The Out-of-the-Box Way Teachers Helped My Son With Autism Open Up

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My son Jonathan’s first experiences at school were difficult. The kids at school either ignored him or bullied him, and the teachers at this particular school just didn’t work well with students who learned differently. Though he wasn’t diagnosed with autism at the time, we could see he was struggling to keep up with his peers, both socially and academically.

He was smart and loved to learn, so we knew it wasn’t him. We just had him in the wrong school. He was funny and delightfully quirky, so we knew we had him in the wrong social environment.

Luckily, we found a real out-of-the-box school where children engaged in experiential learning. The teachers focused on the “whole” child, their well-being and not just academics. So we eagerly enrolled him for the next school year, feeling excited he’d finally blossom. But he still was anxious and afraid he’d be bullied again, so he just wouldn’t engage.

Jodi Murphy’s son, Jonathan, left, his teacher
Jodi’s son, Jonathan (left), with his teacher.

His teachers came up with a creative idea to see if they could break down his barriers and help him open up. Finally, I had a team on his side who believed in him!

“Every time we see Jonathan, we’d like to give him a bear hug,” his teachers said. “When he comes to class or we see him in the hallway or out on the playground, he’ll get a hug. Would that be OK with you?”

“Let’s give it a try,” I responded, and #ProjectHug was a go!

So did it work?

In his own words, Jonathan said:

“When I first arrived at the school I felt I didn’t fit in. I was very anti-social, introverted and I just didn’t want to do anything. But one of the things that changed me was that every time my teachers saw me they’d say, ‘Jonathan, how ya been, buddy?’ and give me a big bone-crushing hug.

I’d stand still and say, ‘Oh, my God, not again.’ It was uncomfortable, but thanks to all their efforts, I started to get more self-confidence. I started talking to more people. I developed a trust in the teachers and kids at the school.”

Jonathan became more active and involved at school and a few years later earned “Outstanding High School Student of the Year” and the coveted “Stanbridge Award” for being a good role model and leader. He talked about it being the turning point for him during his high school graduation speech. It gave him the confidence to go on to college, perform in theater and become a voice actor. Today, his character voices are in video games, apps, audio stories and even a major California theme park.

Now I’m not saying #ProjectHug would be the thing to do with every child, and I’m sure his teachers would have stopped immediately if it caused Jonathan more anxiety or stress. The point is that for the first time we found a school with teachers who saw nothing but potential. And thanks to their creativity (and hugs) Jonathan soared!

Our family made an interactive children’s book about #ProjectHug — sort of a space adventure to an alien planet (a.k.a. a new school) and you can get it for free at this link.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? 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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To Channing Tatum After His Appearance on Carly Fleischmann's Talk Show

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Dear Channing Tatum,

When I first learned that Carly Fleischmann, a 21-year-old nonverbal woman on the autism spectrum wanted to start a talk show host called “Speechless with Carly Fleischmann,” I was so excited for her. Later, when I heard you were going to be her first guest, I was blown away by you supporting someone as incredible as Carly. Our community loves Carly for her beautiful story and now for what you’ve done to help her with pursuing her dream of being one of the first nonverbal and autistic talk show hosts.

You see, Carly is proving to the world that even if you can’t speak, you can still have something to say. I first learned about Carly’s story when her book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism came out in the fall of 2012. It left me in awe. Everything from the obstacles she overcame growing up, to reading how she learned to communicate via her computer blew me away. I would later find out about her amazing website called Carly’s Cafe, and it left a permanent mark on me about how wide the spectrum actually is. I too was diagnosed with autism at an early age just like she was.

I can relate to Carly’s story a lot. Without the support of my family, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome a lot of obstacles as an adult with autism today. Their support helped me become one of the first talk show hosts with autism in the country in 2015 when I signed on to join the show “Different is Beautiful” to highlight people who have overcome adversity in our local communities.

As someone who has done interviews for almost a year now, I can tell you that your interview with Carly was one of the best I’ve seen. The exchange you two had was amazing. You were so authentic and even faced some of your fears during the interview. It made me learn more about your story, but also showed me how bright a future Carly has as a talk show host.

I hope if you ever read this letter you know the impact you’ve made on Carly and on our community by being one of her first guests. We can only hope that Carly continues her path and follows the amazing dreams she has set out for herself.

Your friend,

Kerry

Watch the full interview here:

A version of this post originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. 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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We Need to Listen to -- and Believe -- Our Autistic Loved Ones

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So you’ve started dating a girl with autism? So you just found out your son is on the autism spectrum? So you learned all of those times you felt stranded in a world that doesn’t make sense had to do with your “not-so-typical” brain?

You’re lucky you ran into me!

My mom, my brothers, some of my sons and a few of my friends all landed in various places on this broad spectrum.

You are lucky. I’m guessing you know this, but I want to reiterate it anyway. I, myself, took too long to understand it.

The world needs us to have the kinds of conversations that are encouraged by the challenges of autism. I don’t mean to glorify or belittle or romanticize the challenges; they are real and they are hard. But almost all of them are the result of a society that is uncomfortable with “chaos” and “inconvenience.” Only a few of them are actually because of autism itself.

Sadly, I didn’t know this. I assumed my mom and my brothers were asking too
much of themselves and the world, and that the world (when telling them
to stop being themselves) must be right. After all, there is so much more of the world than us! How could it be wrong?

But I had children, and they stimmed, pulled away from certain types of touch, remained nonverbal for a long time.

By the time I was a mom, my brothers had already proven the ever-doubting
world and me wrong, time and time again. My mom had patiently showed me, taught me, believed in me until I learned to know in what ways I was wrong. By the time I was a mom I was ready to step up and explain things to the world.

I started by admitting my own cruelties. That was sometimes hard but always easier than justifying and defending them. Then, I asked the people I love what was going on in their minds and — this is key — I believed them. When my mom and brothers used to try to tell me about their experiences, I mostly entertained them with nods and pats on the head. Secretly I thought they were being dramatic, not trying hard enough or just plain not smart enough to make sense. I could give you specific examples (I have many!) but suffice it to say, I was “nice” on the surface and saw them as “other” on the inside.

But my sons? I couldn’t do it. I had to believe in them and be interested in them and truly listen when they told me things. Whether they communicated by moving away or toward things, or eventually with words.

Because the world looks, smells, feels and tastes different to everyone, and especially for our autistic loved ones, it’s important to trust them to tell us how they feel, what they see, who they are, what they think. It can be hard to understand (my one brother used to complain about all the “poo flakes” flying at him when I asked about his flinching, and my other brother doesn’t have much language so I’ve learned to listen to his energy and motions), but it’s more than worth it. We all become better people when we learn to do this everywhere in our lives.

Because of my brothers, and especially because of my mom (who adopted my wonderful brothers despite everyone telling her they were unlovable), my life is better and my eyes are open in beautiful ways. I’m kinder, smarter and busier sharing wonderful things instead of hiding away from possibilities.

I’ve learned to listen when people take the time to share their experiences, and to believe them. Sounds simple and obvious, right? Yet pay attention. Most of us assume we know what other people should feel, we challenge their experiences by telling them, “That’s not right, that’s not what it is.” We do this easily and consistently, and it’s dangerous and sad.

So you’re lucky you ran into me! Take a deep breath, and when the world looks at you or your son or your girlfriend or the neighbor girl with judgments, anger or pity, try to respond with a kindness and a teaching. Not always, but when you can. I’ve learned to do this (for the most part), and it’s been enlightening! Often people shift when I’m willing to smile and offer a kindness. And when they don’t, I go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they thought about it later and will be less judgmental next time. Goodness knows I’ve gone home and thought about things only to grow kinder for the next person!

The weight of the world is not on your shoulders entirely, new friend, so don’t feel obligated to always take the time to teach or encourage a thoughtful reaction, but you have been gifted with a unique opportunity. Take advantage of it in creative and comfortable ways!

You’re new to autism, which means you’ll be interested and curious to learn from others. That’s great! Please know: The professionals will try to be helpful, but listen first to your autistic loved one. The professionals are lovely but not always right. And when they are right, when they do believe in unlimited possibilities and putting the goals and motivators of the autistic individual first, when they do prove their ideas and actions are effective and kind, hold onto them and learn with them. Those gems of support are your best bling.

While you’re here and we’re chit chatting, I want badly to tell you about all the things my mom does that can help. I want to tell you about my book that is a collection of stories starring parenting and autism. I want to tell you to hire my mom, watch her shows, read her books.

And here’s the thing: So many of us are going to tell you that. You will meet so many wonderful well meaning people with the perfect book, the perfect therapy, the perfect vitamin, the perfect-whatever. I suggest you listen to them because they have experience, and you don’t need to figure it all out alone. But always, always, always take time away from their opinions to think about how it resonates for you and your family.

Your beliefs. Your girlfriend. Your son. Your neighbor.

And also, friend, take the time to consider what beliefs or motivators you might have that are, in your own way, hurting your chances for a valuable and successful experience.

It will surprise you sometimes. We are creatures of our environment, and the environment is imperfect. That’s OK, because we are also creatures of power, and you can make changes. Invest in your happiness and agency.

My brothers are now my friends. My sons are my treasures. My mom is my mentor and kindred spirit. My life is diverse and unpredictable and filled with magic and miracles!

Because of my struggles with society and self, I’m able to share these learnings with you and hopefully save you some hardship. I’m able to explore my mistakes and see they are indeed valuable.

I see that it’s also me who’s lucky.

I’m lucky I ran into you.

Thank you, friend, for exploring our luck with me.

The Mighty is asking the following: What is the best advice your mom gave you while growing up with a disease, disability 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.

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To the Moms Who Love Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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To the moms who raise a loved one on the spectrum,

This weekend is Mother’s Day, and I wanted you to know how important you are to your child. You may not know it, but simply by being there for them you are making a huge difference. I know this because when I was growing up with autism my mom helped me through some of the hardest moments in my life…

When I was completely nonverbal (up until I was 2.5), my mom was there.

When I was diagnosed with autism when I was 4, my mom was there.

When educators in my schools couldn’t understand why I was lashing out, my mom was there.

When I started school my mom was there.

When I had to move to three different public schools in four years, my mom was there.

When I came home crying from school for not only being bullied but having difficulty with that transition, my mom was there.

When we fought our school district for two and a half years to get me an out of district placement for students with learning disabilities, my mom was there.

When I needed someone to drive me to school, my mom was there.

When I found my strengths, my mom was there.

When we finally found the therapies that worked best for me, my mom was there.

When I made my first friend and ran home to tell everyone, my mom was there.

When I graduated from grade school, my mom was there.

When I was struggling with taking the SATs, my mom was there.

When I graduated from high school, my mom was there.

When I was nervously waiting for an acceptance letter to come to our house to see if I got into college, my mom was there.

When I graduated with my undergraduate and master’s degrees, my mom was there.

When I received my first full-time job offer, my mom was there.

When I had any self-doubt in my ability to achieve great things, my mom was there.

When I succeeded and overcame the obstacles that challenged me when I was younger, my mom was there.

To the moms out there who love someone with autism, I hope you realize the impact you have, like my mom had on me, simply by being there. 

I love you, Mom!

Wishing all the amazing moms out there in our community a Happy Mother’s Day!

This blog originally appeared on Kerrymagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you want to make sure the special needs mom in your life knows? *If you are the special needs mom, challenge a loved one to respond to this! 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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Carly Fleischmann, Nonverbal Woman With Autism, Interviews Channing Tatum

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Carly Fleischmann is nonverbal, but she’s become the voice of autism awareness. The young woman, who uses a communication device, gained notoriety when a video giving insight to how she processes the world went viral in 2012. It’s since been viewed more than two million times, and brought well-deserved attention to her book “Carly’s Voice.

Four years later, Fleischmann has launched a web series “Speechless with Carly Fleischmann,” which she hosts. In its first episode, released on Friday, she sits down with actor Channing Tatum to discuss growing up, his marriage and his greatest fears. It’s a wonderfully entertaining interview in and of itself, and we hope it will do wonders for spreading awareness for people who use alternative methods of communication.

h/t Kerry Magro

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Local Bars Boycott 50 Cent's Vodka in Response to Video Mocking Autistic Man

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Rapper 50 Cent is under fire for mocking a man on the autism spectrum in an Instagram video.

In the clip, the rapper, whose full name is Curtis Jackson III, suggests Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport employee Andrew Ferrell is high on drugs.

“Listen, the new generation is crazy,” the rapper says in the clip, which has since been removed. “Look at him. What kind of [expletive] you think he took before he got to work today? He high as [expletive] right here in the airport. His pupils dilated and everything…”

Ferrell, a 19-year-old who has Asperger’s syndrome, told Fox19 the experience was weird, calling the rapper “a jerk” and questioning his motives for doing it.

“To put this video out there saying my son is on drugs or whatever, that is part of his social anxiety,” Kent Ferrell told WLWT. “He’s not wanting to talk, he’s not wanting to communicate, he’s walking on and he’s doing his job.”

The community has begun to respond to the rapper’s behavior and lack of awareness, coming to Ferrell’s defense. Cincinnati bar Holy Grail Tavern & Grille announced it would boycott the rapper’s liquor brand Effen Vodka. Since then, at least five other businesses have joined the boycott, according to WLWT.

Update May 3, 7:24 pm: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson said the following to The Mighty in an email:

While the incident at the airport resulted from an unfortunate misunderstanding, I am truly sorry for offending the young man. It was certainly not my intent to insult him or the disability community, which is a source of great strength in America. I have apologized personally to him and his family. 

Update May 5, 11:05 am: Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson said the following to The Mighty in an email:

“I want to turn this misunderstanding into an understanding. There are people that are ignored, mistreated and neglected with disabilities that need our support. Today, I have made a donation of $100,000 to this worthy cause through Autism Speaks. I am calling on my fellow musicians, actors, entertainers and all others who may not have fully considered this cause to join together to help in any way they can.”  

If you are unfamiliar with autism, educate yourself and help spread awareness. Here’s a good place to start:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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