The dancing barista is having his dreams come true, thanks to Ellen DeGeneres.

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Sam Forbes, a 17-year-old high school student with autism from Toronto, Canada, is a Starbucks barista who rose to internet fame after a video of him dancing while he works went viral. Forbes has autism and dancing helps him concentrate on his work while channeling his jerky movements into productivity.

Once told he’d never be able to hold a job because of his autism, Forbes is now a valued employee because his manager, Chris Ali, decided to give him the chance to succeed. He hired Forbes right away after meeting him and learning that one of his goals was to be a barista.

“In that moment my life changed and my whole world changed,” Sam says in the video below.

Forbes and Ali recently went on The Ellen Show to share their story and to offer encouragement to other people with autism who think they won’t be able to find a job, or to employers who are uncertain about hiring people with autism. While they were there, DeGeneres had a little bit of a surprise in store — She’s sending Forbes on his dream vacation to Japan.

Watch Sam’s elated reaction to this news and get more on the story from the video below:


I didn’t always know I had Asperger’s syndrome. It wasn’t until my own children’s diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that I discovered the true meaning of my differences.

Prior to elementary school, I was a sensory mess.

I was a very picky eater, refusing new foods because of their color or consistency or smell. To this day, I have not tried many fruits, vegetables and drinks. On many a night, my mother made me a PB and J so I wouldn’t have to suffer through one of her meals (like her stuffed peppers… ugh. What the heck was inside that big green thing anyway? I will never know.). I took small bites of everything I ate, as I would often gag on food.

I insisted upon a separate fork for each thing on my plate, and God forbid any of those different foods touched. I had to separate gravies and buttered foods from others with a napkin. My father finally threw a fit about my fork thing after a while. He was not very open-minded about my pickiness. Or anything else for that matter.

I had an aversion to toothpaste and brushing my teeth. The taste of the toothpaste, the feel of it on my teeth and bubbling up in my mouth, the sight of it in the sink as I spit it out… Back then, I gagged every single time I brushed my teeth. Toothpaste isn’t even a food, and it doesn’t seem like it should go into a mouth. It was and still is so disgusting to me. I still gag and sometimes even vomit from it.

I chewed my lips, the inside of my mouth, my tongue. I sucked on my own skin as it was a very calming feeling and plain taste for me. I bit my fingernails until they bled, waited a few days until they grew back, and bit them down again. There was always something in my mouth.

Sudden noises, high-pitched ones mostly, scared me. On the few occasions we went to fireworks shows, I would sob in terror. I think the last time I went, I watched from the car. It was a pretty thing to see, all those bright colors bursting out from each other. But certainly not worth all that noise. And balloons were the worst. I stayed far away from balloons. What a terrible noise it is, the sound of it being blown up and handled and then finally the crash of the pop. I so hate balloons.

The sunlight bothered me. It would wink at me through the trees. The shadows would move so fast by my eyes and I would try to follow those shadows and the movements of the tree branches. And then there were other things to see, the way the light fell on the grass and the houses, the way the light changed everything. It was all so much to take in. All those bright sights and interesting changes. I would wink my eye, hard. It was a tic, although I didn’t know it. And it felt good. I winked hard a lot in my early years, trying to absorb all around me.

My father picked on me about it, ridiculed me. I learned to hide that tic from others. Such a shame to have to hide something that feels so right.

I was a daydreamer (still am) and spent almost a whole year playing Wonder Woman in the shower. During that time, I didn’t even use soap on my body. The only reason my hair got shampooed is that my mother would do it for me (my hair is so thick, it was hard to rinse). My father used to tell me I stunk. Meanie.

I was paranoid. Probably because of warnings misunderstood and taken too literally by my mother, who used to tell me to behave in the stores because the manager was watching me on his camera. So I believed there must be cameras everywhere. Someone watching me everywhere. I was convinced there was a person in my closet, watching me. Under my bed. In the car behind us. In church. Peeking through the windows of our apartment, the windows of my bedroom. I never felt alone. Always watched.

That was difficult. And it has stayed with me, that paranoia.

In some ways I was like other kids. In others not so much. I didn’t play hard and fast and dangerously like the other kids. I enjoyed playing make-believe with my friends. I didn’t join in on sport games. I liked Disney World and airplane rides and the sand at the beach. I didn’t like the noise of the circus, a place I will never, ever go to again. I enjoyed taking baths and having my hair brushed and being hugged tight. I didn’t like the dark or the things I imagined to be hiding in it. I played pretend with my dolls and Barbies and Fisher Price “Little People.”

I feared strangers and their looks that I perceived as stares and their attempts to converse with me. I loved to draw and color and paint and practice writing my letters. I didn’t like roller coasters or rides. I absolutely loved my pink “Big Wheel.”

I wish I had known about autism back then. I would have talked to my parents about what I was going through. I would have been more accepting toward myself.

I am on the spectrum. We are all different. If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.

Girl in red striped sweater and red pants

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, 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.

On March 8, 2015, I did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. This leap of faith ranks right up there with jumping the broom and having three children. On March 8, 2015, I told the world about my autism diagnosis.

spent the better half of 2014 wrestling with the idea that I may be on the autism spectrum. I’m not exactly sure when my suspicions began, but at age 36, I was almost certain I couldn’t be autistic because I thought I was “just fine” — until I realized my “fine” was actually pretty different from everyone else’s definition of “fine.” That’s when I began to take an honest look in the mirror — not because I didn’t like what I saw, but because I wanted to redefine “fine.”

I’ve lived my entire life pretty much the same way. I’ve never had a ton of friends, but I was fine with that, even when others thought it was strange. I’ve always preferred to be alone, and while I do like hanging out occasionally, I see nothing wrong with sitting at home alone on the weekend. I’m just fine with that. I almost always miss the point of sarcastic jokes and comments, but I’ve never had an issue with that. In fact, I just thought to myself, “It’s not that I don’t get what you’re saying. You’re just not that funny,” and I was fine with that.

Honestly, I’ve known I was a little different ever since I was a teenager. My interests were very limited, I didn’t need or like to be the center of attention and most people thought I barely talked. I was fine with that. It’s just who I am, and everyone who really knew me knew I wasn’t strange, I was just Lamar.

When I did finally get a diagnosis as an adult and I shared my new discovery with the world, most people in my life had a similar response. “We would never know something was wrong with you. You seem just fine.”

I am fine. In fact, I am better than fine. I am Lamar, and my “fine” has always been defined by me. You see, the same reason you don’t think I am autistic is the exact same reason I didn’t think I was autistic. I am fine because I don’t allow labels to limit me. I never have.

Let’s be clear, I am autistic. When I received my diagnosis, I didn’t need a second opinion. I knew it was right. I’ve always had sensory issues; I just didn’t know everyone didn’t hear, see and smell the world the way I did. I’ve always had trouble with facial expressions, body language and social cues. I just expected people to say what they meant. I don’t assume, and I didn’t live in the world of nonverbal communication, and I was fine with that.

The real reason most people don’t think I am autistic is because like me, they have had very little education about what autism actually is. Autism has received a lot of attention in the last decade; however, the harsh reality is that there are still millions of people who don’t know nearly enough about autism, what it is and how it affects people.

I should know; I was one of those people. Until my diagnosis, my understanding of autism was reduced to a stereotype. The vast majority of people lean to one end of the spectrum or another in order to define what autism is. The real reason most people don’t believe I am autistic is simply because I can talk, and because of the fact that I am verbal, I must be fine. I believed the same thing, but what I believed help perpetuate a stereotype about autistic people. The problem with stereotypes is that it silences so many autistic people, and it provides a singular definition of “fine.” Stereotypes allow for one singular expression of what it means to be socially acceptable. Stereotypes create one singular narrative about who people should be and how they should behave. Stereotypes, whether intentional or not, are the reason why I didn’t know I was autistic, and it’s the reason that most people don’t think I am autistic today.

We have a lot of work to do to educate more people about autism. Autism can’t be reduced to how one externally functions in the eyes of society. The ability to talk doesn’t make me any less autistic than those who are nonverbal. On the other hand, the inability to talk doesn’t make other autistic people any less competent or valuable than those who are verbal. Autism is not only found in children. You don’t “outgrow” autism, and autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. Autism is truly a spectrum, and what I have both observed and learned since my diagnosis is that it is much easier to search for labels and stereotypes than it is to search for ways to support the autism community by searching for the significance in each individual human life.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve learned a lot about myself, but even more importantly I have learned a lot about why I knew nothing about myself for so many years. Since being diagnosed, I have been confronted with stereotypes about autism that create the idea that “fine” is defined by one group of people, so my goal is to make that “fine” harder to find. When we educate the world about autism in both children and adults, people who are verbal and nonverbal, we make it much more difficult for the world to subscribe to one idea of “fine,” and in the end, we can aggressively redefine what it means to be “fine,” what it means to be social, what it means to be successful, what it means to be hopeful, what it means to be valuable and most importantly what it means to be human.

Lamar Hardwick

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

One dad took extraordinary measures to help his son with autism prepare for a successful career.

Michael Stuart retired early from his teaching job in Florida to dedicate himself to helping his 24-year-old son Aaron develop skills that could help him find work in the food service or hospitality industries. And after job placement programs proved unsuccessful, Stuart and his wife converted the entire second story of their house into a mock restaurant to help Aaron train.

Chris Ulmer, a special education teacher from Florida, met up with Stuart to make a video about his mission, and the new organization he’s created out of it, called Operation Meaningful Life. Ulmer posted the video on his Facebook page Special Books By Special Kids, where he often features videos about his own classroom as well as local families of people with special needs.

See the video below:

Operation Meaningful LifeAaron is an adult diagnosed with autism. He is what many refer to as severely autistic.Aaron was struggling to find meaning in life. This resulted in a lingering frustration and episodes of crying. Aaron’s Dad, unable to watch his son struggle, retired early from a teaching job to help him find a purpose.This is their story.

Posted by Special Books by Special Kids on Sunday, February 21, 2016


Operation Meaningful Life challenges the perception that people designated “lower functioning” or labeled with “severe” autism are unable to be productive members of society. Stuart has designed an entirely skills-based training program to help bring out the true potential of an individual, according to the Operation Meaningful Life Facebook group.

Ulmer, 26, is the celebrated teacher whose video of the awesome way he starts class each day went viral in November last year. He teaches at Mainspring Academy in Jacksonville, Florida.

After hearing about Stuart’s work, Ulmer realized the family lives only 20 minutes away from him. He went over and spent a few hours observing and filming. He says he often gets emails from people in the special needs community who want to share stories with him, and he plans on turning his Special Books By Special Kids Facebook page into a platform to share these kinds of stories. He will be doing a road trip this spring to travel the U.S. and collect stories from all over to share on the Facebook page.

Check out the Facebook page Special Books by Special Kids, which is updated daily.

​I came into this motherhood thing ready. I was in my late 20s, married, had a degree and had started a consulting business so I could work from home with flexibility. I had babysat, worked as a camp counselor, a camp life guard, an after-school program aide, a tutor, a Sunday school teacher, a youth group leader and a volunteer mentor. I once calculated I had worked with more than 1,000 children by the age of 22. I loved kids, that was just a big part of who I was. I had even worked with kids with some disabilities; when I was 14, my first job was a camp counselor for United Cerebral Palsy.

As it turns out, none of that mattered. I was utterly unprepared for what I got myself into. How could my son be so unique from the 1,000 other children I had worked with? With all that experience, surely I must have learned something, right?

Quick, what’s your instinctive response to the following hypothetical scenario? Your 8-year-old with ADHD and autism, who is doing pretty well in life overall lately, is being taken to an after-school activity that is, shall we say, “non-preferred” by a babysitter. On the way, the sitter stops to buy a bottle of water. Child proceeds to scream at the top of his lungs, run around the store, and outruns the sitter and two store employees for 10 minutes until one of the employees threatens to call the police.

I remember when my son was a baby, my late father told me to stop reading parenting books because it was instinctive. Well Dad, I hope you’re looking down because if you have instinctive answers to some of these situations, I’m sure you could find a way to send me a divine message in a bottle. Otherwise, allow me to introduce you to a new brand of parenting. It’s called “Not Very Intuitive Parenting.”

Not Very Intuitive Parenting (NVIP) means that you must intentionally eschew everything you think you know about raising children and leave your instincts at the door. Do you want to know how I handled the above situation? First, I sent him to his room, for the safety of all involved. Then I called the child psychologist to develop the consequence. Then I bought poster board and wrote up a big schedule of his activities to see. I’m currently evaluating social story software in between working full time and dealing with medical appointments for both my child and myself.

NVIP means that I’m not going to succeed at getting my child to hop to with the “mom look.” He doesn’t decode negative facial expressions. Steam could be coming out of my ears, but I need to verbally notify him that I am very angry. I remember it being a fairly obvious rule that you shouldn’t bribe children to get them to do what you want them to do. Many consider incentivizing behaviors as legitimate intervention, however, and it works for us. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) requires you to take data on behaviors like following instructions, potty training, greeting people. Again, this works for us — but none of this is intuitive.

What I want you to know about Not Very Intuitive Parenting is that usually, if you see me practicing it, I want to shout “This isn’t what it looks like!” Yes, there is a reason for why I am hugging and comforting my child who just had what looks like a “bratty tantrum.” Or why when he does something to cause trouble you might just hear me say “one point.” It might look like a dramatic under-reaction, but you don’t know that he is working hard for something and that was a big setback. Usually, if my kid is acting up I’m going to employ specific, strategic responses that have been developed with the assistance of experts and following so many hours of assessments and therapies. It may not look like a reasonable response to you. Trust that I tried it your way at first. No one had better parenting “instincts.” Turns out, I have less use for those native instincts than I expected.

I don’t mean to suggest there is no use at all for a mother’s intuition. I know how high a fever is with a kiss on the forehead. I know when something is wrong. It is the ultimate evolutionary instinct to protect my child above all else. But I also build new instincts. For better or worse, there’s no “because that’s how my parents did it” to fall back on. So, you have to come up with a new way.

My skills in advocating for my son medically and educationally have made me a stronger person. I do trust my instincts over the experts now. But my instincts have been reshaped to incorporate the wisdom of highly educated and experienced specialists whose good advice and guidance have helped him already. It’s been reshaped by online communities of folks in the same boat. It’s been reshaped by trying to keep up with cutting edge research. Now, more often than not, I make decisions based on this specialized body of knowledge rather than instincts. Or at least I do when I’m doing it right and not falling into bad habits and ineffective approaches. So if you too have absolutely no idea what you are doing, it’s OK. It’s not just like riding a bicycle. You adapt and you learn how to best help your child. And that driving love? That is the most intuitive thing in the world.

A version of this post first appeared on Red Queen Mommy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us the moment you stood up for yourself or your child in regards to disability or disease, or a moment you wish you had? 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

Autism is almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than among girls (1 in 189). A lot of theories exist behind the reason for this gender split, including the possibility of autism presenting differently in different genders and even the fact that the diagnostic tests for spectrum disorders may be based on male characteristics.

Whatever the reason for the disparity in diagnosis rates, autistic women deserve to have their voices heard.

The Mighty teamed up with Amaze, a nonprofit organization representing people on the autism spectrum, to ask women what they wish others understood about being a woman with autism.

This is what they had to say:

1. “Autism is not just for boys. So often we’re seen as anxious and shy and so we’re not diagnosed until later in life. Just because we have autism doesn’t mean we can’t do what everyone else can. We are talented individuals who have some awesome abilities and skills, so the world better watch out because we’re coming!” — Ellen Cahill

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2. “I’ll do things at my own and socialize when I feel ready too. People don’t realize how difficult it is when you’re about go into sensory overload.” — Paige Helen

3. “Just because I’ve adapted and have learned how to appear ‘normal’ doesn’t mean I’m not on the spectrum. It’s exhausting checking every move I make and reviewing every word out of my mouth to try to ensure I don’t offend people, and I often get it wrong. I’m not heartless, thoughtless or selfish. I’m autistic and genuinely didn’t know that would upset you.” — Liz Stanley

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4. “Just because I don’t always ‘seem’ like others on the spectrum doesn’t mean I’m not on the spectrum myself.” — Erin Clemens

5. “I am not less than. I am not some overlooked statistic simply because I ‘pass’ well. I am not the same as a man on the spectrum. I am not less than a woman in general, and I am not less than a man overall. I have just as much right to pursue and accomplish my passions and desires as anyone else. And I am definitely capable and driven to make those a reality and to stand on my own in the world. (Already I pick up on and am affected by gender bias of being a woman, which is usually not on equal par with men. And if they know I’m on the spectrum, bias is even more affected on top of my gender).” — Laura Spoerl

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6. “When you get angry with me for my social shortcomings it’s no different than getting angry with someone in a wheelchair for not walking.” –– Shannon Clement

7. “I’m less OK than I’d ever tell you I am, but I’m more OK than you may fear me to be. I am constantly anxious and drained, but I am also capable and tenacious. Given enough time, patience and support, I think I’ll be able to accomplish anything that I set my mind to.” — Paula Gomez

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8. “I want to socialize and spend time with people, but there is so much anxiety and pressure to fit in that it overwhelms me before I’ve even left the house.” — Jill Toler

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9. “I dont mean to check out and let my house fall apart. I’m trying the best I can.” — Tara Pitschner

10. “Telling me you don’t see me as someone with autism isn’t a compliment. It hurts for so many reasons. You obviously don’t know me well enough to see my struggles and what I’ve overcome. As someone who only recently got to the place where I understand and accept who I am, if I choose to open up to you please listen without judgment.” — Casey Malinoski

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11. “Autism defines my brain; it is neurological, and I am not interested in changing it for the world.” — Hallie Ervin

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12. “When I’m getting dressed up to go out and I ask if I look OK, I’m not asking for flattery. I’m asking for help! I want you to rescue me from being stared at, laughed at or being refused entry to that fancy restaurant for wearing an oversized t-shirt, track pants and sneakers.” — Lili Dewsbery

13. “I can be a good mom.” — Lucy Helene Magnus

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14. “When I withdraw, keep my head low and want to be alone, isolated and quiet, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong or that I am upset or I’m being rude. I simply just need to withdraw from the world to re-energize, find focus, slow my very busy brain down and find peace within myself to reset myself. It’s how I work, and it is what works for me.” — Addie Josefine De Nittis

15. “Just because I don’t react in a ‘typical’ way when facing grief or bad news doesn’t mean I’m cold or heartless. It just means I need time to process my feelings.” — Gemma Lyons

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16. “I have friends and really enjoy spending time with them. I do need down time afterwards though.” — Narelle McCaffrey

17. “What you see isn’t all I am.” — Katy Kenah

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Are you a woman on the spectrum? What do you wish others understood about you? Let us know in the comments below.

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