Photo of sweater that says "I'm having a meltdown" and features a snowman

People in the Autism Community Say Asda's 'I'm Having a Meltdown' Sweater Is Offensive

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People in the autism community are not happy with a new winter-themed sweater from U.K.-based retailer Asda. Many say the children’s sweater, which reads “I’m having A MELTDOWN” trivializes the meltdowns children on the autism spectrum face.

Photo of sweater that says "I'm having a meltdown" and features a snowman

On Monday, a Change.org petition was started asking Asda to remove the sweater from its store and website. “Anyone… with [autism spectrum disorder] and similar spectrum disorders or mental health conditions that involve having melt downs as a symptom deserve understanding and acceptance,” Jennifer Dunston, who started the petition, wrote on Change.org. “They/we do NOT deserve to be made fun of.”

So far the petition has been signed by over 60 people, many of whom echo Dunston’s sentiments. “This is not funny at all. I know how difficult meltdowns can be to deal with. Very disappointed with Asda over this,” one petition signer commented.

“Bad enough having people out there who makes it difficult for people with autism let alone a shopping brand,” another wrote.

Not everyone finds the sweater offensive. “I have a child with autism, [sensory processing disorder], anxiety and panic disorder,” Stacey Rushing, a contributor to The Mighty, said. “That said, nothing about this sweater is offensive. It’s a snowman melting, a play of words. The word ‘meltdown’ is no specific to one’s disability. It can be used in any context by any person.”

“I have autism, I had many meltdowns as a child, however have less now,” Lottie Harland, a contributor, said. “I don’t find this offensive as many people have meltdowns, it’s a turn of phrase for I feel like things are out of control and this happens to us all. It’s a funny shirt making light of the feeling of being out of control. And honestly I think it’d get more people talking so they’re less afraid to say I’m having a meltdown I’m not in control, and isn’t that good?”

This isn’t the first time people have petitioned an item sold by Asda. In 2013, a “mental patient fancy dress costume” was removed from the store after people protested the Halloween costume as being offensive.

Despite controversies surrounding its clothing, the company has made strides in making its stores more disability-friendly. The retailer was praised earlier this year for creating disabled bathroom signs that point out “not every disability is visible.” The store also made headlines in April for offering a “quiet hour” so customers on the spectrum could shop without extra sensory stimuli.

Update: A spokesperson for Asda told The Mighty, “We take mental health issues extremely seriously and supported World Mental Health Awareness Day this month. Our snowman t-shirt is intended to be light-hearted and we’ve received great feedback from customers. We’re sorry if anyone is offended by it – that is never our intention.”

Do you think this shirt is insensitive? Let us know in the comments below. 

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Helping My Daughter on the Autism Spectrum Sleep More at Night

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Understanding, expressing and processing emotion seem to be the biggest difficulties in my house at the moment. We are at the preteen stage of development, which can be a challenge for many children. And with the added challenges that can come with autism, emotion regulation can be more difficult.

Out of all the regulation strategies we are adopting, establishing a bedtime routine seems to have the biggest impact on my daughter’s ability to regulate emotions, as well as my ability to be a fully functioning mum. It has also in turn been one of our biggest difficulties to manage.

For my daughter, nighttime is the time that her mind comes alive with thought and worry. It is the most likely time of day for her to melt down, and it is the time of day when I am not at my best. She is 11 now, and this has been a forever challenge. From a baby she would cling to me and not let me go. As a toddler I would put her to sleep in a buggy so she didn’t wake her sister. I eventually established something that resembled a bedtime at around 5 years old, only for it to be disrupted again at 7 by the increase of anxiety from day-to-day demands.

I knew this was a cycle perpetuating her anxiety and leaving us all feeling exhausted, but I had also lost sight as to where to start to make a change. We needed some help. Fortunately, after months of being on a waiting list to receive some support, we were able to see a psychologist.

The psychologist taught us a lot about sleep and routine, from sleep triggers (this is something that happens every night that helps our brain know when bedtime is coming) to understanding why our bodies need sleep and why worry creeps in at night. We were even challenged to write a story to read every night to reinforce the learning.

People often think of bedtime as something automatic by the time you have a preteen child. But establishing a change with my daughter takes months of work and effort for everyone involved.

We now mostly have a routine established. I say mostly because my daughter sometimes pushes boundaries, and we occasionally go a couple of steps backwards before we move forward again, but I have learned this is OK.

Tackling sleep has been a momentous task for us all, but I’m happy to say it has been worth it! It’s amazing how much sleep impacts our ability to cope and regulate. I am happy to say that with the new routine in place, we are all managing our emotions a little easier and enjoying our day with a little more energy.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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A Letter to Teachers of Students on the Autism Spectrum, From a Mom

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When my son was in school 21 years ago, we didn’t know he was on the autism spectrum. What we did know was that he had some learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to function in a traditional classroom without extra support.

My son loved to learn! But at one school, he struggled with teachers who practiced “old school” teaching methods, teachers who wouldn’t acknowledge that he had a different way of learning. I’ll never forget the time he came home after school so sad and upset. When I asked him what happened, he told me that his lab partner in science class complained he wasn’t doing his fair share of the work. The lab partner he was assigned was the same boy who taunted and teased him on the playground. Instead of teaching his lab partner about patience and compassion for my son’s challenges, the teacher told my son he had to work alone. When I went to speak with this teacher, the teacher was unwilling to budge — but the next day, my son was given two new lab partners (two boys who were always kind and friendly to him).

We took my son out of that school and found a school with teachers who embraced his learning style and accepted him for who he was. No, that’s not quite right. They adored and admired him for who he was. They didn’t punish him for the way his brain worked. They nurtured and believed in him. They proved to him that he was smart and talented. And guess what? He became student of the year and went on to graduate from college with honors.

He may not remember his experience at the other school, but I’ll never forget. I use the memory as motivation to do whatever I can to make sure no other child with autism is labeled or misunderstood.

Dear teachers of students on the autism spectrum:

It’s been years since my son was in elementary school, and I hope that there is more awareness out there. I think it varies from school to school, so here are some words of advice I hope you’ll consider:

Delve deeper. If a student doesn’t fit a “typical” profile, don’t automatically assume they are “lazy” and don’t want to do the work. I wish my son’s teacher had called me to discuss the issue before acting.

Create partnerships, not adversaries. The teachers at my son’s second school were nurturing and made me a part of their team. Instead of feeling at odds, we worked in tandem creating a supportive environment for my son. He thrived.

Give a child with learning challenges other ways to do their work and take tests. It isn’t “unfair” or cheating. It’ll give that student a chance to show you that they have indeed learned what you’ve taught them.

Don’t wait until parent conferences. Set up regular check-ins and communication with your autistic student’s parents. If I had known that the science teacher was going to be assigning lab partners, I could have let the teacher know this would be a challenge for my son.

Your actions have impact. Be the teacher who makes the positive impact your student (and his family) will remember with gratitude forever. Your words and your actions matter.

Note for parents and teachers: On my Geek Club Books autism nonprofit blog, I asked two of our autistic writers with experience in early education to write “What Your Autistic Students Want You to Know.” Read what they have to say and get the free guide with more of their advice and tips. Geek Club Books for Autism is part of The Mighty Partner Program.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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What I Realized When Anxiety Changed Our Trip Plans

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I had done all the research. I had planned and picked out the agenda. Found the perfect hotel. I had even made an awesome Social Story with the cool app I have. I used actual pictures of the inside of the hotel because I knew he would ask. He would need to know every last detail. I had pictures of the pool, the outside of the hotel and the lobby. Yes, I had lists of all the stores and restaurants. I had pictures and maps to show the geographical location of everything we planned to do.

Yet after all the work and planning, I couldn’t get Jack to leave his yellow house.

I had thought it a brilliant plan. I was going to take my daughter and son to Boston overnight last year and then a quick drive up to New Hampshire for my daughter to look at a college and then drive home.

The thing is Jack is on the autism spectrum and has an anxiety disorder. Life is not always easy for Jack. Going new places can cause anxiety.

He has many anxiety triggers. Certain foods, stores (especially if they are crowded) and if there is a stranger in the same aisle as us, going anywhere new, going places we know, certain coats, not being able to sleep, going to the movies, making decisions, leaving the house, and going to school.

In my day dream the three of us would wake up Thursday morning and pack our bags. The beauty of driving is we could bring a lot. If Jack wanted to bring his weighted blanket, stuff animals, pillow, iPad, iPhone, headphones, books, Legos, thinking putty, fidget toys, we could bring it all. We would load up the car. Jack in the backseat with his headphones on, my daughter sitting shotgun helping with navigation. The rest of the family at work and we would be off on an adventure!

I imagined a sunny day and us walking from the hotel to the aquarium. We would be looking at the fish, seals and turtles. We’d be smiling, holding hands and laughing down the street as we went to Quincy Market. We would enjoy a nice dinner and shopping and go back to the hotel and take a swim in the hotel pool.

On Wednesday, the “I’m not sure if I want to go to Boston” statements started. He worried about what to bring and what he couldn’t (the PC and the toaster). He didn’t want to leave his yellow house. Out came the Social Story again, the websites, the lists, the pictures. The reassuring that it would be fun! Nonetheless we still had the refusing to go. The other members of my family telling me it was probably best to just not go. In the end, I knew they were right, and I cancelled the trip.

That is when I started to feel sorry for myself. I had just wanted for a day and a night, to have fun, to have smiles, to hear laughter surrounded by hugs.

When I woke up the next morning and Boston wasn’t happening, I had a pity party for myself. I had done all the right things. Damn it I wanted rainbows and unicorns! No, I just wanted to spend a day and a night away with two of my children.

After a few hours of acting immature and feeling like a crappy mom, I got what I really wanted. Not the trip to Boston, but I had smiles on two of my children’s faces. The smiles came from making sugar cookies together. The cookies took little planning (preheat oven), no packing, just unpacking the bag of cookie cutters, no Social Story on my cool app. No looking at a map, just following a recipe. No getting in the car, just walking to the kitchen.

So maybe Jack had it right the entire time. We didn’t need Boston and the hotel to have smiles… they were here in the yellow house all along.

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Photo by Sean Pavone

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Why I Didn't Need a Crystal Ball as My Son With Autism Built His Future

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Don’t you sometimes wish you had the crystal ball, an assurance that the future will be OK?

I know I sure did. When my son Alex was diagnosed with autism at age 2, I wanted to know that when he was an adult, everything would be OK. I thought I’d be able to get through whatever was necessary if I could peek at the ending.

But the truth is, I was better off not knowing. I could not have appreciated the outcome if I hadn’t been on the journey.

Alex is an adult now, and I think his life is pretty awesome. But to put it bluntly, it’s not the kind of awesome I would have imagined when he was 2 or 4 or 6. He hasn’t yet found fluent language, and he didn’t go to college, and he doesn’t live on his own. He is on the autism spectrum, and that comes with challenges that can make his life hard. He requires around-the-clock supervision. He has complex communication needs.

Alex has a part time job, friends, family, and lives away from his family home. It seems everywhere he goes in our community, he runs into people he knows. I measure success as doing your best, overcoming obstacles, having strength of character, and building your own life. Alex is successful.

I’ve read articles from so many parents dreading to say they put their child in a group home. I look at it differently. I want my child to fulfill his potential and become as independent as possible. His neurotypical sister moved out, so why shouldn’t he?

Alex’s path to independence isn’t the same as his sister’s, and may not be the same as many of his peers, but it is a path nonetheless.

We worked really hard to find a good fit for Alex when it was time to move out. It took a lot of time and effort. He lives with three other roommates, all young men with different needs. They have around-the-clock staff. They eat meals together, do chores to take care of their home, and are involved in their community. They all have part-time jobs. They act like brothers and have created their own family. Alex has become more independent and had experiences he might not have had if he stayed home with us.

He has created bonds and relationships that he might not have had. Alex transitions smoothly between Mom and Dad’s house and his own house. We visit frequently, and he has overnight visits regularly. We thought going back and forth would be hard for him, but he does really well.

He had, and our whole family had, an additional support system when he was diagnosed with cancer 20 months ago. They helped us all through so much of the cancer treatment, and helped Alex retain as much normalcy in his life as possible. He is currently in remission, but it’s been a really long haul, and he’s not out of the woods yet. His caregivers and his group home were not only emotional and psychological support, they were practical and physical support in caring for him throughout his illness.

When Alex was 2, I didn’t know a family like ours. I didn’t know someone like Alex. If I had, I might have been less scared. I’m here to tell you that this outcome is OK — actually, it’s much more than OK. It may not look like the life I imagined when he was 2, but he has a rich life. And I’m really thankful I didn’t have that crystal ball.

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How We've Made Our Marriage Work as Special Needs Parents

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I saw a birthday card the other day that read “Growing old ain’t for cowards.” I think the same goes for marriage  – probably any marriage – but especially when parenting a child with special needs. Our daughter, 15, has an autism spectrum disorder, and she has three younger brothers who cause mayhem. While we are fortunate to share a deep faith and commitment to each other and to be surrounded by a supportive circle of family and friends, given the statistics on marriage in general, some days it’s a wonder we are still together.

When Erin turned 13, I wanted to hit the pause button. Seeing her growing up so fast while still dealing with the challenges of her disability made me long to stop the clock. As my marriage approaches its 18th year, (“almost an adult,” a friend noted) a part of me feels the same. We’ve made it through our fair share of “for better or worse” – who wants to “grow up” and see what “sickness and health” lays ahead. Let’s just stay here.

Looking back on those two people exchanging vows on a late September afternoon nearly two decades ago, I see how naïve they were. Let’s face it – as all seasoned couples know, when you’re standing before your friends and family making promises, you really have no idea what you are saying. Who the hell can know what “for better or worse” means when your greatest concern at the moment is making it back down the aisle without tripping? They are just words, and you have to say them to make it official and get on with the party.  That’s not to say you don’t mean them, but you simply cannot know how to love someone in good times and in bad until you are actually muddling through the s***storm with them.

Three months after our wedding, those words manifested in a move to a foreign city in the middle of a very dark winter. Shortly after, a miscarriage morphed into months and then two years of trying to
have a baby.  We thought maybe it wasn’t meant to be – it’s fine, we’re OK – and then the “for better” appeared – a baby, a girl, a little on the “colicky”/doesn’t sleep side but a beautiful baby nonetheless. Then, wow, a second – that was fast. How did that happen?  Life is good – two kids, a girl and a boy – fancy that. Who would have thought? Then a diagnosis – developmental delays, cognitive and motor impairments, sensory issues. Turns out that wasn’t colic.

You wonder how you’re handling it, and then you realize the hardest thing you’ve ever faced is also happening to someone else — the person you married. Someone with an exceptionally kind and patient heart, but who is different from you in many ways. You have to figure out how to carry this thing together without dropping it or breaking it or shattering yourselves in the process. Sometimes you hand it off to each other. Often I am the one diving in – reading the books, meeting the specialists – and it’s easy to feel like I’m carrying it alone. It can be easy to go down that rabbit hole and convince yourself that’s the case.

When I need him to be there, though, he shows up. He cancels meetings and rearranges travel when I can’t see one more doctor or therapist alone. When I need someone to witness the raised eyebrows,
the somber, apologetic, or brusque tones, he is there. Even then, though, I don’t always let him off the hook – largely because I am profoundly sad (and exhausted) and it feels the only thing I can do with this weight is to hand it off to him in the form of anger – anger at him for not being around enough, for having to take off so soon when he does show up.

In those early days, a good deal of irrationality entered the picture as we processed the fact that things had turned out so very differently than planned – not that we had planned anything at all. We just thought we’d get married, have a kid or two or three and deal with the usual stuff: bruises, breaks, scrapes, stitches. You know other possibilities are out there, but they don’t enter the picture when you’re standing on that altar or holding your newborn. You feel you and your husband are so incredibly capable of making this work – of protecting them – that nothing is going to touch them, or at least nothing you won’t be able to fix with a glass of water, a Band-Aid, or maybe a quick trip to the ER. Then we’ll be on to the “for better” again before we know it.

It doesn’t work like that. We all know this. We were not new to the world when we made those vows. But maybe that’s the beauty of a couple speaking those words in a suspension of disbelief, a willingness to put on hold what you know to be true, which Wikipedia notes, is “essential for a magic act or a circus sideshow act to succeed.” Sometimes our marriage and our family feels very much like a circus act, and more than a little magic – and sense of humor — is involved in getting us through our days.

Shortly after Erin’s diagnosis, Bill took to checking in daily with the question: “So what’s the crisis of the day?” I never fail to deliver. Often it’s small – the boys have pinkeye or we can’t find the pink tie-dye shirt and our daughter refuses to get dressed without it. But sometimes it’s something more, like the other day when she put her fist through a window pane in a post-seizure haze.

A few months after we moved back to the States and were staying with my parents, Bill called several times without an answer. When he arrived home to flames shooting out the kitchen window and six fire engines lined up in front, he saw why. I was relieved to see him and to share the day’s catastrophe, and he was happy to find us standing on the sidewalk, safe.

Maybe that’s what makes a special needs marriage, or any marriage, work. Understanding and accepting that sometimes it just doesn’t. Adapting to a constant redefinition of terms, of words, of good days, and what constitutes a crisis for better and for worse. Realizing that though you said you’d love this person no matter what, some days there’s no love left in the tank, and that’s OK. Regardless of what the “experts” say, sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day not to go to bed angry and unresolved. As long as you understand that what you’ve committed to is a process, a work in progress and that this work in progress takes a fair amount of work, understanding and faith, you might discover that even if the house burns down, you could not be more grateful to find this person standing beside you and your circus, safely on the side of the road.

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