For a long time, my husband and I knew something wasn’t quite right.

TJ walked on his toes. He had no words. He squinted when he looked at lights. He stared at ceiling fans. He had frequent meltdowns for seemingly no reason.

It was autism. When the professionals told us, we somehow already knew. But hearing it from them made it real.

We were numb. We took some days for ourselves to absorb the information. We started therapies immediately and took our first steps into this lifelong journey that we weren’t prepared for.

After a day or two of receiving our diagnosis, we started calling our family members to let them know. Some already knew, since we come from a family of educators. Can’t get something like this past them. And they were all strong for us, telling us encouraging words of hope and strength.

Then I called one of my best friends, Jennie. She is one of the straightest shooters I know and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. We’ve already been through a lot together — this was just one more thing. She lives out of the country, and we only get to see each other once or twice a year. But that makes no difference. We always pick up just where we left off. I can always count on her. Always.

When she heard my voice she immediately knew something was wrong. I simply said, “TJ has autism.”

And then she started to cry.

And then I started to cry.

And it wasn’t until that second that I realized I hadn’t really cried yet. Until then, we all were being strong for everyone else. I felt responsible for my husband. He felt responsible for me. And we both felt responsible for our family.

But my no muss, no fuss friend made it OK for me to cry.

What a huge gift that was. Everything between Jennie and me has always been so honest, so straightforward, with no BS. And this was no exception. Once again, my dear Jennie gave me one of the most honest experiences of my life.

It was OK just to cry.

And so we did. And laughed. And talked. And I still got all the hope and strength I needed through those tears. But I really, really needed those tears.

And I don’t know if I ever thanked her.

So thank you, my dear Jennie, for that gift of allowing me to just cry so many years ago. It was the first of many “autism cries” that really helped me move forward with the task at hand and allowed me to get some serious work done with my boy.

I will never forget that first good cry, though. What an incredible gift.

What an incredible friend.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one unexpected source of comfort when it comes to your (or a loved one’s) disability and/or disease? 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.


Peggy Uhle was on a flight preparing to take off from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio, when the Southwest Airlines plane she was on suddenly returned to the gate.

Uhle was then escorted off the plane and told to call home immediately, WGN reported. Her 24-year-old son had suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma in Denver.

A Southwest Airlines customer service representative met her at the gate, where Uhle was informed that the airline had already re-booked her on a nonstop flight to Denver. They’d also arranged a luggage transfer and delivery service, a private waiting area for her, priority boarding and a meal, Boarding Area, a travel blog, reported.

Within two hours, Uhle was on her way to be with her family. An airline representative even called a few days later to check on her and ask about her son.

We’re certainly proud of, but not surprised by, any of the hard work that went into doing the right thing for Ms. Uhle and her family,” Southwest spokesperson Thais Hanson told WGN News. “Employees are empowered at Southwest to go above and beyond the call of duty and follow their hearts to make decisions that positively impact our customers.”

Uhle’s son is still recovering, but she has a lot of positive things to say about the way Southwest Airlines treated her.

Southwest never asked for payment for the Denver flight, luggage delivery or anything else,” she told Boarding Area. “The care that I was shown is second to none. We have always liked Southwest Airlines and now we can’t say enough good things about them.”

Want to celebrate the human spirit? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

We went out to dinner last night at a casual, sit-down restaurant. The girls and I grabbed a table while Daddy stood in line to order food. For a solid three minutes, KC, my daughter who has Down syndrome, yelled for “Dadad,” who was standing just around the corner.

Naturally, we gained some attention from diners, but when she stopped using her toddler voice, the attention quickly faded — except for at one nearby table, where a lady sat across from us on the same bench as the young child she was with. The young child hardly noticed us, but the lady couldn’t stop staring.

After some time, it really started bothering me.

I could feel her watching our every move. I’m not talking about the occasional glance and smile as you look off. I’m talking full-on staring in the opposite direction of her young dinner companion. The longer it went on the more I started to feel self-conscious and wondered exactly what was so entertaining that she was willing to ignore the kid with her just so she could stare at us.

I wondered if she was staring because she’d noticed something different about KC. My mind went to those crazy momma places, wondering if this could be what our future looks like. I wondered if KC’s calling for Dad was more disruptive or out of the ordinary than I realized. I even wondered if people are so ridiculous that a grown adult with a child of their own could be so distracted by KC’s presence that she couldn’t function normally at a dinner table.

Clearly, I was beyond annoyed.

I tried to watch her eyes to see what specifically she was looking at. It was impossible to know for sure. I eventually pointed it out to “Dadad,” who confirmed for me she was indeed staring. Then, I decided to try to catch her eyes so I could stare back and give her a moment of the same awkwardness I’d been experiencing from her. (Mature, I know). I eventually moved seats to help one of our girls with her meal, and my focus was able to shift back to the people at the table who actually mattered.

I realized her awkwardness was winning over me, and there’s a real possibility she was just staring me down rather than KC. I’d pushed those thoughts aside, and when we got up to leave the restaurant I realized her table was empty. I hadn’t even noticed her get up.

The last few days my girls have spent a lot of time playing with neighbor friends. As one of our neighbor friend’s little girl ran to embrace KC, or “Cannady,” as she calls her, I realized I have a choice.

I can be the mom who confronts everyone who looks at my daughter(s) the wrong way and give them a piece of my mind, or I can be the mom so caught up in the presence of our family and friends that I don’t even notice those staring eyes.

I can be angry and hurt, or I can be a loving example of how truly typical we are.

Today, I’m thankful for those loved “framily” members who make it such an easy choice — a choice to be present with those I love.


A version of this post originally appeared on Good Things Come in 3’s

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

You may remember the time professional wrestler John Cena gave one lucky fan with Down syndrome the best day of his life at a WWE match last March. Now, Cena’s making headlines again after bringing a similarly wonderful experience to a young fan who has cancer at the WWE Raw match on June 1.

After spotting a fan holding a sign that read “I’m Beating Cancer” in the audience, Cena directed an uplifting speech his way. The WWE champion then went into the crowd to greet the fan, invited him into the ring and let him hold his belt.

“If I say or if I wear the words ‘never give up,’ not only am I telling the truth, but I am encouraging young and old, all alike, like that person right there, to do the exact same thing,” Cena emphatically exclaimed to the audience in the video below, pointing to fan before bringing him onstage.

Check out the entire heartwarming exchange in the video below.

Cena is well known for his work outside the ring. He actively supports the Kids Wish Network and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As of April 2014, Cena had granted more than 400 Make-A-Wish wishes — more than any other celebrity in the foundation’s history.

h/t Bleacher Report

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Hoping to foster new skills by crossing state lines, four friends with developmental disabilities recently embarked on a 6,000-mile experimental learning cross-country road trip.

The travelers  Jon Caldwell, Nick Feeterman, Aaron Hanson and Eric Johnson all met in Guys Group, a social group based in Buffalo, New York, for men with developmental disabilities. Developed by People Inc., a nonprofit human services agency, Guys Group “helps participants discover and nurture their passions, build lasting friendships and develop important life skills so they can have increased opportunities and work independently,” according to a press release.

Pictured left to right: Nick Feeterman, Aaron Hanson, Eric Johnson and Jon Caldwell pose for a group photo at the send-off party.

This trip is Guys Group on wheels. The 12-day expedition will bring the group to California and back, and the gentlemen will do everything from planning and budgeting, to learning safety and social skills. They’re accompanied by Nick Cacciotti and Chris Zienski, two People Inc. life coaches and, temporarily, van drivers. While the organization raised money using Go Fund Me for gas and tolls, the guys are budgeting on their own for meals.

Cacciotti, who’s been working for People Inc. for about 10 years, told The Mighty he wants to see the guys meet new people and practice life skills in a natural setting.

“We’re trying to stay out of it,” he said. “We want to open up the country to them.”

The journey started on May 30, after a send-off party in Buffalo. By the evening of day three, they were already in Colorado, gathered around a campfire making s’mores. 

Family and friends wave goodbye as the guys begin their journey.

Other planned stops include sites like the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Hollywood. They’ll also be visiting developmental disability agencies, where they’ll talk about Guys Group and meet new friends. They’ve already visited Bethesda Lutheran Communities in Fort Collins, Colorado, and spent time with people who receive its services.

Julie Tuskes, Nick Feeterman’s mom, told The Mighty this is her son’s first time traveling alone. Feeterman, 30, has lived in his own apartment for about three years and currently works at Walgreens. 

He never really had any idea how big this country is,” Tuskes said. “The trip is just one more step for independence.”

Feeterman told The Mighty he’s most looking forward to Las Vegas, and has been posting pictures of Colorado mountains on Facebook. “[The trip] is a good excuse to get out of the house and do something,” he said. 

Hiking in Colorado.

Aaron Hanson, 22, was born in California and is most excited to see his grandma, who he hasn’t seen since moving to Buffalo as a child.

Eric Johnson takes in the view at Estes Park, Colorado.

“She’s going to be speechless,” he said. “I’m going to tell her how much I care about her.”

Don Johnson, father of Eric Johnson, is pushing for his son’s independence. His parents bought him his first smartphone for this trip, and they’re hoping it will help prepare Eric, 35, for living in a group home.

Johnson has traveled before, but his father said these trips were less flexible and more itinerary oriented. This is his first time traveling with this much freedom.

“I’m really interested to see what he thinks about things like the Grand Canyon,” Don Johnson said. “I want to hear it in his own words.”

The trip will be documented and made into a movie to be shown at the Museum of disABILIY History Film and Speaker Series.

You can follow their journey on the trip’s Facebook page, Crossing Borders WNY

Update: The Guys Group members returned to Buffalo safe and sound on Monday, June 15th.



Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

If you haven’t been to therapy before, seeking help can seem like a daunting task. Sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with a stranger might be scary, and, at first, it might be difficult to see how doing so would even make a difference. But therapy can have some amazing benefits. Verbally expressing how you feel can be cathartic, and getting another person’s perspective — especially someone trained to listen to you as well as provide support and guidance — can be enlightening.

But these are the generalized, well-publicized benefits you can read about on a pamphlet in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. We wanted to hear about some of the less publicized outcomes of therapy from people who experience it. The Mighty and Mental Health America asked our readers to share an unexpected result of going to therapy. If you’ve been on the fence about seeing a therapist, maybe these responses will help you decide if it’s right for you.

Here are some of the responses we received:

1. “[I’ve felt] empowered by therapists who talk about my behavior like I’m a person and not like I’m a case study.” — Anna Williams

2. “[I finally understand] that it’s not my fault because for so long I didn’t understand that.” — Melissa Cote

3. “Prolonged exposure has turned my nightmares back to memories that don’t have power over me.” — Shari Brown


4. “[I’m] finally really hearing that I’m a good person and that I have worth.” — Joy Sexton

5. “It gets much worse before it gets better, but it’s worth it.” — Riley McLane

6. “A good therapist can help you think about how to help fix a problem yourself, and if you can’t, to cope with the situation in a healthy way.” — April Power

7. “I didn’t expect to learn so much. I didn’t just learn what to do and how to do it, I learned why the techniques I learned were so helpful. I feel like I understand so much more about people in general, not just those who share my challenges. It was so eye-opening for me and one of the most constructive experiences of my life.” — Teri Todd


8. “[I gained] confidence in myself that I didn’t know I’d lost. After therapy, I gained back the ‘I can do this’ attitude.” — Alisha Babypandabear

9. “I look forward to it every week!” — Mary Naso

10. “Unconditional acceptance.” — John Goodman

11. “I have a greater understanding of a variety of mental illnesses and a deeper compassion for those who live with them.” — Lana Koch Schultz


12. “I learned that no one therapist is right or has all the right responses. It takes time. It takes learning and then applying what you’ve learned to what you know about yourself.” — Kathy Sheridan

13. “My therapist doesn’t think I’m crazy or too young to be feeling the way I feel. And my family and friends have encouraged me to continue going instead of making fun of me for it!” — Niki Lohr


Please visit Mental Health America for more information on various mental health treatments, including therapy.

Want to end the stigma around mental illness? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.