Taylor Cross and his mom Keri, hugging outdoors

Making our film, “Normal People Scare Me Too,” with a cast and crew of autistic people was challenging, both during filming and editing. But when we finished our film in April, the rewards were worth it. We had about 75 percent of cast, crew, art, animation and music done by autistic people. Beyond the cast and crew, though, making our film as mother and son, was really hard at times — especially for me as an adult, and for my mom in the roles of both a director and a mother.

If you are a parent, you might relate to asking yourself this important question: “When do I back off, and when do I keep doing things in my kid’s life — especially when they are adults?” If you are like me, you might ask yourself this about your parent a lot! We had to deal with this question — over and over — for an entire year while making our film, and it was definitely not always easy. We know lots of parents around the world who work as their adult child’s “manager” to support and promote their futures and micro-enterprise-like businesses. This sometimes creates breakdowns and hopeful breakthroughs.

I worked on this article, at first by myself, and then side-by-side with my mom. When we made our first film, “Normal People Scare Me,” a decade ago, I was 15 years old. Today, I am 27 and live independently with supports. Mostly, these are my words with a bit of my mom’s suggestions to help me word things that are hard for me to get out. She asked me basic questions to help get me started.

Mom: Taylor, what motivated you to make this film?

Me: OK, I’m laughing at myself right now. I’m sitting in front of my laptop, inside of a Chipotle, finding it difficult to find the motivation to write an opening paragraph that’s almost all about motivation and how I sometimes have trouble with it. It’s laughably ironic.

Mom: Is that a common theme for you, trying to find motivation for things you want or need to do in your life?

Me: Yes, it can be very hard. It is often the process steps that confuse or stall me. What does any of this have to do with my experiences filming “Normal People Scare Me Too”? A lot. It’s about how I decided that I needed to get back on the proverbial horse so that I could lead a life that I’m more than happy with, and the journey it will take to get there, and the amount of effort it would take for me to get there.

I got involved with NSMP2 very early on in pre-production, when (you) asked me if I want to do the film. I accepted almost immediately. However, I was not heavily involved with the main production of the film behind the scenes. My primary responsibility during the film-making process of NPSM2 could be summed up fairly easily. I was essentially the lead actor who helped guide the other actors to better serve their parts on camera. I asked the questions that were in the script, and I went off-script to ask even more questions that were related to the people I interviewed. Some of the better recorded moments were even tangents that couldn’t be helped because they showed the struggles some people as a whole go through on a day-to-day basis, and that’s not even factoring in the autism. Those are the ones that I remember the most.

Mom: What were the highlights for you in the interviews you had with old and new cast members?

Me: For me, the things that I remember the most are some of the most emotionally intense in the film. However, they are intense for the same reason stated above, it’s just some of the struggles and horrors people go through every day. I remember those moments because they serve as a strong reminder that people will not believe that things are going to be OK just because someone says so, but because they will believe things are going to be OK because they want to get help, and will move their butts to obtain said help. Also, it makes the more inspirational moments shown in the film all the more special to me.

As an example, one of my childhood friends, Vince, got involved with wrestling — something he was passionate about since he was a kid. I was excited for him when he told me about that on camera. However, it also got me to think about where I was going in my life, because he showed that his passions have made him a much more emotionally healthy person. I wanted the same thing he had. So I re-evaluated everything about myself. My likes, my dislikes, and my overall skill set. That got me on the path to going back to school, getting job development, and the support needed to succeed at both.

There were also points where I got to chat with some of the people from the first NPSM, like Vince, Ben, Kyle, Rick and others who are now 10 years older and have gained more real world experience in between the two films. Some have become really cool people that I would totally hang out with if we lived in the same area code. With others, I just went and quickly put them in the “best kept as acquaintances” folder of my mind’s file cabinet. We all have those, you know.

Mom: What are you doing now to help you with motivation?

Me: I have new and better staff in place now. My current staff, James, who is employed to work with me through a program called FADE, is on the autism spectrum. He is close to my age, and he gets me. Last semester, he attended an English class with me at community college. After failing college classes in the past, I finally got my first B. That was highly motivating.

I have fallen down a lot since I made the first “Normal People Scare Me” film.  I graduated a Transitions to Independent Living (TIL) program through the ARC of Ventura County. Three years ago, I moved into my apartment supported by Social Security and support staff.  People often ask me why I can’t “just” follow through? Or say to me, “Taylor, if you would ‘just’…”  I seem capable, yet executive and administrative functioning are hard for me. Sometimes it is hard to say the right words or share my thoughts. It’s just hard to get them all out. Sometimes, when I am interviewed for my film work, though, I get my words out OK.

Mom: Sometimes you wanted to drop out of the film. Why was that?

Me: During the filming of “Normal People Scare Me Too” this past year, I almost dropped out of the project. I just didn’t know where I fit in to “Normal” and making my real dream of becoming a gaming reviewer happen. At one point I told you (Mom) and Joey Travolta (our producer) to just finish the film without me, because I felt no value to me in completing the project.

After I took some time to think about it and realized that I needed to form the skills that would be required of me to do what I really wanted to do, finishing this film made more sense to be a foundation for eventual goal of being a good writer. So here we are. Needless to say I completed the film because along the way I found inspiration among the people I interviewed in “Normal People Scare Me Too” to get back on the horse I mentioned so that I could lead a life I’m more than happy with and the journey it would take to get there. I am beginning to see I have to do many things that take a lot of effort if I want to reach my other goals.

Mom: What would you say to young autistic boys/girls, men/women about following their dreams?

Me: Well, now I feel motivated to go after what I truly want in life outside of this film (which was a lot of fun to do), and I will go to great lengths to get it. I hope that my thoughts on how “Normal People Scare Me Too” affected me on a personal level will inspire people to get either themselves or others to be motivated to live life to the fullest. Doing the hard thing eventually inspired me. It is not easy, but hey, who said life would be?

And now that the film is done, I look forward to speaking engagements and to sharing our film all over the world. And even though I like to travel with my mom to speak, if my staff, James can come, I would really like that.

About the Film:

A decade after the award-winning film “Normal People Scare Me” was released, Taylor Cross, the film’s co-creator, is at it again with “Normal People Scare Me Too.” In the new “Normal,” he interviews former and new cast members and family about attitudes and first-person perspectives about autism today.

Created by a film crew comprised of 75 percent autistic students and graduates of Joey Travolta’s Inclusion Films, with music and art created and performed by 65 percent autistic musicians/composers/artists, the new “Normal” is pleased to be a more inclusive production this time around. “Normal People Scare Me Too” is driven by Taylor Cross, directed and co-produced by Keri Bowers (Taylor’s mom,) and produced by Joey Travolta. Keri is the co-founder of The Art of Autism, a key supporter behind the scenes of the film, and has created four films about autism and other disabilities. The new “Normal” can be ordered through our website.

About Taylor and Keri:

Together, Taylor and Keri have worked on four documentary films together, including “Normal People Scare Me,” “The Sandwich Kid,” “ARTS,” and “Normal People Scare Me Too.” Their films have taken them all over the world to speak at conferences and facilitate workshops on transitions planning and person-centered practices. Using the arts as tools for interventions since Taylor was an infant — including music, drama, movement, art and film — Keri helped Taylor gain critical life and social skills, which have supported him to live independently as an adult. Keri is the co-founder of The Art of Autism, a sponsor of their new film.


Hello there, stranger.


I see you staring at my son as he towers over me and squishes my cheeks over and over while I browse the organic produce. I see you wondering why I allow him to kiss me on the lips in public, and I feel your judgment when I don’t reprimand him for wearing the attitude that the two of you are equals, rather than him a 16-year-old boy and you an adult.

I see it, and I feel it, and I respond in my own way. 

If it feels appropriate, I’ll explain my reasons. If you ask outright about us I’m more than happy to tell you. I love to share and discover reasons! And if my son begins to squirm from the weight of your misinformation or judgment or misunderstanding or difference of opinion, I’ll explain to him. Maybe loud enough for you to hear if I feel that will help.

You see, I learned early that allowing my loved ones to be themselves is more important than teaching them to be who you expect. My brothers were all on the autism spectrum, and if my mom taught me or them to act only as expected then we may have all died of self-loathing by now. Instead she taught us to explore our interests and passions and to do so with such comfort that we are able to share who we are with those who may be curious. 

She taught us to be so comfortable with any strangeness that is truly us that we can’t help but want you to be comfortable, too. Rather than feel compelled to shove our difference in your face with anger or “I dare you to say something” attitude, we live and love and are ourselves comfortably.

I’ll admit I learned the value of fitting in and learning to care about the expectations of others a little bit later–and it’s true there is value there, too. With a willingness to hear the views of the many and to consider the comfort of the masses I have been able to teach my loved ones to keep an open mind and a flexible nature. Also, we’ve discovered tips and tricks for sharing our own passions more clearly and to a bigger audience. That is a lovely thing!

So, I learned caring about discovering my unique self and encouraging those I love to discover their unique selves, first. Later I learned to care also about your unique needs and ideas.

mom and son take a selfie

The two go well together, most of the time. And when I struggle to see how the pieces fit – our unique selves and your unique needs and ideas– I’ll always choose accepting myself and my loved ones first, over worrying about you. Not only because myself and my loved ones are more my responsibility, but because I am unable to guess correctly the expectations of you, a kindly stranger staring as my son purses his lips and makes animal sounds in the produce section. Also, I believe you have the ability to help yourself and need less from me than my loved ones do.

I see you staring as my son towers over me and squishes my cheeks, and I respond in my own way. I hope you’re open to my style of communication and are truly curious rather than assumptive. Communication – every kind of communication–is understood best that way.

I learned exploring unique and personal passions first, and finding how they fit with society later.

Want to know a secret? I think, honestly, that’s the best order.

Each year, millions of students whiz off to the first day of school without much of a problem. They may wonder who their teacher will be or if their best friend will be in their class, but it doesn’t really get in the way of them enjoying the end of their

For some time, this has not been the case in our house. The last three weeks of August in recent years have become a challenge for our 15-year-old autistic son John and by extension, for my wife and me. Every year we would brace for the inevitable firestorm of anxiety and tears and worry and stimming that would come like clockwork.

Every year we would do our best to keep him busy, keep his mind occupied. Fishing. Friend visits. Water Parks. Amusement  parks. Hit the pool.  Hit the beach. Hit the bottle (OK that one’s just for us!). Still the anxiety would arrive and it would just come on suddenly, and then largely dissipate after day one of school. The anxiety would be so bad he would scarcely enjoy the things we were working so hard at doing to keep him busy.

Sometimes I didn’t know what made me feel worse. Was it the fact that he had this anxiety, or was it the fact that he wasn’t enjoying anything at all?

We waited for it this year, the anxiety. Waited for it like that aunt who just shows up unannounced in a cab, tells you to pay it and then stays for a few days. We braced ourselves. We filled the calendar. We manned the battle stations and went on red alert, and do you know what happened? It never showed. And while you might miss an aunt who just shows up out of nowhere and visits, I must say we really didn’t miss the anxiety.

He went fishing, he hung out with his friends, he hit up amusement parks and fairs; and this year he enjoyed it all. Where there was brooding, we had smiling. Where there was angst, we had joy. As a parent, it was a beautiful thing to watch. To see him just being a kid brings me a sense of immeasurable joy. It was so much more than just the fun though. It’s a feeling of accomplishment. Like maybe the 8000th time I’ve said, “You’ve done this all before, and it’s fine, you’ll be OK” was finally the one that stuck? In that case I’m glad I never stopped saying it.

That feeling of success and accomplishment just doesn’t always come from the same place for parents of an autistic child as it does for parents of neurotypical kids. This August of Peace, as I now refer to it, is our “he made the team” moment for my wife and me. And you know what? We couldn’t be more proud of him.

For many people, going out to eat is considered a treat, but for people on the autism spectrum or people with sensory sensitivities, spending an hour or two at a restaurant can be too overwhelming to enjoy. To make dining out a pleasurable experience for everyone, The Mighty spoke with Alyson Musetti, a behavior analyst at Anova, a nonprofit organization which provides education and resources to people with learning differences, to learn some tips and tricks to make dining out more enjoyable. Below are some ways families can prepare their children, as well as make their own sensory-friendly restaurant kits.

Before Going Out to Eat

Identify Your Child’s Triggers 

“If parents know what the potential triggers are for their child, they can be equipped with the strategies and tools to manage those [circumstances] to prevent the problem behavior from happening,” Musetti said. Think back to previous experiences dining out, identify what went wrong and try to come up with creative solutions for addressing those issues.

Prepare Your Child, Let Them Know What to Expect

Let your child know what they can expect to happen at the restaurant. The more information you can provide, the better. Some things you can tell them include the name of the restaurant, where will they sit (table or booth, windows or no windows, etc.), what kind of food will be there, what kinds of people will be there (workers, cooks, other families, etc.), what will they do while they are sitting at the table, how long will they be there, and what happens after leaving the restaurant.

You should also let your child know what you expect from them. Talk to them about behavior at restaurants. Musetti recommends setting the following expectations: using an inside voice, waiting patiently for food, saying please and thank you and sitting in the chair.

You can also look for social stories about dining in a restaurant. Reading social stories can be helpful before going out to eat as well as while you are at the restaurant.

Make a Sensory-Friendly Restaurant Kit

As part of their programming, Anova runs a sensory-friendly restaurant initiative, which provides restaurants with kits that can help children on the spectrum avoid meltdowns. The program is still in its infancy (only a dozen restaurants in Northern California carry the kits so far), so Musetti shared with us how you can make your own. Here is what Anova’s kit includes (links are suggestions with comparable items):

Dear parent/carer,

I’m writing to you in my capacity both as the parent of a little girl awaiting assessment for autism, and as an adult autistic woman, and one who has spent most of her life, until the age of 36, undiagnosed.

I know you’ve been wondering about your girl. Perhaps someone has said something – a family member, perhaps; a friend; a teacher. Or, maybe, you’ve been thinking for quite some time that your child might be a little…different. “Autism” is the thing that’s been suggested. And you’re wondering.

Perhaps you’re wondering about the formal assessment process. Perhaps you’ve already begun to get things moving, or maybe you’re little further down the line, and it’s dawning on you that the whole thing is far more arduous than you’d ever imagined. I get that. Totally. My family is there too.

And so, you’re thinking you might not go through with it. After all, she seems to be doing fine right now. Yes, she’s a little on the “quirky” side, but on the whole, she seems to be coping; you’ll just leave things as they are. Besides, you don’t want to “label” her unnecessarily.

Thing is, though, we’re always labeling people.

Clever. Talented. Bright. Inquisitive. Curious. Compassionate. Kind. Funny. Sociable. Chatty. Tomboyish. Earnest. Bookish. Quirky. Eccentric. Precocious. Gifted.

Those don’t sound too bad, do they? Sure, you might be more keen on some of these “labels” than others, but on the whole, there’s not a lot to worry about here.

What about these?

Bossy. Opinionated. Controlling. Aloof. Selfish. Rude. Shy. Anxious. Naughty. Irritating. Antisocial. In your face.

Is it that you don’t want to label your girl, or is it simply that you don’t want to label her as “autistic”?

She’s fine now. She’s coping, as you say. But what about in the future?

As she grows older, other labels might start to creep in.

Withdrawn. Lazy. Lacking in application. Arrogant. Inconsistent. Over-sensitive. Away with the fairies. Disorganized. Teacher’s pet. Uncooperative. Defiant. Difficult. Out of control.

And it might happen that you seek out professional help on behalf of this girl, who may seem to be so brilliant in some ways, but to be struggling so desperately in others. And then, other labels might be used.

Bipolar. Borderline. Obsessive-compulsive. Clinically depressed or anxious. Anorexic. Bulimic. Suicidal.

Some of these will be wide off the mark. Observed autistic behaviors will be wrongly categorized, and a wrong diagnosis applied. And the struggles will continue.

Other labels might be correct. She might feel pain, confusion, frustration, stress, and exhaustion from puzzling over her identity; from trying, or at times refusing, to fit in, in a world which she doesn’t understand and which doesn’t understand her. From the onslaught of overwhelming information and sensory input. From trying to “cope.”

At times she may try to “mask.” And if she does so, sometimes she will do so successfully. And at other times she will get it woefully wrong. And either way, it’ll be stressful to keep up, year upon year upon year.

She might struggle with education and employment.

Or she might still do well in life.

But even if she does, something inside will never feel quite “right.” Something will be missing. The key. The glue. I hesitate to use the words “puzzle piece,” they’re too loaded and emotionally charged for many of us; but perhaps they’re appropriate here. This girl is not the puzzle, but she isn’t getting the full picture. Something that should be identified will not be.

What would happen if she did receive that label, earlier in life? Before so much of life has got in her way, obscured the picture, prevented the right details from coming through?

She would still, of course, find some things easy, and some things very, very difficult. Inside, she’s still the same person, and autism is a huge part of that. And support can be patchy (that’s something of an understatement, really).

And yes, there is stigma attached to the “autistic” label. But there are many of us trying to change that. And, slowly, it is getting better.

But by knowing – fully – who she is, your precious, wonderful girl can start to take ownership of who she is, to embrace her identity. She can work with who she is, rather than against it. By doing so, she can be happy.

If she goes to college or university, her label may help her to access the kind of support with her studies that I could have done with, but never had.

When she’s in employment, that official label will mean she’ll be legally protected, and entitled to adjustments to enable her to do her job to the best of her ability. Understanding who she is might make her less likely to be disciplined for her behaviour, to lose jobs because of her behavior, or struggle on in roles she is unhappy with and finds stressful.

Again, support might be patchy. Really patchy. Her employer might not be among the most enlightened. But an official diagnosis greatly increases her chances of getting any support that is available.

The assessment process might be long. Frustrating. Emotional. The right conclusion might not be reached for some time. But the earlier she knows who she is, the more able she’ll be to learn the triggers for her meltdowns, to understand and mitigate some of the ways her autism makes certain things difficult, and to celebrate the strengths it brings.

There may be times when she rejects her label; and of course, she’s perfectly entitled to do so, as long as that’s her decision.

There will, sadly, also be times when disclosing her label might cost her dearly. And that’s awful. And we must all work to stop that happening. We are doing so. And we’ll keep on doing so until it does stop.

But an official label may give her choices, and an understanding of herself, that she would otherwise be denied. And that’s important. That’s vital, if she is to find her place in the world; if she is to thrive.

And she can thrive.

And whenever she chooses to make contact – to engage – there’s a whole community of likeminded individuals out there who’ll understand her. Who’ll know her struggles. Know where she’s coming from. Who’ll help her, and provide a safe place for her to be herself.

We’ll help you too. We like to share our knowledge and experiences. We’re keen to educate. And we’ll do whatever we can to help you understand. I know you want what’s best for your girl. Of course you do.

And when that girl of yours comes to us, we’ll welcome her. With love, understanding, an open mind, an open heart, and open arms.


An autistic woman who understands

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