From a young age, my parents taught me that my blindness wasn’t something I needed to hide. Even if accommodating me meant taking more time, doing things differently or making a bit of a fuss, I could and would experience the same things they did. Still, it wasn’t always easy to put into practice.

When I was little, I didn’t often carry my cane, and no one looked twice at the pink sunglasses I wore around the clock. Whether I was running wild at the park, making a mess in the toy store or pestering my older sister, I was often able to pass as just another wound-up kid. But in other ways, my family began to stand out with my constant questions and curiosity and their steadfast refusal to curb the inquisitive, impetuous reach of my hands.

Crowds, long lines and the endless waiting that goes hand in hand with being blind in a visual world tended to make me irritable and overwhelmed. Listening to music and audiobooks on my Walkman was the obvious solution, but my favorite escape involved wriggling into the center of a clothes rack with a Braille book. I could read in quiet comfort, startling unwitting shoppers who happened to part the clothes nearest me.

Though these fixes meant a peaceful afternoon at the mall for my family, they came at a price. Carting around bulky Braille tomes and countless cassette tapes while simultaneously guiding me, often singlehandedly, through the mall’s inherent chaos, wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. And, in the background, dubious fellow shoppers stared, mystified by the little girl who seemed apathetic about where she walked and impervious to the brightly-colored displays begging her attention.

As I grew older, my blindness became more readily apparent to onlookers. I used my cane, and later a guide dog, when I wasn’t walking with a sighted guide. Braille was never far from my fingertips, and since I avoided wearing sunglasses, the involuntary, erratic movements of my eyes were easily visible. But adolescence made me self-conscious, leery of asking questions and touching my way through experiences the way I had as a child. I was uncomfortable being seen in a world which I myself could not see.

Passers-by, behaving as if I couldn’t hear, often asked my parents and friends about my blindness, promised to pray for a “miracle,” cut the prices of the things we were buying and patted me condescendingly on the head. Even without my cane or my Braille, even when I was simply standing still, people always seemed to know. I wondered what I was or wasn’t doing which set me apart so drastically. Perhaps worse were the people who commented that I didn’t even look blind, that you could “hardly tell,” that I was “absolutely beautiful.” It was impossible for me not to believe that they were voicing the polar opposite of what they felt — of what they were truly seeing — just to make me feel better.

 * * *

Typically, ignorance, not rudeness, breeds staring. Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate people with the courage to approach me and ask questions. Our interaction, most likely, began with staring, whether or not I was aware of it.

Staring is a conversation which has not yet found its voice, and, luckily, voice is something I have in spades and am more than happy to share.

* * *

Caitlin Hernandez uses her cane while on Rollerblades.
Caitlin Hernandez uses her cane while on Rollerblades.

Once, as a friend and I walked together, my hand in his, our laughter over some silly story making both our gaits uneven, a man shouted across the San Francisco street, “You two are so cute!”

Once, a friend and I, flushed after a long walk in the summer heat and giddy after a successful choir performance, were scarfing down ice cream and laughing together when an older man came up to our table. He told us we’d made his day, that our happiness was contagious, that he loved how much fun we were having.

Once, seeing a friend holding my hand as we struggled along the sidewalk, weighed down by grocery bags, a man eagerly asked if we were married.

Once, as I sat alone on a bench — cane folded, sunglasses on, Braille notetaker tucked away, doing absolutely nothing — a woman told me she loved my smile.

Sometimes, when people stare at me, they only see blindness. Sometimes they see other parts of me, too: joy, insecurity, excitement, uncertainty. Sometimes they see the whole picture: a person who happens to be blind. But what they see isn’t nearly as important as what they take away. Most days, I’m simply grateful to them for noticing, for seeing beyond their own world in the first place.

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A short romantic comedy is playfully addressing the intersection between being on the autism spectrum and the dating world.

Written and directed by Rachel Israel, “Keep the Change” is a 15-minute romantic comedy that tells the story of David (Brandon Polansky), a 30-year-old who works hard to hide his high-functioning autism from the world. At the beginning of the film, David begrudgingly agrees to attend a support group for adults with autism. There, he meets Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), a woman who has autism and a language processing disability. David and Sarah are asked to find a birthday present for another member of their group. Throughout their day together, David questions Sarah’s need for structure and routine, and Sarah questions David’s need to conceal who he is from the world. By the end of the day, the two fall in love.

Israel, who wrote and directed the film as part of her Master’s thesis at Columbia University, wrote the script for first-time actors who all have autism. She told KQED Public Radio’s Film School blog that she wanted to create a well-rounded portrayal of people who have the disorder.

“It was important to me that our film not sanitize these characters just because they have disabilities,” Israel told KQED. “I find such portrayals offensive to people with disabilities. They are not saints just because of a disability. They are flawed and human.”

As of July 2015, the short film is in production to become a full-length feature film. The new version of the story will go further in depth with characters who were introduced in the short film but not fully developed, according to the film’s website.

Watch the entire 15-minute short film below. (Note — includes semi-inappropriate language that may not be suitable for some audiences).

Related: 7 Films That Tried to Accurately Depict a Character With Autism

h/t Autism Daily News


Imagine looking at your husband and saying, “I’m sorry, I have no idea who you are.”

Yes, that happened.

We’d been married almost five years when I had the tonic-clonic seizure. He knew something was wrong while I was in the hospital but thought it was the after effects of the seizure. I was still acting strange a week after being discharged, but I provided no explanation. He finally said to me, “I know something is wrong. You have to tell me what it is.”

That’s when I told him I had no idea who he was.

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I went on to say that I didn’t remember meeting him, dating him, marrying him or the house we lived in. He was stunned, to say the least. Then I looked at him and asked whose dog that was. He said she was ours, and I responded with, “That’s not my dog. I’ve never wanted a dog.” There are few things that leave my husband speechless. Needless to say, this was one of them.

Apparently we went on two vacations where we drove over 3,000 miles each time. The first one included Dallas, New Orleans, Pensacola Beach Island, Atlanta and then back home to Lexington. The second was in the opposite direction and included Niagara Falls, Ontario, Boston, New York, Washington D.C. and then home. I remember nothing from either of these trips. We tried looking through pictures and videos from the trips but still no memories surfaced. We looked at a picture that had myself and a girl in it. I asked him who she was, and he responded, “That’s your sister.” Now I was the confused one. I remembered that I had a sister but didn’t recognize her in the picture. This is how we learned about “memories without context.”

We’ll be out somewhere and someone will come up to me and start talking to me or hug me like they’ve known me my whole life. I turn towards my husband in terror because I have no idea who they are. These are people we’ve been friends with, worked with, went to church with, etc… He gives me a little more information to see if it will jog something in my memory, but it doesn’t. I just shake my head, and he understands I don’t remember. He then explains the epilepsy diagnosis and subsequent memory loss. The reactions vary from confusion, shock, apologetic to literal disbelief — as in they think I’m lying. What’s worse is if we meet them again an hour later, the next day, next week or longer, there’s a good chance I’ve forgotten them again.

After talking to my doctor and researching, we learned this is fairly common with epilepsy but especially for someone like me. Epilepsy takes a toll on the brain and entire body. Living with it untreated for 43 years was especially taxing. My brain was in survival mode for years. It was doing its best to keep me alive while a constant electrical storm was raging. Memories are just another thing that took a backseat in the brain’s order of operations. It was chipping away at the memories the entire time, but I wasn’t aware. So, when the climax finally came in the form of the tonic-clonic seizure, the memory bank was wiped out.

My husband kept trying to help me remember. It was stressful for him. I had the luxury of not remembering; he didn’t. He remembers everything: our meeting, dates, wedding, vacations, etc… He also remembers the day it all was taken away and the painful aftermath. Little did he know, it was stressful for me too. I didn’t remember the life we had or the seizure that changed it. I wanted to and I tried. I went through the entire human emotional cycle. I became angry, depressed and desperate. I even thought about leaving him and starting over by myself. That devastated us both, but I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to run away from it all. This wasn’t my life. I had no idea where I was supposed to be, but I knew it wasn’t here. I wanted out.

After a few more appointments, the doctor explained that the memories were gone forever. He said we needed to let the past go and start completely over. Most men would have let their wife go if she forgot them. Not mine. He said I was worth fighting for and he wasn’t giving up that easy. So he literally asked me out on a date. I accepted. He’s even asked me to marry him again, but I haven’t decided yet. So far, all indicators point towards him being a keeper.

He tells me stories about us. Some are funny. Others are sad and scary. I like to hear them though. The memories are gone forever, but he will keep them alive for both of us. Even when he has to tell me the same stories again today because I forget he told me yesterday.

Do you have a story about your experience with epilepsy? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.


When my son, Evan, turned 6, he had a birthday party. We sang “Happy Birthday.” The kids were indulged with overly stimulating activities. They ingested way too much sugar and left with goodie bags overflowing with junk from the dollar store, including more sugary treats.

In many ways, it was a typical kid’s birthday party. However, this kid had very specific, atypical rules for his party:

Rule #1: No candles.

Rule #2: No cheering after singing “Happy Birthday.”

Rule #3: No turning off the lights to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Rule #4: Read and follow rules #1-3 or I will have a party-ending meltdown.

Because Evan has autism, certain things like candles, cheering and turning off the lights can really bother him, so we adapt the best we can.

When Evan was younger, birthdays were always hard for us because we were looking for milestones that didn’t come at the marking of each passing year. At the age of 1, he had just learned to crawl. At 2, we were still waiting for his first word. By age 3, we were wondering if our sweet child would ever tell us he loved us.

His earlier birthdays were also hard because we didn’t know what presents to get, who we should invite to parties or what special birthday outing we should have.

Evan didn’t speak many words, so he couldn’t tell us what he wanted for his birthday. He had little interest in playing with toys or other kids, so he didn’t have any real friends, and we didn’t know what toys would rise to the level of birthday gift.

In our house, it’s a tradition that the birthday boy or girl gets to go out to dinner alone with Mom and Dad on the night of his or her real birthday. Unfortunately, restaurants were not Evan’s favorite place to be, so going to one would be torture, not a treat. Plus, Evan has so many food allergies that when we go out to eat, we always bring his food with us. When he turned 5, we took him to our favorite sushi restaurant because it had ceiling fans. He appreciated it, but it didn’t rise to the level of birthday-dinner worthy.

When his 6th birthday rolled around, he was going through a phase where restaurants were too loud, too dark or had too much fire (it’s amazing how many restaurants have candles, pizza ovens or openly visible grills). The pressure was on to come up with something special for this birthday boy. What did Evan love that we could do on a weeknight after my husband, Jon, came home from work?

For the last four years, Jon, Evan and I have celebrated Evan’s birthdays in the lighting and fan aisles of our local Home Depot. The first time we went, Evan was 6. He sat with his hands on the steering wheel of a car-shaped shopping cart, wearing his birthday crown from school. We walked up and down the light and fan aisle for 45 minutes while Evan ate his dinner out of a Transformers lunch box and talked nonstop about the chandeliers, the fancy-schmancy chandeliers, floor lamps, table lamps, hanging lights, ceiling fans with three blades, ceiling fans with four blades and sconces (those are lights that are mounted on the wall in case you didn’t know because I sure didn’t until Evan taught me).

While Evan looked up at the lights and fans, I kept glancing up uncomfortably at the cameras and wondering when security was going to ask us to buy something or leave. They never did. And the other customers weren’t in the aisle long enough to realize we weren’t there to shop. I don’t think anyone knew that we were at Home Depot celebrating our son’s birthday and he was having the best one ever.

Jennifer Lovy the mighty.1-001

Follow this journey on SpecialEv.com.


Last month, I officially tied the knot. As I look back on our wedding photos, I just can’t believe it’s already happened. I see the joy in my eyes, the love beaming off of my husband’s bright red face and my gown big enough to cover a small army. I remember stressing myself to tears on feeling beautiful or just feeling comfortable in my own skin as I went through gown after gown. I remember crying to myself that I’d never last a second in that tight-beaded bodice without something going wrong. I remember wishing I had chosen December as my wedding month as an excuse to bury myself in a huge furry winter-white cape.

I didn’t have the worries I remember my other married friends had about fitting into their wedding gowns. My worry was something I felt hardly anyone could relate to. It wasn’t just me squeezing into my wedding gown on that magical day — it would also be not one, but two ostomy bags. Running to the bathroom for any bride is a chore. It takes a very devoted bridesmaid to accompany the belle of the ball and hold up her dress in the daintiest fashion. I was so self-conscious about my medical situation that I didn’t want anyone’s assistance. I was petrified my gown might drop in the toilet or I wouldn’t be able to get to a bathroom in time or my medical appliances wouldn’t fit into my dress the proper way.

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As a bride, I longed to feel beautiful and feminine — or like a life-size Barbie doll complete with voluptuous, womanly curves. I felt the internal pressure to fit into the gowns I saw while flipping through in bridal magazines. Every photograph I looked at seemed to blare messages of skintight satin and buttoned-up bodices. How would a backless gown look with a colossal surgical scar running down my back? After lying on my right side for six months while I lay in bed comatose, I had severe neuropathy, which made me an exclusive Asics sneakers fan. Every wedding magazine brimming full of 6-inch stilettos made me feel horrible about myself.

The more magazines I browsed, the worse I felt. My self-contempt brought me to the point where I was starting to believe the man I’m marrying was annoyed with me. After I realized the love of my life — who has always loved me no matter what and who thinks I’m the sexiest when I wake up in the morning and my hair is frizzier than a giant pom-pom — is marrying me for me, I started to shift my thinking. Everyone celebrating with me on my wedding day is there to cheer me and my husband on. They love who we are, and they love who we are together. Brandon is already mine — he told me he fell in love with me the day he met me. Who was I trying to impress? What was I trying to prove?

Then I realized I was trying to prove something to myself. Everyone else in my life just wanted me happy and healthy. I wanted to show myself that despite my medical circumstances, I could feel “normal.” But really, what is normal? Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and all colors and circumstances. It’s something all women deserve. And I wasn’t going to let me get in the way of my own happiness on my wedding day.

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We may have good intentions, but strong, passionate and beautiful women pressure ourselves every day. Once we tune out those internal voices, we discover a beautiful truth. The people who matter in our lives are the people who love us for who we are. The only expectations we need to put on ourselves are the expectations to always listen to our hearts (and our mothers).

As for my wedding dress, I had this fantasy of a tight-fitting bodice with an enormous fairytale ballgown. I basically wanted to look like a giant wedding cake. The trick was having my dress fitted in a way that would give me some kind of figure, but with leave enough room for my ostomy bags, which expanded whenever I ate. After a snide comment from a bridesmaid that “I can always just not eat that day,” a brief pity-party and a little me time, I told myself the dress will look as beautiful as I feel in it. And so, with my medical situation in mind, the dressmaker and I were able to meet in the middle. My dress was not skintight, but it fit me in all the right places, embracing the medical bags that had saved my life years ago.

Looking back on my wedding day, I cry when I see myself floating across the dance floor in that giant cake of a dress. I look beautiful, happy and in love. And that’s because I was and I am.

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