Mom’s Comic Strips Show the Lovable Quirks of Her Son With Autism

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One mom has found a creative method of spreading awareness… and also some joy along the way.

Lisa Smith, from Baldwin City, Kansas, started making comic strips online just three months ago. Feeling inspired by the day-to-day things her kids do, as well as sensing another opportunity to raise awareness about her kids’ challenges, Smith began making more and more of the sketches, to the delight of her Facebook and blog followers.

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Smiths’s youngest two children,Tate and Sydney, are the stars of the comics featured on their mom’s blog “Quirks and Chaos.” Tate, 14, has autism, and Sydney, 11, has Fetal Alcohol syndrome and ADHD. The Smith family adopted Sydney when she was 10 months old and she was diagnosed at age 2.

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Tate and Sydney Smith

The comics often center around the funny things Smith’s children say and their unique perspectives on life. Several of them, like the one below, address Tate’s literal interpretation of things.

Pixton_Comic_A_Baby_Shower_by_Lisa_G_Smith

Pixton_Comic_Running_to_the_Store_by_Lisa_G_Smith

“For me it’s always about educating others,” Smith told The Mighty. “A lot of the ones I do about Tate are about how I think he perceives the world. If [other people] understood more about what he’s thinking they’d be able to relate to him so much better.”

Pixton_Comic_Cooking_Up_A_Storm_by_Lisa_G_Smith

Smith says that being able to find the humor in things has helped her cope with the challenges of her children’s diagnoses.

“What helps me the most to stay out of the doom and gloom is finding the little bits of joy and the funny experiences and the sweet things that the kids do,” Smith told The Mighty. “It helps to have a sense of humor, but I really don’t want to come across as somebody who is laughing at them in a way that’s mocking, because I’m not.”

Pixton_Comic_There_is_no_ham_in_hamburgers_by_Lisa_G_Smith

To see more of Smith’s comics, including ones she’s made for her daughter, visit her blog or Facebook page.

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New Jersey Mandates Special Needs Training for School Bus Drivers and Aides

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New Jersey has a new law requiring special needs training for school bus drivers and aides.

The bill was signed into law by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Nov. 9, according to Autism New Jersey, the organization that supported the legislation and urged the governor to sign it. Training for bus drivers and aides will include “appropriate behavior management, effective communication, use and operation of adaptive equipment and understanding behaviors that may be related to specific disabilities,” according to the New Jersey State Legislature.

The law also includes the requirement that, with parental consent, school districts must provide student information cards assigned to each student for bus drivers and aides.

Children with special needs require specialized attention and care. Bus drivers and aides should be aware of behaviors associated with certain disabilities, and know how to effectively deal with them so to avoid any confusion and accidental mistreatment of these students,” Assemblyman Dan Benson, who sponsored the bill, said, according to Autism New Jersey. “It makes their job easier and ensures that these students are being treated with the respect they deserve.”

The law goes into effect immediately, but the details of the trainings, including when they will begin, will be determined by the Department of Education.

“It’s encouraging to see the legislature and administration making individuals with autism a priority,” Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey, told The Mighty in an email. “We look forward to continuing this momentum with them to address other critical needs.”

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To the People Who Say Autism Is ‘Merely a Label’

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I struggled to make the decision whether or not to be open about being diagnosed with autism. Not one to do things by half, in the end I decided to write a very personal piece for a British national newspaper on the specific difficulties of being female and on the spectrum. The piece was shared thousands of times on Facebook and Twitter and picked up by news outlets as far away as Australia.

I’ve learned a lot this week since going public.

I’ve discovered that most people are kind, compassionate and interested in finding out more. I’ve learned that once you open up, others do the same, and that many of us have issues we would like to talk about but can’t quite work out how to start.

I am genuinely proud I have begun the conversation and appreciative of the thousands of messages I have received. Mainly they have been from people offering support, asking for help for their issues or telling their own, often similar stories. I am grateful for every single one of them.

But I have also discovered something else. I have learned there are a few people who feel it is their right to tell you how your diagnosis is unhelpful, meaningless, an affectation, nonsense or merely something fashionable.

They are a tiny minority, but I am human, so the negative comments touch me more deeply than the positive.

These people say autism is merely a label. They advise forgetting you’ve been given life-changing information and suggest instead pretending it never happened and just to get on with the day-to-day. They imply finding a professional to explain why you struggle in certain areas is attention-seeking behavior, and they become angry that you want to help others in a similar situation.

This is what I want to say to those people.

My “label” doesn’t define me. It reassures me. It tells me I am not failing but instead should celebrate my achievements because they are hard won.

It is a vindication. It gives me the answers I have been searching out since I was young. It tells me my struggles aren’t my fault, and it gives me the courage to keep working to overcome them.

Wearing a Prada coat is making a fashion statement; telling people you are autistic is not.

My doctor went through years of medical school to gain her qualifications. She has then gone on to become a consultant and to spend her life specializing in autism. When you question my diagnosis, it is disparaging to her, a doctor who has dedicated her life to helping people like me. She is an expert. You are not.

Now that I have a diagnosis, I have specialist help, which would have been impossible to access otherwise. I’ve tried therapy before; it hasn’t worked. Now I see an amazing doctor who understands me at the deepest level and who has helped me be myself in a way I never dreamed possible.

Most of all, though, my label has given me an open invitation to join a community of generous, funny, warm and welcoming people who, like me, are autistic. These people support each other through the long, dark nights when fear grips and morning seems days away.

They are also people who will celebrate with you every success however tiny, who will give you their knowledge, their advice and their compassion. These people are important to me, and without my “label,” I never would have found them. 

Questioning someone’s diagnosis is invalidating to each and every autistic person, and it discourages the yet-to-be-diagnosed from seeking the help they deserve.

So I would like to ask that you please take a deep breath before you hit the keyboard and think hard about the impact your comment may have.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? 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.

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When I Was Warned About Teaching Boys With Autism

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“Get ready! Are you sure you’re up for this? Do your doors lock? They bite, they scratch, they spit. Good luck getting help from home.”

Seven years ago, I took a teaching job at a school in my hometown. My job was to develop an autism classroom, primarily put into place because of two little boys. Twins. “Wild.” Both with autism, both nonverbal, both hyperactive.

That is what I remember most about beginning my career with Nehemiah and Jeremiah. These were not children preceded with, “Oh! You are going to love them. They are so sweet, they are so funny.” Instead I was told, “Get ready! Are you sure you’re up for this? Do your doors lock? They bite, they scratch, they spit. Good luck getting help from home.”

So I prepared. I had alarms put on the doors and arranged furniture to make it harder to escape. I removed staplers and picture frames and anything breakable from reach. I researched and planned.

What I could not have prepared for was how these two little boys would change my heart. How much better I would become because of them.

It wasn’t a job for the faint of heart. I was bitten, I was scratched, I had countless breakouts of ringworm. I went home exhausted, without lunch, every day. I wore no jewelry and most days put my hair in a ponytail so it couldn’t be yanked on. I rearranged my class 15 times. I called on our OT and SLPs constantly for assistance and suggestions.

And I loved. Almost immediately I fell in love with the mischievous grins on these two little faces. I learned to dance to the music Jeremiah hummed and rhythms Nehemiah drummed. I learned to advocate for them — to fight for their opportunity to eat lunch in the lunchroom, go to PE with other classes and attend music and assemblies.

I wanted so badly for my boys to experience the sense of community I knew they deserved. To walk down the hall and have other teachers and students tell them, “Hello!” For people to realize when they were absent. And it did happen. Students began to ask questions, and teachers began to invite us to their classrooms for fun activities. Third-graders began asking their teachers to come read to my students. And I saw these two boys become loved.

After three years, it was time for me to move on, and I agonized over the decision to leave Nehemiah and Jeremiah. I had three other students I loved as well, but they would be fine. They had support systems. Their families had support systems. But what about my boys? Would another teacher love them the same? Would another teacher be able to build a rapport with their mom? Would she worry over them in the summer, and make sure they had groceries or bed sheets?

In the three and a half years since I left them, I’ve had opportunities to visit. I had chances to speak with their teachers and therapists and keep up with their progress. And I’ve talked about them constantly. I tell stories of the funny, sad and frustrating things they would do. When I close my eyes, I see Nehemiah looking at me with his head cocked, one eye open, one eye closed and his finger on the side of his nose. I see Jeremiah rocking back and forth, quietly humming whatever song we sang in our morning meeting. I hear their giggles and see their smiles. I can still feel the chokehold-grip of their precious hugs.

And then one morning, I woke up to learn my boys are no longer with us on Earth. They passed away recently. My heart shattered, and my tears seemed endless. But my initial despair was my fear that no one would mourn them or truly miss them like I would. But then my phone started ringing, and text messages began coming in. Teachers I worked with checking on me, crying with me and mourning the loss of two precious boys who made a difference. The lives of Nehemiah and Jeremiah mattered. They taught the teachers and students around them about acceptance. They taught us that everyone is lovable. My heart is so comforted in knowing that these boys will be mourned and missed. And remembered.

When I read paperwork for new students and feel the undercurrent of warnings like the ones I received for Nehemiah and Jeremiah, I make sure to open my heart extra wide for them. When a student comes into my classroom, no matter how difficult, I look for something in their personality that is lovable.

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The Question People Don't Ask Out Loud About My Child's Autism Diagnosis

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Sometimes the question that doesn’t get asked comes up when we’re in a public place and we need an accommodation, or when we’re explaining something we are or are not doing.

Sometimes the question that doesn’t get asked comes up when we’re at social events and people meet my son for the first time. They will ask me about where he goes to school, what grade he’s in and the kinds of things he likes to do.

Eventually we get to a point in the conversation where I mention he’s on the autism spectrum.

They will pause the conversation for a moment. They will look at him and see a child who doesn’t look different from any other child, who may not be behaving out of the ordinary. Then they look at me, and sometimes I see the question in their eyes:

“Isn’t autism just a fad diagnosis — the diagnosis du jour so that schools and parents don’t have to do their jobs?”

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced when his school first suggested he might be on the autism spectrum. But we knew he was struggling in class, and his father and I were struggling at home.

I knew we had tried different parenting and discipline techniques, talking with friends and teachers, reading books, doing Internet research and making little progress in teaching our son social interaction skills, manners, conversation skills and basic discipline.

If the school wanted to “label” him to give him extra attention and tailored help with things he struggled with, that was fine with us. Then we got the private diagnosis from a neuropsychologist. Then I started doing research.

Once we learned about autism spectrum disorder and how it was manifesting in our son, the accuracy of the diagnosis became clear. It was no longer a question of an unwarranted label on our son, but an informed awareness of an actual existing disorder and his unique developmental needs.

No one has ever asked me the unasked question, and if someone did actually ask me about autism as a fad or trendy diagnosis, my answer would be this:

No, autism is not a fad diagnosis. It is a complex and nuanced disorder, which means each person on the autism spectrum manifests it differently. You can’t always tell who has autism when you meet them and “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

Autism feels “trendy” because experts and professionals have learned so much over the last decade that it’s now being talked about a lot more than it ever was. But being talked about a lot doesn’t make the diagnosis incorrect.

An autism diagnosis doesn’t mean schools and parents aren’t doing their jobs — it means they can do their jobs in the right way, the way that actually works and brings success for the child.

Yes, my son has autism.

Follow this journey on Autism Mom.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share one question people are afraid to ask about your experience with disability and disease. What’s the answer? 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

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When My Son Shared How He Feels About Autism

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I’ve written thousands of words about my son, Kreed, over the years. Our perspective on raising him, his journey with communication and the heartache through his vast medical conditions. I’ve had so many conversations over the years with Kreed as well, though most centered around his wants and needs and teaching him to comment on his environment.

There are a couple of moments that pretty much brought me to tears. We initially asked Kreed if he knew what his diagnoses were, and he replied yes and with the word “autism.” We had never asked him this question in 16 years. I would have assumed he knew because it played such a part in his life. So many people talked about it, and I know he’s seen the word on papers. He was in the hospital during this time, so our conversation was limited but powerful.

Some months later, I engaged in a second conversation with Kreed regarding himself — an introduction of sorts straight from him. It’s not for me to say how he feels about autism and what’s hard or not. So rather than write about Kreed’s autism and how he feels, this video of Kreed using his device (Dynavox Compass) to communicate is far more powerful.

Editor’s note: It is with a heavy heart we share the news that Kreed passed away on May 8, 2016. Our hearts are with his family, and we’re so grateful to help keep his memory alive on our site. He was truly one of the mighty.

Follow this journey on Kreed’s World and on the Kreed’s World Facebook page.

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