woman with roller derby gear on

To My Roller Derby Teammates Who May Not Realize I Have Autism

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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!

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5 Ways to Be a Supportive Sibling to Someone On the Autism Spectrum

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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.

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Marks & Spencer Launches Line of School Uniforms for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

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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.

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Remember These 3 Words If Someone Stares at You During a Meltdown

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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 KerryMagro.com.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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When You're the Parent Ordering 'Just a Bun' at McDonald's

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I don’t want to be that customer. I would love to walk into McDonald’s and just order a Happy Meal and be done. Nope, that’s not me.

You see, my son only eats the bun. So my order goes like this: “I would like a bun, just the bun, no meat, no ketchup, mustard, pickles or onions or cheese.” The cashier looks at me confused. “Yes, that’s right, I just want the bun, a plain bun with nothing on it.” The manager usually has to come over and show the cashier how to ring it up. I am happy to pay full price for just the bun. Then the kitchen staff always asks, “They just want a bun?” The cashier, manager and I all say yes.

We have about a 75-percent success rate. I always have to check before I leave the counter or the drive thru because undoubtedly I still get a bun with a hamburger patty or a bun, no meat but with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions. Occasionally I get a bun with cheese.

As much as I would love to be able to just take the meat off the bun, peel off the cheese or scrape the ketchup and mustard off the bun, I can’t. He would notice. He wouldn’t eat it, and I might lose a food option, and I can’t risk it.

My son, who is 10 years old, is on the autism spectrum. He has anxiety and sensory processing disorder (SPD). The list of foods he won’t eat or even try is long.

No meat, poultry, fish, seafood.

No chicken nuggets.

No cheese of any kind.

No pasta or any kind of noodle or rice.

No pizza.

No vegetables.

My son eats bread products, dry cereal, chips, occasionally yogurt, and a few fruits. He will drink Carnation instant breakfast, and he loves Aunt Annie’s Pretzels.

Even fruit is tricky.  Why do they call it seedless watermelon when it is filled with tiny white seeds? Let me tell you how hard it is to get every last seed out of a slice and not miss one. If I miss one and he either sees it or feels it in his mouth, he is done. Then watermelon is off the menu.

I have had multiple conversations with his pediatrician, therapist, psychiatrist and occupational therapist.  He has been in feeding groups where there are 27 steps to be able to eat a food. It starts with being able to tolerate being in the same room as the food, a few steps to being able to have it on your plate, a few more steps to touch it, then hold to your mouth. Then a few more steps to taking a bite and spitting it out, to finally eating and swallowing the food. Some foods he made it only to step 3, others to step 20. The handful of foods where he made it all the way to step 27 (chewing and swallowing) have come and gone.

My son food jags. He will find a food he can eat and then eat that food for a few weeks, months or if I’m lucky it might last a year.  Then out of nowhere he refuses to eat that food ever again and I’m left desperate to find something he will eat.

Going out to eat can be challenging for us all. The noise, smell and sight of different food can be painful for my son. He doesn’t want to have a meltdown, but sometimes they happen. There have been times I can watch the anxiety come over him. I can see it in his face. He doesn’t want to be difficult. He doesn’t want anyone to notice his discomfort or the fact that he can’t order anything off the menu.

So, if you’re behind me at McDonald’s, I am sorry my order is complicated. I don’t want to be the “high maintenance” customer. I would be ecstatic to be ordering a hamburger or chicken nuggets. I hope there will be a day he can order off the menu. But for now we are still just a plain bun, nothing but the bun.

Image via Thinkstock.

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My Son With Autism Is Worth the Time It Takes to Get to Know Him

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My autistic son was identifying cars as we went down the road today. His obsession with cars leads him to count and name every single car we pass without error – something that impresses me more every day. Suddenly, we pass a new area of development, and he says something, but I can’t understand him.

“A new what?” I ask him.

He answers, but I still don’t catch it.

“A new road? Yeah, it’s pretty new.” I answer, taking my best guess.

“A new neighborhood,” he gets out a bit more clearly this time.

He repeated himself three times without showing signs of frustration.

“I’m sorry I didn’t understand you at first,” I tell him, feeling bad that he had to repeat himself so much. I often get irritated when I have to repeat myself even one time, and he did it three times without getting angry or upset.

“Don’t apologize,” he says to me. I look over at him and see a look of sincerity and understanding I rarely get a chance to glimpse. “It’s not necessary,” he says in one of those rare moments of clarity that tell me  there’s more to him than meets the eye.

This is the child some people find difficult. The child who can be violent when overloaded. He looks at me and tells me he loves me after all of this.

I promise you that children like him – children who get explosive at times when overwhelmed or frustrated – know when you want them there and when you don’t. They know if you’re willing to take the time to at least try to listen and understand, or if you’re not.

Think about that for a minute. It took me seeing his face when he told me not to apologize to realize that, just like any other human being (and maybe even more so), he senses whether the environment he’s in is a positive or negative one. Whether the person he’s with is frustrated with him or feels patience. He senses whether people are glad he’s there or wish he would leave. He may not understand why or the exact feelings, but he senses whether he’s emotionally secure in an environment or not. Which one do you think he will work harder to stay in?

He’s worth the time it takes to get to know him. I promise.

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