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.

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

Image via Thinkstock Images


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!

Image via Thinkstock.

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

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!

Follow this journey on Embracing the Spectrum.

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

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

To all high school special education teachers,

Based on my experience in high school, I hope you will keep some things in mind when it comes to your students. 

I hope you will treat your students well. And if you work with other kids outside your classes in extracurricular activities, I hope you will treat them well. 

I hope you won’t yell at your students if they have problems but instead try to understand first what they may be going through in their lives. If they have behavior challenges, calmly talk to them about their behaviors. 

I hope you will prepare your students for college by giving them the proper courses needed for that. 

I hope you have an understanding of what it takes to be a special education teacher. I hope you will stick up for your students if they are being bullied by other students or even other teachers or school staff. 

Most of all, I hope you will help them enjoy their high school experience, and hopefully they will not be miserable in high school like I was. Help them enjoy their high school experience.

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

Image via Thinkstock Images

The woman on the phone was not listening. I had called her for help and quickly realized she would not be able to help me.

I told her, “Nevermind. I’ve made a mistake. I’m going to let you go.” She kept asking questions. To every question she asked I said, “I don’t know. I don’t have any more information. I am going to let you go.”

She kept asking. I told her again, “I need to let you go. You cannot help me.” Her overly helpful insistence that I not hang up the phone was about to make me blow up.

Finally, in a harsh tone I told her, “Look — I was trying to be nice, but I am hanging up now, because there is nothing you can do for me.”

I slammed down the phone and ran quickly out of our office in a panic. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing. Everything was a blur. I wanted to scream, cry and hit someone. More than anything, I wanted to get away and be alone.

Run. Run. Escape. Escape

Bursting into the hallway, I frantically looked both ways. I wanted to go someplace without people. The bathroom? Elevator? Emergency stairwell!

Hyperventilating, I burst into the stairwell. It was dark and quiet, as most people take the elevator. I ran up and down the stairs until finally I collapsed exhausted on the bottom floor.

I sat for a moment, curled in a ball, rocking. Grateful for the moment alone, I sat breathing in and listening to my breaths.

Coming back to reality and feeling much better after my tiny explosion (this was a very small meltdown), I realized I had left my key card in the desk as I ran out in a panic, so I exited the stairwell and took the elevator back to my floor.

Back at my desk, I sat down like nothing ever happened — as if I hadn’t just had a meltdown at work.

When an autistic person is having a meltdown, they are often unable to think clearly. The fight or flight response is triggered, so forcing them to engage with you may actually cause more stress.

We are all unique individuals, but I like to be alone during a meltdown. If I get up and run away, don’t chase me — this is flight, and if you corner me my brain can switch to fight. I’m on autopilot, and running has become the way I protect myself (and those around me).

If I’m having a meltdown, please do not touch me. My senses are whirling out of proportion, and I am not thinking clearly. I may become unable to communicate other than one-word answers, and trying to communicate makes me feel worse — so don’t ask me to explain what’s happening. If you are in the room with an autistic person having a meltdown, I’d recommend turning off the lights and getting them a blanket or pillow and some space. A favorite stim toy might also be a good thing to offer.

You can stay in the room if the person you are with does not mind, but give some space and sit quietly. Accept that they can’t control what is happening to them. Sometimes we feel the meltdown coming, but other times it can hit without warning.

Once started, the meltdown has to run its course. Just wait; let me meltdown and don’t try to stop it. We may feel tired after a meltdown, but sometimes we can feel relief, as the pressure may have been building for quite some time.

Remember, as hard as watching a meltdown can be for you, having a meltdown is horrible for an autistic person. The pain is mental and physical. Autistic people having meltdowns are in crisis mode, and our brains are lashing out at us. We don’t mean to be out of control and are often embarrassed after having a meltdown.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Anonymously Autistic.

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.