As we all know, parenthood can be a daily challenge. When you’re pregnant, your hope is that your baby will be healthy and delivery will be without any complications. I never really gave much thought to what it would be like to have a child with special needs or what it meant to be a parent to a child with special needs.

Fast forward to year 12 with our son who has autism. This is what I’ve learned (so far):

1. I’ve learned to be my child’s advocate. I can stand up in a room and fight for what’s best for my son. There’s no time for stage fright.

2. I’ve learned to be an expert in acronyms like IEP and OT. If you don’t know what these mean, you might not be a SNP.

3. I’ve learned that doctors don’t always know what’s best for my son, and it’s OK to let them know that.

4. I’ve learned the school system may only give you the least amount of info needed when it comes to our son, and that getting the services he deserves and needs doesn’t just happen.

5. I’ve learned about real friendships through the tough times.

6. I’ve learned how to celebrate the simple things.

7. I’ve learned the cycle of victory and defeat can feel unending at times.

8. I’ve learned I’m now an educator. I educate others about my child’s strengths, potential and abilities.

9. I’ve learned milestones are different with a child with special needs, and they should all be celebrated! I’ve also learned how to see my “typical” children’s achievements and realize what is truly important.

10. I’ve learned how many other parents are in my community, and they are the strongest, most courageous and kindest parents you might ever meet.

11. I’ve learned to have perspective. Daily.

12. I’ve learned I’m going to keep on learning every day, and much of my learning will be from our child with special needs. He teaches me and those lucky enough to be around him daily.

Follow this journey on Know Different.

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Keaton Bicknell was diagnosed with severe autism at age 2. From that point on, many people underestimated him. But as of July 2015, he’s accomplished something that would be incredible for any 18-year-old: he wrote, edited, directed and composed the music for a newly released short film, “The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird Is Born.”

Based on the book series of the same name, “Pelican Pete” is a combination of live action and animated scenes. Through Pelican Pete, a young pelican who wears a signature baseball cap, and his parents, the film teaches viewers about how pelicans build nests and raise their young.

“I thought [the ‘Pelican Pete’ story] would make an interesting short film for children on the strength of its ecological messages — much like ‘Ferngully: The Last Rainforest‘ or ‘WALL-E,’” Bicknell, who lives in Saint Augustine, Florida, told The Mighty in an email.

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Photo courtesy of Keaton Bicknell

Bicknell started working on the screenplay for “Pelican Pete” seven years ago when he was just 11 years old. Filming for the project commenced in January 2009. However, the animation studio he’d previously made arrangements with was unavailable. Unsure of what to do, Bicknell put his project on indefinite hiatus.

That’s where Dani Bowman, an animator from Los Angeles who also has autism, came in. Bowman, now 20, founded her own animation studio, Power Light-Studios, when she was just 11 years old. She now teaches animation at the Center for Autism and Dyslexia in Findlay, Ohio.

Bicknell reached out to Bowman in August 2014 to see if she’d help him finish the project. She readily agreed, and less than one year later, “Pelican Pete” made its debut at the San Diego Comic-Con Children’s Film Festival on July 12, 2015.

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Photo of Dani Bowman and Keaton Bicknell courtesy of Keaton Bicknell.
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Dani Bowman at the film’s premier at the Children’s Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con International. Photo via the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page

Bicknell told The Mighty that the film will be released on a broader scale in the fall of 2015, including a screening at the World Arts Film Festival in Jacksonville, Florida, in October. In the meantime, he hasn’t decided whether he’d like to continue creating “Pelican Pete” films or take his filmmaking in a different direction. Either way, there are numerous projects in his future.

“I’ve got lots of film projects racing through my brain,” Bicknell told The Mighty. “It’s not even funny.”

Take a look at some of the animations from the film below.

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Photo courtesy of Keaton Bicknell
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From the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page
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From the Pelican Pete: The Movie Facebook page

Watch the trailer for “The Adventures of Pelican Pete: A Bird Is Born” below.

h/t Autism Daily Newscast


Some people like to refer to my child with autism as “being away with the fairies,” “having her head in the clouds” or “living in her own little world.” I know they probably think they’re using harmless euphemisms, but sometimes such descriptions of my daughter’s withdrawal from social interaction feels backhanded and ill-conceived.

As my 6-year-old daughter, Sophia, mentally recalls all the excitement of the day by flapping, laughing and squealing, I smile. But when she screams and cries, I crumble a little bit inside. Her world is equally full of sensory nasties, and it doesn’t take much at all to turn her from joy to torment throughout the day.

Oh, how I would love to spend just a moment in her world to experience what she does. If only to know that it was a happy, joyful place and she didn’t feel sad or lonely.

The other day we were in the waiting room for Sophia’s specialist. I was reading an old magazine while Sophia was happily playing with a wire bead maze in the play area.

A teenage boy rushed through the automatic doors, past the reception and straight to the toy box next to Sophia. He found an old tin spinning top, pushed the brightly colored button on it and flapped wildly as it spun around on the floor while his mother spoke to the receptionist.

I smiled at the boy’s mother as she sat in a chair across from me. She smiled back. We both recognized the familiar flapping, rocking and excited verbalizations in each other’s child. We started chatting about our children, their sensory issues, schooling options and so on. Her world was my world. It’s always nice to speak to another parent who just gets it.

Just then, an odd thing happened. Sophia walked over to the boy, looked him square in the eye and smiled like she knew him. When he dodged her eye contact, she turned with him and purposefully tried to catch his attention. She wanted to communicate.

It was as if she was saying, “Hello there, it’s me, Sophia! We live in the same world, you and I.”

He turned and looked Sophia straight in the eye as if to say, “Hi, I see you. Thank you for seeing me, too.” He smiled and went back to joyfully spinning his toy.

For a split second, these two children connected. Devoid of verbal communication, they saw each other.

I wondered what Sophia saw in that boy who she instantly related to, and in turn, why the boy chose to respond to Sophia’s request for communication. All I know is that I felt so honored to witness the interaction. I looked over at the boy’s mother and knew she was thinking the exact same thing. There was no need for words. We just smiled at each other and felt happy that our children existed in the same world if even for a moment.

Doctors’ waiting rooms can be stressful places sometimes. But on this day, I left feeling happy, full of hope and burden-free.

Rebekah Corlett the mighty.1-001


My name is Cass, I’m a 30-year-old graphic designer and I have high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Like some other women on the spectrum, I wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood. It was recent; in fact, it was only last year. It’s still very much a secret as well. I had no intention of telling anyone, but my husband accidentally “outed” me to my mum, so then I tried to tell one of my sisters and then I gave up on telling my family. Both my mum’s reaction and my sister’s reaction to the news was immediate and negative: “No you don’t have autism.” My sister called it a pathology. I was so hurt.

I tried a few close friends and they had similar reactions. All of them said things like, “I don’t see that in you” and expressed general disbelief. So I gave up telling people. My husband consoled me that it should be enough for me just to know, and not to look to others to validate what I know to be true. I married a wise man. So I stopped telling people. My other two sisters don’t know, my in-laws don’t know, the majority of people who know me wouldn’t have a clue. Being a designer does tend to give you latitude for being a bit quirky; I guess I chose my camouflage well.

My husband on the other hand was amazing, as he so frequently is. When I told him what my psychologist suspected, and what in myself I knew for certain, he was reflective. I could almost feel him working it through, then in his quiet way he said exactly what I needed: “I think that fits, too. How do you feel about it?” You see, he’d become something of an unofficial expert on autism. Our 4-year-old son had been diagnosed with severe ASD (among other things) nearly two years earlier.

What I don’t think people realize about women on the spectrum, especially high-functioning women, is that sometimes we can mimic and model behavior perfectly. I can only speak for myself, but I know that my “social mask” was in place by about age 16. If you met me now at a party or out socially, I would present as a highly social, outgoing and self-confident woman, and as much as I would like to be that way, I’m not. I struggle daily with things like anxiety, self-confidence, selective mutism, OCD, ridged thinking and trying to cope with situations that are unpredictable or out of my control. I’m photosensitive, struggle with crowds and too many different noises at the same time, and I’m funny about textures.

Professionally I struggled. Why call someone when I can email them? I took criticism, even in its most constructive and valid forms, as a personal attack. As one of my roles as a designer, I had to attend social networking functions that involved public speaking and making small talk with what seemed like a never ending sea of people. By the end of one of these functions, I’d go back to the studio, talk nonstop at high speed for about an hour and then I wouldn’t utter a single word for the rest of the day. If someone talked to me I wouldn’t hear them, it was like static on a TV ringing in my ears. I now know this is a sensory meltdown, and I try not to put myself in situations where this can happen. Even attending dinner in a crowded restaurant, lots of ambient noise, table conversation and close quarters will leave me needing frequent bathroom breaks or trips outside for space.

Motherhood is a challenge for me (like all mothers I know), and I struggle with the little things. I struggle to go with the flow and can get panicked and anxious if the baby wont sleep when she’s supposed to or feed when I think she should. I love my routine and I need the safe predictability of knowing what’s next. I envy those mothers who seem to instinctively know how to mother; it really doesn’t come easily for me. I honestly spend all my mothers’ group catch-ups watching other mothers interact with their children, so when I go home I can try it out with my kids. I also have a predisposition to post-natal depression and anxiety.

Having a diagnosis of autism was a relief for me. It allowed me some freedom and allowed me some room under my stifling mask to breathe. It was the beginning of a celebration. Not all people with autism are savants, act like Rain Man, can fix your computer or have language delays. Some of us just struggle with the little things in life. If someone you know tells you they think they may have autism, don’t be dismissive. If they are like me, it took a lot of courage to own it enough to say it out loud and make it real.

It’s hard to describe the things that make me different from your average woman, wife, mother, professional. The older and wiser I get, the more confident I grow in my own skin, the more I’m letting my quirks show. I want to be the best possible role model for my children, and for me that means celebrating my unique Aspie quirks, the good and the challenging.

My name is Cass. I don’t like peas because they roll and touch the other food on my plate, my tea must be made at the exact moment the water boils, I can’t sleep with the wardrobe door ajar, I hate how my husband squeezes toothpaste from the top of the tube and I rub my feet together to soothe myself when I’m stressed (I’m doing it right now)… and I have high-functioning autism spectrum disorder.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your disability or disease. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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.


Dear parents of children on the autism spectrum,

I’m an adult who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I’m one of the many autistic adults who would love to help you understand your children, if you will let us. There’s a lot of emotion surrounding autism and parenting in general, and I will be the first to admit I don’t have the perspective of a parent. But I do have the perspective of growing up as the weird kid who’s having a lot of difficulty with ordinary things.

I do a lot of reading both in the autistic community and parenting communities. I see a lot of vehemence from some of you about us not being like your children and often a rejection when we offer advice. I feel this is partly due to said advice being offered in a way that causes parents to feel attacked, as though their worthiness as a parent is under the microscope. Sometimes this is the case, as autistic adults can have a lot of built-up hurt from a lifetime of being treated in awful ways for their differences; it can leak out over emotional topics. Often it can be a matter of incorrect tone in conversation because autistic people can be blunt and we have trouble modulating this. However it may seem from the outside, we’re motivated to want the best for autistic children because they’re a part of our tribe, and how you treat autistic adults today is how your children will be treated by society in the future.

A drawing by the author, Andrea Michael

A common argument put forth to negate our input is that because we can communicate in ways you understand, we’re “high-functioning” and not worth listening to because our experience is so very different from your child’s experience.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (or ASD level 1 in the new DSM criteria). I had no speech delay, I was hyperlexic as a child, exceptionally bright in school and I’ve been identified as having a savant skill in art. However, even now as an adult there are things I struggle with — so much so that I can be considered “low-functioning” in those areas and rely on support to manage them.

Autism is such a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses; each one of us is completely unique in the various functions that have been affected and challenges we face. If fate had cast the dice and my brain had wired slightly differently, my speech and various bodily processes may have been included in those lower-functioning areas.

Despite our varying abilities to pass as “normal” at a cursory glance, there are many areas in which we experience similarities to your children, and that facade of normalcy was hard won over our lifetime and breaks down easily. To maintain it can be an effort of monumental proportions that take up a lot of energy, often leading to mental health problems over time, as it has with me.

Please believe me when I say I understand many of your child’s difficulties. I have insight on the meltdowns and shutdowns, the self harm, stimming, aversions to touch and eye contact. I understand how they feel when nothing is making sense and everything is fear and anxiety. I know what it’s like living with sensory problems that can take away every coping mechanism I have in the blink of an eye. I understand being swept up in obsessive focus on topics/objects. I know the terror of feeling like social interaction will never make sense no matter how hard I try. I understand having emotions so intense that I can’t express them no matter how much I want to so I appear to lack empathy. I know what it’s like to miss the signs of someone feeling bad or angry and accidentally cause them more upset. I know how it feels to have a body that doesn’t work quite right with a lifetime of digestive problems. I understand the heartache of seeing family members struggling and hurting because I’m different.

Some parents wonder if their autistic kids love them because we often don’t show it in ways they understand, and for most of us the answer is a resounding “yes!” — with everything that we have in whatever ways our various abilities will let us. There are so many areas where parents are led to believe one thing, but we may feel entirely differently, and it breaks my heart to see parents and autistic people at odds when we both want the same thing. Yes, some of our views are confronting, but please at least think about them and try to understand why we may feel the way we do. Please let us help you in understanding your children — there’s a large community online of autistic adults from all parts of the spectrum out there who are articulate about their experiences, including those who are nonverbal who have found their voice through writing. A quick search for “autistic adult blogs” should start you on your journey.

Read our blogs, talk to us, let us in — we want acceptance, and we want to help you and your children.


We were warned, and we pretty much listened. When my son Evan got his diagnosis in 2007, we didn’t Google “autism.” Our most relied-on sources of information included doctors, books and other parents.

When friends said they had an uncle’s brother’s cousin’s neighbor’s son who had autism and we could talk to them, we did. Eight years ago it seemed a little harder to find someone on the spectrum. Now it seems like everyone knows at least one person with autism.

In the months following Evan’s diagnosis we read a lot of books (and yes, we did end up looking online, too). We asked a lot of questions, and we got a lot of great information and advice. But, as we look back at some of the things we were told or read, we shake our heads in disbelief about the stereotypes and misinformation that came from trusted sources so many years ago. Here are some of my favorite fallacies.

1. The “window of opportunity” closes at the age of 5. There is no magic window of time to help a child overcome some of the challenges that accompany autism. For us, early intervention was crucial and probably most beneficial, but there’s no time limit on intervention or progress.

We panicked at Evan’s 5th birthday because his ability to verbally communicate was minimal. His meltdowns were increasing, not decreasing, and we couldn’t get him to stop demanding that each and every light be turned on no matter how bright it already was. He was almost 5, and we desperately needed more time to reach our son, to help him feel comfortable in his own skin.

Then something unexpected happened. Evan turned 6 and continued to progress in his development and desire to interact with others. Even now he acquires or masters skills and makes progress in ways we never imagined. For example, instead of just making requests when he talks, today he’s able to verbalize thoughts and feelings and often asks and answers meaningful questions.

Not so long ago, some friends whose kids are in their 20s shared the recent milestones and first-time accomplishments of their sons and daughters. Did I mention these kids are in their 20s? The window never closes.

2. People with autism lack empathy/don’t have feelings. Wrong again. Autism doesn’t make someone incapable of emotions. It just makes it hard to communicate feelings or recognize the emotions of others.

Evan saw and mostly enjoyed the Disney movie “Inside Out” (although he found parts of it boring – not enough destruction). The film is set in the mind of an 11-year-old girl where her emotions — joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust – try to help her adjust during a family move from the Midwest to San Francisco. One of the takeaway messages from the movie is that sadness is not only OK but necessary. This message was not lost on Evan, who cried during the ending.

3. Individuals with autism are not capable of showing love. This myth seemed to hold true during the first four years of Evan’s life. Then, we did not get a sense that he felt attached to us in any way. I used to wonder if he’d even notice if suddenly we were not around.

Those years, parenting him reminded me of a child with a pet goldfish. The child loves his fish. He plays with and takes care of it by providing basic needs, like food and clean water, but the fish never appears to notice the child. While it seems harsh to compare my son to a pet goldfish, in all honesty it’s the most accurate description I can think of (as painful as it is to admit).

Fortunately, as Evan got older, he started to show us his love. He did this by playing with my hair, smiling at his siblings and burying his head in his dad’s arms. More recently, he began responding to an “I love you” with “I love you, too,” but it was something we taught him to say. We were glad to hear those three words from a child we once thought might never talk. But we still wondered if he was truly capable of reciprocating our love.

Now he totally understands. He knows how it feels to be loved, and he knows how to love. He says “I love you” spontaneously (and appropriately). Sometimes, like any kid, he says it because he wants something, but mostly it’s because he loves us. Recently he crawled into bed with my husband Jon and me, and the three of us snuggled. “This is what love feels like,” Evan said. Yes, Evan gets it because that is exactly what love feels like.

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4. He will likely be really, really good at something – like Rain Man. We were so hoping to discover that Evan had an autism superpower but so far nada, zilch, nothing.

Once he heard the music from the ice cream truck and immediately played it on the piano. We thought we’d discovered a savant skill, but right now he’s a one-hit wonder. We’re fine with that. It just would have been cool to have a prodigy living under our roof. Someone’s gotta pay for the all the occupational therapy, physical therapy and social skills groups.

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5. A child with autism likely will lead to his parents divorcing. “Eighty percent” – that was the statistic that kept getting thrown around as the divorce rate among families with autism. Those statistics never made sense to me because the vast majority of couples I know with children on the spectrum are still together. I once had an opportunity to spend a weekend at a retreat with 29 other moms of children with special needs, and only two of the moms were divorced. It turns out, a 2010 study officially debunked this myth.

6. People with autism do not lie. I’m pretty sure this fib was started by someone with autism. When Evan was younger, it was true – we never, ever caught him in a lie. For some reason, that changed a few years ago. Fortunately for us, like most young kids, he’s really bad at it.

Just the other day he called his brother a “fat, stupid pig.”

The entire family heard it.

When confronted with a stern motherly, “What did you say?” Evan’s first response was: “Nothing.”

I asked him again.

“I said, ‘love you.’”

These interactions remind me of the main character in the book “David Gets in Trouble,” by David Shannon. Even when all the evidence points to young David as the culprit of mischief, he always has an answer.

“It was an accident!”

“I didn’t mean to.”

“No! It’s not my fault.”

7. People with autism don’t want friends and like being alone. Yes, early on this appeared to be true. But it’s hardly the case now. Evan really likes having friends and enjoys the company of others. The problem is that he lacks the ability to spontaneously develop effective social interaction skills.

Mostly, we have to teach him these skills. As an example, he does not always know how to get people’s attention, so he will make silly noises in an attempt to engage others. We tried to teach him to look at someone and smile. He followed our advice exactly as we told him. He caught the attention of a teenage boy in a crowded elevator by smiling at him. What we failed to teach him was what to do next. He held his gaze and smile for a good 10 seconds or more. The teen shifted uncomfortably and Evan shouted, “Look, I got his attention!”

His playdates – which he asks for frequently – may look a little different because he’s often satisfied with the mere presence of a friend and does not need the interactions seen among his typically developing peers. While he still often chooses to play alone, he very much craves social interactions – but often on his terms.

Socialization is one of Evan’s biggest challenges, but he tries. Often it’s by asking people if they have spider webs in their basement or what kind of lights they have in their house. But that’s why there are social skills groups and activities we do at home to teach him the “rules” of socialization that the rest of us inherently know. But, a lack of social skills does not mean a lack of interest in socializing.

  Jennifer Lovy and her family

This post originally appeared on Special Ev.

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