New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday that has prison terms up to 10 years for people who endanger the welfare of those with developmental disabilities, reports Asbury Park Press (APP).

Senators Steve Sweeney and Robert Singer proposed the law after they heard the story of Parker Drake, who was allegedly bullied by two acquaintances last year. Drake, who has autism, jumped off a jetty into the Atlantic Ocean on Feb. 26, 2015, and Nicholas Formica and Christopher Tilton, who reportedly bribed and encouraged him, took videos of the incident and allegedly posted them on social media, NJ.com reported.

In an interview with APP prior to the passing of the legislation, Drake stated, “I didn’t really think I was going to make it,” adding that he had no idea he was going to be jumping into the cold water — or filmed. “I would like for them to be prosecuted, and I would like for there to be better laws to protect disabled people,” he said.

Per the new law, it’s now a second-degree crime to “create a substantial risk of death for someone with a developmental disability.” The crime is punishable by five to 10 years in prison or a fine up to $150,000, or both. Legislation for lesser offenses is also now in place.

“These added protections should send a clear message that this type of bullying and dangerous acts against those with developmental disabilities won’t be tolerated in New Jersey and that those who do so will be held accountable,” Senator Singer told APP.

In 2014 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report showing 1 in 68 children nationally has an autism spectrum disorder, but in New Jersey that rate was 1 in 45 children, and 1 in 28 boys. Autism New Jersey cited that number as the highest in the nation.

Dr. Suzanne Buchanan, Executive Director of Autism New Jersey, expressed her gratitude towards the lawmakers and explained to The Mighty what we can do to continue making the community a safer place.

“While the law will hopefully offer greater protection for our most vulnerable citizens, we must continue our proactive efforts of raising awareness to help build communities that embrace and accept individuals with autism,” Buchanan said. “Whether it be via character building, awareness campaigns or disability support programs, children and adults alike will have a greater understanding and sensitivity for the disability community. These qualities will hopefully reduce episodes of harm and increase meaningful inclusion for individuals with autism.”

h/t 94.3 The Point

RELATED VIDEOS


The town of Surfside Beach, South Carolina, has declared itself an autism-friendly travel destination.

On Tuesday, January 12, the town council released a proclamation saying it would cater to families who had special needs children to make vacationing in Surfside easier and more enjoyable, WBTW News reported.

Becky Large, a local woman whose son has autism, has lead the charge in getting her town to declare itself autism-friendly. Surfside plans to offer accommodating restaurants to families with special needs and fun sensory-friendly events at the local aquarium and movie theater. 

Welcome center sign

“[We’re] creating opportunities for people to be able to leave their homes and feel comfortable and if their child has a meltdown, everyone around them gets it and it’s OK,” Large told the outlet.

Large says that as far as she knows, no other town or city has made a declaration like Surfside’s, making it the first autism-friendly vacation destination, WYFF 4 News Reported.

The mayor of Surfside Beach, Doug Samples, says his town is a great fit for catering to special needs because its relatively low density of people and its family atmosphere.

“We’re trying to create a judgment-free zone, and not just for a few hours but for a couple of days,” Large told WYFF 4 News.

Get more on Surfside, South Carolina, in the video below:

 


When you told me about your child, when you first saw signs of autism in them right around their 2nd birthday, you looked at me with tears running down your face. You told me that was the first time you got him a diagnosis and how relieved you were finally to know what it was so you could help.

You then asked me, “Do you think my child was born with autism? Was it something I did? What could I have done differently?”

I didn’t know what to tell you at that time. It reminded me of a time before when I was again speechless when a parent had asked me what will happen to their child when I’m gone. I believe it’s these types of questions that are always the most difficult and most sensitive for our community to answer.

I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. How I started telling you there is no medical detection or cure for autism today and how if you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism. Then I started to tell you about my story. How I was nonverbal until I was 2 and a half, had regressed shortly after that and how I was diagnosed with autism at 4.

You see, back then, I’m sure my parents would have told you if you asked them the same question that it was something that happened to me while I was getting older. Today I can tell you that autism has made me the person I am, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now. I continued the conversation by giving you my card and telling you, although I’m not a scientist or an expert in the field, that regardless if your child was born with autism or not, the journey you are on right now is one countless parents are going through. Please don’t play the blame game with yourself. It will do you no good.

Repeat after me: it’s not your fault.

Every second you blame yourself for your child’s diagnosis is one less second you have to help them. For anyone reading this, some days are going to be tough (I know this from experience), but I promise you there are countless advocates out there — like me — who will be there to help you. Become an advocate for your child and always know that if you need someone, I’m only one message away on Facebook.

As you continue your journey, you’ll find there are many people like me who are willing to help you. Don’t close yourself off to us. Embrace “community,” and when the tough days come, know will get through them together.

Your friend,
Kerry

A version of this blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


When I was 15 years old, a boy moved in across the street.

Naturally, he was the cutest and dreamiest boy I’d ever seen, with his green eyes, freckle-covered pink cheeks and a bowl haircut that would’ve put Julius Caesar’s to shame.

More than anything, I longed to be close to him, to see my almost-immediate crush on him blossom into a full-blown relationship. When we’d hang out in his room after school, I was constantly glued to his side.

“Amy, come look at something on the computer.”

Whoosh! Now I’m 3 inches from his face, staring intently at him instead of the screen in front of us. (Personal space? What’s that?)

I am autistic, and for awkward teenaged me, physical closeness was a proxy for emotional closeness. At the time, I did not have the tools or ability to create the latter, so I (over)compensated with the former.

An early harsh lesson in intimacy.

What no one told me then, and what I didn’t realize until years later, is that intimacy takes a long time, and it is not something you can force into being. It starts with trust, with the willingness to allow someone into your personal space and vice-versa, and it grows with the aid of continual and clear communication.

On a visual level, there are certain actions or gestures that we know and interpret as intimate: Kissing, touching someone’s face, hands or other body parts. For individuals on the autism spectrum — especially those with sensory issues — all of these tend to present a challenge, and on top of that, visual depictions stop at the surface, barely exposing the tip of the intimacy iceberg.

Like autism, intimacy is a spectrum.

Intimacy can and often does look different for people on the spectrum than it does for neurotypical folks. Sometimes intimacy is simply sitting quietly in the same room with someone, tolerating their presence in your private environment. Whatever form it may take, intimacy runs deep, and there is no one way — no right or wrong way — to be intimate with someone.

When I was 22 years old, I had sex for the first time.

I believed, as had been the case in almost every movie I’d seen up until then, that after we finished making love and were covered in a glowing sheen of passion, there would be some sort of cuddling. I felt prepared for this, and when he returned from the bathroom after washing up, I turned to him expectantly.

“No,” he said, facing away from me when I asked if he wanted to cuddle. “I’m really tired.”

So I left him alone and laid there in the suddenly cold bed, also alone, sleeplessly staring at the ceiling and wondering what I had done wrong.

Intimacy is unselfish.

Another challenge I faced as a woman on the autism spectrum was a long-held belief that, because I could not always articulate or express my needs, everyone else’s needs mattered more. But to achieve true intimacy, all parties involved must have their needs taken into account.

Above all else, intimacy takes work.

Intimacy requires patience, kindness and a lot of understanding. There will always be people trying to solve the great mystery of intimacy, and there will always be shelves full of self-help books and angst-filled rock ‘n’ roll songs on the subject. But where the journey is inherent for neurotypical people, autistic individuals are made to convince others that we are worthy of the same opportunity.

When I was 23 years old, I had my heart broken.

The boy who turned away from me that night turned my love away for good, and I was devastated beyond words. Even though the heartache I experienced then was the worst pain I have ever felt, I am grateful I had the opportunity to feel it, and through it, find strength in myself.

Intimacy brings with it the possibility of both joy and pain, exhilaration and sorrow, love and loss. It can come in different forms and shapes and be complicated or simple. And while being autistic sometimes makes it challenging to be intimate, it is a part of the human experience that should always be open to those who want it.

A version of this story was first published on Autism Speaks.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images


My son Tucker is a Minnesota Vikings fan. Yes, even after their recent loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He comes from a long line of Vikings fans — his dad, grandfather, uncle are all Vikings fans. Me? Yep — me, too. I’ll yell “Skol!” any chance I get at the television. I have not been a lifelong fan… but loving my son has made me a fan.

When autism and athletics intertwine the most beautiful thing can happen. Players, numbers, plays, records — all memorized. Memorized early on in his life, he probably knew and could recall more about the Vikings at age 6 than many adults. This knowledge of the Vikings is certainly amplified by his ridiculously amazing memory.

Last summer we took a trip to Vikings training camp. It’s a time where fans can get up close and personal with the players. There is a morning “walk-through” where players are not wearing pads and helmets, and then an afternoon, more traditional practice.

I decided at 6:30 a.m. I was going to take him. I’d been thinking about it for a couple of days. So — I woke him up at 7 a.m. and said, “Tucker, get ready — we’re going to Vikings training camp.” I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him move so quickly.

What does this trip have to do with autism? I sometimes forget. I forget all of the “stuff” that can go along with a new experience. I’m usually much better at preparing him, but I was still pretty exhausted from our recent vacation.

On our way we stopped for a new book because he had read the one in our vehicle eight times. What did he choose? “Captain Underpants.” I tried to have a conversation with him about choosing books more age-appropriate. He wasn’t having any part of it. He likes that series, so he’ll read it over and over and over again. Then I recalled: We were on our way to do something new, something different. This book would help calm his nerves until we arrived.

The book was nearly 200 pages long. He finished it in 45 minutes.

We arrived, and he had no interest in waiting in line for autographs. He simply wanted to watch the walk-through. We sat… we talked… we watched. Then it was time for lunch.

A new restaurant, a different menu, a hot boy.

Dark, crusty grill marks on burger.

Recipe for disaster.

Quivering lip at lunch.

We left, and we took a break. We found a cool spot and sat for awhile. Then it happened. A friend of mine was able to give Tucker a great opportunity — the opportunity of a lifetime, really: to stand in the hallway as all the Vikings players passed by.

Surprisingly, he initially wasn’t excited. I soon understood why.

As I stood in the hallway facing the players exit, he stood on the other side of the wall. He would peek his head around the corner to see the players coming. At first I blamed it on the lunchtime meltdown… but that wasn’t it at all.

He uses scripts to make conversation. He didn’t know what to say. He had no experience stopping a Vikings football player to ask for a picture. He had no experience in even saying hello as they passed by. He didn’t have the language.

How selfish and inconsiderate of me. I hadn’t prepared him for this moment. Not at all. I was so frustrated with myself, until I decided I would just have to model. I didn’t know many of these players, nor did I really know what to say, but I’ve never shied away from a stranger.

As they came through I began saying “hello” and “have fun.” “Stay hydrated, it’s warm out there.” “Have a great season.” As I looked at Tucker I realized he was watching closely — taking mental notes of what to say and how to act. He also giggled when I told Teddy Bridgewater and Chad Greenway to have a “good game.” At least I got him to smile and shake his head. They weren’t going to a game; they were going to practice.

Then, I saw him. One of Tucker’s favorite players — an offensive tackle, Phil Loadholt. Tucker stood in line for his autograph six years ago. They have something in common: both the biggest guys on the team – and here he was, walking down the hallway. Tucker looked around the corner, and his eyes lit up. He turned back towards me with a hopeful face.

I nodded at him and mustered the courage, “Excuse me. Would you be willing to take a picture with my son?” He peeked around the corner and looked at Tucker, pointed, and then looked back at me. “Yes, him — I know…but he’s actually just 13.”

He smiled, put his arm around him, and said, “You’ll be my size in no time. You’re a big kid. Keep working.” Tucker nodded and smiled.

From that point on Tucker moved beside me. He smiled at every player on the way out. He waved and often said a quiet hello. Adrian Peterson nodded at him.

Mr. Loadholt has no idea what he did for my son. He gave him a new script, he gave him hope for his own “lineman” career – it’s not glorious, but it is about loyalty, protection and a calm strength.

Those are the finest qualities that my Tucker possesses and evidently he does as well.

That ginormous man with that amazing smile also won my heart, that is for sure.

Tucker and Phil Loadholt of the Minnesota Vikings
Tucker and Phil Loadholt of the Minnesota Vikings

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 [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.


I’ve always believed music is a good way to express yourself for virtually everything. When I’m excited I’ll throw in some Pitbull. When I’m happy I’ll put on that overplayed but catchy tune by Pharrell Williams. I just can’t help but to clap along because happiness is the truth. When I’m on a long road trip I find myself listening to Ted Nugent, because it reminds me of the road trips in my dad’s semi truck when I was a kid. And when I’m heartbroken I believe Meredith Brooks described it best in her hit song “B*tch.” We are all allowed to hate the world on days like those. So it was no wonder when I had my son, Brock, that I introduced him to the wonderful world of music. Not always the songs I enjoy, but songs nonetheless.

A few years ago, Brock took a big interest in the band One Republic, and when their hit song “Counting Stars” came out, it was on repeat in my home. I believe at least half their views on YouTube came from my house.

He had the song memorized after the first time hearing it, and we would belt it out constantly throughout the days. At bedtime he’d ask me to sing that “stars” song (bless him, I sound like a pterodactyl) to help him fall asleep. He’d dance around the house with some Elvis-esque hip swivels to “Counting Stars” as well. One Republic and everything “Counting Stars” took over my life quickly, but I can’t help but be thankful because it did something much bigger than I ever expected.

Brock has always had an extensive vocabulary, but has trouble communicating and expressing emotions. By the age of 6 I hadn’t heard him say “I love you,” but it wasn’t a big deal because he showed his love in other ways. In his ways.

One day about a year ago after I finished singing that “stars” song for him (again, bless him) he says to me, “Mom you know that L-word? Well, I do as much as there are stars in the sky.” I had to clarify what he was saying so I asked, “You love me as much as there are stars in the sky, Brock?” And he nodded his head an affirmation and said, “Sing it one more time for me?” So I sang it one more time with tears streaming down my face. Seeing him work through his emotions and label it correctly was a huge moment. And hearing “I love you” for the first time was a big deal. I knew he did, but to actually hear it was a moment I’ll never forget.

I don’t want to give Ryan Tedder and One Republic all the credit, because Brock is the one who worked through his emotions and feelings to give me something I didn’t know I was missing, but I’ll give them some. Thank you, One Republic, for creating music that touches people of all ages and moves them in ways I can’t even describe properly. I don’t know what that song means to you; maybe it’s to someone you love, or something you couldn’t quite grasp, but to me it will always remind me of the time my son said “I love you” in a way only Brock can. “As much as there are stars in the sky.”

smiling boy with blonde hair
Lindsay’s son Brock

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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