screengrab of NCIS episode

There is a single scene at the very end of an episode of “NCIS,” which I have been thinking about a lot lately. The episode is called “Hit and Run.” When I saw the scene, I was in tears because of how much I could relate to the character of Abby, a forensic scientist on the show.

In this scene, Abby is sitting on the floor in the office, feeling pretty upset. Her colleague Gibbs comes over to her and asks what’s going on. She finally admits she’s trying to figure out how to be OK with not being enough good. Gibbs responds that she’s not counting the hit and runs — the good kind. This is when you do something nice for someone now, and you’re not always around to see the impact it has later.

He eventually ends the scene saying, “The things you do mean something to people.”

I feel like Abby so often, especially as an advocate on the autism spectrum. I constantly feel as though I’m not enough good. Like I just can’t keep up and do enough for others. And Gibbs’ response is so true.

This is why it’s so important to let people know when they’ve helped you. Just say, “Hey, remember when you did or said this? It really made a difference!” Maybe someone let you go ahead of them in line at the grocery store. Or perhaps they let you know you dropped something important. It could be a stranger, or it could be someone you know. Whoever it is, and however they helped, it matters.

Those kinds of stories I get from people every once in a while really keep me going. When I’m having a tough time, they let me know I’ve made an impact as an autism advocate. The stories remind me about those “hit and runs,” which can be really easy to forget about, if I’m even aware of them in the first place. They remind me that, like Gibbs said, the things I do mean something to people.

Image via YouTube.

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How many times have I heard the phrase “She doesn’t look autistic to me”? Too many times to count, that’s how many.

But here’s the thing: No two autistic people are the same. So once you’ve met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person. The assumptions and generalizations some people make on a daily basis surrounding autism astound me; they’re not helpful to anyone, and they need to stop.

I’m constantly surprised at how vast the spectrum is. Three of my four daughters are diagnosed autistic. So that’s four autistic people in our family out of six, including my husband. And we see it all.

I have one child who shies away from new people, and another who constantly seeks new social connections.

I have one child who loves to make loud noise, and another who hates it to the point of tears.

I have one picky eater, and another child who eats anything and everything she can get her hands on.

I have one child whose loves imaginative play, and another who is more literal.

I have one child who loves to spin, and another who hates it.

I have one child who is constantly seeking things to touch, and another child who panics if she has things on her hands.

I have one child who loves baths, and another one who hates them.

I have one child who feels the cold acutely, and another child who doesn’t seem to feel it.

I have one child who finds screens relaxing, and another who gets hyperactive from them.

I have one child who gets super chilled-out from physical exertion, and another who gets stimulated from it.

I could go on and on. I’m sure you can appreciate just how delicate the balance is to keep everyone happy and not overloaded. It is constant, and I have to preempt everything, offering alternatives and providing soothing items for the child who is struggling while another may be in her element. Trying to teach a child to self-regulate is no mean feat, especially when everyone seems to have opposite triggers.

Oy.

My point is: Just as is the case with any human being — we are all unique, and it’s really important to keep this in mind when discussing autism. Because sure, there may be a diagnostic criteria — but everyone fits on it in a different place.

Appreciate the individual.

Image via Contributor.

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When Stephanie Alves launched ABL Denim in 2011, the goal was to create a pair of inclusive jeans that would be comfortable enough for people with disabilities, specifically those using wheelchairs, to wear. Now, ABL Denim has expanded its line for children with sensory processing disorders.

“Parents kept asking if we made a jean for kids with [sensory processing disorders],” Alves told The Mighty. “They wanted a real jean but one that would be non-irritating, one that kids would not be trying to remove. Since I knew more about physical disabilities, I asked many parents for what the issues were so I could come up with a pant with solutions.”

Once she knew what parents were looking for, Alves – a fashion designer with over 25 years of experience – got to work designing a comfortable pair of jeans that sensory-sensitive children would want to wear. As part of the design process, Alves’ model was a child with sensory sensitivities, allowing her to get the fit right and receive critical feedback.

“Everyone is different and you can’t cover everyone’s needs,” Alves added. “We small business need the community’s support if they like the products in order to make all that they are requesting.”

Several revisions later and ABL Denim had its first, kid-approved, sensory-sensitive design ready for market. The jeans, which feature a soft, sweatshirt-like denim material, are unisex and come in children sizes 6 to 20. What makes the jeans sensory-sensitive, however, are their lack of harsh inside seams and exclusion of zippers and rivets. The jeans also include an elastic waistband, sewn on the outside of the pants for maximum comfort, allowing the jeans to be easily be pulled on and off.

In addition to creating standard kids jeans, ABL Denim also offers shorts, boardshorts and denim leggings, as well as jeans for adults and children who use wheelchairs. Children’s items range from $32 to $39 for a pair of jeans.

Seeing the success and need for clothing lines like ABL Denim, Alves encourages other designers to create more inclusive fashion. “There are so many different garments that people want,” she said. “Designers should pick a category that they [know] how to produce… Otherwise they don’t look like same caliber as mainstream brands.”



It is two days before school starts back after Christmas break, and my 11-year-old daughter who has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder has already started the “I don’t want to go to school” talk. As her parent, I am now used to the getting back to school routine: the panic that sets in for her and then the days of elevating anxiety; implementing strategies and organizing everything in preparation for her going back to school, for us.

My daughter is a very bright and able child; she learns well and progresses in line with her peers. Her difficulties do not lie in the learning of facts, but rather the processing of everything else within the classroom setting. The language used, the people, the body language and the social rules that are unspoken yet seem to be instinctively known by so many. I feel it is the school itself that sends my daughter into a panic, not the learning. It may be the amount of people, the busyness of sights and smells, the noise and the effort it can take for her to focus. I admire her so much for her progress at school, but it is difficult for me to see her anxiety increase from holiday to term time; no parent likes to see their child distressed.

This being said, as she is growing older, we are getting better at alleviating her worry and coping with the stressors of daily life in general. I say “we” because as her parent I very much travel my daughter’s journey alongside her. The professional help just isn’t readily available for my daughter. Not only are you put on waiting lists for months, but if you don’t
follow up the requests with emails and phone calls, the therapy just doesn’t get offered. So, like many other parents I’m sure, much of my daughter’s support is through learning about strategies myself through books, websites and shared ideas from other parents.

One thing that is really helping my daughter with the transition of getting back to school is the use of tick lists and timetables. A structure to the day and the reassurance that everything has been done seems to greatly comfort her and alleviate some of the stress. Once a task is complete, we tick it off the list and go onto the next task until everything has been done. The visual structure to these lists seems to take away a lot of worry and can make us all a lot more productive. As well as tick lists, we also practice strategies to relieve anxiety, which include listening to audio books, breathing techniques and talking about her worries to make them go away. We seem to have learnt many strategies over the years to alleviate anxiety, but these are what work best for us.

It is always difficult to watch my daughter struggle with the transition of going back to school. I know school can cause her additional stress, but I have come to accept that these types of transitions may always cause her to be uncomfortable and invoke stress for her. I have learned I can’t take these stressful things away for her, no matter how much I would like to, but what I can do is build her confidence to such a place where she can feel the stress and anxiety and reduce it to a comfortable level herself. That being said, like our journey so far, it takes small baby steps that build together to bring us to that place, but I believe my daughter can achieve all that she desires; she may just need additional help and support to get her there.

Image via Thinkstock.

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From the beginning, my son wasn’t much of a smiler. We could never get him to do it on command. By the time he was 1, Jasper looked either anxious or furious most days. Relatives, nurses, friends and strangers would try to get him to crack a grin, as if a serious baby was a danger, an affront to the definition of a child. “What does that little guy have to be so worried about?” a man once asked while we were out walking a new city.

At 2, we took him to a photographer’s studio; I thought that’s what parents were suppose to do — get professional pictures taken of their children to hand out to family members. Though the light in the studio was perfect that afternoon, and my son appeared to be glowing, I had trouble picking out pictures I thought my parents or anyone else would understand. Jasper appeared worried in all of them, his eyes looking away rather than into the lens of the camera.

He used to cry a lot back then. To calm himself, he’d study things like the rotating blades of fans or wires coming out of the walls. Looking back, I think he was trying to make sense of the world, a place into which he often struggled to fit. At 7, after years of frustration and bewilderment, he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Though his autism is not always visible, it is always there.

Now at 9, Jasper still doesn’t smile for photographs. Often, he refuses to be in pictures at all. And while, for some reason, this seems to bother a lot of people, I’ve learned to accept it.

“C’mon, smile,” is a common request. And one to which many kids might respond by turning on their “picture smiles,” the ones we’re often trained since birth to master. But my son doesn’t have that kind of cute, forced grin.

It’s caused some conflict during group outings, when my friends’ children pile onto picnic tables and look adorable, ready for a photo op. Everyone shouts for Jasper to get in the picture, too, but he doesn’t come. For our annual family reunion, my mom’s dream is to gather all of her grinning grandchildren around her for a picture. Jasper’s refusal to smile, or to be present in the picture at all, might be seen as a refusal of love and also, I suppose, ineffective parenting on my part.

“Get in the picture,” I used to tell my son.

“No,” he’d shout back.

“Get in the picture, now!” Embarrassed, frustrated and confused, I was always aware that people were watching.

“No.”

By the time my son was diagnosed with autism, I had given up trying to force him to pose for pictures. In part because I was tired. Demanding that my child act like other kids was exhausting, for both of us. At the same time, I was beginning to understand how being a parent meant helping my son be himself in the world. It meant supporting the particular choices he needed to make, even if those weren’t the choices of other kids.

Not too long ago, we bought Jasper a camera. At group gatherings, he’s become our unofficial photographer. Nobody tells the photographer to smile. Have you noticed that? Likewise, no one stares at the actual person behind the camera. Everyone is too busy staring into the lens.

When he’s taking photos, Jasper doesn’t count down from three. He doesn’t say, “Cheese!” or try to aim the camera from a flattering angle. He takes the picture when he wants to. Often, we end up looking unprepared, or should I say: real.

I love the family photos my son takes.

And when he takes pictures of his classmates, or of his sister, and shares them with me, I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a private exchange. The expressions on the other children’s faces feel so sincere and secret. I’ve never heard him tell anyone to smile when he’s about to take a picture.

Jasper brings his camera along on outings when he can. I think he likes the world better when he looks at it through a viewfinder, framing the setting, taking in only as much as he wants, zooming in, zooming in some more. Lately, he’s been editing out all the color of the photos he takes, turning a bright summer scene into something that’s dark, moody, mysterious, but also beautiful in its own way. Maybe this is how he sees the world. Or maybe this is how he wishes the world would be.

Image via Jasper Urbanski.

A version of this post originally appeared on Motherwell.

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