Silhouette of a woman and two young children holding hands and dancing around outside, isolated against the sunset.

How Can Your Loved Ones Help Support Your Autistic Children?

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His blond curls bounce in the sunlight as he is twirling in the sun. The arm flapping is a reminder that he is different. Seeming to be in his own world, he produces sounds that are familiar yet hard to distinguish. Adjacent to him is his sister. Her hair is twisted in knots from spinning it around her fingers. She carries vegetables and is nurturing them as if they were a doll to carry and care for. She connected to the movie “Veggie Tales” in a way that the garden vegetables became her playmates, never to be eaten.

These beautiful children see life differently. They experience life through a different lens. They are raised with patience and kindness. They are raised by two of the strongest parents I know. They carry the label of being autistic. They require constant care and attention.

I see this world through a different lens — not as the parent to these beautiful children but as their aunt. The world they live in is full of textures and experienced through the senses. Food carries a different meaning, and nutrition can be a struggle. Sleep rarely happens for both children and their dedicated parents. I have read articles on autism as well as conducted significant personal research. I have spent hours thinking about the theories that focus on and dissect autism. Those who have autistic children need those around them to understand.

I understand, but I want to help. I am here. I write this to parents of autistic children — if you have a moment where you feel like you are spinning from trying to do it all, pick up the phone and call a friend or family member. Though we are not living in the same day-to-day world, there are people who want to help.

Autistic children are a beautiful gift. As an aunt who adores her niece and nephews, I would like to hear from those connected to the autism community — how can loved ones help? What support do you need most? What would help you trust a loved one to help care for your autistic child?

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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To the People I Trust to Care for My Son on the Autism Spectrum

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There he was near the front while his school friends danced and clapped on stage. I saw my son sitting close to a class teacher’s assistant (TA), touching her face just like he does to me, his arm coming up and draping around her shoulders. She talked to him in hushed tones and smiled, reassuring him.

Another time, on sports day, I saw him as he sat on the grass bobbing up and down, flapping his hands and squealing. Then he looked at his teacher and smiled one of those beautiful smiles that takes you miles away.

And there was that time his personal assistant (PA) brought him home after an afternoon respite trip out, and as she walked back down our path, my son blew her a kiss.

I feel happy to catch these moments — and relieved.

My son can’t speak. He can’t tell me his favourite TA or about the time his teacher calmed him when he was anxious or the game his PA played that made him laugh. He can’t tell me if someone hurts him. I have no choice but to trust these people with my child. I have to trust they will learn his ways and know what his eyes are saying.

So how do I know if they are treating him like he deserves? Well, the answer is I don’t — not until I catch that time he drapes his arm around one of them or gives one of those smiles. Then I know he’s OK.

I feel relief flood through me, reassured that he seems to trust and love them. I take his lead because he knows more than me.

So thank you to the ladies who care for my son, for supporting him when he’s not with me.

Follow this journey on Nichola’s blog.

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Dear Beautiful - A Letter to the Newly Diagnosed Autistic

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Dear Beautiful,

Congratulations on finally discovering the truth. I just want to remind you that you are amazing.

I hope your doctor sat you down and told you that this diagnosis does not make you broken. Mine pointed out that a lot of my skills come from being autistic.

May this information bring you more self-compassion, as you learn to respect your limits. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself. Make your own miracles.

Autism is forever. Accepting this fact will bring you peace of mind. Be empowered by this information. Don’t let it break you.

You can let the finality of this diagnosis knock you down. You can get torn up over why it took so long to find the truth… or you can get up and own it.

Focus on and grow your strengths. Do what you love with all your heart even if it doesn’t make you money. If you can turn something you love into a career – even better.

Learn your weaknesses, but don’t fixate on what you can’t do. Have self-compassion, be kind to yourself and respect your limits.

Read articles by other positive and encouraging Aspies online. The online autistic community is amazing and supportive. If you have a question, somebody out there has your answer.

The world needs all kinds of minds. We are unique, but not unlike Einstein, Tesla, Mozart, and many other artists and thinkers who came before us.

Most of all – don’t be ashamed of who you are. Think different – it is your greatest strength.

With Love,
“Anna”
Anonymously Autistic

Follow this journey on Anonymously Autistic.

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To My Son With Autism, After a Public Moment of Inner Strength

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Dearest William,

You usually love being in the restroom — it’s where you can make funny faces in the mirror and swim in the tub before bedtime! But today, we had a different experience.

Today, we stopped at Dunkin Donuts to pick up some bottled water to drink before speech therapy. When we walked into the restroom, I could see the concern on your face. I watched as you turned to face the automatic dryer. Despite your sensory-seeking behavior, you do not appreciate the echoing of hand dryers in public restrooms. Who does, really? You swayed back and forth for a few seconds, rocking on your heels and breathing more heavily than normal, side-eyeing that evil contraption and raising your arms up to cover your ears.

I told you, “We don’t have to go near the dryer, I promise.” And I think you understood.

After you used the restroom you came to me and said, “All done. Wash hands.” So I helped you stand on one side of the sink so you didn’t have to be on the side with the dryer. Your little hands and arms and shoulders shook nervously as I helped you lather up the soap and rinse your small hands.

But you used such self control. You turned around, held out your wet hands, and begged in the tiny voice you try so hard to use, “I want open door.”

I opened the door, and we walked out of that Dunkin Donuts restroom with damp hands into a world where no one would know the incredible success you just achieved. No one would know exactly how extraordinary you are. In those little moments, you let me see the depths of your struggle to cope with sounds that are more intense for you because of autism and sensory processing disorder, as well as your inner strength, and I love and admire you even more.

On your side with wet hands,

Mommy

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What 'Getting to First Base' Meant for Us as a Couple on the Autism Spectrum

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In the aftermath of World War II, baseball metaphors for sex were often used by American adolescents as euphemisms for the degree of physical intimacy achieved on dates. Most people are familiar with the terms “getting to first base, second base, third base, or scoring a home run.” First base is achieving a kiss, while scoring a home run is actually having sex with someone. Second and third base can be assumed as to the degrees of intimacy.

It might work well for the neurotypical world, but I have a much different view in my autistic world. Because for me, relationships with others are not so easily gained, least of all intimate ones. I treasure the relationships I do make and approach them with a very different perspective.

Dr. Tony Attwood commented why he felt our “all autistic” wedding was important to the autism community.  He states:

My thoughts are that this is a special occasion that I want to be witnessed and experienced by those who truly appreciate the exchange of vows, as well as the importance of the union between two people from the same community… Those in the autism community take such vows very seriously and from my experience, are very determined for the relationship to succeed and flourish. An autism-autism union is a very special occasion and an opportunity to celebrate the values,
determination and understanding of those within the same mind set who deeply love and value each other.

Congratulations on finding each other and finding love within and between each other.

Dr. Attwood’s word so deeply touched my heart. They are so very true. In today’s society people get married for many different reasons. Love isn’t always one of them. People marry for financial gain, for moving up the social ladder, for prestige.

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 50.  Until that point I never even had a friend. If a fleeting thought of finding a mate to have a relationship with or marry would surface in my head I’d quickly dismiss the notion. After learning of Asperger’s and getting diagnosed, my entire life changed.

First I realized I was not the only person on earth like me. Second, I began meeting others on the spectrum, as well as people who work with us because they want to be around us.

The first thing I did was start an Asperger’s support group in my community. At one of the meetings came an autistic guy with his mother, who brought him there. He was extremely timid, and did not appear to have much confidence. We became friends and remained as such for the next year.

Our love story is extremely complicated and truly deserves to be made into a motion picture. Our first hug was under the stars in my driveway after he and his mother delivered a bunny hutch which Abraham had assembled for me. I’m not good with assembling things, and I’d purchased the hutch for my new bunny, but it had sat in the box for weeks. Abraham volunteered to put it together for me.

There, under a full moon, he initiated a hug. That is a moment neither of us shall ever forget. As our arms embraced each other, and we felt the warmth of each other’s body, a spark was ignited in both our souls. We couldn’t let go of each other. We became one, and neither of us could tell where one ended and the other began. The painting, “The Kiss,” by Austrian symbolist painter Gustov Klimt flashed into my mind.

The feeling was so intense, so delicious, so shocking.  Neither of us had ever expected to find anyone with whom to fall in love and have a relationship with or marry. It seemed like an impossible dream. Suddenly a fire was lit within each of us. It was far beyond a sexual fire. It was a spiritual fire, one extremely deep. It was on a level much higher than what most people ever experience or can understand.

Having autism surely has its challenges. They are not by any means limitations.  They are simply challenges. They force us to work harder at overcoming them. Yet those same challenges — specifically sensory issues –offer us the luxury to experience things on this higher level. They can also work positively for the individual.

That first hug far surpassed “getting to first base.” We both spent our lives “striking out” at simple relationships. Neither one of us ever had friends, yet now we realized the magical chemistry that drew us together.

Hitting one out of the park is every batter’s dream in a real baseball game. Abraham and I truly hit one out of the park. On September 26, 2015 we became husband and wife at the Love & Autism Conference. Now, having had a loving relationship for the past three years with extremely positive intervention, Abraham has turned out to be a diamond in the rough. He’s blossomed into a positive-thinking man who’s confident, has great self-esteem, and enjoys life to the fullest.

Awhile back we attended our first baseball game together, a semi-pro game at our hometown stadium. We decided to go all out, and upon arrival to the stadium we headed into the team’s merchandise store. There, we purchased baseball hats, flags to wave, and beads to hang around our necks. As we emerged from the store, we now looked like the other 5,000 people at the stadium. The music was loud but made us feel energetic. It was massive sensory overload, yet we were having a blast!

The next stop was one of the food establishments on the main concourse. We both ordered cheeseburgers and fries, a plastic baseball hat filled with popcorn, a big soft pretzel and drinks. Trying to maintain our new hats on despite the Gulf breeze blowing, we made our way over to a ledge with our hands laden with all the eats. There we stood, among the huge crowd, eating, cheering, and simply forgetting our challenges. We had a hilarious, marvelous, astonishing time. We even took selfies to create memories of our night at the game. Our home team won, and we joined right in with the roar of the crowd cheering them on.

Anita and Abraham at the baseball game

After the game we drove down the street to the pier to admire the full moon, enjoy the ocean mist on our faces, and savor the sound of waves lapping against the pilings. It was a perfect ending to a perfect night. We felt an overwhelming peace and comfort as we sat there on the bench because we won. I’m not referring to the baseball team. I’m talking about hitting the ball out of the park on love. It’s more like
we’ve won the World Series.

Our autistic baseball game is quite different than everyone else’s. As our very dear friend Eustacia Cutler says, we’re “different… not less.”

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Why I Tell People Dan Aykroyd Is on the Autism Spectrum

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Growing up, I didn’t have role models who were on the autism spectrum. Being diagnosed with autism in the early 90’s, the only one who was mentioned on a national level was the fictional character from “Rain Man.”

Because of this, I often talk about adults on the spectrum that other people with autism can look up to.

When I start listing off names, I mention leading autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin, the first nonverbal talk show host Carly Fleischmann, New York Times best-selling author John Elder Robison, international speaker and author Stephen M. Shore and “American Idol” finalist James Durbin. After that, I end my list with a name no one expects: Dan Aykroyd.

People are literally shocked to learn he’s on the autism spectrum. It goes to show you how wide the spectrum truly is.

Aykroyd, who is most well known for his stint on “Saturday Night Live,” spoke publicly about having Asperger’s syndrome several years ago. In an interview with The Daily Mail, he said he was able to develop some key interests due to his autism. One of those key interests was in ghosts and law enforcement. Specifically, he loved the ghost hunter Hans Holzer. Because of his interests in this area, “the idea of my film ‘Ghostbusters’ was born,’” Aykroyd  told The Daily Mail. “Ghostbusters” remains a popular movie to this day. Aykroyd’s name came up often in our community recently because of the “Ghostbusters” reboot that was released in July 2016.

For me, this has some amazing value for our community. Often families wonder what the future will look like for their child on the spectrum, and when that time comes, I love to bring up Aykroyd’s story. So many people on the spectrum have key interests just like Aykroyd. With the proper direction in that interest, it can open up opportunities for them.

Now, not every person with autism is going to have Aykroyd’s success, but with his story, we have someone in our community who others can look up to. I turned one of my key interests in theater as a child into a career as an adult in motivational speaking.

One of my old college professors often told me to “think with the end in mind,” which has reinforced my passion for sharing stories like Aykroyd’s. No matter where your child falls on our wide autism spectrum, have the self-motivation to know that we are learning more about autism every day. Every milestone, no matter how small, should be celebrated.

Hopefully one day we will be able to share about all of our kids living their dreams like Aykroyd has.

This post first appeared on KerryMagro.com.

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