Sesame Street muppets Julia and Elmo singing outdoors at night

Seeing My Daughter in Sesame Street's Julia

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There are many sayings and phrases that float around the autism community

“If you’ve met one person with autism — you’ve met one person with autism.”

“No one person on the spectrum is the same, just as no two snowflakes are the same.”

Unique, special, different — these words have been used to explain my child many times. I’m all right with that. After all, those are some amazing adjectives to describe a person, and my child is pretty amazing.

The autism spectrum is so wide and vastly unique, just as a person on the spectrum is unique. My daughter Zoey is 4 years old. She’s nonverbal and requires substantial support. I’ve never met anyone quite like her. She’s beautiful, strong-willed, funny, smart and she has a smile that lights up not just a room — her smile lights up the world.

When Zoey was diagnosed just before her 2nd birthday, we were told there was no guarantee she would ever speak. That didn’t stop us or her from trying to communicate — we found our own way, a different way.

I had found that music calmed Zoey during the tidal waves of her frustration. Music became her therapy and her way of communication. She communicates via song lyrics and songs, and instead of talking or me hearing “her first word,” Zoey sang. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” was my daughter’s first word.

So when I had friends messaging me saying that a character reminded them of my child, or that when they saw this character, they immediately thought of my Zoey — well, I had to see for myself.

I had to meet this Julia, the 4-year-old autistic “Sesame Street” character, with orange hair and different speech and unique quirks and who seems to really like Elmo, just as Zoey seems to really like Elmo. She did remind me of Zoey.

I watched a video of Julia singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and I was overcome with emotion. That was not Julia, that was Zoey! I left the room to grab a tissue to dry my face from the happy tears of finally seeing a character who was so much like my child.

I came back into the room and saw Zoey sitting on the couch, watching the video of Julia singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with her friend Elmo. I watched as she replayed this video over and over .

It felt to me like my child met someone just like her.

Thank you, “Sesame Street.” Thank you, PBS.

That is inclusion. That is awareness. That is autism. That is Julia. That is Zoey.

Follow this journey on Melissa’s blog.

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Photo source: “Sesame Street” on YouTube

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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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