Toy farm cars lined up in a row

Dear parent,

Does your child love to line up their toys?

As someone who consults for families and gives talks on early intervention plans, this is one of the most common things I see amongst toddlers and younger children who are on the autism spectrum.

When I was a kid, I loved routines and order. Having a structure was important for me; it put me in a place of comfort. This started as early as I could remember. They would usually start with trains and Legos. I used to love to organize my trains in height order. As my love of toys began to grow as I got older, this became a common trend with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures and then other things in my house as well.

This fascination turned later into a love for spinning toys over and over. However, this stopped for me because I’d often twirl my hair to mimic the behavior of spinning when I didn’t have any toys around. This used to leave my hair in knots at a time when my hair was long because my parents couldn’t cut my hair due to my ongoing sensory issues.

I often enjoyed this much more than interacting with others, including my family and friends. I’m not going to lie, some of that structure has gone away as years have gone by (talking from the current perspective of a 28-year-old man who needs to clean his apartment when I hate to clean).

My parents used my love of lining up toys as a way to help me build on my social skills. I came up with stories for each lined-up toy and role-played different scenarios they were a part of. Then I recorded the stories I came up with and watched them during free time.

This helped me become more cognizant of my key interests, as many times the characters I created either loved basketball or loved movies, two of my favorite key interests.

As I always say to our community, when you play up to kids’ strengths while working with them on their challenges, they can do incredible things.

As Dr. Temple Grandin, one of our leading autism advocates, says…

“There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.”

Take this to heart, and the next time your child lines up toys, you can possibly help them have fun while also helping them as well.


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This time of year — the holiday season — can be especially hard for me as an adult with an autism spectrum disorder. It has been especially hard for me to deal with Thanksgiving and Christmas since both of my parents passed away many years ago, and I don’t see my family members often. I have been living on my own for many years now. Most of the time during the year, I do not mind being single and on the spectrum. I am as independent as possible with a little help, because I also have a medical condition that has to do with my heart and lungs. But when the holidays come near, I have a hard time dealing with it.

A few years ago, I was so down about the holidays I wrote a Facebook post saying I was not sure I was going to decorate for Christmas. Thankfully, many of my friends came to my rescue and encouraged me to decorate my place, which I did after much thought and prayers. For the past 15 years I have also been alone on Thanksgiving. It is also a hard holiday to get through. Thankfully, I do have a 17-year-old cat I love and adore who keeps me going. During that day, I usually keep Facebook on all day to keep me company to see what my friends are up to, and they can see my posts during that day. One little nice thing about being alone on Thanksgiving Day is that I can watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade in peace, and I don’t have to deal with manners like I would at a family member’s place. I can cook my own turkey and have what I want to eat at Thanksgiving dinner, even though it can be a lonely experience.

Every year I have three close friends who visit me right before Christmas. I have known these wonderful friends since our college days together. Every year they bring Christmas presents to open on Christmas Day. If it were not for them, I would not have any gifts to open on Christmas Day. I do have an after-Christmas get-together with my family, which is nice. It’s nice to see everyone. But for some reason, maybe it is the Aspie in me, but I feel like I am looking in from the outside. I feel like I don’t belong.

If there is anyone else who has a hard time with the holidays, my advice is to remain strong. Maybe try to see if there are any family members who would like to invite you to their house for the holidays, or if you have friends you might be able to spend time with over the holidays.

Over the last several years, I’ve been trying to get myself in the holiday mood by listening to Christmas music a little early, and I try to get my place ready for Christmas by Thanksgiving Day. I hope this story will help others who are like me.

When the doctor told me my son has autism, I had no idea what it meant. My mind raced with a million thoughts and questions at once, and I knew I needed to find out everything I could about autism.

Getting useful information about autism was challenging. There was no firsthand information available to me. This was not like my son having the flu and me being able to ask my friends and family for advice based on their personal experiences. In this case, most of the people I knew had never heard about autism, forget knowing anything about it. The few who had didn’t have a clear idea about what it was. The professionals in the field were only so much help, and their knowledge was more academic than personal. The local library and bookstores had little information. There was more information available on the internet, but it still didn’t seem enough. Theoretically, I knew everything there was to know about autism. But practically, I was no closer to understanding what it meant for my son, as an individual, and for us, as a family, than before.

Then, one day, as I was playing with my son, I stopped and looked at him, really looked at him. He had a big smile on his face and was babbling happily and flapping his hands excitedly. In that moment, I realized I didn’t have to look for guidance anywhere other than my son. My son is still the same sweet, sensitive, silly, happy, loving, caring boy he has always been. The autism diagnosis didn’t change that.

We had done a pretty good job of traversing the path of life so far. I already know how to be a parent to him. I need to keep taking my cues from him, love him and care for him like I have since the day he was born.

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1. For me, the biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is the constant need to have so many different conversations with people I haven’t spoken to in forever. Everyone is joined together, and due to not seeing each other for a while, conversations erupt. Sometimes the conversation I am having with someone is not the only conversation that is happening within the vicinity of where I am. This can be overwhelming for me. This challenge makes me so tired. I have to try to focus on the conversation I am in, but I cannot. My batteries are running low, and I am going down. I just wish people understood this. I wish family, friends and even strangers understood this.

It’s extremely hard for me to have conversations with multiple people within a few hours. But not only is that hard, it is also hard and distracting to have a conversation as multiple conversations are happening around me. Think of me as a battery in a smartphone: I am fully charged when I get to the holiday dinner, but I start “dying” pretty quickly. If I don’t take a few minutes alone to recharge, I will be unable to function.

2. For me, the second biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is usually (but not this year) being in someone else’s home. This year, we had Thanksgiving dinner at our apartment, and I was able to take a few minutes in my bedroom with my cat to calm down my nerves and recharge peacefully. When I am at someone else’s home, I am already on edge as I get there.

If I could suggest to family and friends, give me a few minutes to get situated before anything. Also, if I have questions prior to coming, please answer accordingly. Questions could be: How many people will be there? Is there enough seating? Do I need to bring anything? What will be made for dinner? Drinks?

3. For me, the third biggest challenge of the holiday season as someone with autism is traveling and other demands. All of my biggest challenges relate back to being a battery in a smartphone, but this is why they are big challenges. Too much traveling, driving, rushing and other demands make it hard for me to enjoy the holiday season. This likely goes for everyone, but I find it particularly challenging. The demands of packing and rushing off to both sides of the family, especially with those of us who are in a relationship or married. Which family are we spending it with? How long are we staying? The long drive there and back. So much cleaning if they are coming here. My routine is being butchered, and sometimes that’s all I rely on. Sometimes I try very hard to keep up a routine elsewhere, but when people are around, the social know-how seems to be to do it their way.

Note to self: It’s OK to tell someone I need to take some time alone. It’s OK to say, “Not this holiday season.” It’s OK to plan ahead, even if it is a few months in advance (it can help relieve anxiety).

For those like me or parents of children on the autism spectrum, may I suggest something: Make sure to have coping skills to try to prevent a shutdown. Leave the room, bring headphones, bring a heavy-weighted blanket, music, go take a walk, or keep your time to a limit, stay at home in your environment, don’t force fancy clothes (be comfortable). If you have a condition, disorder, or disability — I feel it’s most important to ensure you are OK to handle the challenges ahead before they begin. I believe this is the only way to ensure a great holiday season. Happy Holidays!

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Of the many things in life I have to be thankful for, one that will always stand out is my autism diagnosis.

Imagine you’ve spent your entire life being a little different from the rest. You try to click with others at a young age, but something just doesn’t gel. You spend your teen years watching everyone else suddenly change and develop different interests, and you can’t wrap your head around it. You spend your 20s learning about yourself, and yet there is still a missing piece.

Then you stumble upon autism. Not for the first time, when you think you know what autism means. But several years later, when autism has a whole new meaning for you, and it describes so many of the things you’ve experienced throughout your life. It sounds like you.

You do a lot of research, only to find the more you delve into the topic, the more of yourself you see in it all. After a few years, you schedule that fateful appointment. You’re almost positive you’re autistic, but there’s still that tiny glimmer of a doubt: What if it isn’t autism, after all? You’ve incorporated it as part of your identity by this point.

Next come the appointments, the questionnaires and the interview with the psychologist. Finally, the day arrives – the day that decides whether or not everything you’ve learned about yourself is on point. You brace yourself for the answer. Are you autistic, or not? Your psychologist reviews the information, and finally… He tells you that you present as someone on the autism spectrum!

You feel a sense of validation. Your suspicions have been confirmed. Everything you’ve come to know as a part of who you are has indeed been a part of you all along. Congratulations! You’re autistic, and now you have an explanation for your differences and unique operating system.

Two years ago, this happened to me. For that I will be forever thankful.

With Thanksgiving here, I want to take a minute to ponder what I feel thankful for as a mom, a teacher and a wife. Although there are sometimes challenges, I can always feel thankful for what I have. It’s in this spirit I write this list.

1. True love: I felt true love for the first time when I met my husband. But with the birth of my son, I felt love on a completely new level. Though some days can have challenges, I am always grateful to have him in my life.

2. Appreciation for the little things: If anyone knows how to express thankfulness, it’s my son. He expresses gratitude for the little things in life. His eyes light up with joy at the smallest of gestures. I wish I could be more like him, seeing the wonderment in the everyday joys of life.

3. Honesty: OK, so maybe the truth can hurt sometimes. But he tells me when I’ve upset him, when I’ve made him happy, and when he likes my clothes. I’ve rarely known him to tell a lie.

4. Repeated compliments: My son must tell me a hundred times a day that I’m “the best mom ever” and that he loves me. He tells me I’m beautiful. He tells others they’re handsome or pretty. While he also sometimes repeats things I wish he wouldn’t, he’s always good at giving someone an ego boost through his compliments.

5. Hugs and kisses: I love how my son doesn’t shy away from affection. His kisses tell me he feels fondness toward me, and his hugs are some of the best in the world.

I know I’m not the only parent who feels thankful for all the small things that can come with raising a child. There’s a unique gratification that comes from raising children. As I watch mine grow up learning to be great young men, I am thankful for all that comes with parenting them. I hope one day my son will read this and know the love I feel for him is unconditional and without bounds.

What do you feel thankful for? Share what you’re thankful for in the comments!

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