The author's son in the living room in front of stacked blocks that look like bricks

Stacking Blocks and Redefining Success: A Lesson for Autism Awareness Month

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I sat on the couch, holding my breath, watching my son Mareto play with a pile of squishy rubber blocks. It was a warm summer morning, and Mareto was quiet and focused as he placed one block on top of another. I was silent, afraid to move and ruin his process. He looked like he was really concentrating.

He reached over to the pile and grabbed another block to place on top of the first two. When he carefully set down that third block to form a small tower, I burst into cheers of joy and excitement as he looked up at me with pride in his eyes. I clapped enthusiastically while tears streamed down my face.

Mareto is on the autism spectrum; he was diagnosed just a few weeks before his 2nd birthday. In that first year, my husband and I had spent three mornings a week sitting in a room covered with mats, watching the occupational therapist play with our son. As they played, she explained all the steps that our brains take to do something as basic as stacking three blocks.

On this day, Mareto was finally taking those steps.

The author's son in the living room in front of stacked blocks that look like bricks

What we once would have considered effortless and unimpressive was actually the result of hard work, some mistakes and a great amount of energy. I thought about how much we take for granted, and I realized what a gift it is to feel this level of joy over my child stacking blocks. Then I laughed out loud when Mareto began working on a new tower — this one five blocks high.

And while we celebrated and cheered for Mareto when he hit this milestone, it was simply one moment of victory preceded by several other victories. I think we need to shift our mindset to create a new definition of success. We tend to define success in quantitative terms. We want to be able to measure it in order to feel that we have accomplished something. It could be easy to look at Mareto finally stacking his blocks as the moment of success, but what about the months of hard work that preceded that moment? Just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean we aren’t building a successful life one moment, one effort, one step at a time.

Success isn’t defined by one culminating moment, but rather all the moments that came before and all the moments that follow. Success was found in each time Mareto sat on the floor with his occupational therapist, every time he got frustrated and cried, every time he reached for a new block even through tears. Success was in the determination and perseverance shown by my son, even though things didn’t always go how he expected them to. And Mareto didn’t stop with stacking a tower of three or five blocks… today he’s building spaceships with his Legos and parking garages for his toy trucks.

What we tend to see as setbacks or standstills are actually turning points in our stories. They are little moments of victory hiding in the ordinary and extraordinary days that make up our one beautiful life. Learning to redefine success is just one of the many life lessons Mareto is teaching me as I watch him grow and experience the world through his own unique perspective. I’m so grateful I get to have front row seats to his story.

Cover of book It's Okay About It

For me, living with Mareto is a lot like playing the telephone game. He blurts out little phrases that have their origin in something he saw or heard, but by the time they make their way through his mind and back out of his mouth, they’ve transformed — often into beautiful truths about living a simple, authentic, love- and joy-filled life. For all those looking to recapture the faith, simplicity, wonder, hope, courage, and joy of life, my book It’s Okay About It provides a guide to look inward and live outward, to discover the most wide-open and beautiful life possible.

Follow this journey on Laurencasper.com.

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20 Great Quotes About Autism From Autistic People

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The Art of Autism has been soliciting quotes from the autism community for quite a while now. We do this through our blogs and our Facebook page. Here are some of our favorite quotes about autism from people on the autism spectrum. The quotes explain how each and every person with autism is an individual and may perceive the world in different ways than neurotypical people. Most autistic people, as Jeanette Purkis states, want to be “respected and validated.”

1. “Autistic people are individuals. We are not all maths geniuses, we don’t all like trains. I am hopeless with technology and much prefer painting. There is no ‘typical Autistic.’ But I think we probably all like being respected and validated.” — Jeanette Purkis

2. “I may hit developmental and societal milestones in a different order than my peers, but I am able to accomplish these small victories on my own time.” — Haley Moss

3. “I see everything in color. I have synesthesia, which means that the part of my brain – that controls the senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste – are wired differently.” — Jeremy Sicile-Kira

4. “As an autistic I can readily see environmental phenomena of sun particles interacting with moisture in the air and rising up from the ground. I thought of these things I could see as sun sparkles and world tails.” — Judy Endow

5. “My autism makes things shine. Sometimes I think it is amazing but sometimes it is sad when I want to be the same and talk the same and I fail. Playing the piano makes me very happy. Playing Beethoven is like your feelings – all of them – exploding.” — Artist Mikey Allcock

6. “Are your eyes listening? That’s what needs to happen to hear my writing voice. Because of autism, the thief of politeness and friendship, I have no sounding voice. By typing words I can play with my life and stretch from my world to yours. I become a real person when my words try to reach out to you without my weird body scaring you away. Then I am alive.” — Sarah Stup, excerpted from “Are your eyes listening? Collected Works”

7. “And now I know it is perfectly natural for me not to look at someone when I talk. Those of us with Asperger’s are just not comfortable doing it. In fact, I don’t really understand why it’s considered normal to stare at someone’s eyeballs.” — John Elder Robison

8. “I always find it kind of funny that normal people are always saying autistic children ‘live in their own little world.’ When you work with animals for a while you start to realize you can say the same thing about normal people. There’s a great big, beautiful world out there that a lot of normal folks are just barely taking in. Autistic people and animals are seeing a whole register of the visual world normal people can’t, or don’t.” — Temple Grandin

9. “Showing kindness towards those who are different and embracing our imperfections as proof of our humanness is the remedy for fear.” — Emma Zurcher-Long

10. “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” — Dr. Stephen Mark Shore

11. “I view ‘autistic’ as a word for a part of how my brain works, not for a narrow set of behaviors and certainly not for a set of boundaries of a stereotype that I have to stay inside.” — Amanda Baggs

12. “Why should I cry for not being an apple, when I was born an orange, I’d be crying for an illusion, I may as well cry for not being a horse.” — Donna Williams

13. “My autism is the reason I’m in college and successful. It’s the reason I’m good in math and science. It’s the reason I care.” — Jacob Barnett, teen math and physics prodigy.

14. “Traveling in other countries is especially fun because others often attribute your differences to the less-stigmatizing idea that you’re like this only because you’re a foreigner.” — Michael John Carly

15. “My autism is like the taste of tepid saké, different but interesting.” — Sue Rubin

16. “Why do non-autistic people have hobbies and interests but autistic people have obsessions?” — Tina J. Richardson

17. “Our wounds and hurts and fears are in our eyes. Humans think they build ‘walls’ for internal privacy. They think eye contact is about honesty but they mostly lie because they think they can hide their intent. Eye contact is invasive.” — Carol Ann Edscorn

18. “Although people with autism look like other people physically, we are in fact very different… We are more like travelers from the distant, distant past. And if, by our being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters for the Earth, that might give us quiet pleasure.” — Naoki Higashida, “The Reason I Jump”

19. “When doctors, parents, teachers, therapists, even television describe typical spectrum kids, without meaning to, they’re describing typically male spectrum traits — patterns first noticed by observing boys. Only boys. And we aren’t boys. So they miss and mislabel us.” — Jennifer O’Toole, “Asperkids”

20. “I know of nobody who is purely autistic or purely neurotypical. Even God had some autistic moments, which is why the planets all spin.” — Jerry Newport

The Art of Autism’s vision  is to empower and connect individuals within the autism community through participation in the Arts. We do this in many ways through art exhibits, blogs, films, poetry readings, and participation in our projects.

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Michael Ryan Andolsek, Designer on Autism Spectrum, Creates Stunning Womenswear

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Watching his clothes come down the runway, you may never know Michael Ryan Andolsek processes the world a different way than most fashion designers. Andolsek is on the autism spectrum, which he says gives him a passion for details. You can see that in his designs.

“Autism affects every aspect of my life, including how I work as a designer,” Andolsek told The Mighty. As the company’s founder and executive creator, Andolsek oversees all creative aspects of ANDOLSEK – his self-titled line of women’s apparel.

Image of a woman wearing a long blue dress.

Andolsek’s love of women’s fashion comes from growing up with four sisters. “I like the endless possibilities of silhouettes and occasions that are available for women,” Andolsek said. “With so many sisters, I’ve learned to understand that women want to feel amazing in their clothing, that when things fit properly and are aesthetically beautiful, their own internal beauty and confidence can shine brighter.”

When he was 17, Andolsek enrolled in Salt Lake Community College’s Fashion Institute. Two years later he moved to France to study fashion abroad with Parsons School of Design. A year later Andolsek returned from France, and, at the age of 21, was diagnosed with autism. Four years later, at the age of 25, Andolsek launched his own company.

Close up photo of a woman's skirt.

Andolsek’s experience as a person on the autism spectrum comes through in subtle ways in his designs. Because of his tactile sensitivities, Andolsek only works with certain fabrics. “Sometimes I create my designs after I’ve handled different fabrics, feeling and examining their unique qualities,” he said. “Other times I start with the croquis drawings and work with the fabrics afterward.”

Every little detail is important to Andolsek – from the way the garment is stitched, down to how it is packaged. “I designed our very elaborate 13-piece packaging, creating an experience for our customers where no detail is left unnoticed,” he said. “Our garments are expertly crafted with each sample undergoing a scrutiny of examinations from me so that I can ensure that they are perfect and luxurious.”

Based in Salt Lake City, Andolsek held his first runway show in late March, launching his Spring 2017 “Ready-To-Wear” collection. His high-fashion garments are priced based on the level of craftsmanship that goes into his work. ANDOLSEK’s skirts start at $325.00, while embroidered dresses go for $3,500.00.

Image of two women wearing tailored jackets and skirts.

Working in the fashion industry suits Andolsek’s needs. With his own company, Andolsek can set his own hours – he prefers working at night – and design his own workspace – well-lit, quiet and without any food or strong smells. “[I]n our workspaces, the temperature is altered depending on who is working, smells and food are never allowed, and certain chairs are provided,” he explained. “There are many aspects of fashion where, if certain accommodations are made, a person with autism could flourish and find a fulfilling and valued job.”

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Understanding My Son on the Autism Spectrum When He Doesn't Use Words to Communicate

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My son and his classmates made their way from the doors of the school to the playground where parents gather to pick them up. My son let out a little groan and whine, which is almost always a prelude to tears.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

My questions were met with silence.

My son then got distracted by the busyness surrounding him. He watched eagerly as kids went up and down on the see-saw, and he pulled my arm as he rushed to see his classmates board their school bus. Although it seemed like he had forgotten whatever it was that upset him as he exited the school doors, I knew better than to assume it was nothing.

For me, having a child on the autism spectrum who is partially verbal means no moment of sadness, anger or even joy can be dismissed without further investigation. While parents of children with strong verbal skills can often rely on their child to give them a play-by-play account of their day at school, I’ve learned to rely heavily on my son’s body language, unique methods of communication and the comparison of his past and present behaviors to gain insight about what he’s experiencing when he’s away from home.

“Does school make you happy or sad?” I asked while pointing to little pictures depicting various emotions given to me by my son’s behavioral therapist.

“Happy. Sad.” He answered. I thought he seemed a little confused.

While gently and playfully asking him simple questions about the things he did at school that day, and who he did them with, he became visibly upset at the mention of a classmate’s name. It turned out my son was pushed while playing and his feelings were hurt, but he still considered the kid who pushed him to be his friend.

In the days that followed, I monitored my son closely for changes in behavior and moments of sadness or anger that might indicate there were problems at school, but thankfully there were none. If his sadness had persisted, I would have taken the next step and arranged a meeting with his classroom teachers to gain a full picture of what was making him unhappy at school.

Over time, I’ve learned the more I focus on learning and understanding my son’s moods and behaviors, the more I understand what he’s saying even when he doesn’t use words. When sadness begins to cloud his typically sunny disposition, I know what something is wrong no matter who may try to persuade me otherwise. I’ve taken the time to learn his unique ways of communicating and I’ve gotten to know what gets him down and what makes him happy. When I slow down and take the time to listen to my son’s nonverbal communication, I realize his messages are loud and clear.

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Thinkstock photo by: digitalskillet

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The Relief I Felt After My Son’s Autism Diagnosis

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Relief. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe how I felt when we were given the autism diagnosis. Not scared, sad, angry; just relief.

After all, nothing changed. He was the same sweet, adorable, funny guy he was before the diagnosis, but now we had answers.

Now we knew why he had trouble looking us in the eye when we spoke, or why he chose to sit alone at the computer for hours and hours when the neighborhood kids were outside enjoying the summer. Now we knew why he used unusual or sophisticated words for a child his age to explain his obsessions and why he’d sometimes say inappropriate things at inappropriate times. Now we knew why he stood like a tree when we gave him a hug, but surprised us with hugs on his own terms.

We were suddenly empowered with the ability to help him navigate through life thanks to all the wonderful resources we now have at our disposal, both online and in our community. Now we could use those resources to advocate for him in a meaningful way.

Relief. Because nothing has changed, except our perspective.

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7 Positive Ways Self-Advocates, Parents and Educators Are Spreading Autism Awareness

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When April is over, autism awareness must continue! In fact, it should never end, even when the public becomes more accepting and inclusive of autistic individuals. As people evolve in their understanding, what we talk about in terms of awareness will change. It’s important that we keep the conversations going so we can demystify autism. No, our work as a community is not done. In fact, we are just beginning.

Here are some interesting ways that self-advocates, parents and educators are spreading autism awareness in their communities:

1. Give kids a Marvel-like experience.

James and Jonathan are self-advocates who think the best way to talk to kids about autism is through a marvelous Marvel-like universe called The Mighty League. Using a comic, they share what it’s like to be on the autism spectrum. The dynamic duo has been busy inspiring kids to become Superheroes of Acceptance! Ambassadors of Kindness! Friends of Friendliness!

Did you know that you can get their Mighty League comics for free? Find out more…

Jonathan and James at a Mighty League assembly, with children sitting and watching the presentation

2. Take people on an adventure.

Forget Pokémon GO. Courtney and her son Liam from A Legion for Liam are showing their community that Autism Rocks! They decorate rocks with facts about autism and place them around their town, like park benches, water fountains, and door frames. They just want to make people smile as they spread awareness. “We’re having fun and people have messaged me that they have found them.”

3. Bring “Julia” to school library.

Using Sesame Street’s “Julia” as her inspiration, Eraj made a colorful display and brought it to her son’s school to educate elementary-age children about autism. Her life-sized Julia cutout caught the kids’ attention! What’s next for this mom advocate? “I’m working on getting this into our public libraries and other schools in the neighborhood.”

4. Shine a spotlight on self-advocates.

Stefanie of the Starfish Social Club is giving her students a wonderful way to self-advocate and educate their community about autism. Twenty-five are stepping into the spotlight to tell their stories on video. Once completed, they’ll show it at their schools. How empowering!

5. Graffiti a high school hallway.

Lisa from Quirks and Chaos has been an active positive advocate for awareness and inclusion since her son Tate’s autism diagnosis at a very early age. She created the very successful lunch buddy program that has helped Tate make lifelong friendships. Lisa never stops coming up with creative ways to educate others. For Autism Awareness Month, she graffitied the hallways of her son’s high school with comic strips about autism.

6. Be inventive in your storytelling.

Mandi captured her son’s story in The Littlest Inventor, a children’s book about the self-advocacy of a child on the spectrum who finds inventive ways to manage his sensory processing issues. The book has opened a lot of doors for Mandi and her son, Sawyer, to help inform people about autism. “I don’t want autism to be stigmatized, and I want my son and all kids to be confident in themselves and their abilities; that’s why it’s important to me to talk about autism.”

7. Hashtag for better understanding.

Trisha is a teacher who’s trying to make a difference for other teachers and for students on the autism spectrum who deserve a better education. Her popular blog is a favorite go-to resource for educators looking for advice, training and support for working with autistic students. She recently launched a hashtag campaign to give autistic individuals a chance to be heard. #WIWMTU is an opportunity to say “What I Wish My Teacher Understood.”

This article originally appeared on Geek Club Books blog and they ask: What actions are you taking or what ideas do you have for spreading kindness, awareness and acceptance? Join our Acceptance Ambassadors and let us know what you’re doing!

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