Little boy on the park playground in summer

When My Nonverbal Son Pulled Me Toward a Group of Kids for the First Time

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My son is autistic. He is also nonverbal. He struggles with social skills, but he does not lack emotions.

There is a difference.

When someone cannot talk, it’s easy to assume he has no feelings either. Not being able to express is not the same as not being able to sense.

My son has often been a victim of this assumption. I’ve been a culprit.

Every once in awhile I catch myself discussing my son with someone, in his presence, as if he is a non-entity in the room. “He cannot talk, so he does not have an opinion.” That’s what we tend to incorrectly believe. A seemingly insignificant incident helped shatter this myth, yet again.

It was a routine drop-off at his bus stop in the morning when something happened that changed how I look at my son. The weather was pleasant after a cold spell, and everyone wanted to feel the sun and the warmth. So, unlike a bleak winter day, today there were a bunch of kids playing around, having fun. I did not really think much about it. After all they were just little children, none whom my son would be interested in playing with. But then, I saw something different happen. I noticed my son watch them with longing and delight. I had not seen that interest in his eyes before. He could not tell me, but I felt like he wanted to play with them.

“Why isn’t the bus here yet?” I thought to myself. I had read stories about how kids reject a “different “ kid. I was not ready for a heartbreak this early in the morning on such a beautiful day. However, seeing my son’s excitement, I asked if he wanted to join them and he shrieked a huge yes. I was still apprehensive. He wouldn’t be able to tell them how much he wanted to be a part of that group right now. I thought this was a perfect recipe for disappointment.

Still, I walked him to the kids, stopped a few of them, prompted my son to say “hi!” and then requested if they would let him play. They shrugged the way only kids can while still looking cute and then resumed what they were doing. I left my son there and moved away, hoping he would know what to do next. He stood there, watching the kids play all around him but not with him.

Then something interesting happened. He came to me, grabbed my hand, pulled me towards the kids and said “Mumma, come.” Apparently he had not given up on people. He just needed me by his side to help him, guide him and be his friend. We both walked back to noisy group and mingled in. We didn’t fit in, but we didn’t give up.

My son struggles socially, but as I stood there in that bus stop, I wondered who was more socially awkward. As I watched all this unfold in front of me, I was filled with hope. In that brief moment my son and I shared a promise of a lifetime. Him being nonverbal might affect how others perceive and treat him but I understand him. My son may not talk, but he has feelings, and I will do everything in my power to make sure they are acknowledged just as much as anyone else’s.

The world is not going to change with just marches, ribbons and bumper stickers. It’s going to change with a conversation — a conversation about inclusion and respect that needs to happen in every home on this planet. Unless we learn to see beyond the obvious, we will never be able to see the beautiful world that lies in the eyes of people who have a heart but no words yet.

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Thinkstock photo by prudkov

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When People Say 'I Love Someone With Autism to the Moon And Back'

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A few years ago I saw the quote, “I Love Someone With Autism to the Moon and Back” for the first time. This quote has resonated with me because of the countless families members and educators I’ve met who love someone on the spectrum. The amount of passion they have for their loved ones to succeed and progress resonates with “to the moon and back” expression. I think it’s a beautiful saying.

I knew no other autism families when I was a young child on the autism spectrum. Looking back at my life through the videos and photos my parents took interacting with me, I know they certainly lived this quote. As a speaker and disability advocate, I know more and more families who feel the same.

So, for those who love someone with autism to the moon and back, I hope you realize the impact you have on our community. Whenever I hear someone share this quote during a presentation I feel it’s authentic. Whenever someone shares it on social media I often see it’s one of the most shared expressions in our autism community.

Thank you to all those families who love unconditionally. You make the world a better place for our autism community.

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Thinkstock photo by: maroznc

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10 Things I Love About My Autistic Child

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If you scour the internet for searches about children with autism, you will likely see a whole bunch of negative things about autistic children. Maybe they have trouble sleeping or have meltdowns. Maybe they don’t communicate well. When I think about my autistic child, I can see those things in him, but there is also so much positive about him that should get recognized. So here are the things I love about my autistic child.

What can I say? I love my son. Here’s why.

1. He’s taught me so much about life. 

My son has made me a better person because of all he’s taught me about life.

2. He wants to have friends, just like anyone else.

Contrary to autism stereotypes, my son would do anything to make people happy because he wants so much to find friends.

3. He shows me unconditional love.

No matter what, my son will always love me and tell me I’m the best mom ever. I could have the worst day, and he’d still be there, rallying for me.

4. He prays for me.

That’s my son’s new thing now that we’ve been going to church for a while. If he sees me struggling or sick, he just looks at me and says, “I’ll pray for you, Mom.” It touches my heart that my autistic son has found God and holds that close to his heart.

5. He’s always good for a hug and a kiss.

It’s part of our routine every day now that he must get a kiss before he goes to school. He kisses my cheek in return and blows me kisses at the carpool as he’s heading off to school. It makes my day.

6. He recognizes when I’m sad and actively tries to help.

I have depression, so, unfortunately, no matter how I try to hide it, my children know all about what sadness looks like. He’ll hug me and tell me it’s OK. Sometimes I tear up when he does it because it seems to come from nowhere. He just senses when things aren’t right.

7. He loves to help people.

He’s a people-pleaser, through and through. He’ll do anything to help. He’ll bring me a soda when I’m thirsty, help take out the recycling, and much more. All he seeks in return is love.

8. He’s such a good kid.

We’ve had our struggles, but if you’re going through you own, know it truly does get better. My autistic son has come so far over the years, but through it all, his heart has been in the right place. He just knows more know about how to show it.

9. This kid is smart as a whip.

Though he doesn’t always show how smart he has become, my son has so much wit about him and his memory reaches far beyond my own. I don’t know anyone aside from a mechanic who can tell me so much about cars. He knows how to get from our house to just about anywhere. He’s memorized my phone number, which is more than I can say for many kids I know who older than him. He’s just a little smart-pants, and I love it.

10. He has become more considerate over the years.

I cannot tell you how it makes my heart swell when I see my autistic son giving something up to make his brother happy. It happens more and more these days, and I can attribute that both to our parenting style and his raw desire to make everyone, including his brother, happy.

Don’t feel sorry for us.

I’m telling you, having an autistic child does not come without challenges but neither does raising a neurotypical child. He’s fantastic, and I love him so much. I don’t feel sorry for myself for having him, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it either. My autistic child is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I cannot deny how awesome he is.

What do you love about your child? Share in the comments!

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I'm an Autistic Author. This Is the Story Behind My First Children's Book.

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A few years ago, I was in my ramshack of a studio apartment in downtown San Jose, California, when I got a call around 7:00 p.m. It was my mom, babysitting my 2-year-old nephew Atticus, who apparently wanted me to tell him a story. Now, being that I have no children of my own and only had a girlfriend, meaning no kids were in the immediate future, I didn’t have any children’s books in my place. But I didn’t want to be a disappointing uncle, so I whipped up a story off the top of my head and told it over the phone, surprisingly managing to make it coherent and with a progression that made sense. A few days later, I found myself mulling over the story and the suggestions from friends and family I got and decided to try and make something of it.

It would later be known to the published world as “The Fire Truck Who Got Lost.”

First off, I’d like to make something clear right off the bat. From its initial improvised telling to the published page, very little changed. Sure, some sentences were changed and I came up with new names for the trucks, but everything else was pretty much the same. Barnabus got lost and found the same way, there were always four bigger trucks with a big dalmatian, and the final words were always the same. Not sure what this says in the long run, but it’s something I wanted to mention.

I knew it had potential, so I had to think about the art that would make this a classic, and I could only think of one person I wanted to do this: my college friend Amber De Joya. Amber and I had known each other for six years and were roommates for a few of them, throughout which I became acquainted with her amazing skills as an artist. I showed her the story, and she fell in love with the cuteness. One contract and business plan later and we were ready for the sketches that would become her adorable works of art.

There’s a common misconception that goes around about how “art and making pictures are easy.” Let me tell you, that’s not remotely true. Amber and I went back and forth for at least a year, tweaking the art to get it right and compromising between the creator’s vision and the artist’s interpretation. I also had quite the tightrope to walk since I was now my friend’s boss and I didn’t want to do anything that would damage our relationship. I’ve been abrasive and sometimes insensitive in the past (a part of my Asperger’s syndrome), and I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake on my first big project.

On top of that, there was a lot of external hurdles to jump over. Amber had to move to a different house, we had to make the switch from hand-drawn to digital because of space and supplies, and the format we drew for didn’t work for self-publishing. Yeah, most of those two-page spreads in the book were supposed to each be its own page. Actually, I think this way turned out better.

firetruck book cover

Eventually, more than a year of this labor of love later, we finally had all the artwork done. We just needed to turn it into a book, and for that, we needed money. As I mentioned before, we were going the self-publishing route, so to get the money for that, we turned to the world of crowdfunding. With a budget plan my father Donald Cohen and I made and a video shot by my step brother Armando Aparicio, we made a campaign on Indiegogo to try and get $2,000. By the end of the campaign, we had over $6,000. I was so floored. I was simultaneously excited, proud, and scared from all the attention. No turning back now. It was time to make this happen.

Finally, to help construct the book, we turned to a man we found on Craigslist named Gordy Grundy (no relation to the DC Comics villain Solomon Grundy). He helped us construct the book and put it together, guiding us through the world of self-publishing. While that was going on, the marketing began, and by marketing, I mean myself and everyone who worked on this telling everyone they knew on social media to buy the book and tell their friends and family.

Sure enough, it felt like no time at all before my first official book (and Amber’s first official paid gig) was released to the world. What started as a dream became something that people could actually buy and share with their loved ones. Even more surprising, they liked it! I heard from friends, family, and Amazon reviews about how much parents and children enjoyed and connected with the book. This wasn’t just my parents telling me I was talented because they were my parents; it was actual confirmation from the world that I had done something good.

Even today, the reality of it all is still barely catching up to me. It’s still hard to believe the same kid who spent summer after summer unable to get a job is now a published author whose works actually touched people. I can’t thank everyone enough for helping make this dream a reality, and I hope I never stop writing. I’m not “just an autistic kid,” like I thought I was, anymore; I have climbed a freaking mountain. To all the creatives out there, on the spectrum or not, keep pushing forward. The climb to make the most of your talent is a hard one, but it’s worth it, especially when you don’t get there alone.

If you want to buy “The Fire Truck Who Got Lost,” you can find it on Amazon or The Art of Autism. To find more works from my amazing artist Amber, visit here.

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