When a YMCA Employee Became a Superhero for My Son With Autism

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Superheroes do exist.

I’d like you to meet one named Chuck.

Chuck works at our local YMCA and has bonded with my son, Griffin, who has autism, over video games, Pokémon and all kinds of topics. He’s even done math with Griffin, which is amazing to me because math is not my thing.

A few weeks ago, Griffin and Chuck had a tentative date to hang out for a few minutes. But when Chuck was working and unable to show up, Griffin had a huge meltdown. Although Griffin continues to work hard, he still has a hard time being flexible and expressing his emotions appropriately. This meltdown was a combination of yelling, crying, kicking on the wall and cursing. It all happened right outside the childcare center.

The staff at the YMCA are all so kind to Griffin, and each one of them has become a superhero in my eyes. But this was the first time they witnessed one of his meltdowns, which usually happen in the privacy of our own home.

As I tried to get him outside, I said, loud enough for everyone to hear: “I know the cursing helps you express your feelings, but other people might not understand. Let’s get to a safe place.” I hoped explaining it this way would give people a better understanding of what was going on.

When we got outside, I just held him. He was so upset and kept saying, “I want Chuck! I want to talk to him about video games! I want to talk to him! I want to talk to him!” I tried hard not to show outwardly what I felt inside. I didn’t know how I even got him outside, and I sure as hell didn’t know how I was going to get him back home. It’s typically a lovely 15-minute walk, but in this moment, I just didn’t know what I was going to do. 

And then, just like Batman or Superman, Chuck came outside in the nick of time. He went over to Griffin and hugged him, and then sat with him and talked to him. I started to cry because I was so grateful. He sat with Griffin for a generous amount of time and told Griffin he wasn’t having a great day either. He said talking to Griffon helped him, too. I thought, My God, I could never properly express how grateful I was to him.

As we were leaving, Chuck hugged Griffin and told him, “You’re a good kid.” And he really is a good kid. I just wish I could help him more in those moments. God, I wish I could be a superhero.

When I talked to Griffin later, he said, “Mom, I’m sorry I embarrassed you.”

“You didn’t embarrass me,” I told him. “Maybe just 1 percent, but 99 percent of what I was feeling was heartbroken. I couldn’t help you, no matter what I did, and I love you so much.”

Chuck reminded me that we all have the power to be a superhero. You don’t need the ability to fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound. To be a superhero, all you need are kind words, a smile and the willingness to see a situation in a different way, led by love and not judgment.

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A version of this post originally appeared on What Will This Day Bring

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A Lady at the Airport Left Us This Note When We Needed It Most

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It was our second time leaving our quiet home in Texas to see the specialist in busy Pittsburgh. We were surprised by how well the first visit had gone —  we’d brought family to help us carry bags and for mental support. We felt comfortable going by ourselves this time, just the three of us. It was our first trip as a little family.

Traveling with my son is no easy journey. Going through security usually takes a while because of the tube feeding formula, his medications and the rest of the medical equipment. You can imagine how exhausted we were by the time we got to the hotel. Two quick days later, it was time to leave the Pittsburgh airport and head back to Dallas. The doctor visit didn’t go as well as we’d planned. We were told our son was in the last stage of the disease. I was so shocked, disheartened and possibly depressed. We’d had so much hope and well wishes for our baby boy. This was the last thing we expected.

We waited to board the flight and get back home where we knew Lucas felt the most comfortable. I pointed out a cute, short old lady sitting across from us. She looked as if she was confused and needed a few questions answered. My husband and I were discussing how incredibly rude the staff at the terminal seemed to be to her.

They soon called for early boarding, and we followed the little old lady onto the plane. Before the rest of the people could board, the lady came to our seats and angelically explained that she felt safe on this flight because Lucas was here. She said the Lord will definitely not let anything happen to this miracle child and that when we fly, this is the closest we can be to Heaven without actually being there. We exchanged kind words. She lifted my spirit within seconds. She then shook my husband’s hand… and folded in her own was a $50 bill. We of course tried to give it back, but she wasn’t having it. The generosity in that woman was breathtaking — not only in the way of giving but in her words. She had no idea what we’d just gone through, and she had no way of knowing how badly we needed this sweet gesture.

As we exited the airplane, I made a run for the potty room. I’m claustrophobic and dislike the small airplane bathrooms (not to mention all the germs compacted into that one stinky place). I returned from the ladies room to see the lady catching a ride on those nifty little cars I always wished we could ride on through the airport. When I arrived back to my family, my husband had a Post-it note in his hand that read “A COINCIDENCE IS A SMALL MIRACLE WHERE GOD CHOSE TO BE ANONYMOUS!”

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Before leaving, the woman had delivered us this one last message. To me, she was an angel sent down from Heaven to lift us back up and get us out of our negative notions that our son was losing his battle. It also floored me that her handwriting looked identical to my father’s, who had passed away nine years prior. I showed my little sister the note, and the first thing she said was, “That looks like Dad’s writing. He always wrote in capital letters. The only difference on this note is that the words were all spelled correctly on this one.”

So, whether it was the sign from our guardian angel, my father saying hi or just a genuinely sweet lady’s kind words, the message was clear. And oh, how badly we needed it. I will forever remember this day.

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. 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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He Needed a Boost to Finish the Race. His Classmates Gave Him One.

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Wayne Haselberger is a student at Paw Paw Later Elementary School in Paw Paw, Michigan. He’s 11 years old and is in a class for students with special needs, Mlive.com reported.

During his school’s annual fifth grade track and field meet held on May 22, Wayne struggled to finish his race. Then, his classmates decided to step in and help.

They surrounded him, cheering him on and chanting his name as he ran toward the finish line.

Wayne’s mother, Diana Haselberger, was moved to tears by the kindness and support the other students showed her son.

The tears of joy were just running down my face,” she told Mlive.com. “I just want to thank all the mothers in Paw Paw who have such wonderful children.”

Watch the awesome moment below:

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Paw Paw Later Elementary School is in Minnesota. The school is in Michigan.

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The Comment a Woman at Walmart Made About My Son With Autism

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It finally happened. I was on the receiving end of my first comment about my son, Lincoln’s, behavior today. The comment came from a woman in Walmart, of all places.

Lincoln has Asperger’s and he has trouble with impulse control, especially when it comes to wanting toys. Some days he’s good; some days, well, not so much. He wanted a Lego toy while we were at Walmart, and we made it clear that he wasn’t getting it today. Of course, this wasn’t the answer Linc wanted to hear and he was getting upset. In that whiny voice kids have, he stated quite loudly, “But I wannnnnnt it!”

At that moment, a woman came by with her cart and felt the need to comment, “Oh my God, how old is he?”

Without missing a beat, my wife (the anchor, the rock and all things strong in our family) said quite calmly, but oh so sternly, “Um, excuse me, but he has autism.”

I wasn’t quite so calm, and between gritted teeth, yelled with as much venom as I felt toward this sad, ignorant woman, “SO F*CK OFF!” She sped off saying nothing more, not even an apology.

My wife immediately chastised me, saying my reaction was inappropriate, making me no better than the woman who made the comment. In retrospect it was inappropriate, but it was a reaction. I’ve never been one to make excuses for my son and I never will. But at that moment, when someone felt the need to comment about my son, that’s when my angry dad side took over. Did it make her feel better about her life to make a comment like that to a total stranger? Was my son’s minor tantrum disrupting her wonderful shopping experience at Walmart? Who knows. And in the grand scheme of things, who cares?

Later at home, I watched Linc enjoy himself on our trampoline — innocent, happy, being himself — and I couldn’t be prouder. I’m not ashamed of my son. I’m not embarrassed of my son. But I am defensive and protective of my son, and I always will be.

I love you, Linc. Thank you for being my son and for letting me be your dad.

A version of this post originally appeared on Ink4Autism’s Facebook page.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. 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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They Told Me I Had No Emotions. Then a Movie Set Me Free.

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Google a list of Asperger’s syndrome‘s characteristics, and chances are you’ll find one that reads something like “lack of empathy.” That’s what the 20-page report that made my Asperger’s diagnosis official, based on observations from one six-hour testing session, told me. I’ve heard the whole “lack of empathy” thing numerous times in my 21 years of existence, and let me tell you this: based on firsthand experience, that statement is absolute crap. 

I’m not sure what started the myth that people with Asperger’s lack empathy. Is it the Asperger’s face, seemingly eternally locked in one position? Is it the Asperger’s eyes that find it too hard to make eye contact or that seemingly always stare off into space? Or is it the inability to read social cues that seems to come so naturally to neurotypicals? People think the way you look on the outside directly influences what you feel on the inside. With this logic, if you have a blank face, then you don’t feel anything at all.

I don’t believe this logic to be true. I’m an intuitive person, and I can usually tell how someone feels, even if his or her face reads otherwise. Make no mistake — people with Asperger’s are humans, too. And like all human beings, we have emotions and feelings. When someone thinks otherwise it’s like a knife to my heart. The truth is, I’ve always felt emotions but hid them for years because I was terrified of looking stupid or dumb. 

From a young age, I was ashamed of my own emotions. I didn’t hold back on anything, be it sadness or happiness or frustration, and I was in trouble regularly as a result. When you have Asperger’s, your five senses are more heightened, so overstimulation happens on a regular basis. I was told “normal” people didn’t act that way, and I would be rejected if I kept up my shenanigans. So for years I suppressed my own emotions, to the point that one day, I couldn’t feel anything. I would try to feel a certain emotion and nothing would come.

But in November of 2012, I broke the spell. My mother and I were at a movie theater watching Dreamworks’ “Rise of the Guardians.” I found myself relating to the character of Jack Frost who, after being invisible for his entire 300 years of existence, just wants to find that one person who believes in him. It finally happens in the form of a little boy named Jamie. The moment is heartwarming, and I found myself sobbing hysterically. It was as if someone had taken a pick and sent it flying through the rock solid ice that encased my body, shattering it and setting me free. I had never cried so hard in my life. 

The most important part was, I didn’t feel any guilt or shame in my emotional expression. For the first time in forever, I felt alive. I felt present. Ever since that day, my emotions have felt more readily accessible. I express my emotions and don’t feel like crap afterwards. My emotions remain high energy in their expression, but I’m no longer faking it or half-assing it. If I feel something, I will let it out because I’m just so grateful to be alive.

I still get the occasional person who will tell me to calm down, but I’m so sick of the double standard that says neurotypicals can lose their cool or get giddy while people with Asperger’s can’t.

As a human being, I have the right to express myself. My brain might work a bit differently than yours, but other than that, I’m just like you. I want to enjoy this adventure of life to the maximum, and I refuse to settle for anything less.

A version of this post originally appeared Syracuse University’s Active Minds blog

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When the Sirens Went Off, One Thing Scared Me More Than the Incoming Tornado

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Panic flooded my body as the tornado sirens went off in the Denver International Airport.

I’d never been afraid of tornados, as I had grown up in Tornado Alley and responded to many a tornado warning. But ever since I’d been diagnosed with a debilitating pain condition I’d continually fought with my doctors on the issue of using a wheelchair. I didn’t want to use one because I thought it would just make life harder.

The source of my panic was the five flights of stairs I would have to descend then ascend later on in the company of hundreds of other people. On the way to the basement, I slowly inched my way down the stairs, fearing I would be knocked over, or worse — I would fall and knock someone else over. Once I made it down the stairs, I found a place to sit and started to cry. I just kept thinking, “How am I going to get back up all those stairs once the tornado passes?”

I was all by myself. Everyone else was trying to find their families and stick together, but I was traveling alone. Finally, when the time came to go back upstairs, I froze. I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was I couldn’t climb those stairs. I would never make it.

Everyone just seemed to be passing by me in a rush to get to where they were going. As I sat watching the basement empty, one woman came up to me and noticed the panic, terror and desperation on my face. She calmed me down and then flagged down an airport agent who helped me into the employee elevator system. From there, I was transferred to an airport transport vehicle to my gate.

Just before I was to board my flight, my savior returned with a bundle of flowers and some juice and told me even when I felt alone, there would always be someone there to watch out for me. I never got her name, but I so wish I had.

I will be forever grateful to her for the help and support she gave me while I felt terrified, trapped and alone.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. 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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