but he has figured out how to get his way and make his needs known in a clever way.

9. It’s OK to ask for help. Gabe will often ask for help when he can’t do something or feels too lazy to do something, usually making someone else do his work for him. However, when times would get tough with Gabe, my family and I would look for ways to get help to make Gabe’s life better.

10. Love is all you need. Gabe isn’t one to show a lot of affection. But when he does show affection, like giving me a kiss on the cheek, it makes my heart just burst in happiness and love. Just seeing my family’s love and support for Gabe and for each other has shown me that love can handle anything.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? 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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When you must face the weathered look of chronic illness day in and day out, those fleeting glances in the mirror can become quite unpleasant. The dark circles, botchy rashes, medical devices and physical disfigurements act as a constant reminder of the life you’ve been unwillingly thrust into — a life drastically altered by new limitations and circumstances beyond your control.

I struggled with my unfamiliar reflection. Year after year I watched it change; I saw the features I’d become accustom to slowly disappear, heavily overcast by a permanent state of exhaustion.

At one point, I found myself too drained to apply even a small coat of makeup, too weak in my arms to perform simple tasks like drying my hair. I no longer saw a vibrant and well-groomed woman; my appearance weighed heavily on my typically happy, confident demeanor.

Self-confidence is an integral part of a every woman’s life — without it, we seem to slip into the background, hoping not to be recognized… even by ourselves. With appointment after appointment and a social life slipping away, I found even less reason to be bothered with the trouble of primping my appearance. After all, I had no one there to impress.

Or did I?

One day, I woke up in less of a fog before a morning appointment. I walked into my small bathroom across the hall and saw the painful reflection that acted as a reminder each day of the disease that ruled my life.

Suddenly I had a strong urge to see that woman again — the confidant woman who applied the perfect winged-tip eyeliner and a clean coat of red lipstick. With the extra energy I had, I slowly took out my makeup bag and began my old routine.

Staring back at me was someone I recognized, and her smile lit up the room.

I conquered that day with a renewed vigor — one I hadn’t felt in months. I walked with confidence past every mirror, with each glance I regained more of former myself.

I realize this all sounds horribly vain — that an appearance can’t possibly make someone truly feel “better.” But the reality is, when illness seizes your fragile existence and everything you’ve ever known is torn from you, a little boost of confidence is never selfish. Even the days when I feel awful, the days when I’m having procedure after procedure, seeing physician after physician — even during my many long rounds of chemotherapy, I can now look in the mirror and be reminded that the young vivacious woman is still in there somewhere.

Who did I need to impress? It turns out it was me.

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This post originally appeared on The Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Wife.

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Being married or staying married or leaving marriage are all very personal and sometimes painful topics for anyone — and more so for special needs families. I’ve seen statistics that go up to 80 percent for the special needs parent divorce rate (though that number has been debunked). I’ve met gorgeous moms whose husbands walked out of the labor and delivery room and never came back. I’ve seen marriage after marriage disintegrated by the overwhelming challenge of having a special needs child. When I survey the landscape, marriage and special needs kids seem to be like oil and water.

I often wish I could shout from the rooftops that special needs parenting can bring you closer together rather than drive you apart! My special needs son has often been the glue that has held my marriage together. I believe that having a child with special needs can be the bond that hold you and your spouse tighter and closer, when all else in life falls apart.

I’m not saying my marriage has been perfect. Honestly, it’s been on the brink of disaster as much or more than any marriage that has endured for 22 years. And I am not even saying that the added stress of having a special needs son didn’t add fuel to those disaster moments. However, I am saying that in those moments, there was one specific incentive to just hold on for one more day, and that was our special needs son, Nicolas.

We’ve been special needs parents for almost 15 years and I believe that our joint love for our son now binds us to each other in a way that is stronger than any force that could come between us. When my husband and I cannot see eye to eye on anything, we have a common thread that only we two share. There is one thing, one undeniable experience that no one else in the world can or will ever understand: being Nick’s parents. Over the years, even when we disagreed on how to parent Nick, the shared journey continued to push us further down our unique path. He is our marriage “secret ingredient.”

Here’s my advice: You can choose, each day, to be on the same team or not. There is enough coming at you — plenty of opposition — and you don’t need more inside your own home. You have only one other person with whom you can choose to side, huddle and share those thoughts and fears that no one else will ever comprehend. The sooner you get the “same team” mentality going, the sooner you’re on your way to overcoming any obstacle.

Let’s face it, our perspective on life is unique. We know that the little stuff is basically anything else that isn’t related to our child. So the toilet seat position, the dirty laundry on the floor, the working late or financial struggles that might cause others to lose focus, should seem (because they are) so miniscule to us, that they don’t even affect us. We might disagree on everything, but we must agree on one thing: wanting the best for our child. Does this apply to every parent? Well, I would say yes — we have a typical son as well, and we both want the best for him. He, too, is on a unique journey, but it is one that he does and will take on his own. He’s been an independent, smart, fully functioning guy for a while now. We “contribute” to his success, which is different from our special son, where we very literally “determine” his success, now and in the future.

We long ago put aside the “me vs. you” and picked up the “us vs. the world” mentality. Not only has it served our marriage well, but it has also been true as we journey through special needs parenting together.

Parenting a special needs child together with your spouse can become the most wonderful experience the two of you will ever share. It can create an indestructible bond that will hold you together in the face of every adversity. Together you will face mountains and climb them together, helping each other along the way, so that when you reach the top, you have a friend by your side to admire the view.

The Mighty wants to hear more about marriage and special needs parenting. Can you share a moment on your special needs journey that strengthened your relationship? 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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taylorarthur We were partners when we started out – Jack and I – almost 16 years ago. In fact, to be quite honest, I thought my Jack had won the prize. I was smart and virtuous and hard-working. I was willing to go the distance, work the night job so he could work the research job, skip class to grocery shop. I cooked the dinners and kept the bathroom clean so he could scratch his head over biochemistry and swear under his breath at his lab partners. I was willing to put my teaching certificate on hold so he could go straight to medical school. I was willing to live anywhere, do anything for his dream to come true.

You see, I didn’t just marry a love. I married the love of ten lifetimes, the love Shakespeare breathed and Wordsworth penned. I married my twin soul, the one made for me in a different place. From the moment I saw him, I’ve known he was my family, my heart’s home.

I married him because there was nothing else to do. He was where I belonged, the only place I’ve ever felt settled. Whether we’d been 19 or 85, different colors or species, it wouldn’t have mattered.

He was it for me, and I knew it down to my toes.

But then, I got sick.

I left him, ran around for months, broke his heart. He drove five hours to retrieve me from an emergency room. Then, he checked me into a mental health unit because even his love couldn’t save me.

When I finally stabilized, when we could finally start to put our marriage back together, the bride he married was gone. Lithium confused my mind, left me unable to read. Working part-time at a coffee shop was all I could manage. I slept 18 hours a day.

Cooking?

Cleaning?

Supporting his dream to become a doctor?

I couldn’t get out of bed.

He never went to medical school. He took a transfer to move home and love me. He took on the debt that nearly bankrupted us, from manic spending sprees and ambulance bills to my endless psychiatry bills. He cleaned the toilets and folded the laundry. To make more money, he drove two hours each way to his stepping stone job while I sat on my parents’ front porch smoking cigarettes on doctor-mandated 24-hour suicide watch.

All the way through those dark years, he looked at me with the same love as the day we got married. Because of him, because of the man he was and the way he loved his has-been bride, I found a way to love myself again.

Slowly, I’ve grown into a partner again. I started by emptying the dishwasher. I kept going to therapy, and I took my meds every day.

We didn’t think I’d ever be able to be stable enough to be a mama. We’ve had three boys. We’ve endured the loss of a child, preeclampsia, bed rest. We delivered our heart warrior who docs said wouldn’t be born alive. We walked through weeks in the hospital, open heart surgery and endless appointments with him.

We’ve held hands through funerals and baptisms, surgeries and ultrasounds.

If I could pick a bride for Jack, I would have picked a bride who wasn’t sick. But then, she wouldn’t have been me. And there’s nothing I’d rather be than his, for better or for worse.

We’re learning to ride the waves together on this crazy ocean of heart-pounding swells and breathtaking dawns.

I’m learning to be loved, for better or worse… or bipolar.

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If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention LifelineHead here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Mighty wants to read more stories about your experiences dating with a mental illness. 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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