Most parents of kids with autism can relate to what I call “the short list.” It’s the list of restaurants where you can go and you know your kids will be comfortable. This story is not about the long list of restaurants we don’t go to. It’s about one more restaurant that I feel every parent of a child with autism should add to their “short list.”

My son Braeden is 7 years old and on the autism spectrum, and Perry is a 14-inch plush platypus. They’re best friends. Braeden, Perry and I set out in our hometown of Media, Pennsylvania in search of brunch. We found ourselves at a familiar yet relatively new restaurant, Bittersweet Kitchen. Braeden ordered chocolate chip pancakes and bacon, and he began to place Perry’s order when I interrupted and laughed to the waitress.

Not long after that, our food came — and so did Perry’s.

boy and stuffed animal sitting at restaurant table
Braeden and Perry eating brunch.

I sat there and watched the smile spread across Braeden’s face as I held back tears. I thanked the waitress and the owner for their kindness and left. Sitting at home later that night after Braeden and Perry were fast asleep, I couldn’t help but feel completely overwhelmed with emotions. I thought to myself that the waitress may never know what she did for Braeden. What may have seemed like a small act of kindness to her meant everything.

As a parent of a child with autism, all we really want is acceptance — for us, for our family, for our child or adult loved one with autism. Some days are defeating, but then you find the days when you don’t need to search for it, when acceptance greets you at the door and serves a stuffed platypus a meal. Those are the moments worth sharing, a day you’ll always remember and a restaurant worth the “short list.”

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone in your community went above and beyond (or did the exact opposite) for you or your loved one with special needs. 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.

Sometimes living life with autism can be hard. Moments can be challenging, triggers can be hard to figure out and calming and regrouping can seem like it takes forever. The fact that you have so much to say and might have a hard time saying it. You communicate it in the best way you can. Others don’t always understand, and this causes frustration. The frustration is real. The struggle is real.

But even on the hardest of days, during the hardest of moments, it helps me to look back and see the positive. What went well? These things may not seem big at all to most people, but for me they are still big accomplishments. Rather than only focusing on the meltdown itself afterwards, focus on what went right. For example, I independently used my iPad multiple times to communicate frustration, wants and needs when words were hard. I requested sensory items to help me calm down. (Knowing what my body needs is a huge accomplishment!) After the feelings of tears and frustration passed, we picked up the pieces and moved on, remembering just how far I’ve come.

Later I’m almost always one of the first ones to try to figure out what strategies we can implement and use to help prevent those hard moments when it is all just too much. I’m so grateful for my amazingly helpful and supportive family, therapists and friends.

I want you to try and remember the accomplishments, even through the hard moments. Remember where you once were and where you are now, how far you’ve come. Remember steps back may happen. That’s normal; it’s part of life. But throughout the hard, look deeply to try and find a positive. And try to remember everything will be OK.

Don’t let the hard let you forget how strong and awesome you are. Keep trying, and keep noticing the positives. They really are a big deal.

Woman standing next to a statue of a guard made of Legos

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

When The Hollywood Reporter shared the news that the award-winning, “autism-themed” love story, “Jane Wants a Boyfriend,” was being released this spring, we immediately wanted to know more. As it turns out, the movie is inspired by a true story, and one of our own Mighty contributors, Kerry Magro, worked as a consultant on the project.

Jane Wants a Boyfriend” is focused on the relationship between sisters Bianca and Jane (played by Eliza Dushku and Louisa Krause, respectively), the latter of whom has autism. Jane expresses an interest in wanting a boyfriend, and with a little help from her overprotective sister, she dips into the dating pool.

Jane Wants a Boyfriend film still
Image courtesy of FilmBuff / Copperline Creative

“Jane is inspired by a friend of [screenwriter] Jarret Kerr,” executive produce Anne Dempsey told The Mighty. “She told us how her younger sister, who is on the autism spectrum, had approached her for help setting up an online dating profile.”

During the research phase of the film, producers connected with Kerry Magro, a successful author, public speaker and self-advocate, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 4. Magro, who was nonverbal as a child, jumped at the opportunity to get involved after reading the script. His primary duty was to make Krause’s portrayal of Jane as “realistic… as humanly possible.”

Magro, who saw similarities to his own love life in this story, says Jane’s character is a “spot-on portrayal of what people with autism tend to go through when it comes to dating.”

Jane Wants a Boyfriend film still
Image courtesy of FilmBuff / Copperline Creative

“I hope the audience comes away realizing that people with autism can feel empathy and love,” Magro continued. “We are making the world more inclusive about the needs of others, and that’s a great thing to see.”

Dempsey said she’s thrilled with the reaction the film has received thus far. During a post-screening Q&A at the Napa Film Festival, one mom told Dempsey, “You guys nailed it.”

“Jane Wants a Boyfriend” hits theaters on March 25. Watch the trailer below.

Earlier today my family — I mean my entire family — watched a Broadway show together.

No real marvel for most families, but for our family this is a huge deal!

Lyla, my daughter, is a belter. Broadway musicals speak to her soul. But due to timing, cost, performance intensity, and having a brother with autism who is sound averse, seeing musicals as a family is a rarity. The exception is when Theatre Development Fund (TDF) sponsors sensory-friendly programs. Then we prepare our computers, brace ourselves, refresh a thousand times and pray we will get seats, because then we know, though the cost is huge, it is meaningful time spent together as a family. It connects our children, allows them to feel important, valued and to see other families with brothers or sisters with autism. It fosters respect of differences and values, and also a community of loving and affectionate families, all there with the same purpose: to enjoy a Broadway show together. It is also important to help our son with autism improve his ability to navigate atypical situations.

We have scored tickets to three of these events. Our first production was the Lion King, the second production was Matilda and this, our third, was “Wicked.”

Each time we gather at one of these events, seats are taken, people are given squeeze-stars, headphones are offered, fidgets are tossed about and given to everyone interested, and people are wonderful. Screaming is not shushed, standing during a performance is not unheard of, people run in and run out for sensory breaks, and during this performance the beautiful mom sitting in front of us said: “It’s okay for your boy to push on the seat back. I get it.”

I get it. That is the feeling that buzzes in the air, carries into our hearts and makes me cry, every time.

This time it was so much more. I did not only feel it from the parents and the beautiful TDF volunteers; it seemed to emanate from the actors themselves. It was truly magical.

My gratitude overwhelms me still. As I write I fight tears. This story and the actors’ performance in “Wicked” speaks to our children; it speaks to us as their parents. It talks about acceptance. But more, it talks about a theme I have spoken of in the past. “Wicked” is about how much people who seem different have to offer society, offer us in our lives. It is a theme that has echoed through my entire existence. It is a theme of acceptance and love, a reminder to learn from and find the good within, to change what you think is impossible and to be more.

What is my point? We are so grateful to the creators of this story, and for the incredible actors who seemed to truly embrace this beautiful audience and find even greater inspiration to be bigger and better for this show.

To all the citizens of Emerald City, you were brilliant! You changed lives, inspired so much good, so much love and showed tremendous generosity.

Your curtain call brought us to tears. Holding those stars in your hands, you showed something so important: You demonstrated solidarity, connection, an unequivocal depth of compassion, love and acceptance.

There are no more words. I cannot express the depth of my gratitude. Thank you for this unique, wonderful, inspiring experience. May others learn from your generosity of spirit!

family on the street
Faith and her children.

Follow this journey on Rantings of an ADHD Mom and on Facebook.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone in your community went above and beyond (or did the exact opposite) for you or your loved one with special needs. 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.

Today I had a meltdown. Today’s meltdown wasn’t as dramatic to witness as the meltdowns I have suffered in the past, but nevertheless it was hard for both me and my carer. She struggled to understand what it was like for me, so I tried to explain. I said it’s a bit like a bottle of fizzy drink. Every time you shake it, the pressure builds up. Eventually the lid will shoot off! It gave me an idea, though. Maybe I should write about what it’s like to have a meltdown from the inside view.

Let’s set the scene for today’s meltdown. Stress has been building up for a couple of weeks, starting with various health issues, a gastroscopy done under general anesthetic (which made me unwell), my landlord refitting only half of my windows, a new fridge arriving and finally an accident in which I ripped the linoleum in my kitchen. By themselves each of these things may not be such a big deal, but like the bottle of fizzy drink, every event has shaken me up inside.

I knew I was going to melt down at some point today, I just didn’t know when. I lose the ability to talk first, which for anyone who knows me means that something is really wrong. Words stop making sense. Every time my carer speaks to me, it feels like she has punched me in the head (I will point out that this is not an actual punch!). I can hear construction at the building site across the road. My mind is racing, but I can’t make sense of the information clogging up my brain and making it feel foggy. When I talk, the words come out wrong, and I feel like I am trying to talk with a mouth full of peanut butter.

By this point I am aware that just one more little event could set off the meltdown. I start to self-stimulate by flapping my hands, rocking, shaking my head side to side, slapping the back of my hand over and over again and biting it. These “stims” send good information to my brain to try and counteract the stress hormones flooding my body. I feel tense, like my body is caught in a vice. My head feels so full. Just as I am starting to regulate myself again, the phone rings. It’s someone from my care agency’s office telling me that my landlord said I have to replace the whole linoleum floor in the kitchen. It’s the final shake…

My body starts to tremble. I feel electric-like jolts shoot from my head to toes. The room feels like it has been pulled away and I am in a blurred bubble of rage. Aside from some angry shouting, words fail me. I start to scream out of complete frustration and inability to express my feelings. I start to viciously attack my own body, a desperate attempt to bring myself back from the top of the meltdown.

Thankfully, I was able to take myself to my bedroom. This is something I have only learned to do in the past year or so. Before my meltdowns would have lasted a lot longer, been a lot more dangerous both for me and my carers (not to mention anyone or anything else in the room) and would have ended with a sudden drop of energy, followed by a long sleep. Today, the techniques I have learned over the years came together and allowed me to safely remove myself, put myself in a safe space (namely my bed) and allowed myself to let the emotion out just long enough to feel better before rocking violently from side to side for half an hour. This last thing can look like a loss of control from the outside, but the violent rocking brings the focus back. Slowly the fog begins to lift, my body releases tension and I become aware of my surroundings again.

Although this was a much less serious meltdown than previous ones, I give myself plenty of time to recover. Luckily my carer had an hour-long break, and after she checked I was safe, she could leave me to recover alone. As tempting as it can be to confront or check on me constantly during a meltdown recovery, leaving me is actually the best thing as it stops further unwanted input confusing my already-fried brain. Eight hours later, I still have a “meltdown hangover.” It could be two or three days, possibly even another meltdown or two before I fully recover.

So that is my inside experience of a meltdown. It is a scary thing to witness, but trust me, I am terrified, too.

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.

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