10 Things I Learned About My Son With Autism Through His Letterboard

This past year and a half has been nothing short of life changing for our family. My son, Ryan, who is 8 years old and has autism, began communicating with a letterboard this year.

Having Ryan spell out his thoughts has been by far the best thing to happen to our family (other than the birth of both of our children). I wanted to share with you the 10 reasons why this is, as articulated by Ryan himself.

1. He has written song lyrics in his head. 

He spelled out:


He then instructed me:


2. He wants his voice to be heard even if he cannot speak.

He has told me:


3. He loves his dad so much. 

When Ryan was apart from his dad on Father’s Day, he wrote via FaceTime:


4. He wants to be an autistic advocate. 

When we started a blog to spread autistic acceptance and awareness he suggested:


He answered that question on our blog. 

5. He likes to know what is happening next. 

He seemed down one morning, and I asked him what was going on. He responded:


Stephanie Curry the mighty.2-001

6. He loves his family. 

Once we had our first family get-together after moving halfway across the country for my husband’s job and to be closer to family, Ryan spelled:


7. He is his own worst critic. 

On several occasions, after Ryan has gotten into something that he shouldn’t have, he has spelled out:


8. He knows that good behavior gets rewarded. 

When he had to wait to go swimming, he spelled:


9. Even if it appears that he’s not doing anything but self-stimulatory behavior, there is usually a purpose. 

I have asked him what he was doing while he was in his room and listening to “Thomas the Tank Engine” on his iPad (not watching it), and his reply was:


10. His actions don’t always match up with what he means. 

Just this past week, I asked him if he was ready for his lesson.  His reply:


The problem was that he wouldn’t go to the room with the table.  He laid down on the floor and wouldn’t get up. I tried to pick him up but I couldn’t. I tried again and failed. I then took his iPad and brought it to the room. He finally got up and followed me to the table. I went ahead with the lesson first and then asked him: “If you were ready to do the lesson with me, why was it so hard for you to come to the table?”


“So is it OK for me to take your iPad and bring it to the table or to try and pick you up to get to the table?”


I can only imagine how much more I will learn and how much more the world around us will learn from my son. Even though I listed ten things above, the most important thing I’ve learned is that the sky is the limit for Ryan. 

Follow this journey on I Am in My Head.


When a Teacher Told Me ‘So Many’ Kids Shouldn’t Have Special Education Services

Recently I was at a social event making polite conversation with a high school teacher whom I’d just met. As it usually does, the topic of my children and their special education needs came up, and I explained what accommodations they have in place and also about how difficult it was to finally get them into the right educational setting. We really hit it off, and I felt I had a comrade in arms. After all, teachers are so often stifled when it comes to speaking out on what’s in the best interest of their students — especially here in the state of Michigan where about four years ago, tenure reform occurred.

I can’t often speak so freely to someone who “gets it” — someone who really understands what parents like me fight for when we attend Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings and spend countless dollars on additional therapy and neuropsychology testing. Yes, we were on the same page in our fight for the educational rights of our most vulnerable students. Yes, we had a lot in common — that is until she said the following:

“It’s great that your kids got the help that they need, but I have to say, there are so many kids out there who should not have a special education certification.” 

What? Did she just say what I think she said?

I took a deep breath, put on my best poker face and replied, “I think it’s important not to disregard the input from parents, as they know their children more than anyone else does.”

We were quiet for a moment and then someone changed the topic and I just let it go. But what I wanted to do was ask her this:

Really, in addition to being a teacher, are you also a psychologist, a neuropsychologist or a pediatrician? Exactly what qualifications do you have to determine if a student should have a special education certification? Do you think parents enjoy taking countless hours off work to attend numerous school meetings only to listen to the so-called professionals pick apart their child and his or her abilities and make the statement, “He needs try harder”? Do you think any parent makes the decision to place a “special education” label on their child lightheartedly? Because I can tell you damn well that I did not.

Do you think parents are really that manipulative — that they would go through the more often than not hellish process of an IEP to gain some sort of accommodation for their average child to position them for better grades? Lady, let me tell you, I’ve attended approximately 24 IEP meeting in the past 14 years, just as many REEDs (Review of Existing Evaluation Data) and countless appointments for educational assessments and medical testing. During each one, at some point I felt as if I was being judged as an overprotective/overreactive mother. Trust me when I say, the IEP process is not for the faint of heart. This I know.  

There has been many a night when I’ve held one or both of my children in my arms as they cried because they felt completely lost and alone at school, and I’ve cried right along with them. As their mother, I promised them I would do everything in my power to make it better. I’ve kept that promise. Yes, they still have challenges, but they’re now growing academically and socially. In fact, it’s recently been said that they’re thriving. They finally see themselves as students and more important, they see themselves as worthy and they feel accepted. But they would not be where they are today if I didn’t take that time off work to attend IEP meetings, research and learn the special education laws, take them to the educational and medical assessments and be their advocate.  

Please know this: I’ve learned a lot over the past 14 years, being the mom of two medically fragile children with special needs. I’ve learned to follow my gut, to always listen to those little red flags because they’re usually right on, and I’ve learned that sadly, money is a factor in determining if a child receives the appropriate special education services they so desperately need. I’ve also learned that general education teachers most of the time have not received any special education training, and yet their classrooms are full of children on the autism spectrum, have a physical disability, live with a chronic illness or who are deaf or hard of hearing.  

But the most important thing I have learned — a lesson my two children taught me — is that no child ever wants to feel like a failure. Children naturally want to succeed, and I believe it’s our responsibility as adults, as parents, as teachers to work together to make sure each and every child has the resources and accommodations  they need to reach their fullest potential.

Father Gets Tattoo to Match Daughter’s Cochlear Implant

This dad will stop at nothing to make his daughter feel included.

Alistair Campbell, from Taupo, New Zealand, got a tattoo on the left side of his head to match his daughter’s cochlear implant, the New Zealand Herald reported. He didn’t want her to feel like the odd one out.

Charlotte, 6, had her first implant put in at the age of 4 in 2013, and has just recently had her second one put in. Campbell has no other tattoos, but wanted to show Charlotte that he could go through a little bit of pain for her.

The tattoo was a tribute — this was all about her, not me,” Campbell told Stuff, a New Zealand media site. “As she grows older, she’ll understand the love behind it.”

Campbell had it done on Tuesday, August 3, the day before Charlotte had the second implant inserted.

Getting through it together with his daughter...

Posted by The LAD Bible on Wednesday, August 5, 2015


When Charlotte saw the tattoo, she giggled, touched it and told him it was “cool,” the New Zealand Harold reported.

Campbell says he plans to grow his hair back over the tattoo but shave it off again for special occasions or when his daughter wants to see it.

h/t Reddit Uplifting 

Living With a Loved One’s Traumatic Brain Injury

In December 2001, I answered the phone to hear news every wife fears. Bradley, my husband of three years, was in a motorcycle accident on a country road. He was in serious condition with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and was being flown from our small town to a big city hospital an hour away. My stomach was in knots as a friend drove me to the hospital.

At the scene of the accident, Brad was having seizures and fighting the paramedics. They sedated him for the helicopter ride to the hospital. After being admitted, he broke the restraints that held him to the hospital bed and was now wearing heavy-duty cuffs. All of this can be “normal” for a traumatic brain injury, even though the words normal and brain injury don’t belong together.

Bradley was wearing a motorcycle helmet and armored clothing. He didn’t break a single bone in his body, but his brain rattled around inside his skull, bruising and tearing sensitive tissue.

He was heavily sedated for a few days, and upon waking up, he wasn’t the man he was before. He spent 28 days in the hospital and in-house rehab therapy for his injury. Thankfully, he didn’t need surgery because the internal swelling went down on its own. On the downside, Brad could not talk, walk or think properly.

A stroke is a kind of brain injury. Brad’s brain injury was brought about by outside forces, not a battle within like a stroke, but there are similarities. Stroke victims may have to learn to walk, talk and think again. Brad had to relearn all of these things, too. For him, much of it was still floating around inside his head, but the pieces were not connected.

He would brush his teeth six times in one morning because he didn’t remember brushing them. His short-term and long-term memories were affected.

His dreams were real to him. The science fiction books he loved were coming to life. One night, Brad was worried to the point of tears about my safety because “the robots” were out to get us.

He could not understand where he was or why he was there. Rehab had to put an alarm under his bed for his safety. When he got up, the alarm went off.

When we came home, Brad was improving a little every day. He continued outpatient therapy for a month or so, but that was as long as our insurance would cover it. We drove an hour each way to therapy to make sure he was receiving the best care.

Over the years, I’ve asked myself these three questions, which may be helpful to you if you have a loved one with a TBI:

1. How does a person live with a TBI?

Never give up. People who don’t know my husband would never assume he had a TBI. Eventually, he went back to work. It’s crazy how the brain works, but he didn’t forget how to do trim carpentry. That doesn’t mean it went smoothly. Brad’s father and brother were there for him, as was his hardworking employees.

His long-term memory was deeply impacted. As years go by, he forgets more and more of our time together. Brad knows people who remain close to him, but if we lose track of individuals for long periods of time, he forgets about them.

Brad is better at math and is claustrophobic after his TBI. How is that for weird? I’ve known this guy since we were 11. I mean, we were close growing up. We have been best friends for 25 years. Brad is different after his TBI. A couple of our friends said he was sweeter. He has always had a sweet spot for me, so I don’t know about that one.

Brad worked hard for nine years after his TBI. Yes, nine years. There were so many things that happened behind the scenes that I won’t share. It wasn’t easy for anyone. Unfortunately with Brad’s brain injury, as time passed he developed more problems or maybe he just couldn’t hide them anymore.

TBI victims are also prone to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Brad was having complex partial seizures in his frontal lobe. This caused aggression, disruptive behavior, anger, swearing and black outs. The more stress he was under, the more seizures Brad experienced. After particularly bad ones, he would be drained of energy and have headaches and dizziness for a week at a time. We needed the help of family and friends to get through those times. We had to make changes, especially Brad. They included:

Avoiding anything that causes seizures or blackouts. For Brad, this was dehydration, becoming over-heated, hitting his head, energy drinks, alcohol, overexertion, strong chemical fumes and the worst and hardest to control, stress.

Taking medications as needed. Some can have side effects but sometimes it’s necessary. We went through several medicines before we found what helped Brad.

See your doctors. Rehab doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and family doctors can all help, especially if you have to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Cutting back on work. Brad went from running a company to working part-time and this still wasn’t enough. He had to sell his company shares to his father, leave the business and apply for SSDI or disability. Then we declared bankruptcy, finally moving to Mexico, where our life is much simpler and calmer.

Realize your limitations and accept them. For Brad, this has been the hardest part of this journey, but with humility and sacrifice come blessings and happiness. Eventually.

2. How do I live with Brad’s TBI?

Same thing: never give up. Sometimes you want to but you can’t. When we were living in the U.S., I had therapy, which helped me cope. Since moving to Mexico, I have been able to function with a lower dosage of medication and don’t need therapy. My panic attacks are practically a thing of the past and the bad dreams are lessening as well. Life is going on and it’s not leaving me behind.

I love my husband and our beautiful children. I love Mexico and our new life here. I’m happy Brad is realizing his limitations. He’s a good husband and father. Things can always be worse. The TBI could have dealt us more damage and pain. What more can I ask for than what I have now?

3. How should you view a TBI?

With care. Remember the following if you meet someone with a TBI or if someone you love has a TBI:

  • A TBI is a serious injury. 
  • It may be a disability for this individual.
  • Their personality may change. This can be good or bad.
  • They may say or do things that don’t make sense. They may lose their filter between their brain and their mouth.
  • Don’t treat this person differently. Give them the respect they deserve.
  • Don’t let this person mistreat you because they have a disability. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior, although it may be a reason.
  • Their life isn’t necessarily over and neither is yours. Never give up.

Traumatic brain injury can be hard to understand. For one thing, no two brains are alike and no two injuries are alike. The brain is the world’s coolest and most advanced super computer. It can’t always be fixed, and it doesn’t always heal correctly.

It’s an injury everyone needs to be aware of. You can’t assume a person is drunk or has a mental illness because many times a TBI will present itself like drunken behavior or a mental illness. A doctor once told me that the TBI was a past injury. Perhaps, but I live with its scars every day and I’m only the wife. Do you know what my husband is going through? A little understanding can go a long way.

Tina Marie Ernspiker the mighty.2-001

Follow this journey on Los Gringos Locos.

What I Didn’t Know About PTSD At 15, and What I Know Now

I’m 15, out shopping with a friend on a gorgeous summer day in northern Michigan. We are both wearing crop shirts, short shorts and platform heels. Our blonde hair sways rhythmically with each step, and we pass a couple who look about age. The couple was happy, in love, and not shy about publicly displaying it. I saw a pretty graphic display of affection that, at 15, made me extremely uncomfortable. I responded the only way I knew how: with humor. I leaned into my friend, laughing hysterically, and said, “Oh my God, I have PTSD from what I just saw.”

15-year-old me didn’t know anything about post-traumatic stress disorder. In my mind, it was a phrase casually thrown around, used jokingly to describe an unpleasant event that evoked uncomfortable emotions.

15-year-old me was insanely ignorant.

PTSD is a silent killer. PTSD is not a joke. PTSD is an extremely debilitating, life-altering physical, mental and emotional condition that affects about 8 million adults during a given year.

It’s sneaky and complicated, hiding behind other diagnoses like depression, anxiety and addiction. It doesn’t like to be seen and doesn’t like to be held responsible for the havoc it wreaks.

I haven’t wanted to write about PTSD because its complexities are hard for me to comprehend. I’ve been living with PTSD to varying degrees for more than 20 years and still don’t understand it all. But maybe that’s the point.

I know a lot about PTSD. My background in psychology has given me a very good understanding of what happens physiologically and psychologically when PTSD is activated. When I’m triggered, my brain disconnects from my body. My body feels a sensation similar to what it felt at the time of the trauma and thinks I’m reliving it. My concept of time is lost.

When my husband touches the back of my leg, my brain thinks I’m 19 and being raped. My brain can’t process the fact 12 years has passed and I’m in a safe place with a safe person. My body remembers but my brain forgets. I’m disconnected and pulled out of what I’m experiencing. It throws my body into a fight/flight/or freeze state. I have to give my brain time to catch up with my body and realize I’m not 19. I’m not in danger.

I know a lot about PTSD. I know how the brain and body work when they’re triggered. But knowing about PTSD is not the same as knowing PTSD. I don’t know my PTSD. I don’t know why it works the way it does. I don’t know why, after 12 years, I’m having flashbacks of scenes I have no previous recollection of. I don’t know why my husband can’t touch the back of my legs. My brain can’t make sense of it because my brain doesn’t remember. But my body does. My body remembers something happening to my legs. My body remembers what my brain can’t.

My body remembers everything. I used to think that was the problem. If I could only get my body to forget, I’d be OK.

But what if my body remembering isn’t the problem? What if that’s the solution? I have a heightened sense of awareness because of the PTSD. I used to think was a curse. I hated that my body felt so intensely. But maybe the solution doesn’t lie in my ability to think but rather in my ability to feel. Awareness, not understanding, might just be the key to freedom.

I hesitate to share this because I’m still in the midst of this journey. The thoughts I have today might be irrelevant tomorrow. But one thing I know for certain is that my PTSD, and yours, wants to stay silent. It wants us to keep it hidden. It wants to stay masked behind other issues. It lives and breathes off of our denial. Continuing to talk about it, especially when I feel like I don’t understand it, and giving it a voice, even when I don’t have the words, is helping raise my awareness.

And awareness, in this moment, feels like a pretty safe place to be.

Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith

8 Special Olympics Athletes Give a Pep Talk Everyone Needs to Hear

The Mighty spoke to eight Special Olympics athletes and asked, “How does someone achieve their goals?”

The result is this motivating, pep talk. Take a look:

Video transcript:

1. “Stop hiding in the shadows. The sky’s the limit. You must always dream and dream high.” — Mompati Goabakwe (Botswana, Soccer)

2. “Make your best effort.” — Christian Rodriguez (Costa Rica, Golf)

3. “Give your best.” — Janine Schwirblatt (Germany, Equestrian)

4. “Fight for your dreams.” — Marvin Tello (Guatemala, Golf)

5. “It’s never too late to start.” — Natanael Chavez (Guatemala, Golf)

6. “Play sport. Play hard.” — Viren Mehata (Zimbabwe, Golf)

7. “Just not to worry, not to get too stressed out.” — Jennifer Maddox (US, Equestrian)

8. “Your confidence should be up here. You never want to boost confidence too much. Give the right confidence and always look ahead and move forward.” — Tess Trojan (Canada, Golf)

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.