JT Firestarters is Made and Run By a Man With Autism

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Daniel Toops, a man with autism, created JT Firestarters as a way to earn money and gain independence.

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This Man With Autism’s Creation Sparks a Hot Business.

Daniel Toops, 21, is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum.

Toops started JT Firestarters in 2015 as a way to earn money and gain independence.

JT Firestarters are an easy and inexpensive way to start a fire.

Toops runs all aspects of JT Firestarters with the help of his team.

Toops makes the firestarters by hand using recycled materials.

Materials include cardboard egg cartons, shredded paper, drying lint and candle wax.

Toops’ local community in Bellevue, Iowa helps out by donating supplies.

Firestarters are sold in 70 stores across IA, IL, KY, MN and WI.

The company hopes to hire more people with disabilities as they grow.

To learn more, visit justtoops.com.

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I Feel Like a Puzzle Piece That Doesn't Fit Where I 'Should'

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How I Think as an Autistic Person

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As an autistic person I think differently from neurotypicals. I am a visual thinker, which means I think in pictures. I also remember a lot of things really well; for instance, I can go back to a memory and remember different people, sounds, colors, etc. I am also a literal thinker, which means I sometimes have trouble understanding things when they are unclear and understanding things like sarcasm, jokes and idioms.

Sometimes I feel some neurotypical people don’t understand this. They might think I am “making up excuses” when I don’t understand. I need clear instructions. I have had some neurotypical friends say that I’m not a child, and that I should be able to figure things out on my own. But this doesn’t work well for me. I understand best when things are clear.

This can be frustrating for me because I don’t feel understood. I become very anxious and I partially shut down. I may recover and act happy, but on the inside I am upset and anxious. I can lose trust with the person, and have anxiety about seeing them again. They may wonder why I’m anxious — it’s because there was a misunderstanding.

I used to be on a swim team. My coach said something about backstroke and I interpreted it as I needed to turn over on my stomach once I reached the finish line. I did this, and I got disqualified. One of the coaches told me, “Makayla, why did you do that?” I was confused and upset. At some point I almost started crying in the gym.

I also process things more slowly than some other people might. My teacher will sometimes ask me a question in class after watching an educational video, and I won’t be ready to give an answer because I’m still be processing the information from the video. Once I have processed the information, I will be ready to give an answer.

It can take me longer to learn things. I also like doing things over and over again, and this helps me learn. I am in a dog club, and I practice showmanship. The dog’s owner teaches me (she’s a great teacher, she is very patient with me) and I am currently learning how to hold the leash correctly and how to try to keep the dog’s attention on me. I practice the showmanship pattern over and over again, and I become more comfortable each time I do it.

This is how I think as an autistic person.

Follow this journey on Ausomely Autistic.

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Thinkstock image by DariaZu

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My Experience Being a Woman and Going Through the Autism Diagnosis Process

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You don’t know me. I might be like you, or I might not. But, if you’re also female and on the spectrum — or think that you may be — there’s one thing we have in common: at some point we have either gone through or are thinking about going through the autism diagnosis process.

I am a 38-year-old, cheesecake-loving, twirly dancing, catastrophically bad singing, Twitter-obsessive, female advocate of all things that would make owing a pet dragon a reality. I am autistic. I don’t have “mild” Asperger’s, nor is it just a “personality” thing. Despite being referred to as “high-functioning,” it’s not just a little thing that affects some parts of my life. I am “actually autistic.” And the way I first discovered this? I was first tipped off to the fact I may be autistic by a quiz on Facebook and a character on a children’s television show in the UK called “Tracy Beaker Returns” (as the late, great Carrie Fisher once said, “If my life wasn’t funny it’d just be true”).

By the time I discovered I was on the autism spectrum, I was 31 years old living independently in a different country and had recently been hospitalized from being significantly ill. I didn’t understand what autism really was, and it’s not something I had experience with as part of my day-to-day. So to go from not knowing the name of the thing to having this world suddenly explode into existence around me was quite the colorfully volcanic existential crisis.

Once you suspect you may be on the autism spectrum, making the decision to go forward with a diagnosis might be one of the biggest and most life-affecting choices you will make. If you’re like me, the exact moment you realized you may have found the answer to why you have always felt so different will be indelibly marked in your memory. You stand at a crossroads at the start of a journey towards fully knowing who you are. Some people are happy to self-diagnose, and just having that understanding works for them. I depend more on absolutes; maybe you do, too. There is no right way for every person, so you can only go with your gut instinct.

Because conventional thinking and diagnosis still seem to lean towards boys who are more often identified autistic as young children, there are still vast amounts of girls and women out there who remain undiagnosed. Finding out information about the diagnostic process is not easy. There are things I wish I had been told. And I believe that — in the name of awareness — no one else should find out they are autistic via Facebook and the BBC scriptwriters. For anyone out there who is thinking about starting this journey, I’ll share some options to prepare yourself based on my experiences.

In the U.S., you’re often advised to contact your general practitioner (GP) to discuss your concerns and ask to be referred to an appropriate psychologist or social worker. In the UK, where I was diagnosed, you can go privately, but my understanding is that lots of GPs have historically insisted you must be assessed by the National Health Service (NHS). This can be a long and difficult path, and you can find useful information via the National Autistic Society. I can’t speak for the experience in the U.S., but as the diagnostic tools are universal, I imagine the steps of how to prepare yourself personally can be much the same. Unlike the diagnosis of physical ailments, where a doctor will listen to your symptoms and explain your illness, you may need to explain to every health professional you encounter why you think you are on the spectrum. You will be asked to complete questionnaires like the Autism Spectrum Quotient.

In my experience, there were three gate-keepers between me and my diagnosis (in the UK):

  • My GP
  • Local Commissioning Mental Health Team
  • Autism Spectrum Diagnosis Service

Throughout the journey you may come up against issues such as, “we don’t like to label people,” or a failure to recognize what the condition looks like in females. The entire process, with waiting lists, can take some time. It can be hard, and you will need to persevere to see it to completion. Work is being done to improve the experience and waiting times of adults going through the system, and the NHS is world-class in its services, but it remains that it will not be easy.

Keep in mind that it is your right to receive an appropriate diagnosis and your right to understand who you are. And you must advocate for yourself. So make sure you are fully prepared for appointments. Take notes with you if necessary and be prepared to ask for second opinions if you disagree.

Once you have your diagnosis, it may take time to process it emotionally. Regardless of what you knew that you knew, it marks both an end point and a new beginning. You’ll have difficult days and you may experience a plethora of acceptance and grief for the life that you had before, the difficulties you have encountered and the friendships you may have lost. But finding peace is possible.

Vast amounts of work needs to be done to improve awareness and acceptance of all facets of the autism spectrum and what it looks like among the community. There are still huge challenges ahead, but I am confident that the more people are prepared to speak out, the more acceptance will be garnered for our community. Maybe if you are like me, you will see it as something to be celebrated and looked forward to, because we all exist on a spectrum of humanity that merges into one another, and we can only operate as such when we become a truly cohesive society.

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

Thinkstock image by Minerva Studio

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What I Want You to Know About My Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder

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As a young adult who lives with autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD), there are so many things I wish you knew.

Do you know what it’s like to feel a sense of calm and safeness when wrapped in your blanket or when it’s draped over you?

Did you know I find the sound of the fan blowing at night and the feel of the air blowing on me to be calming?

Do you know the sense of calm and relief my body gets when a sensory tool such as my SnugVest, Spio Shirt, headphones, weighted blanket, fidget or chewie helps it calm down?

Do you know what it’s like to feel a sudden sense of overload and overwhelm all at once?

I do.

It happened to me just yesterday.

I was with one of my support staff riding in the car back from the store. I could tell I was getting a little edgy in the store towards the end, but I was still OK. I started feeling more agitated as we were driving along. I could feel it building. My iPad — which I use when getting words out and putting thoughts into words is hard — was back at the clinic along with most of my sensory tools. Luckily, it’s not a far drive. I told my support staff who was driving, “I don’t like the sound of the cars.” This is something that had never bothered me before. I even had my own window down earlier. She rolled up her barely down window after asking me if that would help, and I said yes. After she did this, she asked if it was better. I said yes, but that I could still hear the cars. We arrived back at the therapy clinic, with me still edgy to a point. Two other noises that I usually don’t even notice bothered me. I don’t know why. I had a long day. Maybe I was tired. Maybe something set me off.

As hard as it is to share this, I feel it needs to be said because I want to give you an example of how real sensory differences and SPD can be. Just because you cannot see them doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Just because it may come on suddenly, just because I may struggle to communicate it, doesn’t make it any less real. This can be my world, my reality at times. But I can learn to cope. I can learn to use tools and supports that help me.

Remember, anything is possible.

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Thinkstock image by MarijaRadovic

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