To the Dads Who Raise a Loved One on the Autism Spectrum

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To the dads who raise a loved on the autism spectrum,

Jim Valvano once said, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” And that’s where my story begins with this letter to you today.

When I was 4 I was diagnosed with autism. Through all the uncertainties the diagnosis would bring my family, the one thing my dad always remembered to do was believe in my abilities. The unconditional love he provided me has made a lasting impact in my life.

When my dad recently retired, I was asked to say a few words. I said he had become my hero for the supports and services he provided me when the schools wouldn’t give them to me. When we had to fight for an out-of-district placement, he led that charge as well. My dad cared, and through that care he also became one of my best friends.

Now I work to share the lessons my dad taught me with other dads in our community. When I speak to parent groups, a common message we discuss is how any man can be a father but it takes someone special to be a dad.

So for all the dads who raise a loved on the spectrum, thank you.

Thank you for going above and beyond for your children.

This Father’s Day please know we appreciate everything you do. Your impact will move mountains for your child. We can’t thank you enough for that.

And to my dad, I love you with all my heart and always will. Thank you for bringing me in this world and giving me the opportunities to shine. I hope to follow by example when I’m a dad one day.

This post first appeared on KerryMagro.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you want to make sure the special needs dad in your life knows? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Boy at the Amusement Park Who Pretended to Be Autistic

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You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I was at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, on June 7. My three friends and I stood in line the new ride, The Valravn. A nice teacher from Columbus and her boyfriend stood in front of me, and you and your two friends waited behind me. The line for this ride was three hours long and by far the longest three hours of my life.

You and your friends were messing around, as teenagers do, trying to be funny but really just being immature. Then you drew the line.

You laughed and said, “I’m autistic and retarded!” Your friends laughed. I wanted to get out of line.

I have friends with disabilities and a lot on the spectrum. They go through daily struggles, and they accomplish so much. I have seen some have to fight for their lives. I tried explaining to you how that isn’t something to joke about. You stood there and laughed.

I don’t hate anything in life except the second word you chose to use. The R-word is a derogatory term and should never be used. It makes me cringe to think about. People like you need to be educated on why that word is not OK. It is offensive to me, to people with disabilities and to their friends and family.

For you, I was probably just another face you were trying to annoy, but for me, that day was another realization this world still needs education. And it doesn’t matter what age you are. 

I will probably never see you again, but if this spreads to you please think about what you say before you say it and how your words and actions can affect others. Your words and actions do matter.

One day I hope everyone can find love and acceptance. One day I hope all people with disabilities will be looked at like people — because they are people.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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My Reaction to That Sensory Overload Virtual Reality Video as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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The Mighty recently reported on a virtual reality experience, produced by the National Autistic Society, depicting sensory overload through the eyes of a boy on the autism spectrum. We asked our contributors, if they felt comfortable, what they thought of the video.

As someone on the autism spectrum, I have had my share of meltdowns and panic attacks. So when I was asked for my opinion on a new virtual reality video depicting sensory overload, I was a bit nervous. But I decided I was up for the challenge and sat down at my computer to go through the experience.

Editor’s note: The video below contains flashing lights, bright colors and loud, sudden noises, which may be triggering for individuals who experience sensory overload.

The first thing I noticed was the woman in the video said something (obviously talking to the camera), and I couldn’t even process what she had said because it was said so quickly. This is definitely a real issue for me when it comes to everyday functioning. I went to pause it to see if I could understand it better, and my mouse slipped.

That’s when I realized I could pan the video 360 degrees. This makes the video much more realistic. I tried to look at everything going on, but then I heard this horrible, high-pitched sound. It hurt my ears. (Of course, because there was so much to take in, I had to watch the video a second time. It was only then that I understood the high-pitched sound was a store alarm going off, as the video takes place in a mall.)

The woman started talking again. I panned back to look at her. She was trying to tell me to calm down, but this only gave me more information I needed to process amidst everything else. It didn’t really help.

Soon, I realized “I” (as a person in the video) was starting to hyperventilate. This was getting bad. It was either a panic attack or a full-blown meltdown. And while the picture began to fade to black to simulate closing my eyes, the sound also died down. I can only assume that would imply plugging my ears. So far, pretty accurate.

Then, suddenly, the woman and I were outside the mall. I had stopped hyperventilating. The woman said everything was fine. But there’s something about this people may not fully understand. Although I was out of the overwhelming situation — I had already been through the meltdown and panic attack — everything was not fine. If this had actually happened, I’d be exhausted and it could take hours for me to be OK again.

So, overall, the video was definitely interesting. I think there could have been a bit more of a crowd of people in the mall to make it so you couldn’t figure out where more of the sounds were coming from. But the depiction of a meltdown due to sensory overload is pretty well done.

As the boy says at the end of the video, “I’m not naughty. I’m on the autism spectrum.”

Sensory overload is real. It’s not something to be brushed off or something I can just get over. I hope this video will help more people understand that idea.

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When 'Hope' Became a 3-Letter Word for My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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mom and son smiling We have a routine, you and me. It’s just how we do. Because putting emotions into words doesn’t come easy for you. 

So we practiced a few times saying these three words. And after a few minor hitches, you got the hang of it. What can I say, you’re a fast learner. That’s just how you do.

So now when I say “I love you,” and I might have to say it again, and it might not always work, but more often than not you will respond “I love you.”

And we’ve being doing this thing for a while now, you and me.

But last night was different. It wasn’t like all the other times of prompted routine responses. You surprised me. But then again, that’s just how you do. Out of the blue you stuck a three letter word right on the end and said, “I love you too.”

We never practiced that one, and I never told you what to say. And just like that you made it special. You made it your own, all on your own. I never imagined such a simple three-letter word could carry so much hope, that maybe one day you just might say “I love you,” out of the blue.   

But even if you never do, my heart has been made full. Because of a little three letter word like “too” was enough spontaneity to last me a lifetime of spontaneous “I love you’s.”  

And yeah, we both know coloring on paper may not be your thing, but you sure do a beautiful job of coloring the walls of my heart.  

You keep reminding me it’s not about what may or may not happen; it’s about the right now. Because I can get so caught up in the worries of tomorrow that the moments of today slowly slip away, and those I can never retrieve. But if I live them and breathe them in, then I will always have them to remember. And so I will live in the moments of “too’s” and as for tomorrows, well those will just have to wait because right now we have today.

Follow this journey on Branch Life Journey.

The Mighty is asking the following:  Tell us about a stranger’s comment about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness that has stuck with you for one reason or another. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The Virtual Reality Video That Helped Me Understand My Children's Sensory Overload

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Have you ever seen something that truly changes the way you treat others?

This week I watched a video that has changed everything about how I treat and support my two children on the autism spectrum.

For a few minutes I had the privilege of seeing the world as they see it. I can never forget how that video made me feel.

I felt sick.

I felt dizzy.

I felt overwhelmed.

I felt trapped.

I felt lost.

I felt scared.

By the end of that video I was exhausted.

I was crying.

I have two children who experience the world at that level. I cannot stop their sensory overload.

Their world is so different than mine.

I have a huge respect for them now just for being able to get out of the car in a busy lot, or make it through a day at school, or walk into a shop.

I have promised myself to look out more for their stress signs and listen to them when they say, “I want to go home now.” I have promised to protect them more and understand them.

I feel bad for the many times I have told them to simply ignore the clock ticking when they said it was hurting their ears. I feel guilty for the time my daughter said the shop was making her feel sick, and not realizing the smell, the colors and the noise were overwhelming. I truly had no idea.

But that has all changed.

That video makes me see my children in a whole new way. They are stronger than I give them credit for, and they are braver than I knew.

To anyone who has seen a child on the spectrum upset and passed judgment, to anyone who has watched an adult panicking buying a bus ticket… I urge you; take five minutes to watch this.

It changed my viewpoint. I hope it changes yours too.

Follow this journey on Faith Mummy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a meme, image or sign you’ve seen shared online that struck a chord with you, for good or for bad. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When I Was Nonverbal: A Poem

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Being nonverbal for years

I often tried to have conversations with my peers

Using body language to bring on communication.

My mind was looking for the right way to tell my parents I loved them

When the doctors said I had regressed.

I knew in my heart I was there.

People sometimes didn’t understand.

While I often didn’t understand the world around me.

When I first started speaking, I found new possibilities

While supports gave me new opportunities.

Getting good grades in school became my motivation.

Being accepted for who I was became an objective.

Because bullying became a difficulty.

Years later even more things I wanted to do became a reality.

And I realized I wanted to become a role model —

That with hard work and determination we can all achieve amazing things.

And for our loved ones we could help them along the way.

With your help we will bring change.

Because with my parents help that nonverbal 2.5 year old boy today is now a national speaker, best-selling author, movie consultant, nonprofit founder, television host and full-time employee at Autism Speaks.

We will make a difference.

And when it happens you will be there with us.

It will be because we know all our loved ones, with or without special needs, just want to progress and be the best they can be every day.

Believe every day in our community.

Believe in hope.

We are learning more about finding the right supports for our loved ones.

Believe in the beauty in our community.

And finally…

Believe our loved ones will do anything they set their minds too. My parents always believed in me, and we always need someone to believe in us.

For every accomplishment, no matter how small. We will give them the supports.

Believe in them…

Always.

I shared this poem while speaking about my journey on the autism spectrum at the Autism Speaks Southern New Jersey Walk. If you ever need someone to talk too, to help you believe, you can contact me anytime via my Facebook Page.

This post originally appeared on KerryMagro.com.

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