musical artist flo rida at an event

How Flo Rida and His Concert Staff Made a Wish Come True for My Son With Autism

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young boy smiling at the camera

My son is a huge Flo Rida fan. He loves him so much he created a video dedicated to Flo Rida. In his video he told Flo, “I love your song ‘My House,’ but I want you to come to my house, Flo Rida.” He then proceeded to dance to a song featuring Flo Rida. His video ended up getting over 200,000 views and made it onto Ellen DeGeneres’ blog. Every day, my little guy would ask if Flo had seen his video. This is just a small depiction of how much my son loves Flo Rida. My son stated early on it was his dream to give Flo Rida a fist bump. He really hoped Flo Rida would see his video and he would end up getting the opportunity to give him a fist bump in person.

Last week, Flo Rida had a concert at the Washington State Fair. My mom surprised my little guy with tickets to the concert. I reposted my son’s video in hopes it would get to Flo Rida. The day of the concert, I heard from Flo Rida’s bodyguard’s girlfriend. She had seen the video and she loved it so much she told me she would do everything in her power to connect my son with Flo Rida. It was extremely last minute and Flo Rida was on an airplane, so she couldn’t make any promises, but she told me she would do her best.

female security guard posing with young boy at concert

My son was overcome with joy when he arrived at the concert. He is on the autism spectrum, and he often listens to Flo Rida’s music to help himself mellow out. As soon as the music began to play at the concert, you could see the amazement and pure joy in his eyes. We were seated on the floor in row 17. These were great seats, but not close enough where we could get close-ups of Flo Rida. In the middle of the concert, Flo Rida came off the stage. I immediately took my little guy and ran towards Flo in the hope he could get a fist bump from his hero. Unfortunately, the crowd got out of hand and we just missed him, but this is where things changed in our favor. In the hustle, we ended up getting ushered into the third row. My little guy and I got to finish the concert extremely close to the stage. If you could have seen my child’s face, you would have been in awe. His face could have lit up a room!

flo rida taking a selfie with fans at the washington state fair At the end of the concert, Flo announced he would take selfies with the audience. I knew this would be my son’s chance to get his fist bump, but the problem was security was only letting the front row get selfies with Flo. I pleaded my case with a wonderful security lady, who happened to also be a grandma. I think she could tell just how much this meant to both me and my son. She told me to go through and she hoped my son would get his wish. I ended up having to try and get through another security guard, who was not as generous and absolutely refused to let us through. The original security guard could see what was happening, and she went out of her way to come towards us to tell the security guard she had given us clearance to get through. This lady was my son’s angel. She made his wish come true! My son ended up getting his fist bump from Flo Rida, and he also got a selfie. I just cannot express how grateful I am to the security guard at the Washington State Fair. She helped make a little boy’s wish come true!

musical artist flo rida

My son’s night of excitement did not end there. Flo Rida’s bodyguard called us just as we were leaving the fair. He told me his girlfriend had just got a hold of him and told him about my son. He ended up sending a picture from Flo Rida to my little guy and he promised Flo would personally watch my son’s video. In addition, he told me he would send a package from Flo Rida to my little guy. Flo Rida’s bodyguard and his girlfriend did not have to do this, but they did. They are busy people, but they took time out of their schedules to try and make a little boy’s dream come true.

I love my son more than words can say. He has come so far in his short life. My son is resilient, and he hasn’t let a diagnosis define who he is. This is why I wanted his dream to come true. From a special needs mom, thank you to the security guard at the Washington State Fair from the bottom of my heart! To Flo Rida’s bodyguard and his girlfriend, I am beyond grateful to you both for making my son’s wish come true! In the words of my son, “Flo Rida now knows who I am and I got my fist bump!”

Lead image via Eva Rinaldi / Wikimedia Commons

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What May Be Happening When an Autistic Person Appears to ‘Go Somewhere Else'

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Here’s a riddle to solve: I am not an island, and yet I am surrounded by water on all sides. What am I? I am just a person, swimming through this vast ocean that we call the universe. Einstein himself describes the passing of our lives as a river, and an ocean current keeps the features of that metaphor. G.W. Swain says that autistic people can be considered the birds in an ocean life system, holding their breath before returning to the surface for air, then diving back down again.

I want to use the premise of “no man is an island” and the ocean analogy to explain something that very few people have been able to shed light on from an outside perspective – the detached, unemotional-appearing nature of autism that often features in autism awareness films to dramatize the condition. Dramatizing is perfectly fine of course, but one should consider its limitations.

The apparent lack of emotion and detachment is not who we are. It is just an image that is projected on the outside. Rose King spoke at a TED event and famously said that there is a second, private world for autistic people, separate from the one we all share. It is here that emotion, attachment and most processing takes place.

We form attachments like everyone else. Imagine a boat on the surface, connected to the sea floor by an anchor. This connection is a hand guiding us into the shared world, but it connects people and places to our inner world as well. And that world is often not shown on the outside. For nearly everyone across the spectrum, there tends to be a difference between the world we perceive and the world we are able to respond to.

Please remember, we have feelings just like everyone else, and we want to express them. What value does any emotion, positive or negative, have if it remains inert in the mind? If anything, the stigma surrounding autism makes it more difficult to express emotions. We all create a reality together by letting emotions from our minds into the wider world beyond. But how can we be expected to add our emotions to that reality if we are regarded with suspicion and fear when we process them in the way that works for us?

When we in the autistic community appear to “go somewhere else,” that’s often what we’re doing. We’re going to a quiet place within to listen to the emotions and process them. So don’t be afraid of us if we look distant and removed. We just have to go somewhere a little further out to truly experience that which makes this world, this ocean, worth sharing: intimacy.

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Why I Love Traveling the World as Someone on the Autism Spectrum

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I am on the autism spectrum and have always loved traveling. When I was a little boy, my first time on a plane was flying to Disney World with my father.

Traveling on the autism spectrum may be easy for some individuals with autism and difficult for others. Some may be scared of traveling, flying, bus rides, trains, etc. For me, traveling at such a young age gave me the experience I needed in case I ever wanted or needed to travel when I got older. Now that I’m in my 20’s and have extra money to do it, I love to travel.

I’ve been everywhere. I went to Disney World a few times, including a visit there with my buddy in 2015. I’ve taken bus trips to New York City. I went to Las Vegas, where I saw Shania Twain, which was the greatest moment of my life. I hope to visit many more places as I get older, including a few visits to California, back to Vegas a few more times, and many more states in the US. I’d even like to take a trip to Canada, as a lot of people I admire in the entertainment business are from Canada. I’m proud of how many places I’ve been to in only 25 years — including one trip overseas.

To all of you on the autism spectrum who are afraid of traveling or want to travel, don’t be afraid. Sometimes it’s hard because of the sensory overload, but I take deep breaths, stay calm, and don’t panic when under pressure. I go to bed at my usual time and make sure to have downtime when needed.

I recommend picking destinations based on your interests. My choices are based on pop culture, sports, Disney parks and other major tourist attractions. I pick places to eat where I know I will like something they have on the menu.

I’m so glad I was able to start traveling at such a young age. I can even travel without the support of someone. When I went to Vegas, I navigated my mom and I through the airport because she didn’t know how to do it. That made me proud.

Traveling to other places is a privilege, and really exciting to do. I believe it’s important to get out there and travel the world while you can. I’m grateful to travel any chance I get.

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How I've Made Progress in My Love-Hate Sensory Relationship With Socks

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Socks.

It might be an issue more associated with sensory processing disorder rather than autism, but I think it’s also related to autism, because we often don’t explain the discomfort to the people around us.

We may not know you don’t feel the same way we do about socks. Some of us might believe our behavior should be self-explanatory, because socks just suck that much. I have very early memories regarding the unpleasantness of socks. They felt like fiberglass burning into my ankles, and the seam was like a large lizard wiggling around on my toes.

When I was a baby, my mother liked to dress me in socks with lace trim. I hated lace more than anything. Thinking about those socks makes me itch. Nothing could ever make them feel right. Looking around me, everyone had socks. I thought it was unbelievable. Why on Earth would anyone put up with this much pain?

My mother said it was to protect my shoes, because shoes are expensive. It was a logical enough explanation, but as I got older I remember rubbing my feet and ankles raw by pawing at my socks.

Wet socks and wet clothing have always been impossible for me. My mother once asked me to put on wet socks. I can’t remember very clearly what happened after she asked that question (perhaps I had a meltdown), but I feel like the situation ended with vomit.

As I got older, I started picking my own socks at the store. Ankle socks with no seam in the toe were my favorite when I could find them on sale. I had expensive taste in socks. If I can’t find socks without a seam, I prefer ankle socks with a seam on top, but they have to be soft.

I tried wearing shoes without socks. Most of the time I ended up with blisters on my tender feet. My balance is not the best, and I am a bit clumsy. I imagine my feet take quite a beating when not protected by socks.

Flats were great, until my feet began to sweat. Pools of sweat feel like oceans in my shoes — it is almost as bad as wet socks.

I try to stock up when I find a type of sock I like. If a company changes their socks, it will take me a while to get used to them.

Nothing is more annoying to me than a sock problem. The distraction is so intense, it becomes hard to think about anything else without stimming. Maybe that is why I went barefoot so much as a child. I loved the feel of warm, dry grass and hot asphalt on my feet.

I don’t run around with my shoes off anymore. Now that I’ve found socks that feel nice, I prefer not to feel small things under my feet. (As an adult at 125 pounds, my feet hurt more when stepping on objects than they did when I was closer to 60 pounds.)

Even now, there are some sensory days when I just can’t handle socks. If that happens, I don’t wear them. It’s that easy. It is not fair that I put myself through the torture.

Itchy socks take away my valuable spoons. I need those. They are mine.

I’ve been wearing socks for over 30 years now. It has taken me a long time to go from hating socks to loving socks.

Baby steps. Progress is progress, no matter how long it takes.

Image via Thinkstock.

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I Wouldn’t Change a Thing About How We Celebrated Halloween With My Son With Autism

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If I could do my life over, I’d be a party planner.

There are few things I enjoy more than preparing a celebration, like the Halloween party for children with special needs I led for our township last weekend. I spent weeks arranging details for crafts, games, decorations and snacks so the event would run with ease. Thanks to a host of generous volunteers, I think it did.

Celebrations with my own family, however, didn’t always turn out as planned. The blueprints for gaiety in my mind were rarely executed as intended by Daniel, my little boy with autism. He had his own ideas.

Take birthdays, for example. I strove to make them festive occasions in our household, involving favorite meals, helium balloons and a musical birthday plate for the guest of honor.

Daniel, however, was unimpressed. One year he actually developed a physical aversion to birthday cake. He wanted no part of the homemade confections brought forth for other family members, shoving his slice away with the back of his wrist, lest the offending substance touch his bare hand.

Undeterred, I concocted for his own birthday a dessert comprised solely of Daniel-approved foods. When the big moment came, he regarded the lopsided, cake-shaped mass of whipped cream and Oreos with a striking lack of enthusiasm, but deigned to blow out the candles and accept a slab without bolting from the table in horror.

I nearly wept with joy.

Halloween, on the other hand, was one celebration I could count on to at least resemble the typical-family ideal I aimed for when my children were young.

Daniel learned quickly that orange decorations meant a trip to Didier Farms, where he opted without fuss for the first pumpkin he saw. He enjoyed the jack-o’-lantern creation process, squeezing the slick pulp between his fingers, planting the votives firming inside the hollowed shells, then sitting outside, arms crossed and focused, to study the flickering candlelight winking from the pumpkins aligned by the door.

He tolerated every costume I devised for him, from baby cow to cowboy, green M&M to white, floaty ghost. He expressed no preferences, but he never balked at my selections, even the regrettable Mr. Potato Head ensemble of 1997, a choice bitterly scorned by my daughter, which I’ll never live down if she has anything to say about it.

Daniel didn’t mind it, though. He marched out the door, clutching his plastic pumpkin with enviable nonchalance, touring the neighborhood with his dad and sister, who swallowed her shame and behaved with typical loyalty to her little brother.

I see them still, their eager, costumed figures heading down the sidewalk as dusk settled in with Natalie holding Daniel’s hand protectively in her own. “Say ‘trick or treat,’ Daniel,” she coaxed as each door was opened. “‘Trick or treat!’” Sometimes he’d utter a proximation of the phrase, but more often just grabbed for the goods while Natalie issued a thanks for both of them before hurrying to the next house in line.

Described later by their father, Jeff, who guided them while I manned our own front door, these scenes are as vivid as if I’d been standing beside them: the warm glow of light spilling from doorways onto their expectant faces, Daniel reaching without fanfare into the offered bowl, Natalie gently coaching him, their unique bond deepening, all on its own.

I couldn’t have drawn a more perfect picture if I tried.

In the blink of an eye, Natalie was spending Halloween with friends, and Andy, her and Daniel’s step-father, assumed trick-or-treat duty in the new neighborhood we moved to when Dan was 9.

He wasn’t a little boy anymore, but I wasn’t ready to pare down his Halloween experience, even if he showed no great interest in participating one way or another. Of course, I usually claimed the cushy job, parked at home by the front door while dispatching my husband to herd Daniel up and down the street.

This become a bit challenging as Daniel grew older, his abrupt behavior more startling, at age 11 or 12, to neighbors unfamiliar with his autism. People were sensitive to Daniel’s quirks, though, recognizing his differentness and treating him with tender, respectful indulgence. Few begrudged his mute grabs for candy or lack of thanks, which we supplied on his behalf.

But in just a few years, trick-or-treating held less appeal for Daniel. Having graduated to a more sophisticated vampire costume, he was nonetheless ready to head home after just a few houses, content to pass the evening peering over my shoulder at the children crowding our doorstep, now and then holding the candy bowl himself as careful selections were made.

He was growing out of the Halloween of his childhood, just like his typical peers. I only needed to follow his lead.

I knew what he was missing, though: The “Halloween Hoopla” extravaganza held each year by our park district; the haunted house teens from our church navigated together, shrieking in feigned terror; the noisy packs of adolescent boys, jostling down the sidewalk, eyes open for girls, collecting the loot they pretended not to care about anymore.

These rites of passage were not right for my son, but I mourned their loss just the same.

Daniel had his own game plan, though. He was satisfied with the handfuls of candy he swiped behind my back; the roasted pumpkins seeds he surprised me by enjoying, crisp and salty and warm from the oven; our talking candy bowl with the green motion-sensing hand that lunged forward as he reached, giggling, for another Tootsie Pop.

He didn’t regret the pages lost from my Halloween blueprint. He didn’t even know they’d been drawn, and that was all right with him. And so, in time, it became all right with me.

My kids have been out of the house for several years, but I still decorate it for Halloween. It reminds me of those simple, unguarded days, the celebrations that ran smoothly, better than I could have planned.

While publicizing last week’s Halloween party and recruiting volunteers, I often told people that I wish there’d been a party like this available when my son was young, a lower-key event where differences don’t matter and kids and parents can relax and enjoy the celebration in a setting tailored for their needs.

Yet this isn’t precisely true.

I’m thrilled to lead this event each year, providing an experience that seems to be appreciated by the community. But I wouldn’t change a thing about my own children’s Halloween experiences.

Those memories are pretty much perfect, just as they are.

Follow this journey at Good Marching: Experience in Autism and the Rest of Life.

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I Am Not a Person With Autism. I Am Autistic.

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Some people believe the term “person with autism” is a more respectful way to describe people like me. But the truth is, I believe that phrase implies that autism is something bad.

There is nothing wrong with me. You may find me socially “unacceptable” from time to time or notice that my way of thinking is different from your own. But different does not equal broken. In fact, I wouldn’t ever choose to stop being an Aspie, even if I could.

Many people, myself included, believe that autism is genetic. I truly believe that neurodiversity is a necessary part of human evolution, and Aspies have been around throughout our existence. Great minds, such as Einstein, Mozart, and Tesla are now thought to have been on the spectrum.

Society has a bad habit of only wanting to focus on the negatives. Can you remember the last time you saw a happy story on the news? How often do your favorite shows get interrupted to bring you information about something positive?

Google-ing Autism brings up pages and pages of results. It takes considerable work to find information about positive parts of autism. Our gifts are hidden online and in the media, buried beneath challenges and drama. You don’t often read stories about adults who “pass” (with exhausting effort) in society.

Every time I stumble across articles talking about finding a “cure” for autism or isolating the “autism genes,” my frustration and worry rises. Don’t these people realize they are talking genocide and eugenics?

Stop trying to “cure” me. Stop trying to prevent others like me from being born. There is nothing wrong with me or my genes. Just support me, and help us succeed in this world. We deserve to live happily just as much as everyone else.

This is why I am not a person with autism. I am autistic and proud of it.

Please understand if I am irritated when people who aren’t autistic try to govern what is best for us. Many of us are capable of advocating for ourselves and do not need or want a “cure.”

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