When the Most Beautiful Woman on the Beach Was a Special Needs Mom

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The weather app on my phone clearly stated it was going to be cold and windy at the beach that day, but I was sitting on my sweatshirt and rolling up my yoga pants to keep from dying of heatstroke. A group of college girls walked by in bikinis. I rolled my pants back down, consoling myself on the fact that, much like a good béarnaise, a body can thicken with time. 

It was the end of summer, and we decided to squeeze in one more beach day. I watched the pelicans fly high up in the air, fold their wings in and drop into the water. My 5-year-old son wasn’t watching the birds. He was watching the waves, and my husband took his picture. Next to us I saw a young man of about 15 rush the waves. He let out a startling screech, and his bright red hair ignited under the afternoon sun. His mother was close behind with her chair and tote bag. She was clearly more prepared for the day than I. She actually packed a swimsuit. Her skin had seen its share of UV rays and childbirth. Her hair had a lovely tone of caramel that had been salted with grey, and it whipped around her face in the wind. Her son tumbled into the water over and over, flapping his arms, humming and screeching.

“I hope he doesn’t bother you. I realize he can get a little loud,” she said with a slight Spanish accent. I gestured to my own son whose arms were flapping so much that, had he been winged, he could have met up with the pelicans. This mother and I exchanged the smile that passes for the special needs parent secret handshake. We started chatting in the language of the autism spectrum disorder parent about IEPs, ABA, OT, etc. We watched our boys.

“Does he speak?” she asked me.

“Not until a year or so ago, but yes.”

“My son doesn’t. He has never said a word.”

I felt a tightness in my chest just thinking about the years before Colin became verbal. I worried for him, of course, but I also lived with a selfish dread that my child would never be able to tell me that he loved me.

As if reading my thoughts, this woman said, “It is OK. I know how he feels.”

People walked by, and for once it was not my son drawing the uncomfortable looks. With every sideways stare or look of disapproval, my jaw would clench and my fist would ball. She noticed them, I’m sure, but her hands hung relaxed over her arms rests, and she sat with a gentle smile.

I believed her.

There were times I said what I was supposed to say, because it’s what a good mother would say. Sometimes it was just words. Sometimes I went through the motions. If she ever felt that way, it didn’t show. Maybe it was as easy as deciding that the truth is, “It is OK.” All of it.

Her son fell into a laughing fit while being tossed around the surf. Her gentle smile broke into a full grin, engaging years of laugh lines. She ran at him, and they began splashing each other. Droplets of water hung in the air, catching the sun and surrounding them in a spiral of diamonds.

I don’t know where those college girls went off to, but it didn’t matter. There was a new most beautiful woman at the beach, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Follow this journey on RaisingJedi.

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16 Cures for Autism That Without a Doubt Work

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For some reason, many family members, friends and even complete strangers seem to have strong opinions about the causes and best “treatments” for autism. And many of those same people are not shy about sharing their advice with every autism parent they meet.

The Mighty asked our readers for some of the most ridiculous “cures” or “treatments” for autism they’ve been offered.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. Don’t give him anything else to eat. He will eat when he’s hungry. This was from a doctor too.” — If You’re Flappy And You Know It Facebook page

2. The best/worst one I have heard is simply, ‘They just need a good spanking,’ because, you know, hitting your kid makes a disability go away.” — Lucas Rainey 

3. I had a friend that was told she should give her autistic 5-year-old camel milk to cure her autism…” — Donelle Butschli

 

4. “‘Send her to my house for a week or two and we will fix that problem!’ Many, many times. Apparently our parenting gave her autism.” — Missy Compeau Bonaguide

5. “‘Going organic’ will cure the autism…” — Leidy Jesse Garcia

6. “Karate. My mother-in-law thinks karate will cure autism. Now, let’s make a list of all the things she thinks I did wrong to cause it in the first place.” — Suzanne Winkowski Zoerb

7. I heard another parent say, ‘I know if I could just take her to see the dolphins and she could look in their eyes, she would be cured.’ It turns out I have a better poker face than I thought. I did not hold my side or roll around on the floor laughing.” — Laura Bryant Sneden

 

8. Magnet therapy. This stranger struck up a conversation with me, and when I mentioned my son has autism, she said she had a friend who took care of a little boy who had autism because his mom did drugs while she was pregnant, and the friend took the little boy to a place where he laid on a table with magnets all around his head, and his autism was cured.” — Kim Osburn

9. Mostly prayer. If prayer worked like people think it does, then what’s the point of having diseases? So that deities get more ‘likes?’” — Bailey Annan Sonday

10. “Wheat grass juice.” — Darlene Stauffer

 

11. I work with children with autism and have a special needs child of my own. I heard a teacher say one of the students with severe ASD just needed ‘boot camp, and a good kick in the shins.’ Whaaaaa?” — Casey Sidebottom Jennison

12. “Getting rid of our dog. Her barking has caused our son’s autism and sensory processing disorder.” — Katie Little Knobl

13. Stick him in a sauna for an hour daily for two weeks to flush out the mercury.” — Lindy Burnett

14. I was told if my son ate broccoli it would cure him… LMAO. Yeah. Ok.” — Donelle Butschli

15. “Chemical castration.” — Kristine Semelis Weiskopf

 

16. The most ridiculous one is that they need to be cured. I would never want to change my son! He’s perfect just the way God made him. Autistic children are beautiful, sweet, intelligent, loving, caring. It’s not them who needs to change… it’s society! Maybe if this world had more people like them, it wouldn’t be so filled with hate.” — Cynthia Rogers

Editor’s note: This piece and its headline are designed to be satirical.

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To the JetBlue Flight Attendant Who Acted Quickly as My Son Melted Down

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In May 2015, a mother on a United Airlines flight asked a flight attendant if she could purchase a hot meal from first class because her autistic daughter is particular about her food. Though reluctant at first, the flight attendant secured a hot meal after being warned that the autistic girl, who was beginning to cry, might “have a meltdown” and “scratch in frustration.”

The girl ate and then settled in to watch a video without a problem. Nevertheless, the plane made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City.

According to ABC News, United Airlines gave the following statement: “After working to accommodate Dr. Beegle and her daughter during the flight, the crew made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive. We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland.”

I’m so thankful my story has a happier ending. 

Let me begin by sharing a thank you email I recently sent JetBlue.

“I would like to commend one of your flight attendants who was invaluable in helping my son get over his anxiety during a recent flight from New York to San Diego.

“My son Michael was invited to sing at a special wedding in San Diego. Michael is an award-winning singer who also has autism. On this occasion, my son was anxious about taking a six-hour flight and was worried about whether not he would do his best at his upcoming performance. 

“While the plane was on the runway, a few things occurred that can be “triggers” to someone with autism. First, my son’s socks ripped. Next, I discovered that we had accidentally sat on the wrong side of the aisle. At that point, I reached out to a flight attendant and asked her to help my son transition to another seat. I also explained to her that Michael was autistic. Michael did not want to change his seat, but did so reluctantly. He sat down and anxiously began to pull on his socks. They ripped again, but he got past it and put on another pair. Unfortunately, the TV screen on his new seat was not working. Michael began to express his anxiety in a loud voice. “Please work. Please work.”

Jet Blue flight attendant

“At that point the flight attendant, whose name is Suhadee, stepped in and calmly told passengers in our vicinity that they had the option of moving to another seat if they so desired. Next, she gently put her hand on my forearm, told me that I was doing a great job and that she was also a clinical psychologist.

“Suhadee had quickly established a sense of order and made it clear that the situation was being handled. None of the passengers became upset and most seemed sympathetic. I believe that the actions of this outstanding flight attendant had a lot to do with it.

“Within the next few minutes, I managed to get the TV screen working and my son began to calm down. The entire episode had lasted for about five minutes. The flight took off and landed without further incident.

“I want to thank JetBlue for having such inclusive policies. Most of all, I want to thank Suhadee for intelligently and humanely helping my son. As she put it, “your son is a human being, not a label.” This employee should definitely be commended. I think she would be extremely valuable as a mentor to other employees on how to interact with individuals on the autism spectrum. 

“Thankfully, Michael made it to his singing engagement, an “all autism” wedding that was covered by ABC, Fox News and People Magazine. Here is a link to a video of his performance.

Michael singing at the piano

“Kudos to JetBlue for its inclusive policies and for a job well done!”

Regards,

Dan Korins

As the plane climbed into the clouds, I thought about the autistic girl who was removed from United Airlines.  As far as I could tell, she was removed from a flight because her mom expressed the fear that her daughter might have a meltdown. A few minutes before, my son was in the beginning stages of a meltdown. His story ended differently.

I will always be thankful to JetBlue and especially to the compassionate and insightful flight attendant who helped my son.

Michael at wedding

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Tell My Son With Special Needs When He’s Sad About Not Having Friends

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My son, S., is a special person with a heart made of gold. S. has autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, OCD-like tendencies, global developmental delays, gastroparesis and a carnitine deficiency, so he’s what people would consider “medically fragile” or “special needs.” To me, he’s just a precious little boy who’s a little behind than most and has his own set of quirks.

In the last year, after lots of intensive therapies, he’s made a lot of progress. Because he seems so much happier since then, nothing could’ve prepared me for what he told me on a recent afternoon.

He just came home from school, but he wasn’t his usual peppy self. He sat down on the couch and got his distant “zombie Elvis” look. I got his attention and told him it was time to go to his therapy appointments. He gave me a look that spoke volumes to the amount of sadness he felt, then he said, “Mommy, I like P., N., and C. (his classmates), but I don’t have any friends. I want friends, but I don’t have any.”

My heart shattered for him at that very moment.

My poor baby shouldn’t feel this way at 4 years old. If he feels this way now, what’s going to happen when he gets older?

I scooped him up in my arms, and his little brother gave him a big hug. I told him, “I’m your friend, and so is D.” (D. is his brother.) “And we’ll always be your best friends.” S. got up and and got in his car seat with a smile on his face. That was good enough for him.

I still think about that moment, though. D. and I are enough for him for now, but I know there will come a time when we won’t be, and it breaks my heart. He tries so hard to make friends; he’s just not capable of doing so at this point, and I don’t know how to help him.

I’m sorry, my precious little love. I don’t really have the answers for you, and I know I won’t always be the friend you’re looking for, but I’ll always be here for you. I’ll help you in any way I can, and I promise you’ll have a friend in me for as long as my heart is beating.

I know you’re a little rough sometimes because you don’t always know how strong you are or where your body is. I know you try your hardest to make friends. I know you initiate conversations, but you can’t always maintain them. I know you run in circles and flap around trying to calm yourself down. Maybe it scares the other kids, and they don’t get to see how sweet you are. I wish they could, baby, but know this: One day, someone will come along, and they will love you. They will see past all your quirks and love you for the sweet, beautiful little boy you are.

So stand tall and proud, baby boy. You are perfect just the way you are, and everything else will fall into place.

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Dear Neighbors, Here's What You May Not Know About My Teenage Trick-or-Treater

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Dear Neighbors,

Halloween is coming! And since we live in suburbia-o-rama, where cars drive in from other areas to enjoy our perfect-for-tricks-and-treats neighborhood, you all are about to experience the magic of adorably costumed children with that gleam in their eyes that can only come from the anticipation of buckets filled with candy.

What you all may not be ready for, however, is the occasional giant kid ringing your doorbell. That kid who looks, to you, like he’s much too old to be out trick-or-treating among those smaller kids.

You may even say to yourself, “Shame on that kid! Obviously she’s only out for the candy. Selfish.”

Well, I’ve read a lot of different articles lately about those teenagers who cling to their childhood on Halloween night, and how wonderful it is for them, and how we should let them enjoy these last few years of Halloween while they can.

And I totally agree. It’s wonderful, and all those teenagers are welcome at my door.

But what I’m writing about here is my own 6-foot-tall Halloween participant — another trick-or-treater you may not be ready for. The lanky, skinny kid who will be dressed head-to-toe in a black synthetic fiber Morpher suit, carrying his light-up pumpkin bucket while other kids his age are carrying pillow cases.  

The same kid who used to ring your doorbell on Halloween, say “trick or treat!” much too loudly, and look at your offerings. The kid who said “No, thanks” if you didn’t have Hershey’s plain chocolate, plain M&Ms or Twix. The same kid who now will take anything you have because he knows he can trade it in after he gets home for what he prefers.

The tall kid with size 12 shoes whose father will be waiting for him at the foot of your driveway, just as he has for the past 14 years.

That tall kid is my TJ. He’s 15 years old and on the autism spectrum.

boy in halloween costume

On the outside, he looks like any other 15-year-old boy. He’s got a faint mustache, getting thicker, that he refuses to shave. He’s got some beard hairs (that he sometimes counts and keeps track of, by the way), and he’s a little pimply. He’s got a deep man-voice.

On the outside, he’s a teenager. On the inside, however, he’s still very much a kid.

My boy still loves “Sesame Street.” He DVRs it every day and fast forwards to The Count’s “Number of the Day.” He still loves his elementary school animal books. We got rid of one of his favorites by accident last spring in a yard sale, thinking he’d grown out of it. Huge mistake. We just got a replacement book delivered last week (thank you, Amazon!). He loves the exact same lunch he’s loved since kindergarten. Ham in a bag. Bread in a separate bag. An apple (now we don’t have to cut it up, he eats it whole. Huge accomplishment for us!). Two Oreos.  

And he loves trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Yes, on the outside he looks like he is too old to participate in this childhood tradition. Yes, you may think “Halloween is for the young children! I’m not going to indulge a selfish teenager only out for candy!”

You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

But please understand that while TJ is in high school and working hard to be a responsible teenager in class, once he gets home, he’s all kid.

It’s more comfortable to him. He has no interest in social media. He’d rather watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” over and over again — the VHS tape, not the DVD because that’s what he’s been doing since he was little.

He would rather watch a cartoon alone than go to a movie with a friend.

He would rather draw his Simpsons characters, cut them out and sort them, as he thinks of different episodes in his head.

These things provide comfort to a boy who works tirelessly to hold it together at school day after day, where responsibility and attention to detail is required.

Let’s face it, growing up is no picnic, autism or not. How many times have you thought of the ease of childhood with yearning and wonder? How many times have you wished you could go back to a time of minimal responsibility?

So when you see my tall boy on your doorstep, holding out his light-up pumpkin, yelling “trick or treat!” at you, please try to remember that even though he’s grown up on the outside, he’s still, in many ways, a kid on the inside.

A thrilled, excited, happy, comfortable-in-his-skin kid who just wants to enjoy this child-focused event like every other kid.

Thank you, neighbors, in advance, for giving my sweet boy another year of good Halloween memories.

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Mom's Photos of Daughter Spark Debate on What Autism 'Looks Like'

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Editor’s note: This story has been removed for not complying with our editorial guidelines. 

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