Sometimes meeting new people can be hard, and this is especially true if you have autism, but why? In the video below, I talk about my own experience with this.

If you have any ideas about videos or subjects you’d like me to do, send me an email at [email protected]


Lately (read: the last several months), I have felt stuck in my head. I have a lot I want to say, but I can’t make the words come out. With #AutismHoops coming up, I wanted to write about why basketball matters to me as an individual on the autism spectrum. I think this event provides an opportunity to raise awareness in front of a unique population, and hopefully, generate acceptance for all individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are very few things in which I feel completely at ease. Watching basketball is one. I’m so thankful for that. It wasn’t always that way. Playing basketball didn’t put me at ease like watching basketball did. I enjoyed playing, when my knee allowed it.

But I flourished when I got to watch it. When my college basketball team started using Internet film exchange and I got that password… man. I loved it. I’d watch games instead of doing homework. I’d watch games before bed, when I couldn’t sleep, when I was so anxious I would vomit, when I couldn’t make my brain be quiet. When I watched basketball, I felt right.

The autistic mind works differently than most. Some people refer to certain forms of autism as “Wrong Planet Syndrome,” and I feel that way very often. But when I’m watching basketball, I know I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

I have a difficult time imagining myself later in life. I always have. I never thought I’d have a career. I thought I would always live at home and work for my parents. I wasn’t hopeful. When I applied and was accepted to the So You Want To Be A Coach program, I was terrified. I would get physically sick at the thought of having to introduce myself to another speaker. Our mentor approached me and said she was worried about me. When I took a graduate assistant position, people said I should reconsider. That I would never make it in this profession. I would never be able to connect or network.

When I found my niche, I stopped listening and I started hoping. Basketball gives me a purpose. It allows my brain to thrive by providing a mental challenge. My brain loves patterns. I love that patterns give a sense of routine and are a reliable means of prediction. I think that’s why I’m good at my job as a video coordinator. I get paid to watch basketball and find the patterns, to predict what is going to happen. And I’m good at it.

People ask me questions and want to know what I think. Me. I can’t look you in the eye. I can’t stand for you to touch me. I hate the noisy arenas — the bands, the crowds, the horns, the whistles. These are all really important parts of basketball. Somehow, for me, it works. I don’t have to network or connect anymore. I just have to be me and do what I love.

So when you see coaches wearing their blue puzzle pieces, don’t think about the limits that autism imposes on individuals. Don’t think about the “can’t” or the “won’t.” I’ve felt the despair that comes with not being able to imagine a successful future for myself. Some days, I feel it still.

When the world says, “Give up,” hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”

Instead, change your perception, and change your definition of success. I hope you will not give up. I hope you find your basketball.

Women's basketball team in a gymnasium

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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.

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.

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

A photo posted by Jack Of The Red Hearts (@jackoftheredhearts) on

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.

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