Woman in gray sweatshirt shopping for toys

What I Wish More People Understood About Toys as the Parent of an Autistic Child

A young autistic boy had been asking his parents for a doctor kit. While “shopping” on Amazon, he added about 50 of them to our cart. During that week, he had therapy appointments, so Mama told him she’d take him to Walmart. He couldn’t wait to go shopping for a doctor kit.

This little boy is 10. In many ways, he’s wise beyond his years, but in others, he’s still a kid at heart. The day came to go to Walmart. The boy was so excited. He chattered nonstop about getting his doctor kit and playing vet with his dogs and stuffed animals. When he and his mama got to the toy section, he stopped. Suddenly he looked sullen and even scared. “Mama, you go first,” he whispered. There happened to be sales associates on every aisle, and this little boy seemed like he felt embarrassed. At this moment, his mom had an idea about what was wrong.

She walked ahead and pointed out doctor kits when she saw them. He finally chose which kit he wanted. (It was between an all-pink kit or one geared for toddlers.) The boy whispered his choice to his mama, seeming like he felt too embarrassed to reach out and touch them or look them over. He was too nervous to carry it up to the register. But as soon as the little boy got into the car, he was ripping it out of the bag and proudly showing it to his daddy.

The toy doctor kits were on just two aisles, the baby toy aisle and the all-pink “girl” aisle. Now this little boy might know his family doesn’t judge him for the toys he chooses, but sadly, he might also know that others in the world can at times.

You see, it doesn’t matter if he wants something pink, or blue, or 50 shades in between the two. It doesn’t matter if the suggested age is 3 to 6 years, or older. In his home, there is no age restriction or gender stereotypes.

Let me put a spin on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touching words… A toy is a toy is a toy is a toy. It shouldn’t be genderized or limited to age (except of course for small pieces and kids who might put them in their mouths). Why can’t more people grasp this? Kids are kids only once. Their childhoods should be happy and magical and free of useless judgment.

Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son.

Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam.

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Thinkstock image by danr13


Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin Named to National Women's Hall of Fame

Dr. Temple Grandin, one of the greatest autism advocates of our time, has been named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Grandin, a six-time author with a Ph.D. in animal studies, was diagnosed with autism when she was 2 years old and is one of 10 women to be inducted this year. Previous hall of fame inductees include Oprah, Sally Ride, Maya Angelou, Hillary Clinton, Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt.

“Honoring Dr. Temple Grandin in this esteemed group of women not only speaks to the power of her research and advocacy, but also her impact as a role model for young women everywhere,” said Tony Frank, president of Colorado State University, where Grandin teaches. “Early in her career, her determination helped her break into what was a largely male-dominated animal production industry, and she continues to serve as an advocate for women in the sciences, for young people with autism, and for anyone unwilling to let artificial boundaries stand in the way of their personal and professional success.”

Prior to this honor, Grandin was named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The author and her partner wearing shirts that say [love] with the o as a puzzle piece

Autism and Dating

As an adult with autism, I do everything a bit differently than most, so it should come as no surprise that I have a partner who is different than most.

He is kind, intelligent and compassionate. It sounds cliché, but before he and I began dating, some of his good friends were autistic! He is knowledgeable about autism, and what he can’t relate to, he tries to understand.

I believe the key to autism and dating is understanding and open communication. Dating can be complex and difficult, and when you add autism to the mix, it can bring a new set of unique challenges. Often, those of us on the spectrum have difficulties carrying out social norms in romantic relationships. It can be difficult for us to sit through a long meal and “appropriately” converse with our partner’s family members for various reasons. Many on the spectrum also have different needs when it comes to sensory input, touch specifically. Sometimes we might crave more touch than average; other times, even though we care deeply for our partner, we may not want to be touched by them. It’s not necessarily anything personal having to do with the other person; it’s just different sensory needs/perception.

Most autistic individuals prefer to have a schedule or a plan for upcoming activities. They may become upset if that schedule or plan is altered in some way, especially without a timely warning. Adapting to or working around another person’s routine can be challenging.

Every relationship has its difficulties, and every one is unique to the involved individuals. In my experience, autism has a way of altering these difficulties. It is always important to have open communication! Both people need to be able to honestly speak their minds about a given situation or activity. When dating someone with autism, it is important to know how that person’s autism affects them. In doing that, it’s advisable to create a plan for working through and or preventing meltdowns. To someone who’s not used to it, helping an autistic person through a meltdown might be stressful and upsetting. No one wants to see their loved one hurting. That’s why it’s important to openly discuss what is helpful and what’s not for a particular individual.

Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism. We have the same feelings and urges as anyone else. We just tend to express them differently. The right partner is understanding of that. The right person will be accepting of an autism diagnosis, and both people will seek to grow together. Each person should support the other, even if it looks different than “normal.”

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