Illustration of a woman watching the stars

I don’t do well without structure. It’s a simple fact. Any sort of change thrown my way, even a simple addition to a night out, leaves me with my brain awry, my stomach in knots and my anxiety bursting at the seams.

So why would I ever choose to move out of my house into a dorm, go completely independent and work a full-time job in the span of two days?

Was it teenage impulsivity? A little bit. Was it a desire to experience something new? Maybe. Was it the need to have some sort of income? Well, I can tell you that definitely played a role. While these were all factors, I believe the most obvious reason boils down to this: societal and familial pressure.

The truth is, I am 18 years old. My extended family doesn’t know I’m autistic, and I often don’t share that fact with others. Before, I was able to blend into the neurotypical world with small-talk scripts I’d learned, but as I’ve gotten older, the interactions with my peers sail me into uncharted seas, and I often find myself capsized. The conversations that were once simple arithmetic have turned into calculus, and I was never very good at math anyway.

As my peers grow among one another, I find myself stumbling behind them, desperate to catch up. Some of my extended family members don’t understand why I’m not on par with other family members in my age group. To them, I am simply a “late bloomer,” or even worse, “lazy.”

So I found myself in a situation a lot of autistic people find themselves in. I’m at an age where I’m “supposed to” make drastic changes to my life. I am supposed to move out, go to college, live independently, find a job, and expand my view of the world. I am supposed to hit a growth spurt in personal development while simultaneously adjusting to the adult world. So when I received the offer to move away from home, live in a dorm, be completely independent and work a full-time job, I jumped in. I thought that maybe if I did this, my family would see me in a different way. I could stride forward and give them something to be proud about. Maybe by throwing myself into the waters of the real world for six weeks, I could see if I sank or swam.

Well, impulsive actions are never wise. I thought I could keep my head above water, but I can feel myself slipping under. There are no familiar routines, no therapy animals, no schedules. I am living in a strange room, in a strange building, with people I have no idea how to interact with. I have never made such a terrible decision in my life, and now I’m stuck here, alone, without any sort of grounding. I am forced to try something new every day, miles away from my comfort zone, desperate for any sort of structure.

There are often articles about letting a child try something new when they say they are ready for it. These articles tell you to allow them to succeed and fail on their own, without interference. But sometimes, you need to evaluate the situation. Is your child doing this because they feel pressured? Is this a serious change that needs careful attention? And most importantly, is my child trying something new just to please others?

It is a delicate balance — maintaining a healthy amount of freedom and restraint. Most of the time, kids and young adults have no idea what the hell they’re getting into. I certainly don’t conceptualize consequences until they are happening. My advice is, don’t let your kid make sudden decisions without talking to them about how it will affect them. I understood that this transition would be hard, but I was so focused on the idea of seeming accomplished by my family that I didn’t fully understand what it entailed.

Make sure to evaluate needs, understand your child won’t change overnight, and give your thought-out opinion before your child decides. That is something I could have certainly used.

Image via Thinkstock Images


Our eldest son on the autism spectrum used to say when he grew up he’d like to be a dad — possibly combined with a part-time job as a either a dentist or super villain.

Relationships hang around in the back of your mind when you have an autistic child. Will they, won’t they? Every person with autism is different, and what they want out of their life and how they interact with people and the world is different too.

The thoughts about our son being in a romantic relationship, becoming a dad and the difficulties he may face with this came to my mind again when a few days ago he declared he didn’t want to be a dad anymore. I wondered why. Why doesn’t he want to a dad anymore?

“What if (the child) makes me angry?”

“And I’m not good at homework and I have to be able to help them… What if I can’t?”

What more can I say? My son continues to astound me. He’s only 8 years old, and he deals with ADHDanxiety and a few other bits and pieces. He knows this. Sometimes he’s happy with it, sometimes it frustrates him and sometimes he shows an extraordinary amount of empathy and care that melts my heart or brings a tear to my eyes. He has many qualities I think would be great in a father.

But son, with this single comment, you proved you couldn’t be a better dad. Here is the truth:

Every parent gets angry at some point.

Every parent wonders if they are good enough.

And this is when we are old enough to be parents. At 8 years old, you have years to work on these. But more than that, your doubts make me think you would be a fantastic father.  Your sister may walk around with a doll, but that doesn’t mean she’d make a better parent. What you are concerned about could not make you more parent-like.

My son may have struggles ahead with his own feelings, his friendships, his affections. As his parents, we will be here to help him through these times. We hope to help him achieve whatever it is he really wants to do. As always, I’m ever so proud of you, son.

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woman with roller derby gear on Dear roller derby team, 

Joining the team has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done in my life. It has been physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausting. Yes, yes, derby is that way for a lot of people, what’s the big deal? Well, it’s even more so for me. You see, I’m on the autism spectrum.

Basically, my brain works differently from yours. I can be socially awkward, I can experience sensory overload, and my gross motor skills are lacking at best. The lights buzzing, the sounds of the skates on the track, mixed with the feeling of my mouth guard and other gear can be overwhelming at times. Throw in trying to skate and hit each other on top of it all. Yikes! It’s like a bomb went off in my head that screams “danger!” But I’m out there trying my best.  

I don’t usually make it widely known that I have autism. There is unfortunately a stigma that comes with it. People usually say something like, “You don’t look autistic” or “You are just quirky.” I’m not sure what they think a person with autism looks like… and “quirky” can be just a nice way of saying “weird.” Some days I can function pretty normally, and some days going to the grocery store is like walking onto a battlefield. That being said, I have told a few ladies on the team about my autism for the simple reason that in playing a full contact sport, I might have a sensory meltdown and I don’t want people freaking out.  

I say all this because I want to say… thank you! Tonight’s practice was difficult for me. I was in pain and experiencing sensory overload. I was on the verge of a meltdown when one of you lovely ladies patted me on the back and told me I was doing a good job. It was a little thing, but it was enough to snap me out of my funk. Thank you! Thank you to the people who knew about my diagnosis and have always treated me like everyone else. It means so much to me to be accepted. Thank you to the coach who has told me dozens of time to hold my head up and get into my derby stance, without losing patience with me. I hear you, and I’ll get it one of these days. Thank you to the people who barely acknowledge my existence. I know you are in the zone. Your dedication and focus are something I aspire to have. Thank you to the people who see I’m not understanding something so you break it down in a way that I get. Your willingness to work with me is something I haven’t often experienced. 

Roller derby people are some of the kindest, most generous and toughest people I have ever met. Thank you for all you do!

I come from a very close-knit family. My parents have been married for over 30 years, and I have two wonderful brothers. Fifteen years ago, when my youngest brother Joe was just 7 years old, we found out he has Asperger’s syndrome. At the time, there was not much research about it; my family treated Joe like everyone else.

Eileen and her brother Joe.
Eileen and her brother Joe.

Being an older sister has its perks, but when you are dealing with someone on the autism spectrum, there are things to consider.

1. Be careful how you tease. If you are an older sibling, you will inevitably find ways to torment your younger brothers and sisters. But, if one of them happens to have Asperger’s, they may not get over the torments so easily, and likely will not understand sarcasm.

2. Realize you may never win a debate. My brother is very headstrong and insists that Donovan McNabb should have never left the Philadelphia Eagles. He has statistics to prove it. I do not. I can just argue. He can back up his arguments about everything from sports to politicians with facts and figures.

3. Accept your sibling’s daily habits, even though you may not fully understand them. Joey likes to heat his ice cream for 30 seconds before he eats it. Who knows why; I can ask him why until he is completely annoyed with me. I have learned these habits will not change.

4. Sometimes you may not hear the words “I love you.” People on the autism spectrum may express feelings differently. Once in awhile, I will get a small nudge or pat on my back. I know he loves me; he will just show it differently than my other sibling.

5. Be their best friend. Growing up, it may take some time for your sibling to make friends. As you are busy making plans or bonding with family, make an effort to include your sibling. You may be their best friend, and you can help give them the confidence they need to succeed.

I am proud to say that Joey was his high school prom king. In college, he worked as a sideline reporter and sports announcer for several La Salle sports teams. He was a lead anchor for the school’s sports show, which aired on cable each week. He networked with some of Philadelphia’s finest sport anchors and reporters. He has friends and is one of the most personable, talkative people I know. I see him not just as a brother, but as an inspiration. The least I can do for him is to be an understanding older sister.

This story originally appeared on KenCrest.

School uniforms aren’t known for being comfortable, but for many children with sensory sensitivities, wearing the same restrictive clothing every day can feel downright impossible. Now, thanks to U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer, children on the autism spectrum and kids with different special needs can buy school uniform basics without having to compromise their comfort.

For its “Easy Dressing” line, Marks & Spencer partnered with The National Autistic Society to create a shirt and pants set that is uniform compliant for all children, regardless of gender. The line was designed to maximize comfort for those on the autism spectrum.

This is the company’s second special needs-focused clothing line. The first line, which came out earlier this year, includes onesies for toddlers and older children with special needs.

All Easy Dressing items are designed to be just that – easy to put on. The shirts, which look like button-down shirts, are fastened with soft velcro. Making life easier for parents, the shirts are also wrinkle- and stain-resistant. The pants are pull-on trousers, eliminating the need for buttons and zippers. The care instructions and tags are moved inside a pocket to eliminate discomfort and itching. For additional comfort, the back pockets have also been removed. Like the shirts, the pants are stain-resistant as well as water-repellant.

A highlight of the line is its affordability. A pack of two shirts will cost between $12 and $21, depending on size. The sizes are designed to fit children between the ages of 3 and 16. The pants, which are also sold in pairs, retail from between $17 and $26. Although Marks & Spencer is a U.K. brand, the school uniforms qualify for international shipping to the U.S. and other countries.

According to the Marks & Spencer website, 10 percent of the sale price of the Easy Dressing garments will be donated to The National Autistic Society.

Marks & Spencer could not be reached for comment.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a rude stare or comment? I can’t tell you how many families I speak to who deal with this issue.

It usually starts like this: You and your child are hanging out in a public place like a grocery store or at the line of a bank when your child suddenly has a meltdown. A stranger then instantly thinks to themselves that your child is having a “tantrum” or they’re a “bad” child who needs to behave themselves.

Then those same strangers may make a comment towards the parent on how they could let their child act the way they do. How they’re a “bad” parent for raising a “bad” child.

Even if there’s no comment, there may people staring either directly or doing double takes at the family and expressing those same feelings with their body language. Others may be whispering to their friends and family about what’s happening.

If you were ever on the receiving end of any of those above scenarios, I want you to remember one thing today: It’s not you.

Whether it’s ignorance or just people being rude, there’s no way of knowing when a situation like this may occur, especially in a public place. My parents had to deal with this when I was growing up with autism. I liked to scream, cry, punch, kick and wail whenever a situation brought me to a place of overload. When those situations occurred, I could remember the eyes pointing in my direction. So many people who don’t have a child with special needs think that other parents should “control” their child when this happens. Sometimes when a meltdown happens, though, the best thing you can do is just be there for your child and wait it out.

Those days hurt but with each one of those stares and comments came moments of pure joy that my family and I have never taken for granted. I learned to roll with the punches like my parents had to during my adolescence.

So, for those reading this, take it from someone who has been on the receiving end of those stares and comments. Don’t judge what you don’t understand.

This post first appeared on

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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