A boy with autism learned a life-saving skill from an unlikely place.

Brandon Williams, 13, was eating lunch at Barnes Intermediate School in Staten Island, New York, when he noticed a classmate was choking on some food, The Staten Island Advance reported. Brandon sprang into action and performed the Heimlich maneuver on Jessica Pellegrino, dislodging a piece of apple from her throat. When asked where he’d learned the technique, Williams credited an unusual source — the cartoon show “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

He picks up on things that most of us would miss, and files it all away in his head, and he can recall it all in an instant,” Williams’ father told the paper. “That’s how he knew instantly what to do. And we’re glad he did. We’re proud of him.”

Brandon and Jessica’s class later had a little party to celebrate his quick thinking.

Hear from Brandon and Jessica in the video below: 



After rolling out of bed a disheveled mess, I got ready to begin my daily medical rituals: I started my tube feeds, took a couple of fistfuls of medication, did a few breathing treatments, rubbed myself down in Biofreeze and then turned on my laptop. (The laptop obviously isn’t medical; it just takes my mind off how badly I hurt in the morning.) It was going to be a good day! I mean how could it not?

The first thing I saw when my computer whirred to life was my face on front of one of favorite websites. Next to me, my little oxygen concentrator started beeping, alerting me I’d waited too long to take a breath. (How embarrassing. I’d literally forgotten to breathe out of excitement.) I took a nice deep breath through my cannulas and got ready to read my article!

The title read: “Why I Still Want to Looking Beautiful, Even Though I’m Dying.”

Wait a minute, what?!

Dying?! What did they mean dying?! I know I am severely ill, fatally ill in fact, but “dying?” I mean, if we’re being honest, aren’t we all technically dying? It’s just common courtesy not to announce it, right? From the second we’re born, our timer has begun towards our imminent deaths. Death is the one thing humans have yet to find a means of escape from. It awaits each of us at an unknown place and time.

I do not classify myself as “dying” anymore than you would classify yourself as “dying.” Now don’t get me wrong, my death is in the carpool lane, while your death is stuck in rush-hour traffic. But still, I wouldn’t call myself dying. Yes, I have a terminal illness (systemic sclerosis) that will take my life long before I want to leave this earth. One that leaves me strapped to constant hospital stays, appointments, procedures and treatments. One that leaves me in pain more often than not. One that forces me to tote an oxygen tank, a feeding tube and a central line for survival. While I reside in a body that is slowly failing and leaving me with a reduced time to live, “dying” is still not the word I would use to describe myself.


The reasoning behind my thoughts? (I mean, I’m sure you’re wondering what I consider dying if this isn’t!) The truth is, I have faced death before; it was December 2014. I was in every sense of the term “dying” — lying paralyzed from head to toe in a hospital bed while a nurse suctioned my spit so I didn’t drown in it. There was little hope for a recovery after a sudden onset of an illness called Guillain-Barré syndrome. Doctors were on a constant ebb and flow in and out of my room on the neurology critical care floor during a month-long admission that nearly took my life. Family and friends had driven across the state to say their goodbyes, which I have little to no memory of. The bright lights of the OR, blood, pain, tubes and hopelessness mixed with shear terror are my only memories spanning over that hell of a 24 days as I faded in and out of consciousness.

There are plenty of mental scars (and a few physical ones, too) from that month of “dying” I encountered. Dying changes you as a person, changes your perception and leaves a deep wound that can never be healed. I attended therapy for severe mental trauma to overcome the reality I had, in fact, almost lost my life. It had placed me in a dark bottomless pit that I still now tremble to recall. The memories of acute rehabilitation where I relearned how to sit up, walk on my own, use my hands and get dressed by myself at 23 years old haunt me still. The memories of medical procedures gone wrong (as in botched spinal taps) and treatments that only hindered (as in gave me meningitis) instead of helped filled my dreams for months.

Yes, I was in every way, shape and form “dying” last December. I remember what dying felt like. I remember the feeling of emptiness it brought to the center of my chest, and the way it filled everything with blackness. The fear. I had never before in my life felt like I had lost a battle, but I knew I had lost this one. There was no fight left in me. My body was too weak to continue, and my mind followed.

While I lay paralyzed in that hospital bed, it was as if my ability to fight and to even think about continuing had been paralyzed as well. You can tell when it’s the end, as your mind starts to slip and you can feel it closing in. I was thoroughly surrounded. Somehow, someway I recovered. My body pulled through, and so did my mind… mostly. A piece of me was definitely lost during that admission, something I can’t quite put a finger on. Being that close to death, to actually be dying, is unlike anything I have ever experienced, so dying is not an adjective I take lightly.


Currently I am “living,” and while my version of living has some extensive differences than the average individual, I still consider myself to be very much alive. I partake in shenanigans with my best friend (Hi, Makanda!) every Friday night. I head to the craft store on Saturdays and buy $30 worth of art supplies to make something I probably could have bought off Etsy for $7. And I go out on date nights to awkwardly watch my husband eat a cheeseburger since I cannot. (Which I find oddly satisfying!)

If I were truly dying, none of these things would be possible. Living wouldn’t be possible. I know this from experience. I no longer feel the pull of death like I did last December. I no longer feel surrounded and crushed by my imminent demise. So no, I am not currently dying because I know what dying actually feels like — and this is definitely not it. I can still do things that bring me joy and still take part in activities that bring me happiness. When I was dying last December, there was nothing but darkness and fear. I had completely lost my ability to do anything but lie hopelessly and wait for death.

I feel fortunate to live while my body slowly deteriorates and not be bound to death like I was last December, even though I am riddled with failing organs and a fatal prognosis. Someday again, I will be dying and lying in a hospital bed with only days left ahead of me. And truthfully, yes, if you want to define “dying” as losing a battle to illness then I am in every sense of the term dying. But personally, I like to call residing in this defective body, riddled by disease, successfully and enthusiastically living.

Follow this journey on A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Wife.

To my younger self,

First of all, I want to tell you I’m proud of you — both of who you are now and of the person we’ve become. You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for, and the confidence we have within us now is something I wish we’d learned earlier.

I know accepting the fact that you have spina bifida is difficult right now. You only seem to notice your differences, and you see them as weaknesses. But I want to tell you that your disability isn’t a limit — right now, in this moment, it’s the thing giving you the wings to fly to places you never thought you’d get to go. You were given a more difficult life, as you’re well aware of by now, but that life has given you so much strength. I’m just now realizing how amazingly tough we were at the age you are, and how tough we still are.

I also want to tell you that no matter what you convince yourself to believe, and no matter how much guilt you feel when you think you’re not handling your life well enough, you’re handling it the best way you can.

The journey toward accepting and loving your disability will start with accepting one simple fact: You wouldn’t be the same person you are now had you not been born with a disability. And that would be a shame, because honestly, I love and am proud of the person I am.

Living with a disability has taught me how to be a person who says, “Oh, you don’t think I can do this? Watch me do it — and do it very well!” That mindset is something many people try to achieve — we were born with it.

Keep proving to people that spina bifida is not the most important thing about you, because it isn’t. It’s a big part of you, it made you who you are currently and who we are now, but it isn’t the only thing that led us here. Having a disability shaped you just as much as being determined to act like you don’t have one did — it made us independent.

Use your disability to help yourself when it can, because you might as well make the best out of a situation that isn’t ideal. Your disability can bring you so much opportunity — in fact, your dreams are coming true right this second, but that doesn’t mean we’re done dreaming. Don’t stop trying to be the person you want to be. When you wake up and realize you’ve become that person, try to become even better.

I’m not going to tell you to try harder in school, because you aren’t going to listen to that anyway, but I want to tell you this — keep writing. You have an overwhelming feeling that this is what you’re meant to do, and you feel that way because it is. Please realize that sooner. Plus you have even more to look forward to, like meeting friends who really “get you.” You’ll feel loved beyond all comprehension. I know you feel loved now anyway, and I can’t really explain it to you, but it just feels so different now. You’ll come so close to accomplishing your dreams, and you’ll keep getting closer.

Today you love your disability for teaching you all of these things. You love your disability because, though sometimes it’s difficult, it’s an important part of who we are. Here we are, living and thriving and loving our life for everything it is.

This frustrating, stressful, wonderful life is everything I could want my life to be. I can’t wait for you to be able to experience it all.

I love you,

Your future self

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with 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.

Dear parents of a child diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (AS),

Right now it might feel as though your world has just crashed down around you. How could your sweet little child have AS? I want you to take the time to process the diagnosis. Don’t go straight to groups asking questions like, “How did this happen?” because people might be mean and say things like, “How could you not accept your child?” But I know you do. I know you just want the best for them.

Your child is exactly the same person they were before the diagnosis, but I know you think your dreams for them are now out of reach. Take time to grieve the life you thought you would have. I believe you need to do this to accept and embrace the life you have now. It will be different, and you need time to accept that change. I understand that.

Professionals will try to tell you your child can’t do this and can’t do that, but you’re their parents. I believe you know best what your child is capable of, so listen to those instincts. Some people in support groups might also be negative, but just ignore them and soak up everyone else’s positivity. When I was younger, I was told doing residential camps for sailing was a bad idea, and that I would never live independently. Now I sail competitively on a yacht as part of a team, and I live independently in halls at university.

Do your research and listen to what people with AS have to say. There are so many myths out there that will scare you. People say those with AS can’t be in a relationship, that we don’t have empathy, that we can’t succeed in team sports, etc. Well I’ll tell you now, I was in a relationship for a year, and I know many people with AS who are married or in relationships. We do have empathy, and we can sense when something isn’t right — we just struggle to know what to do to make it better. And we can succeed in team sports. I’m about to start playing ice hockey, and for the last few years I’ve been racing yachts. That involves being in close quarters with about six other people for long periods of time.

It will be a hard road ahead of you, I can’t deny that, but it will be a wonderful one, too. You will see your child shine. You will see them break stereotypes and defy the professionals. You have a fight ahead of you for this. You will need to fight for the resources to make sure your child reaches their full potential, but when they do, you’ll realize it was worth it. All the sleepless nights and tears shed will be in the past, and you’ll see just what you were fighting for. They might not have friends right now, but when they find themselves, they will create the strongest of friendships. Lift them up through the bad times, and show them the way to the light.

Make the most of every moment with your child. Before you know it, they’ll be grown up and wanting to be independent.


A successful young woman with AS

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to the parents of a child with your disability, disease or illness. What do you wish they knew? What words of advice would you offer based on your own experiences? 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.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

These videos are giving the world a glimpse of life from the perspectives of children with autism.

Autism Speaks, in partnership with the Ad Council and BBDO New York, a volunteer agency, recently launched a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs) that tell the stories of children with autism from their perspectives.

The PSAs were created using 3D and stop-motion animation and are designed to help parents recognize the early signs of autism. The fantastical videos were inspired by the stories of real children with autism, and the one below, the first released from the series, features the voice of Jacob Sanchez, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

My therapist looks like Sandra Bullock, except younger, cooler and prettier. She’s a LPC (licensed professional counselor) and we talk about stuff. I also have a psychiatrist that handles the medication side of things.

Although I like to talk about therapy casually, there seems to be this horrible stigma surrounding it. Why? Most of the reasons I’ve heard aren’t worth my time, so here’s a list of reasons why therapy can not only be cool, but actually worth your time if you feel like it’s something you need.

1. You probably see a specialist for everything else — mental health should be no different.

If you have a toothache, you see a dentist. If your vision is blurry, you see the optometrist. If you have a cold, you see your primary doctor. If you’re having mental struggles, why not see a therapist? It’s their job! A mental illness isn’t any “better” or “worse” than a physical one.

When we don’t have the tools to better ourselves by ourselves, it’s OK to admit we need help finding a solution. Therapists and psychiatrists tend to have great toolboxes.

You can’t drive with a flat tire. If you have no way to fix it, how are you supposed to get home?

2. You get to talk about you — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Being in therapy gives you an opportunity to learn about yourself. In fact, learning more about who I am as a person has been one of my favorite parts of therapy. Being in therapy gives you an opportunity to learn what you like, what you don’t like and more importantly why you feel that way.

Sometimes, we make fast decisions about how we feel about something but then never dig deeper. For example: I hate outside. I don’t like going outside at all and try to avoid it at all costs. When I was reflecting on why, I could trace one of my reasons back to a childhood camping trip. When I moved a layer past that, I could then label the feeling. Now I have a better understanding of why I react the way I do, and I can work on it.

You can learn so many insightful things about yourself in therapy. Although this might freak some people out, don’t be afraid of yourself. Humans are so complex. Understanding our home base (and inner self) is of the utmost importance.

3. Anyone can benefit from it — there are no rules or requirements.

Even if you don’t have depression, anxiety or another mental illness, that doesn’t mean you’re barred from seeing a therapist.

And the best part: They don’t know anyone you know. It’s great!

Depending on what kind of person you are, the opportunity to talk about yourself can be refreshing, whether you’re tired of not being heard or have so many thoughts inside your head you just need to get them out. Getting the opportunity to talk about yourself can relieve some major mental tension.

A problem I frequently grapple with is trying to identify my emotions and reactions. I sometimes second-guess what I’m feeling, unsure if it’s something “everyone else feels” or if I’m overreacting. During therapy, I’ve learned my thoughts and experiences are valid. I’ve also learned sometimes my thoughts are just thoughts, and nothing more than that.

Choosing to go to therapy is extremely courageous. While I don’t believe you should tell someone they should go to therapy — it’s an individual’s decision, and they can go if they want to go — we shouldn’t be discouraging people from seeking therapy either. If you have any inkling or curiosity about therapy, don’t be afraid to try. Then, stick with it. Therapy can honestly change your life for the better. It’s astounding how much progress I’ve made.

Follow this journey on Involuntary Sass

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