My son Tommy has autism. He’s 14. I’ve noticed that he’s “different” from a lot of other kids his age, but there are also plenty of similarities as well.

1. Teenagers have a smell about them. Whether it’s body odor or too much cologne, some sort of scent is usually wafting from their bodies.

2. I don’t have to worry about my son sneaking out at night. He’s really big on rules. If I told him to be in by 10 p.m., he’ll be back by 10 p.m.

3. His moods can be all over the place like any teen. One minute he’ll be smiling. The next he’ll be glaring at me.

4. He won’t risk smoking. Or getting drunk. He cannot believe anyone would do these things. “Don’t they know their lungs will turn black? Why would anyone want to get drunk?” He’s just as appalled over drugs.

5. He spends hours on video games like many teenagers. When he emerges from his room, we sometimes start clapping. “You exist!” I’ll sometimes shout.

6. He might not be driving when he’s 16. He can panic when he gets overwhelmed, so he might need more time to cope with these feelings before he gets behind the wheel.

7. I’m not sure when he’ll have a girlfriend. He still struggles with understanding different emotions. I have faith there is a girl out there for him, though.

8. He’s not interested in sports. He never has been. He tried track in fifth grade and wasn’t a fan. He tries hard, but playing catch with him is tricky as he can have difficulty catching the ball or throwing it. He’ll try to be polite if someone in the family offers, but you can tell he’s not really enjoying himself. Football has always bored him.

boy wearing gray t-shirt and smiling
Amber’s son, Tommy.

9. He probably won’t be going to any school dances. There’s one coming up and I asked if he wanted to go. He was like, “No, thank you.”

10. He doesn’t walk around with earbuds in his ears all the time. He cannot stand things in his ears and he doesn’t care to listen to music at all hours of the day.

11. He eats like most teenagers. He never seems to be full. I once watched as he ate a footlong sub from Subway in five minutes. And he was still hungry. However, his diet isn’t like a lot of teenagers’: He doesn’t like soda. It’s too “spicy” for him. He doesn’t like chewy candy. He doesn’t like if you put cheese on his burger. He’d live on rolls if I allowed it.

12. He hates wearing shorts. He’s noticed that a lot of boys his age wear shorts, even if it’s freezing. He doesn’t comprehend this. If it’s below 72 degrees, he must be in a long-sleeved shirt. He also hates wearing flip-flops. Even if we’re going to the pool, he prefers to be in socks and shoes. When we go to the beach I can get him in flip-flops but only because he can’t stand the sand stuck in the socks.

Honestly, I’m happy he might not ever be like other teenagers. He is who he is.

He’s Tommy.

Follow this journey on Airing My Laundry.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. 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.


Professional golfer Rickie Fowler attended the Els for Autism Foundation’s charity tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on Monday, and his hole-in-one shot raised $1 million for autism research.

Fellow pro Ernie Els and his wife Liezl have a son with autism, and they started the foundation in 2009. The $1 million Hole-In-One Challenge was sponsored by SAP and Ketel One Vodka, and the payout will come from an insurance policy, reported the Washington Post. Notables like Jack Nicklaus, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Louis Oosthuizen, Luke Donald, Nick Price and Els himself previously attempted the shot, and Fowler was the 17th pro to take a swing at it.

The money will go to the Els for Autism Foundation and the Els Center of Excellence, according to SB Nation. After Fowler made the shot, Els picked him up and hugged him and later tweeted, “Will always remember this moment. Great support once again from pros. #humbled still can’t believe it!”

On Tuesday, Els posted the video below and added, “Woke up today thinking I dreamt about @RickieFowler making an ace for $1m for @ElsForAutism. Then I watched this…”

Fowler added a photo on Instagram and wrote, “Epic Monday! One of the coolest moments in my life making a hole in one earning $1,000,000 for @ernieelsgolf #ElsForAutism.”

Thomas Morrow’s friends always wanted to know about the toys on his desk and why he sat on a different type of chair. The third-grader realized his classmates didn’t quite understand autism — how he used the toys for sensory play and the chair felt more comfortable, and why sometimes, he seems to view things in a “different” way.

Instead of answering question after question, the 8-year-old set out to do something not many adults have done: write a book.

thomas holding his book “Sometimes I am different than my class,” Thomas told The Mighty, “and I wanted them to understand autism.”

A year later, with the help of his grandmother, he published “The Autistic Turtle.”

In the book, an autistic turtle named Henry explains the ins and outs of autism to his friends. Thomas used the real names of his classmates, which he says thrilled them. He wants other autistic children who read the book to “know how different and cool we are.”

To write the book, Thomas would articulate how he saw the story and his grandmother would type it out. This all occurred while his grandmother received chemotherapy for stage 3 breast cancer.

“It was a complete blessing to watch the two of them work through the process,” Thomas’ mother, Tiffany Morrow, told The Mighty. “He would stand on his head, flip on the floor, pace and run all over the house and swing on her four poster bed, and she would sit in the middle on her laptop, and they would hash out the chapters one by one.”

Thomas received his autism diagnosis when he was 2 and a half years old. His mom says, at the time, she’d never have imagined him doing something like this. He proved preconceived notions wrong. Morrow says she’s a better person from raising a neurodiverse son. She hopes parents new to this journey will ultimately accept the diagnosis.

“Embrace the diagnosis, don’t fight it,” Morrow said. “I know that’s hard to hear that your child is not ‘typical,’ but dive in deep and take off running.”

the morrow family


Autism Awareness Month is less than a month away, and talk of autism will be filling the air. My social news feed is already blowing up with reminders to either start a walkathon, raise money for therapies and Light It Up Blue, all in the name of autism awareness.

Granted, it’s imperative to talk about autism and do these things throughout the month of April, but what about now or after the blue lights fade? You see, I am one of those parents who constantly talks about her daughter’s autism diagnosis to anyone willing to listen. I do this on a daily basis. Why? Why in the world would I share something so personal with strangers who could potentially use my words against me?

Well, I’ll tell you why — but first, I get it. I understand why some families are very selective as to who they share their child’s diagnosis with, mainly due to preconceived labels and judgments.

If someone wants to keep my daughter or family in a label bubble or decides to not associate themselves with us after learning my daughter Autumn has autism, guess what? That’s their problem. That’s on them. Also, what kind of friend would that be? Honestly, would anyone want to be friends with people who are afraid of autism or anything else that may not fit into that perfect box image? I didn’t think so. Plus, I really don’t care what people think of me and my family. If they want to judge us or not associate with us because we’re a special needs family, oh well. Their loss. Our gain.

In addition, how are we supposed to support a world full of inclusion, awareness and acceptance if we don’t talk about the diagnosis, or if we are so afraid to let the cat out of the bag that it holds not just our families back from being able to try new things, but hurts the child and/or individual we are advocating for?

I believe we as parents and caregivers are responsible for creating a world where our children have every opportunity to excel. By talking about the diagnosis and then educating others about autism (or any disability for that matter), we can encourage more sensitivity and understanding. We can begin to break down barriers and remove stigmas one step at a time. We can open the eyes and minds of others who may now go throughout their days being less judgmental towards that parent with the screaming child in the store or down the street. We can open the pathways for love and acceptance as well as kindness by sharing our journeys.

I feel this is how we can change the world. It’s a 365-day-a-year ideal, not just promoting this belief throughout one month.

girl looking at aquarium tank
Patricia’s daughter, Autumn.

Lastly, I talk about my daughter’s diagnosis because I’m proud of her and all that she is. Autism is a huge part of her life and her everyday challenges as well as triumphs, but it isn’t our entire world. I want people to see that people with autism are more than autism. That autism isn’t a one-size-fits-all glove like many people may assume. Like a beautiful snowflake, autism can be just as unique.

So the next time a stranger starts asking you questions about your child, don’t be afraid and share with them their diagnosis. You might even make a new friend that day, or at least you did your part in promoting awareness, acceptance and love, all for the greater good of making this world a more sensitive and caring place.

Follow this journey at Raising a Butterfly: Autumn’s Journey.

 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.

Temple Grandin gave an oral history at Colorado State University in 2008, and only recently has the audio for her lecture surfaced online. PBS’ “Blank on Blank” web show is running a special series, “The Experimenters,” and they decided to use audio of Grandin’s speech set to an animated video.

In the clip, Grandin explains how having an autistic brain is much like a search engine:

My brain is visually indexed. I’m basically totally visual. Everything in my mind works like a search engine set for the image function. And you type in the keyword and I get the pictures, and it comes up in an associational sort of way.

Grandin was nonverbal until the age of 3, at which point she was diagnosed with autism. She rose to fame when she developed a more humane approach for cows being led to slaughter and has designed facilities in which half the cattle in the United States are handled. Grandin currently works as a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. All the while, she’s been a trailblazer in autism awareness.

In her speech, Grandin also mentions other public figures with autism:

[Nikola] Tesla definitely today would be diagnosed autistic. If you got rid of all of the genes that caused autism, you’d be rid of Carl Sagan, you’d be rid of Mozart, Einstein today would be labeled autistic. He had no speech until he was 2 years old.

I struggled in school every single day. When I misunderstood something, I was told to ask for help. Yet when I did ask for help, I was told I was fine and I should stop worrying so much. Had I received my autism spectrum diagnosis when I was first assessed in sixth grade, I may not have struggled for the following four years until my official diagnosis in tenth grade. However, my diagnosis was originally dismissed, and instead I was seen as this anxious perfectionist who needed to learn how to relax more. But I couldn’t relax. I was still struggling. I was still misunderstanding things. I wasn’t misunderstanding just the material, but I also totally missed the bigger concept of learning how to learn.

When I was growing up, I didn’t strive to get all As simply because I felt I could achieve them; I did it because I thought I was supposed to get them. This came at a price: many, many meltdowns. And although my parents tried to explain to me it was okay to get lower grades as long as I was trying my best, I still thought that “trying my best” meant getting an A. Because that’s how people received awards and recognition. I hadn’t received any awards for my grades yet, so I thought I must not be doing my best. I still remember the awards ceremony and seeing my classmates getting awards. I would listen for my name, but I would never hear it. When I finally did receive an award such as honor roll, I wondered how I would ever keep up with the grades.

I realize now that awards aren’t always everything, and I understand that “trying my best” doesn’t always mean getting an A. At the same time, I am still trying to find that balance between “trying my best” and “perfectionism.” But kids are impressionable, and I don’t think it helps that schools give better and better awards to those with higher and higher grades. It’s great to acknowledge students, but make sure you are acknowledging them for the effort they put into trying to do their work, not just their ability to do it.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected moment with a teacher, parent or student during your (or your loved one’s) school year. 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

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