Jonathan Murphy is a voice actor on the autism spectrum. He has been featured in various commercials and spots for Verizon, SimCity, theme parks and more.


Erin Clemens is a 27-year-old on the autism spectrum and author of the book “I Have Asperger’s”.

Dr. Shafali Jeste, M.D. is a behavioral child neurologist specializing in autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders. She is an associate professor in psychiatry and neurology at the UCLA School of Medicine, and a lead investigator with the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment.



Yesterday was decoration tear down day, which is always a bit of a downer, so my husband and I cranked some classic rock music as we painstakingly made Christmas disappear. Hearing the screaming wail of Axl Rose helped me swiftly pack Bing Crosby up until next December.

One of the last decorations I took off the tree was our son Ryan’s first Christmas ornament. And it brought about a wave of nostalgia — but also, more importantly, clarity.

young boy at the beach

For years, I would look at old photos of Ryan and see them in one of two ways: “Before Autism” or “After Autism.” Yet today, for what felt like the first time, I looked at this photo and only saw my beautiful baby boy. A boy for whom, in 2001 (years “Before Autism”), I dreamed a bright future filled with happiness, love, good health and acceptance for whomever he would one day become.

None of those dreams changed “After Autism.”

Sure, upon hearing “the A word” for the first time, I believed the dreams I once held for my son would now be different, and in some ways they may be — but the dreams that changed in my head were never his dreams; they were mine. In all the ways that matter — really, truly matter — my dreams and his dreams didn’t change “After Autism.”

So as I packed up Ryan’s first Christmas ornament from 2001 safely in the ornament box with the lyrics of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” playing loudly in the kitchen, I smiled happily knowing my dreams for Ryan in 2017 have as little to do with autism as they did in 2001. I still dream for him to be happy, healthy, loved and accepted.

Yes, there may be challenges I didn’t anticipate that first Christmas all those years ago, but I knew then, just as I know now, that I would do anything and everything to help make Ryan’s dreams come true. Autism didn’t change that.

I would like to think this moment of clarity will remain with me throughout the new year and into the new years yet to come. I hope going forward I will no longer look at photos of Ryan and see “Before Autism” or “After Autism,” that I will only see the baby, the toddler, the adolescent, the teenager and, one day, the man who was — and is — happily living his dream of being loved and accepted. And recognizing that regardless of age or time, the beautiful smile shining brightly from each and every photo was directed at me, the person he trusts most to always see him, not autism.

Images via Contributor.

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When you become a parent there’s no manual; there’s nothing that can truly prepare you to care for another human. When I became a special needs parent, suddenly there were all these “experts” — people I’d never met before, and according to them, they knew my child better than I did.

I still don’t like the label of “special needs mom.” It can come with looks of pity or curiosity. It seems to separate your family even further from others. It’s been four years since I first heard the word autism. I heard it again a few months after, this time in a diagnosis for my oldest, who was almost 9 years old at the time.

I’ve tried to find support, or maybe just people who could relate to my family, but it became apparent to me that I didn’t share the same views as some others.

I don’t see my children as “flawed”!

I don’t see them as “broken”!

I see no reason to look for a “cure”; being autistic isn’t a disease.

I see them as kids in need of support, in need of accommodation. Kids who deserve understanding and recognition for their talents.

I celebrate their strengths, and I celebrate their accomplishments.

Then, I’m smacked in the face with what society — or “experts” — believe of my children.

Today, I sat through an evaluation that lasted well over an hour with all these questions that seemed to aim to put my kids into a smaller box, focusing on what they can’t do or if they react differently than their peers.

I left feeling sad — not for myself, but for my child and how the world appears to view them. It bothers me still as I lie awake at 2 a.m.

“Does the child color in the lines with few mistakes?”

“No! He writes numbers,” I answered. He looked up at me puzzled.

“Has he not been taught?”

“He has, but he’d rather draw numbers, and now he’s discovering math, and these numbers can do more than he first realized. It’s very exciting for him and myself. I encourage his strengths.”

Does it really matter that my child would rather write numbers than color the picture you put in front of him?

I think it’s time we stop trying to put these children into a box that might make others feel more comfortable.

It’s time for acceptance!

No more apologizing for these differences!

No apologizing for coloring outside the lines.

Image via Contributor.

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Shauna Phoon’s series, ‘The Faces of Autism’ shows the diversity of people on the autism spectrum.

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