New Line of Plush Toys Features Character With Autism

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Florida-based product development company SipNDip has released an original line of plush toys made up of eight characters with back stories designed to teach kids about social acceptance. Each toy has a name and a personal story that represents people from all different walks of life.

One of them is named Ryan and has autism.

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Courtesy of SipNDip

The Ryan toy is a cool kid who plays basketball, runs track and even plays guitar, according to the SipNDip Kickstarter page. Ryan, or “RyRy” as he’s also called, is based on one of the toy creators’ nephew, who also has autism and sometimes has difficulty connecting with kids his own age.

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The Ryan plush toy, courtesy of SipNDip

“A character like Ryan helps educate kids in a inspirational way,” says a spokesman for SipNDip in the video below. “It prepares them to be compassionate and worldly citizens in the future”

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Courtesy of SipNDip

A percentage of the sales from the Ryan plush toy will be donated to help kids with autism, SipNDip told The Mighty in an email. The company has partnered with Bike to the Beach, an organization that raises money for autism with charity bike rides.

For more information about SipNDip and the Ryan plushie toy, check out the video below:

SipNDip is currently raising money via kickstarter, visit the page for more information on how to purchase a plush toy.

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What You Don’t See in This Photo of My Son With Special Needs and Me

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This picture was taken the summer of 2014. It’s a silhouette selfie of a mother and her son, standing strong by a railing and relishing their shadows.

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But there’s a lot more to this photo that you don’t see.

The boy in the silhouette is 7 years old and requires support to stand and walk. He arrived at the railing in an adapted stroller guided by his mother. What you don’t see is the years worth of hard work it took him to get to this point, to this positioning, to this moment in this photo.

There are many other things you don’t see.

You don’t see the diagnosis printed in black and white on his medical record at birth.

You don’t see the many hours he spent in his parents’ arms crying fiercely when they didn’t know he was hurting.

You don’t see the years spent in therapy so he could learn to roll over, sit up and balance.

You don’t see the effort required to learn to hold his own bottle and to feed himself little snacks.

You don’t see how he looks deep into your eyes as he waits to be taught a new sign.

You don’t see his frustrations when he wants you to understand something but you can’t.

You don’t see the sleepless nights, the hospital stays and the frightening medical tests.

You don’t see the equipment this boy requires to stand, walk and sit.

You don’t see the village that surrounds both the boy and his mother — those who’ve been there since the beginning, those who’ve crept into their lives at just the right moment and those they never imagined building relationships with.

You don’t see the grandparents who shed secret tears for both of them, but they always show up with a smile and dessert.

You don’t see the whys, the what-ifs and the endless worries simply by looking at this photo.

You also don’t see how, despite these struggles, the same boy in the photograph laughs a contagious laugh and hugs the most snuggly hugs.

You don’t see how he wakes up ready to face another day — never dwelling on yesterday’s troubles.

You don’t see how simple things in life delight him.

You don’t see how comfortable he is in his own skin.

You don’t see how he easily accepts others.

You don’t see how he notices children and reaches out to give spontaneous, sloppy kisses.

You don’t see how connected he is to the human spirit.

You don’t see how happy he is being in our family.

You don’t see how he happy he is being alive.

This ramp leads to a gazebo by the river — a place this boy and his mother come to spend time together in silence.

What you don’t see is that this ramp is physical therapy for the boy, and the gazebo is spiritual therapy for his mother.

What you don’t see are the smiles they’re both wearing. Standing here on this day took a greater effort than it appears. The boy is giggling, the mom is elated. This was the first time he stood here — solid and proud.

Even though the mom worked hard to capture this perfect moment, the boy waited patiently as though he knew, too, that no one else would be able to see what they see in this picture.

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What the Adults in My Autistic Child’s Life Don’t Realize About Me

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We’re getting over the stigma about my son’s autism. I’m advocating — firmly and loudly — and I’m not afraid to look a little “weird” with him. If we have to bring a cardboard box to the grocery store so he can pretend to be a robot instead of rearranging the canned goods in alphabetical order, then we’ll bring a cardboard box so he can be a robot, and I’ll get a second to actually read the prices on the shelves.

I’ve learned the phrase to repeat to the school when they call and tell me he’s wandered out of the classroom or poked another child with a crayon or defaced the gymnasium floor with a rock he snuck in his pocket.

I say, “My son’s disability manifests as behavior. What are you going to do to accommodate his disability so he can participate in the classroom?”

I’m working hard to reframe my own understanding of his behavior at home, too, and to understand his disability manifests as behavior when he refuses to get dressed in the morning. He’ll sit on the floor beside the clothes I just gave him, but he’s so busy yelling about being cold that he can’t put his clothes on.

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As my son’s diagnosis has come to light, I’ve learned I’m on the autism spectrum, too. During a year of intensive appointments and evaluations with a medical center specializing in kids like him, I was frequently caught up in a moment of “Holy sh*t, I was like that, too” and often “I am still like that, too.”

It’s beneficial because I understand the coping skills I’ve developed as an adult — I wear heavy bracelets on my right arm as surreptitious fidgets, I keep a notebook for writing lists, I listen to instrumental music while I work and podcasts while I drive, I know my personal rules for the clothing I wear and I don’t even bother trying to sit normally in chairs anymore.

But I wish the other people in my life understood this…about me.

It’s taken a lot of work for me to get people to see my son as someone with charming “quirks.” It takes a lot of support from me. I advocate. Social assumptions about gender make it easier: He’s a “weird” little boy, and he’s seen as “just a weird little boy.” Of course he’s obsessing over rocks and dinosaurs and bugs — “He’s a boy.” He’s forgiven for his behavior.

But in IEP meetings, I wish they’d understand that sometimes the parent of an autistic child might be autistic, too. When I need to write down everything that is said, when I don’t make eye contact, when I miss the signal to shake a hand, when I launch into the meeting agenda with no small talk, when I am not sitting “normally” in the chair and when I start doing the “weird” things I do with my body language.

Social assumptions about gender require girls and women to display a social awareness that is often lacking in people with autism. I wish the other adults who are involved in my son’s life worked hard to accept me as much as they work hard to accept him. I wish they recognized he and I share many traits, instead of seeing him as a problem to solve and seeing me as a resistant obstacle. I wish I’d get the same permission to be “weird.”

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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I Remind Myself of This When Parenting a Teen With Autism Seems Daunting

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As a parent of a child with special needs, IEP meetings have become somewhat routine. Everyone shows up, discusses what Hunter (my son) needs and figures out how to accommodate him to make the most of his educational experience. The meetings are always emotionally difficult because they are a harsh reminder of the difficulties he faces every day. Most of the IEP meeting seem to blur together, but there’s one I will never forget.

At the beginning of his 5th grade year, we attended his annual meeting. We had our normal discussions about his lying to the teacher and how to help him deal with his struggles with fine motor skills, organization and his focus. Then, the talk shifted to Hunter’s educational future. 

An autism specialist was in attendance at this meeting to help us understand what to expect from this point. He began discussing what Hunter’s teenage years would look like because of his Asperger’s. He explained that raising a child on the spectrum during this tumultuous stage can be 10 times harder than raising the average teen. As I normally do, I went into fixit mode, so my first question was, “How do we make the situation better?” He chuckled and jokingly said, “Drink a lot of wine.”

He continued to explain that the teenage years are tough for kiddos on the spectrum. The hormones, peer pressure, harder school workload, all of it mixes to become a stress and sensory overload. He told me that things often get better, but there are normally a few years in the middle that are pretty tough.  I was scared to death of what that meant. I was already in the middle of a really tough stage with him. I felt defeated and tired. Now, I was being told by an expert that things were going to get tougher in a few years. I can still remember going home and walking around in a daze the rest of the day.

I was reading my journal the other day and came upon this entry I wrote just a few weeks ago. It suddenly brought me right back to that 5th grade IEP:

“As he enters this new stage, I just hope I am able to give him what he needs. Sometimes that seems like an impossible task. I find myself wanting to pull back and allow him to become his own man. I struggle with allowing him to fail. I struggle with knowing what my role actually is at this time of his life. Some days he still needs me a lot. Other days, he doesn’t want me around at all. He is struggling to find his way. I am struggling to find my new role in his life. His new responsibilities on his path to become an adult are starting to overwhelm him, and I am struggling to help him navigate it all.”

Well, here we are. We’ve reached the stage. This is hard! Hunter is confused. I’m confused. I’m not sure how to do this. There is no manual. His hormones are raging. He is angry with all of us most of the time and even calls us names under his breath. He is trying to fit in with his peers, but it’s a struggle. I want to try to prepare him for his future, but he is having no part of it. He fights doing homework, chores or anything considered in the category of work.

The autism expert from that IEP meeting was right! These years are tough. Tougher than I could have ever imagined. I don’t have all the answers. It is impossible to anticipate what is around the corner or how thing will end up. However, as I look back at how far we have come and look forward to the unknown, I hold onto this for comfort…

When Hunter was first put into my arms, I knew that being his mom would be the most important thing I would every do. On the day we were told Hunter has Asperger’s, I felt those feelings even stronger. Suddenly, I was more than just his mom. I was here to be his advocate. I was here to be his protector.  I felt relieved to finally have answers to some questions, but I also had fear and worry. How could I help him maneuver through the difficulties of life? I hoped I was up for the challenge.

Now here I am years later still with so many unanswered questions, but this time, I enter this new phase with a little extra knowledge. Honestly, I’ve entered every phase of Hunter’s life scared and unsure of the next step, and each time we have come out on the other side stronger than we were before. This time will be no exception.

Follow this journey on Sassy Aspie Mom.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one secret or truth you wish you could tell others about your experience with disability, disease or illness? 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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Man With Down Syndrome Wins Fight Against Bullies Who Made Hateful Meme

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One man with Down syndrome took a stand against online bullying. And won.

Adam Holland, from Nashville, Tennessee, had a photo taken of him in an art class in 2004, when he was 17. About eight years later, the photo surfaced online, only people had altered it and turned it into an offensive meme, the Tennessean reported.

Internet bullies edited the paper Holland is holding in the photo to read inappropriate messages.

The Holland family filed a lawsuit in 2013 alleging that a man from Minnesota posted the image on photo-sharing site Flickr with the words “I got a boner” in place of their son’s drawing. The suit also claims that a Florida radio station owned by Cox Media Group posted the photo with the words “Retarded News” inserted on the paper and that a website called Sign Generator sold a downloadable version of the image online under the heading “Retarded Handicap Generator,” Disability Scoop reported.

Cox Media Group settled with the Hollands before the case went to trial, but on Wednesday, a federal jury ruled in favor of the Holland family, ordering Gigahertz Inc., the owners of the Sign Generator website, and Russell LaLevee, the Flickr user, to collectively pay $150,000.

This case is precedent setting,” Sara Hart Weir, president of the National Down Syndrome Society, said in a statement. “All people with Down syndrome are valued members of society and deserve to be treated with the upmost dignity and respect. We commend the Holland’s for their courageous advocacy and for standing up for all families by pursuing this case.”

Spread the Word to End the Word! You can head here to pledge to stop using the R-word. It’s a step toward creating more accepting attitudes and communities for all people.

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The One Truth I’ve Learned as the Dad of a Daughter With Down Syndrome

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On an especially chilly winter morning several years ago, my daughter, Jillian Daugherty, boarded the 3X bus for work and took her customary seat near the front. As the bus filled en route to downtown Cincinnati, riders were forced to stand. One woman in particular – elderly and frail, and wobbling with every stop, start and turn – was having a hard time.

Bus riders at the crack of a cold winter dawn aren’t the most charitable bunch. None moved to help the woman. None but Jillian, who offered her seat.

As Jillian stood, she overheard another passenger saying how cold she was. Jillian removed her coat and gave it to the woman.

I didn’t witness this. Someone on the bus did and sent me an e-mail about it. I’m a columnist at the Cincinnati Enquirer and have written occasionally about Jillian, born with Down syndrome 26 years ago.

“I was in a sour mood this morning, when my bus didn’t show up,’’ wrote a gentleman named Mike Herrel. “I had to wait an extra 40 minutes in the cold for the next bus.’’

Mike struck up a conversation with Jillian after hearing someone call her Jillian. “I concluded I’d just met your daughter,’’ he wrote. “What a terrific person she is. She brightened the day for me and a few others packed into a bus because of her kind actions.’’

My mother once said of Jillian, “She acts like the rest of the world should, but doesn’t.’’

If there’s one truth I’ve discovered as a dad of a daughter with Down syndrome, it’s simply this:

Jillian is good. Her goodness inspires others to be good. She has wielded her Down syndrome like a sword of understanding. She acts like the rest of the world should.

I have no idea what inspired Jillian’s goodness, but I have a theory. People with Down syndrome own an extra chromosome. You and I have 23 pairs of chromosomes, 46 in all. Jillian has three copies of chromosome 21. Trisomy 21, it’s called, the most common form of Down syndrome. 

In “An Uncomplicated Life,” my book about raising Jillian, I call the bonus wiring “Number 47’’. Number 47 defines my daughter in any number of ways, most obviously in her physical appearance. But in ways subtle and vastly more important, Number 47 also rules.

From the book:

“If you believe there are no coincidences, you have to at least entertain the notion that Number 47 has a purpose beyond sadness. If you are anything other than terminally pessimistic, you believe Number 47 contains a lot that makes us good. It has to. Somewhere in that bonus wiring is a connection to compassion and kindness, a plan for how to be better.

“Number 47 isn’t a governor on Jillian’s aspirations. It’s an extra storage tank for all her good stuff.’’

Jillian’s conversations begin with her wondering how everyone else is doing. My mother had knee surgery several years ago. Jillian still asks, “How is grandmother’s knee feeling?’’ My wife’s uncle passed more than a decade ago: “I still miss Uncle Pete,’’ Jillian says.

Hers is a genuine goodness, unfiltered, its sincerity unmarked by guile or agendas. It isn’t just small talk with her. Jillian knows what matters better than anyone I’ve ever encountered: Whom she loves, and who loves her. Her heart is an uncomplicated place with lots of room.

One day when she was about 18, Jillian was home sick with a deep cold. She’d spent the morning in bed, hacking mucous into a small trash basket. I’d rubbed her head and fetched her Kleenex. By mid-afternoon, she’d rallied enough that we went to lunch and the local YMCA for a workout. As we got out of the car to go into the Y, Jillian thanked me for helping her through the morning. Then she said this:

“If you love someone, they’ll love you back.’’

Life essential, purely expressed.

So there’s your insight. There’s the big revelation about what Jillian, my daughter with a disability, has taught me. I’m sure I’m not alone. Knowing my daughter is a blessing. Ask the folks on that bus headed downtown on a cold winter day.

   Paul Daugherty’s memoir about raising his daughter Jillian is available on Amazon.com and on his website at www.uncomplicated.life.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one secret or truth you wish you could tell others about your experience with disability, disease or illness? 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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