I was once you. I once sat on the couch while a psychologist told me my son, on whom the sun rose and set, had autism. I don’t remember any of the words said to me after that — but I remember the room, where the sun was in the sky, and my desire to run from the clinic as fast as I could so I could be alone.

I was completing my doctorate at the time, working in a children’s clinic in another state, away from my family and friends. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what I was looking at. I knew all the signs. I had to know them in order to appropriately diagnose other parents’ children correctly. Day after day, I lied to myself – “He’s just smart” or “He’s unique,” I would say. Suddenly though, I had no story to tell myself. My explanations fell flat in the face of him cowering under the kindergarten table, hoodie over his face, screaming, “Don’t look at me!” I could not explain the word-for-word infomercials he scripted when anxious, or the inexplicable meltdowns where I found myself restraining him so he wouldn’t hurt himself. I wanted to hold him, rock him, soothe him — but he didn’t want to be touched. The confidence I felt at work dissolved when I couldn’t reach my own child.

Don’t get me wrong. It was always hard to deliver painful diagnoses to parents. I was empathic, sensitive and supportive, and I wanted nothing more than to truly help the families I served. But something fundamental changed in me that day — I got it. I understood on a level I never before knew existed. Autism wasn’t known by words in a textbook, it was how it felt in a relationship. The first autism diagnosis I gave after that was the mother — not the doctor — holding back tears, helpless in the face of my own emotions. In my defense, the diagnosis of my precious boy was handed to me as though it were a terminal illness, with all the hopelessness such a pronouncement would bring.

Thus began my own journey — the journey I have been honored to begin with hundreds of the most amazing individuals to ever cross my threshold. I immersed myself in the world of autism, not wanting to only know but to truly understand. I humbly accepted that I didn’t and would never have all the answers to something so complex, but I was committed to seeking what just might work for any child, adolescent, or adult. I found the brilliance of hope in the courage of my people, my “village,” and I discovered that the simple joys of having a child invited to a birthday party, developing a friendship, going to a dance, having a boss, a partner, a child were all possible. The search for the ability to experience joy and peace were far more meaningful than any superficial accolades.

That brings me to today. Today, when you sit across from me, holding your breath, wanting to know the truth while wishing you could be somewhere else. I have administered every test and measure necessary so that I, to the best of my ability, understand your child, your family, your dreams, your fears — there’s no room for cookie-cutter assessments here. I am not the person I was all those years ago. Autism doesn’t frighten me anymore; rather, I embrace the absolute treasure found in every person with autism.

But there you are. I see you — I feel what you’re feeling. I have grown to know you through this process and to understand your vulnerabilities, your unwavering love for and acceptance of your little one. You feel alone and beat yourself up for not always knowing what to do, for waiting too long, for your imperfections. I won’t lie, I want to jump in and rescue you, say, “Let’s wait a year and re-evaluate.” If I do that, I am hurting you, delaying the process you are going to have to go through. I’m going to tell you the truth. And then, if you let me, I will be honored to walk beside you on this road — yours and mine — and share your journey.

Our children with autism can teach us the greatest lessons. Someday, I hope you will tell your story to another parent, about the day you sat where they are sitting, and all you have learned on this journey.

Lori Lichte-Brill
Lori and her son.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. 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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This mother of a child with autism has drawn on their experiences to bring a stereotype-defying story to the big screen.

Janet Grillo is a director, professor at New York University and mother of a 22-year-old son with autism. Her film, “Jack of the Red Hearts,” which hits theaters Friday, tells the story of a teenage runaway who poses as a caregiver and forms a unique bond with an 11-year-old autistic girl named Glory.

The film’s screenwriter, Jennifer Deaton, is the aunt of a girl with autism, who was the inspiration for Glory’s character, the New York Post reported.

Check out our new poster art! #jotrh @annasophiarobb @taylorbrichardson

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One of Grillo’s goals in making the film was to break the stereotypes often used to portray people on the spectrum — gifted, quirky, socially odd, “Rain Man”-like characters. Grillo wanted to show that many people on the spectrum are nonverbal and may require assistance. Her son, who lives in an assisted-independent living program in New York, had a lot of therapy as a child to get to that point.

I do feel that my experience as a mother is my truth in this story,” Grillo told the Post. “My hope is, next time you’re in the grocery store and you see a mother of a child who’s throwing a wild ‘tantrum,’ instead of deciding that child is a brat, thinking, ‘Maybe that’s a child with autism.’ Maybe saying, ‘How can I help?’”

See the preview for the film below:


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.

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