Illustration of person carrying a purse, walking indoors near escalator

10 Things I Keep in My 'Toolkit' as an Autistic Person

1. Noise-canceling headphones: for when I need to take a break from my surroundings. Sometimes I need to check out to avoid sensory overload or block out distractions so I can work and focus on other things.

2. Sunglasses: for light sensitivities. I try to stay in the shade when outdoors, but I need sunglasses even on rainy days (and sometimes indoors). I have special colored lenses to help with the florescent lights in stores and office.

3. Hats: Hats with brims are great to block out glaring lights. I also like hats that come down around my face on days I do not feel like looking at people or being looked at. On sensory days or when I am tired, I honestly don’t have the energy to socialize with strangers, so I don’t.

4. Something to fiddle with: if I need a break or distraction, I use a book, iPod, smart phone, or fidget toy such as a rubix cube. I always like have an audio book or music available (and headphones) when I need a break.

5. Hand wipes: If you have tactile sensitivities like I do, sticky hands will annoy you. It is nice to have something to clean up with. I recommend avoiding scented wipes or finding a smell you like.

6. A snack: I get fuzzy and agitated when I am hungry. I can’t think, and my sensory issues get worse. If you have a sensitive stomach or are sensitive to tastes and textures, it is good to have something with you that you can eat if you are venturing out for the day.

7. Something that smells good: My sense of smell is sensitive. Public bathrooms, household cleaners, chemicals, and air fresheners all make me queasy. I like to have good scented lotion or perfume (that smells like food or candy) in my bag to apply when I need to smell something pleasant and block out something obnoxious.

8. Gum/mints/candy: My stims are less obvious, possibly because I’ve turned to an oral fixation. I like to keep organic mints, candy, or gum in my bag. Personally, I cannot handle aspartame or artificial sweeteners as they aggravate my stomach. I tend to be more sensitive to any non-organic chemicals than most people.

9. Taking breaks: I’ve found it is better for me to step away for a quiet moment alone than to have a public meltdown or shutdown. Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself and step away to take a break if you need one.

10. Knowing my limits: I get a certain feeling that seems to increase as I get closer to a shutdown or meltdown. It normally starts with the lights getting brighter and sounds getting distorted. Next is a headache and general mind fuzziness. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Learn to recognize the signs that you are getting overwhelmed.

Remember everyone is different. Autism really is a spectrum. These are just some of the tools I use.

Follow this journey on Anonymously Autistic.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock Images


a young boy writing out the alphabet on a chalkboard

When I Heard My Son on the Spectrum Was Ready to Graduate From His IEP

I’ve written an entire series about the IEP experience…

From a parent perspective.

From a special education teacher perspective.

From a teacher perspective.

From a student perspective.

I knew it was coming.

This IEP was different. I asked Tucker if he wanted to come. At first he said no, and I was relieved. I know this might seem old school, but I like to have my own teacher time. Yes, my children should be responsible for their own learning and be able to communicate their learning and so on, I get it. Regardless, I like the one-on-one time with their teachers. I like to ask them honest questions and receive honest answers.

This time, he decided he wanted to know what it was all about.

He called my bluff. Damn.

It started with me being early and trying to hold it together. Then a small room. Then fidgeting. Then Tucker arrived, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He takes up pretty much the entire doorway, and his twinkling eyes, soft complexion and sweet smile reassured me it would all be OK. (Who’s the “real” adult in this situation?!)

We talked about the meeting. I told him how the meeting would be run. I told him he could leave if he became bored — but to do it politely and quietly. Then we practiced what “politely and quietly” looked like.

I always wanted to be an actress; he gives me that chance over and over and over again. Rehearsals for life.

Then the teachers arrived one by one. They all smiled. They all said “hello” to Tucker, and he nodded back.

They went around the table and all said wonderful things… Then the special education rep spoke the words I knew were coming: “He’s met all of his goals. He must graduate from his IEP.”

Tucker politely excused himself.

The teachers left.








Here I was in a room with his special education teacher, and I was speechless. I just stared at her and out the window and at the table and back at her. I took a deep breath and she finally said, “Nikki, he’ll be just fine, and if he’s not… you’ll know, and you’ll know just what to do.”

Then I sobbed. In that small room in Tucker’s middle school, I sobbed.

She came to the other side of the table and hugged me and said, “You know, I don’t get this moment very often. This is what is supposed to happen. I feel so lucky that I get to share it with you.”

Snot is now all over my sleeve, and mascara is running down my face.

I was able to mutter a “thank you.” Then she said, “You know, it’s your victory, too. You never let the frustration show. You advocated in the smartest of ways. You helped us understand so much about him. We are better because of you.”

That was not helpful to the existing snot situation.

I hugged her again and said, “We are all better because of him.” She agreed and ushered me out the door.

On the way out to my vehicle, I stopped and looked towards the heavens. Religious or not, this was a moment for praise and thanksgiving. As I climbed in my vehicle and drove away, I couldn’t help but think about all of these meetings. All of these meetings where I left in tears because I wanted life to be easier for him. They were over. In hindsight, they didn’t seem so bad. Funny how time really does heal.

I called my husband and had to pull over to tell him the news because I couldn’t talk. Half-way through my 25-minute drive to work, I had to stop again. It hit me.

How did he do this?

How did he keep up with the academics of his peers and have 27 (yes, 27) different goals in his first nine years of school? How did he do that?! It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that he was not only working on speech and coordination and managing emotions — he was doing everything the other students were doing as well — math, science, literacy.

How did he spend time with speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, counselors, and physical therapists and still keep up?

Seriously, how did he do that?

When life settled down, that night I stood in front of my refrigerator staring at a picture of my brother. A picture that was taken after a horrible accident. A picture of him after he had overcome tremendous odds. A picture that was taken after my parents were told his chances of living were marginal.

I keep that 30-plus-year-old picture there as a reminder of the strength of the human spirit. I love that picture. As I turned around, there was Tucker, sitting at the table like every other night. But tonight, I was overcome with emotion.

There he is, sitting at my kitchen table — a very present reminder of the strength of the human spirit.

The tears were certainly present, but in the end a smile crept in. A smile that is evidence of a triumph. A smile of success. A smile that is reminiscent of the strength of the human spirit.

A smile because of Tucker.

Image via Thinkstock.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

temple grandin and kerry magro

5 Ways Meeting Temple Grandin Changed My Life

When it comes to celebrities in the autism community today, no name is bigger then Dr. Temple Grandin. A few years ago, while giving the opening keynote presentation at an autism conference in Memphis, I had the amazing opportunity to meet her. As someone who grew up as a kid on the autism spectrum idolizing Dr. Grandin, it was nothing short of a dream come true. While I thought meeting her would be enough, I soon after found out that I would also be having dinner with her every single night of the conference. It truly changed my life. Her perspective and her knowledge of the autism community were remarkable.

I wanted to write this blog in the hopes if you ever have the opportunity to meet Dr. Grandin, whether it is at a book signing, autism conference, etc., you will do just that. I could write a book on why meeting her changed my life (maybe I will someday), but for the time being, here are five reasons she’s changed mine…

5. Her belief in equal rights

While listening to Dr. Grandin’s keynote address at the conference, it was refreshing to hear her perspective on challenging our loved ones with autism. As much as our kids need services and supports, they also need discipline and routines. She believes at the end of the day, you need to treat those with autism as human beings.

4. Her passion

One idea that stuck out to me that Dr. Grandin said several times while I was with her was the fact that she thinks half of the programmers in Silicon Valley are on the autism spectrum. Dr. Grandin believes many individuals on the spectrum have great abilities. Every time she mentions this she does it with the knowledge that her own abilities have taken her very far. So she knows from experience that it’s possible for others.

3. Her humility

While many people with the amount of success Dr. Grandin has had could have a bit of an ego, she is very humbled. Her humility, along with the respect she gives to the people around her, is astounding. When she speaks, she rarely mentions her own work and always provides resources to help benefit the community.

temple grandin and kerry magro

2. The “stretching” method

One of the key phrases Dr. Grandin has become famous for is the need for us to “stretch” ourselves and our loved ones with autism. Like an elastic band, she says, you can’t stretch it too far or it will snap. You need to be mindful and stretch your loved ones or yourself to their or your own capabilities. It’s a constant reminder that progress, no matter how big or small, should be an ultimate goal.

1. Finally… the hope she gives our community

In my opinion, the biggest attribute Dr. Grandin brings to our community is her overall success in her field. Many of the attendees at this conference were parents of young kids on the autism spectrum. Hearing her stories of success and what she’s done with her life has given every family something to strive for. She truly exemplifies that there are wonderful possibilities out there.

Dr. Grandin gives me hope that I can also make a difference in the autism community as she has done. Even though I’ve only been speaking
professionally for six years while she’s done it for decades, I hope one day I can make the same lasting impact on our community that she has. For that and for all that she has done for our community, I will be forever grateful to her.

A version of this post originally appeared at

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Young woman relaxing by river and looking across at buildings

Why I Forgave the People Who Bullied Me Because of My Autism

Living with autism has been a positive journey for me. I feel as though my autism is a gift that I can share with the world.

However, not everyone understands it, and they can turn to the last resort that nobody should go through: bullying.

Being bullied for being autistic can really do damage. I know when I went through it, I would just cry and cry, and I would feel severe pain throughout my body.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I realized I’m not the problem. It’s those who feel the need to bully me for something that’s a part of me.

But then I also got to thinking how sad those people must feel if they have to be so mean to me and others with autism. So guess what I did to those who bullied me? I forgave. I noticed when I decided to forgive those who were cruel to me, I felt free. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Even though what they did to me was awful and, at times, damaged my confidence, I forgave them because I needed to be free. One of my challenges with being autistic is I get really upset when I feel threatened, and it takes time for me to bounce back from it.

But as I found forgiveness in my autism journey, it has made me a stronger person. To those who may be getting bullied because of your autism, my advice is to forgive and never blame yourself. You’re not the problem. It’s the person who is bullying you who is the problem. They’re going through something and are taking it out on you.

Never be ashamed for being autistic. It’s a puzzle piece of your life, and it can teach the world how amazing you are.

And forgive the bullies because it will set you free.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo source: Think stock Images

Mom and son sitting near water, looking at sunset landscape

My Sweet Boy, You’re Different

Sweet boy, you’re different.

Not to Mummy. Not to Daddy. Not to your little sister. You are our whole world and everything in it. Each eccentricity, each little quirk and trait — they are the rich and joyful substance of our lives. We know no “normal” but the world we inhabit with you. And, to us, it is perfect; we would want no other.

We are all different.

Not a single being on this earth is exactly the same as another. There will always be things that we struggle to understand about one another. That is a reality of what it means to be human.

But your differences begin to stand out more and more, every day; the cloak of youth is beginning to lift, and your peers are starting to be aware of behavior that is strange to them.

In the store, a slightly older boy and his brother are wind-milling and skipping around their mother. They wander over to you, and he speaks. “Hello! I am Sam, and that boy over there is my brother!”

You stim, squeeze your hands close up to your eyes and contort your face as if you are in agony. You are so excited he has spoken to you. You gesture towards yourself, your whole hand forming a point.

“This boy… this boy is H’s brother!” You have trouble getting your words out. I recognize all the quirks of your conversation. You have mimicked what he has said, the information he has provided, but you do not understand the purpose of the conversation. Your mind follows a slightly different script.

The boy frowns. He doesn’t understand why you have said what you said. He doesn’t understand why you pulled such a strange face. He turns away. “Bye!” he yells again as he runs off. You stim again, still so excited. You do not understand the rules that were broken, the judgments that were made.

You are still just delighted that he spoke to you. But one day you will know. And my heart could almost break, sweet boy.

My heart could break to see your desire to join in be thwarted by the quirks that make me love you all the more. The conventions of conversation come so easily to others; it is almost impossible for them to imagine a world where those unconscious rules are so alien.

The children at nursery are afraid of your stimming. They think you are angry with them, or aggressive — when the opposite is true. You are delighted by them, by everything they do, by every word they speak to you, by everything you observe and learn from them.

I wish I could show them. I wish I could explain that you are so sensitive, so kind, so desperate to be their friends, that if they could just accept you, accept what is “strange” to them, their lives would be so enriched by having you, being with you — but they are only 3 and 4. There is no way to force that understanding. Only time, and patience, and failing — perhaps failing many times — will eventually lead you to those who will see what I do.

This is just the beginning.

Truthfully, what hope do we have of sparing you from these judgments? There is not enough opportunity, enough time in the whole world to educate all of those who would question your exquisite oddities.

Will autism ever be wholly accepted? Will there ever be enough awareness?

I hope by writing, by fighting, by helping you carve out a well of understanding, as you grow, there might be less fear, less judgment. And, precious child — who will know what it is to be different more than most — I can help you learn to accept others in all their glorious uniqueness.

The world will be a better place for your presence in it.

Follow this journey on Someone’s Mum.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock Images

Anita age 17 on Saraha the horse jumping over fence

How Horses Became a Form of Therapy for Me Before My Autism Diagnosis

One of my autistic special interests changed the course of my life. I fell in love with horses at the age of 4 after my parents took me for rides on a pony. For 25 cents, they would lead you around the track six times on the pony of your choice. Lots of quarters were spent as they couldn’t get me off that pony. That became the Sunday ritual — take Anita to the pony track and spend half the day there.

Never hearing the word Asperger’s until age 50, then getting diagnosed, I never had any Early Intervention. Actually, I did, only I didn’t know it at the time. The love of pony rides turned into an obsession with horses. As I got older, I desperately wanted riding lessons and a horse of my own. My
parents couldn’t afford either of those, except for an eight-week series of group lessons. That didn’t stop me. When I was 12, I became a working student at a big stable near my home in New Jersey.  I earned riding time and lessons by mucking out stalls, painting fences, picking rocks out of the pastures, and cleaning saddles. The more I worked, the more time I got on the horses.

I was an autistic kid (undiagnosed at that time) who was totally awkward, extremely clumsy, and never looked anyone in the eye. As painful as it was, I had no choice but to interact with people. I’d savor every minute in the saddle. I’d focus on the movement of the horse as he’d walk, listening to the cadence of each hoof as it clip-clopped along. I was mesmerized by it all. I would use the time while in the stalls mucking them out to study each horse, observing their behaviors. The horses seemed just as fascinated by me. They would come by me, nuzzle their soft noses against my face, and seem peaceful.

My dream was to jump horses over big fences in competition. I spent every summer, weekend, and holiday at the stable. Horses were my life. And they were also my therapy. They got me out of my shell, interacting with people, learning how to work, learning how to take instruction from others, and dramatically improving my coordination.

I began working my way up the ladder of riding skills. Of course, part of getting on a horse is the possibility of unintentionally coming off the horse! I can still remember the first fall I sustained. The horse had decided he was enjoying the cold weather, took a leap into the air and started
bucking. Off I went, falling on the ground. I was scared because I couldn’t breathe. I felt like a fish out of water. The instructor ran over to me, and she instructed me to try and relax, and that my breath got knocked out of me. She explained that this is normal after a fall, and in a few moments I’ll be OK. She was right. I then calmed down, and a few moments later, I could slowly take a deep breath in. No injuries, just an unexpected experience. I got up, dusted myself off, and we then went over to retrieve the horse who was standing nearby looking bewildered.

I got back on, only this time I focused more intently on my position in the saddle, and gripped my legs more tightly against his sides. Of course I was scared to get back on, but I did it. It was a learning experience. One of many!

I continued the lessons, the mucking out stalls, and eventually I reached my dream, riding in jumping competition. I was a working student from age 12 to 21. It all changed my life. All the skills I learned during those years empowered me to have the skills necessary for life, and for sure my career as a
Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. It also built my self-confidence. I was a little lost soul when I first started out, then blossomed into what I am today. When I see a horse, I get tears in my eyes, as they all have a special place in my heart.

I purchased my first horse at the age of 29, after graduating from Columbia University with my
Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia. The day I received the letter congratulating me on passing my Board exam, I was on a mission to finally get my very own horse. That for sure was one of the highlights of my life. I used to take him to ride in clinics at the United States Equestrian Team’s Olympic Training
Center in Gladstone, New Jersey.

Although I no longer ride, I still have horses, three of them, at home on my farm. They still provide therapy, as it’s peaceful to my soul to simply feed them and watch as they eat their grain then munch on their hay. Looking back over all those years, I see the incredible therapy it provided for me.

Horseback riding is used as therapy for many reasons, and autism can be one of them. I highly encourage parents to consider horse therapy for their autistic child. There is a specialized kind of horse therapy called hippotherapy. The American Hippotherapy Associaton defines it as follows: “The term hippotherapy refers to how occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech-language pathology professionals use evidence-based practice and clinical reasoning in the purposeful manipulation of equine movement to engage sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive systems to achieve functional outcomes.”

You can read more about this amazing form of therapy on their website at

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.