The way music can impact those with and without autism is amazing. One person I’d like to highlight today is Adele, who’s been breaking records for her new hit song, “Hello.” Adele has been a huge influence on me to find my “place of Zen” whenever I feel overwhelmed in my life.

But first, let me backtrack a bit on how this came about…

When I was growing up, my parents believed in music and theater therapy to see me develop after I was diagnosed with autism at age 4. I was introduced to music at a young age as a way to relieve some of my sensory issues. Growing up in a large city, I was always overwhelmed with cop sirens, horns and other sound pollution in my area. That’s when my parents tried introducing me to music, and for some odd reason, no matter how loud the music was, it was therapeutic and soothing to me.

When I first started getting internships and found my first full-time job, I traveled into New York every single day. It was the first time I used public transportation, and I was stressed about the transition for a while. One big thing that helped whenever I felt an overload coming on was listening to as much R&B music as I could — music that was soothing and helped me find a calm place.

But when I heard Adele’s “Rolling in The Deep” for the first time, things seemed to click like never before in the past.

Her music was just different from the norm, and it was incredible.

When I needed to unwind, Adele’s songs were there. I could listen to them on low or high, and no matter what I was feeling at that time, I was able to find my balance. My transformation — from a kid who hid under couches because of any sound that made me feel uneasy to now — has made me so grateful for people like Adele.

Now that Adele is releasing more new music, I hope I will be able to share my story of why music therapy is so important and recommend artists like Adele for our community to enjoy. It’s become a therapeutic part of my life that I hope everyone can find in their lives, too.

If Adele ever reads this, I’d just like to thank her for helping me find my balance. It’s helped me become the person I am today.

A version of this story originally appeared on

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Lead photo source: Adele’s “Hello” video on YouTube


Update — November 5, 2015: The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee voted to advance the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.” 

While few people in the mental health community would disagree our nation needs a major mental health system makeover, there are varying opinions about how this should be done. Rep. Tim Murphy’s “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” has gotten the most buzz — and after being reintroduced this summer, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health started marking up the bill Tuesday, getting it ready for a vote. Currently the bill has 161 cosponsors.

Here’s some information from those who support the bill, those who are against it and those who want to see something passed but think Murphy’s bill has room for improvement. This is a highlight reel — you can read the bill in full here.

The case for the bill:  

1. Supporters argue the bill focuses on getting help for the seriously mentally ill and prevents “wasteful” spending by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

DJ By tightening funding criteria for mental health programs and moving responsibility for mental health care and funding under an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment within the Department of Health and Human Services, this bill reins in the power of SAMHSA — a federal organization that spends over a billion dollars on mental health programming, which it’s been accused of spending frivolously.

“The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is the first bill in many years with provisions that help the seriously ill. It starts to end federal funding of pop psychology, pseudo-science and antipsychiatry. It replaces mission-creep with a dose of mission control. It sends the seriously ill to treatment, rather than jails shelters, prisons and morgues.” — D.J. Jaffe, founder of

2. Clarification of HIPAA laws will give caregivers more access to information. 

LS This bill would modify the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which deals with patients’ rights to health information privacy. As HIPAA is currently interpreted, parents and other caregivers of adults with serious mental illness have had difficulty accessing important information, which restricts participation by family members in their loved ones’ care. This clarification enables caregivers to receive usually protected health information when a mental health care provider believes this kind of disclosure is necessary to help a patient.

“Mental illness is the only illness that has an age limit for care. Treatment is hard to come by at any age, but once a person turns 18, the options diminish entirely and family members no longer have a say in their loved ones’ care. Our nation has traded hospitals for jail cells, we have traded compassionate care for the cold harsh elements of the streets, and our current laws have tied the hands of parents and caregivers. But somehow we have managed to convince ourselves that these options are better than treatment, that somehow criminalizing a person with a diagnosable illness preserves their ‘patient rights.’ We are pleading with members of Congress to pass HR-2646, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act as it is written.” — Leisl Stoufer, mother of a child with a mental illness.

3. It incentives states for creating Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws.

TAC In arguably one of the most controversial parts of the bill, states would be rewarded a 2 percent increase in their general mental health/substance abuse funding from the government when they implement Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) laws — meaning states can require individuals with a diagnosed mental illness to take anti-psychotic medication if that medication has proven to help them in the past, if they have a history of violence or repeated hospitalizations. Organizations like National Alliance of Mental Illness who support AOT see it as a “last resort.”

“The US Department of Justice has deemed AOT to be an evidence-based practice for reducing crime and violence. Multiple studies have found that AOT reduces incarceration, homelessness and hospitalization and helps people regain dignity and control of their lives. Independent research also has found that AOT can save sufficient taxpayer money to expand other mental health services with the savings. The majority of patients who have utilized AOT say it helped them; many credit AOT with saving their lives.” — Treatment Advocacy Center

 4. It adjusts Medicaid and Medicare to expand mental health coverage.

WP To prevent states from re-opening large psychiatric hospitals, the government refused to allow Medicare and Medicaid payments to larger-than-16-bed facilities. Murphy’s bill would repeal the exclusion as long as a facility kept patients less than 30 days. The bill will also stop Medicaid coverage from prohibiting payment for a same-day mental health service and physical health service.

“Championed by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), [the bill] would start by reforming the way Medicaid treats mental-health care, making it easier to reimburse hospitals for treatment and removing a rule blocking payment for mental and physical health care delivered on the same day.” — “The Washington Post” editorial board, in support of the bill.

What others would like to see changed: 

1. The bills shifts too extremely in the other direction, leaving out people who are in recovery.  

SBC Scott Bryant-Comstock, president of the Children’s Mental Health Network, argues while those with serious mental illness need more access to treatment, this bill shifts federally priority too far into intensive services, leaving services unbalanced in the other direction.

“What continues to get lost in the debate about the Murphy bill is that the two ends of the continuum of services for individuals with serious mental illness need each other. It would be unwise just to focus on increasing psychiatric beds and forcing treatment, just as it would be unwise just to focus on recovery. The fact is that there will be times when an individual needs services of the highest intensity. But to only focus on the most intensive services, while at the same time deriding the recovery movement that is there waiting to embrace the individual with serious mental illness and welcome them back into the community, is just plain foolish.” — Scott Bryant-Comstock, president of the Children’s Mental Health Network.

2. Gutting SAMSHA is hurtful, not helpful.

DRJ Some critics have said the new position (an Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment) will micro-manage SAMSHA. They’re afraid putting a limiting criteria on SAMSHA’s funding will stop programs that provide important resources for the community as a whole.

“Want to run an advocacy program? Forget it. Want to sponsor a conference? Forget it.” — Dr. John Grohol, founder of Psych Central

3. The language of the bill doesn’t speak to the idea that recovery is possible. 

SC2 Bryant-Comstock also argued the language of the bill leaves out the idea of hope, going so far as to say it “takes us back in time.”

“This bill abandons the language of ‘hope’ and retreats to an earlier time in our history, where we only spoke in the language of ‘disorder.’ It would be a shame to see the progress made to de-stigmatize language and provide a sense of hope to those with mental illness wiped away with the stroke of a pen.” — Scott Bryant-Comstock, president of the Children’s Mental Health Network.

4. Some critics argue the bill takes away rights of those who are mentally ill. 

CE Some who oppose the bill argue encouraging states to enforce Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws infiltrates on the rights of individuals with mental illness, who would in some cases be prevented from refusing treatment. Christian Exoo, a blogger for “Mad in America,” called the changes to HIPAA “discriminatory,” claiming it will reduce the privacy rights of individuals with mental illnesses and discourage them from seeking treatment.

“The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act would expand outpatient commitment laws, curbing the civil rights of millions of Americans. That expansion is predicated on the assumptions that the mentally ill are more likely to engage in violence than the general population, and that forced medication will reduce this violence.” — Christian Exoo, blogger for Mad in America.

​This only scratches of surface. If you’re interested in learning more about what mental health advocates have to say about the bill, here are some resources:

-Statement from Mental Health America 

-Letter from major mental health groups encouraging Congress to act.

-The best case for the bill can be found on

-The best case against the bill, on the Children’s Mental Health Network blog.

“Here is the little secret about ‘divisiveness’ between mental health advocates that politicians don’t want you to know. When you get advocates in a room together, away from the political spotlight, more often than not, they are in agreement about the need for a spectrum of mental health supports and services, not one end of the continuum versus the other. We need federal mental health reform legislation to reflect that same continuum approach at the state, tribal and local level.” — Scott Bryant-Comstock

 What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. 

I was sitting on a Greyhound bus going from Florida to Pennsylvania. From the moment the bus departed, I started having mini panic attacks. My body refused to relax, and I was unable to stop the scary thoughts that were constantly swirling in my brain. Minutes felt like hours; hours felt like days. After a few hours passed, I was certain we had to at least be somewhat close to Pennsylvania.

“Welcome to Alabama”

“I’m going to die here,” I thought to myself.

Knowing we had only reached Alabama was unsettling. I felt like I had nothing left. My strength was gone, I felt like crying and I felt completely alone.

We stopped at a massive bus station in downtown Alabama. I could barely drag my trembling body inside, but I found a way. I had no money, so food was out of the equation. I started panicking so much the people around must have noticed.

I found an attendant and asked where the closest hospital was. He informed me there was a fire station across the street.

The firemen looked at me, heard my horror story and immediately checked my blood sugar and monitored my blood pressure. They must not have been too concerned, because they gave me a Coke and a hamburger and told me to have a safe trip home.

As I made my way back to the bus, I noticed there were significantly more people boarding than before. More people watching me having a panic attack was not ideal. There were coats and luggage all around, but I found my seat amongst the herd. As I felt my world closing in around me, my anxiety skyrocketed.

At this point, most of the passengers were asleep, except for one. There was a little boy, maybe 6 or 7 years old, sitting across the aisle from me.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi buddy, how are you doing?”

“I’m going to my mom’s house. She lives very far away.”

“That’s cool. Do you like riding on the bus?”

“I don’t know. My mom is waiting for me.”

“I don’t like the bus very much. I can’t sleep.”

“I’m gonna stay awake the whole time so I can see my mommy.”

We talked sporadically for a few more minutes. I got up to go to the bathroom, and when I returned to my seat he was sleeping. As I sat back down I realized the entire time we were talking, I didn’t feel an ounce of anxiety.

The little boy was the only person willing to talk to me, and it came at the best time imaginable. Before we spoke I was at my worst, like my total collapse was just around the corner. He entered my life, and the conversation we had was just enough to take my mind off myself.

When he fell asleep I was truly sad. His excitement was genuine, and he possessed an innocence that, for most of the trip, I had lost. As we crossed over the final state border on our journey, I glanced outside and was not immediately overwhelmed with fear. I looked back over at the little boy, who was sleeping on his grandfather’s shoulder, and quietly said, “Thank you.” He did more for me than any adult I encountered on that trip.

Little did he know for most of that bus ride, I wanted to see my mommy, too.


“Mrs. Mallard,” said the voice on the other end, “we just wanted to inform you that Elijah got out of the classroom today. He made several attempts to escape, and he finally succeeded. It took us about 30 minutes, but we finally found him in a yard nearby. The lady who lived there kept him for us until we got there. We just wanted to let you know.” Elijah, my son, is an autistic boy. He is nonverbal.

These are the most terrifying moments.

Elijah has a habit of eloping. For a young couple, eloping is a happy occasion, a spontaneous act in a time of unabashed love or maybe to spite a parent. But for a parent whose child has special needs, eloping is a word that can bring fear and hopelessness. This is doubly true for me because my son seldom responds to his name (not unlike any other teenager who is preoccupied). He also loves water and will not hesitate to go toward it when he is compelled, even though he can’t swim.

In a controlled environment, eloping is less likely to occur. I trust that at his school, Elijah is in a controlled environment. There are more than two pairs of eyes in the room, and normally they’re attentive to him and will place him in time-out. But on this day, his supervisors failed him. Not only that, but they failed me by not contacting me in a reasonable time so I could help look for my child. Why wasn’t he given a time-out after the first attempt? How was he missing for so long that he was able to escape to a neighbor’s home up the road? But even more frightening, how is it that he ended up in the home of a stranger?!

When I asked these questions, I was shocked at the reply.

“This happens from time to time, and the neighbors are familiar with our kids. He’s fine.”

This indicates that these instances happen so often, the neighbors in the community are aware of it. The fact that there was a 30-minute timespan means the supervisors didn’t notice him missing for at least two to three minutes. So many things can happen in a short period of time. Thank God it didn’t.

Needless to say, I have not had that issue again. I discussed my concerns at length with the teachers and principal and told them I would not hesitate to take further actions if it happened again.

As his mother, I am his strongest advocate and will continue to fight for his safety. Never feel you are helpless to stand up for the safety of your child. It could mean life or death.

After lots of media attention, a family being sued because of the behavior of their child with autism is finally speaking out.

Parul Agrawal and Vidyut Gopal are being sued by two families from their former Sunnyvale, California, neighborhood who claim the couple’s 11-year-old son with autism was a “public nuisance” and wreaked havoc, potentially causing property values to fall, NBC News reported. The neighbors are accusing Gopal and Agrawal of not doing enough to control their son, who reportedly assaulted children as well as other people in the neighborhood.

In July, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against the parents and, after seven years in their former home, the family moved to another Sunnyvale neighborhood. A judge has ordered court-supervised mediation, scheduled for December to settle the lawsuit, filed by Kumaran Santhanam and Bindu Pothen and Robert and Marci Flowers.

I find it offensive that people assume I have no compassion for an autistic family when I am simply trying to defend and protect my children from being assaulted,” Robert Flowers told Mercury News. “This is not about autism. This is about public safety.”

In an interview with Good Morning America on Nov. 3, Gopal said he and his family would move back to their old neighborhood if the issue could be resolved.

We never imagined that something like this could happen to our family,” Parul Agrawal told ABC News. “Every extra day we have to go through this lawsuit, it takes our focus away from helping our child.”

This is the first time in California history that someone has gone to court to try and get a child with a disability declared a public nuisance, according to ABC.

Get more on the story from the video below: 

Related: What You Miss When You Call a Child With Autism a ‘Public Nuisance’

I believe Holly Robinson Peete is a rare Hollywood personality — she’s authentic and genuine. What you see on the screen or stage is who you’ll meet in person when the lights are off and cameras aren’t running. I had an opportunity to see her present and then sit down with her one-on-one at the inspirational Power of Possibilities, an event hosted by Community Gatepath to honor people with disabilities.

I was so moved by her words, I wanted to write this open letter to tell her publicly what they meant to me as a mother of an adult son with autism.

Photo credit: Community Gatepath (

Dear Holly,

“Never limit what’s possible for your child.”

Such a powerful statement. And it’s so true, isn’t it, Holly? You proved it when you talked about your family’s journey with autism — how at 2 years old, your son RJ stopped making eye contact and interacting with his twin sister. You knew in your gut (as all of us moms do) that something was wrong. And when he was diagnosed with autism, the doctors told you all the “would nots:”

… He wouldn’t make it through school.

… He would never have real friends.

… He would never have a real conversation.

… He would never say I love you.

… He would never play sports.

Now 18 years later, your son has proved all those “would nots” all wrong!

“He is so phenomenal and advocates for himself. He has challenges but he has a very bright future, and I’m so proud of him because he’s been able to show that you never let anybody limit the expectations or possibilities for your child’s life.”

I was overwhelmed hearing those words because they are also my words, my family’s story and how we always believe in unlimited possibilities. Today my adult son with autism is thriving even with his challenges and is living a happy and fulfilled life. Just like your RJ will as he transitions into adulthood. Of that, I have no doubt.

“I wouldn’t change my son for the world, but I would change the world for my son.”

Yes! Once again you speak my words, as they are the words that reflect the hearts of every special needs mom. 

When I had a chance to sit down with you mom-to-mom, we continued to talk about changing the world for our kids. It was disappointing to hear that many in Hollywood won’t speak about their own personal experiences with autism because they’re afraid of the stigmas attached to it. You told me there has been movement in the right direction, but you are looking for a seismic shift off the Richter scale when it comes to public figures speaking about autism and a national autism initiatives agenda.

When I asked how can we get those outside the special needs community to care, you urged each of us to use every opportunity we have — at a school meeting, a church gathering, a public event, on social media — to spread awareness about autism to let people know how valuable our children are. Do it so there’s always hope for them,” you said.

I’m so excited that you and the entire Peete family will be doing just that by taking your advocacy a step further into the limelight. I can’t wait for your upcoming new docuseries, “For Peete’s Sake,” to get an insider’s look into your family’s life. Since so many teens with autism are transitioning into adulthood like your son RJ, I look forward to watching him get his first job and how you, dear momma, guide him toward becoming more independent.

Like you, I hope your show will put an even greater national spotlight on autism awareness and the need for employment opportunities. I applaud you for putting your family out there so the mainstream can witness how valuable those with autism and special needs are to society. Let’s hope that people and companies will learn that it’s beneficial to look beyond disabilities to discover there’s “power in possibilities.”

The author with her son, Jonathan

“Embrace the out-of-the box… you’ll be surprised and delighted with what you’re going to get.”

Lead photo source: Jodi Murphy/Community Gatepath

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