Michael Yee Following Vice President Pence

Last Tuesday, May 9, during an event with military families in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Vice President Mike Pence accidentally swiped a young boy across the face with his arm. According to videos of the event, after the incident, the young boy – later identified as 10-year-old Michael Yee – followed the Vice President around saying, “You owe me an apology.” Pence, finally noticing the boy, apologized directly to him, stating, “I’m very sorry, I didn’t mean to bop you.”

The following day, Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired a segment about the boy, asking, “Is our youth fragile?” Bill Hemmer, the host that night, asked radio host Tammy Bruce for her take on the situation.

“I guess we’re giving birth to snowflakes now because that looked like that kid needed a safe space in that room,” Bruce replied. Hemmer later added that the boy’s behavior was probably learned.

Following Fox’s segment, the 10-year-old’s mother, Dr. Ingrid Herrera-Yee, went on CNN‘s “The Lead With Jake Tapper” to speak about the way her son, who is on the autism spectrum, was characterized.

“For those who don’t have a child with autism, they need to really rehearse and a lot of their therapy involves practicing social interactions,” Herrera-Yee told Tapper. “For him, it was about manners… It was not meant in any sort of negative way. It’s just him learning the social interaction with someone else.”

After sharing the effect Bruce, Hemmer and internet commenters have had on her family, Herrera-Yee told Tapper she wants people to be more aware of autism and “how our kids interact with the world.” She also asked Fox to apologize:

Just like Michael asked the Vice President, so sweetly, for an apology, I’d want to ask, on his behalf, for Fox News to apologize for having used my son out of context and using those really horrible words to describe him and our family. That’s really what I would want to come out of this – is just more awareness.

And please don’t use kids, whether they’re typically developing kids, doesn’t matter that he’s autistic or he’s a military kid. Forget all that, he’s a kid, and you don’t use kids on as examples on national television like that.

Bruce apologized Tuesday morning on Fox’s “America’s Newsroom.”

“My intention was never to hurt a kid or his mom,” Bruce said.”We had absolutely no idea that Michael was on the autism spectrum.”


I had the distinct honor of being invited to the United Nations Headquarters for World  Autism Awareness Day 2017. I was on a panel with four other people, and moderated by Caren Zucker, the journalist, producer and New York Times bestselling author. Our topic was dating, relationships and marriage.

I shall never forget that moment as I walked up the stairs of the United Nations, so majestic with all the flags from around the world flying in the wind. I first had to go through the security check point, which was equal to that of airport security. Once out of that, I was greeted by a volunteer who was waiting to escort me to the room the event would be taking place in. Finally arriving at the location, I was in awe when I entered the great room with its stadium-style seating. I then saw my name in front of my seat. It was an extremely overwhelming experience.

The event began with an exceptional presentation by world-famous autism researcher Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen. One after another highly-acclaimed individual spoke about autism and what they and their organization were doing to improve the lives and wellbeing of those on the autism spectrum. Representatives from all around the world were there.

I learned firsthand the tremendous amount of work being done on a global scale to help us folks with autism. These people have devoted their lives to helping us. More and more resources are becoming available to individuals with autism and their families. This leads to better outcomes and happier, more productive and fulfilling lives.

Here is the video of the whole event. I can be seen at marker 1:48:32.

UN tables and chairs with a digital nameplate reading Anita Lesko and digital name plates on tables in the background that say Autism Day 2017

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It’s true what they say, when you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.

The autism spectrum is wide and no two people with autism are alike. I always fear when someone asks me what autism is like, I’m going to create a certain “guideline” as to what it’s like to have autism for the person who asked.

People’s challenges with autism vary. I can only tell you about what autism is like for me, mainly focusing on sensory issues.

Touch, smell, taste, hear and see.

I personally lack taste. There aren’t many things I can actually enjoy when it comes down to food. For me, it’s more the textures, this is how I decide whether I enjoy something or not. For instance, mangoes; I like the texture of mangoes so I have quite an obsession with the fruit as well as the fresh juice. I don’t like the texture of tomato, soup, mushrooms, etc. So I tend to avoid these foods.

My sense of smell isn’t great either. I enjoy lighting candles and the wax melt, but for me to be able to smell these smells I have to light six to nine of the same candle. Whereas most people can smell things like garlic, bleach or candles, that’s something I can’t detect myself.

My sight is quiet sensitive. Bright lights physically hurt my eyes and head. I’m not just talking about the sun. Some days, while outside may look quite dull, it’s still too bright for me, which means I still need my sunglasses. It causes physical pain for me.

Sounds are awful. I walk into a shop and I hear everything! I can hear the cashier counting coins, the plastic bags moving around, the wheels on the pram squeezing, everyone’s conversation around me, someone scratching their head, the humming of the lights, children screaming and the self-service machines telling people to please collect their items or that there is an unexpected item in the bagging area. The worst thing is, they are all at the same volume for me.

Touch is a strange one for me. Sometimes if someone comes up to me and shakes my hand or pats me on the back, it’s like a burning sensation. Especially if I’m not expecting it. I’m currently going through physiotherapy after a recent car accident I had and throughout the whole 30 minutes of my appointment it feels like someone has put a boiling hot water bottle on my back without the fabric cover on. It hurts.

Not only do I have sensory issues, here’s just a few examples of some of my other struggles:

  • Social communication.
  • Difficulties reading facial expressions.
  • Trouble making eye contact.
  • Difficulties viewing others perspectives.
  • Difficulties understanding sarcasm.
  • Fear of change.
  • Obsessive behavior like cleaning.
  • Like to learn facts and figures.
  • Speak fluently but continue to speak on about a particular subject.
  • Inability to cut out sounds.

Not many people understand autism. I don’t believe people ever will unless they live with it themselves. I get told “you don’t look autistic” or “you can’t be autistic, you’re talking.” Autism is a invisible disability for me. You could walk past me on the street and have no idea I have autism.

Everyone with autism is unique. We all have our different struggles, we all have our sensory differences and we all have our different coping mechanism.

What we do have in common is the gift of autism. The gift to see the world differently. Even though, in my opinion, having autism is a real struggle for myself, I wouldn’t change it. It’s made me who I am. Autism doesn’t define me, but it sure as hell plays a big part in my life.

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Thinkstock photo by valedol

​My son, Ryan, was diagnosed with autism 10 years ago. Ten years, it doesn’t even seem possible. In some ways, it feels like a long time ago and in some ways it feels like just yesterday I was sitting in that psychologist’s office wondering if her garbage can was full because I felt I was gonna puke in it.

Ten years — it’s a lifetime, it’s a blink.

I remember the years of worrying, Google obsessing and watching for every single sign Google told me to look for prior to that 10 year diagnosis. Why is he doing that? Why isn’t he doing this? Why, why, why? Little did I know all those question would be answered with a six letter word: autism. And those six letters would have an impact on him and on me I could have never guessed 10 years ago.

Ten years — it’s a lifetime, it’s a blink.

There are still days I ask “why,” but mostly I ask “what.” What do we need to do to get from here to there? What supports need to be in place to help him succeed? What can I do to help him succeed? What does he need to do for himself to be successful? What can we do to help others? “What” can sometimes be as difficult as “why,” but I have learned after 10 years that many of those answers are up to him, and that has been a tough lesson for both of us to learn and accept.

Ten years — it’s a lifetime, it’s a blink.

These past 10 years, Ryan has come far and so have I.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned these past 10 years while loving my child with autism:

1. It’s not about me.

Sure, his autism has an impact on me and our family, but what he needs, what he wants, what makes him happy is about him, not me.

2. It does matter that you call it autism.

For years I had therapists say, “It doesn’t matter what you call it, just getting him the support is what matters.” I have learned that what you call it is exactly what helps get supports started in the first place. So yeah, it does matter what you call it. More importantly, one day it will matter to him what autism is and give him a better understanding how it has impacted his life.

3. What matters is how he defines the word “friend.”

4. “Different, not less” is true, but you have to see it, feel it and believe it.

5. The debate over “a person with autism” or an “autistic person” is not up to me, you or the autism community, it is up to each individual with autism.

If an individual with autism is able to tell you what they prefer, ask, don’t decide for them.

6. Alone and lonely are very different.

It may depend on the day, the moment and the circumstance. The only way to know, is to ask.

7. “Lack of displaying emotions” or displaying emotions in a way you don’t expect, does not mean someone with autism is “lacking” emotions.

How those with autism demonstrate and display their feelings may be different, but their feelings are never less.

8. Never say “never” and never believe anyone who tells you “never.”

I mean it, never.

9. There are many beautiful ways to communicate feelings without ever uttering a word.

10. Autism is not a one way street.

It is not only the job of autistic individuals to learn how to adapt to “our” world, it is also our job to understand and accept that although individuals with autism may see and interact differently in “our” world, they are just as entitled to be a part of it — free of judgement and condemnation.

​Ten years — it’s a lifetime, it’s a blink.

I never found out if that psychologist’s garbage can was full or not 10 years ago, because although I felt like puking, I didn’t. I guess somewhere, my heart took over both my brain and my stomach and realized my son needed me more than my churning lunch needed to see the light of day. That’s not to say there weren’t 10,000 times where I failed him, where I was selfish, misguided, tired and just plain wrong. But he always brought me back. He always guided me to where he needed to go next, just as I know he will in the decades to come with 10,000 more lessons to learn.

I look forward to learning more as this teenage boy transitions to adulthood, while I watch this beautiful transformation with an open mind and an open heart. Thank you, Ryan, for ten AWEsome years, and here is to many, many more.

Ten years — it’s a lifetime, it’s a blink.

I think I will try and prop my eyelids open for this next decade.

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There it was in black and white. It wasn’t a surprise — in fact, it was what I’d been suspecting for years. Still, on paper it looked so official, so permanent, so undeniable. Autism spectrum disorder, level one. Before the diagnostic label changed, this would have been called Asperger’s syndrome. The diagnosis specified an exclusion of verbal or cognitive delays. It’s all very clinical. Except it’s not. It’s my child.

He’s the same child he was before the diagnosis, but I’m not the same parent. We came to this diagnosis after a seven hour and two day psychological evaluation. I know some parents with children on the spectrum who can pinpoint an age where their child changed or regressed, a time when they began to notice something was a little different. I can pinpoint this time to when my child turned 3. I used to joke he bypassed the terrible 2s and became totally different at 3. Except it really wasn’t a joke. Of course, the question even science cannot yet answer is, what causes autism? Is it linked to the mysterious week long high fever my son contracted two weeks before his 3rd birthday? Is it genetic, biological, or both? Is there a causal relationship between autism and vaccines or diet? I can’t answer any of these questions, and if I have learned one thing through curve balls in life it’s to make peace with not knowing. It’s human to want answers. When we know why something happened, it is easier to wrap our heads around it. In reality, not everything has a discernible reason.

I will most likely never know the why of my son’s autism, but I know what to call the traits: the non-stop talk about obsessive interests, the difficulty reading social cues, the separation anxiety, the sensitivity to smells and noises, the rigidity and the overwhelm. More importantly, I also know my son, who can’t be summed up on paper. The boy who insisted on using his own money to buy his brother a birthday present. The boy who is incredibly smart, who can tell you all about garbage and recycling, and more recently, Kidz Bop and Taylor Swift. The boy who is fiercely loyal to his friends and does not hesitate to stand up for a classmate being picked on. The boy who asks if we can learn about undertows in school this week. The boy who has an impressive degree of self awareness.

Sometimes, when he is still awake two or three hours after being tucked in he will tell me, “Mom, sometimes my mind gets the best of me. It’s like a computer with pictures in it and the pictures keep coming up on the screen.” I am glad he can explain this. This is the same boy before the diagnosis.

So what does a “label” mean, exactly? The very use of labels is controversial. Despite efforts to raise awareness, there still exists a pervasive belief that autism is nothing but the latest fad label. Awareness of the spectrum is limited. Some people have an image of autism as a kid who can’t communicate at all. Some have an image of a “quirky” genius. Autism can be both of these things and neither of these things; the autism spectrum is everything in between. The saying goes, “If you’ve met one person with autism then you’ve met one person with autism.”

Why the label? The diagnosis is a tool. The diagnosis tells me not only the what but the where and the how. I know where to turn for support, resources, and the therapies that will help my child — and us as his parents — manage his struggles and build upon his strengths. I know how to understand his beautiful mind a little better and I know how to meet his needs. Not entirely, of course. Not perfectly. But better.

We have decided to continue homeschooling, gradually increasing the hours he spends at the school he attends for homeschooled children. The teacher and administrators have already been wonderfully accommodating, intervening promptly and effectively when he was having difficulties with a classmate, allowing him to choose not to participate in recess and allowing him to participate in the chapel with fewer children when the all-school chapel was too loud and overwhelming for him. The latter two accommodations were made without me asking. The small classroom of only nine kids and the small lunchroom allow him to be more comfortable, but still challenges him to function socially and within a group.

He is also in an environment where his individuality and needs are respected, which is the best way for him to learn. He will also begin participation in a social skills group and take classes at the local public school. His IQ tested in the 94th percentile, so we are hoping to get him in some advanced classes that meet his need to be challenged and his comfort level. Finally, we are working on visual schedules to help him with transitions. He does best when he knows what to expect and has some control over his environment.

When he is old enough to understand, we will tell him about his diagnosis because it is nothing to hide. We never want him to feel ashamed. It will be up to us to explain what it means.

He has difficulties that many people don’t experience, but he also has a unique way of seeing the world. He can understand things others cannot. He feels more deeply and thinks more intently, which means his lows may be lower but his highs will also be higher.

When he’s old enough, I plan to have him volunteer with me one Saturday a month when I work with kids on the spectrum. I believe that God calls us to use not only our gifts but also our struggles to help others. I want him to use his unique mind to understand and reach out to other kids who might be struggling, or might not seem to fit in.

As for me, I learned to always trust my parenting instincts. When my son started kindergarten at 5 I saw him sitting in the lunchroom with his hands tightly over his ears and tears rolling down his face while kids talked over and around him. I saw the teacher carry him into the classroom when he was upset. I listened when he begged me not to make him keep going to that school. I listened to my instinct and to my child, not to the “experts” who told me, “Oh, Mrs. Clark, kids do this. He’s fine. He’ll adjust. Maybe you just need to learn to let go?” Or maybe my child is on the spectrum and cannot handle a noisy lunchroom, or a crowded classroom or a long school day. I tried to tell myself it was just a phase, he was just young, things would work themselves out, but I didn’t believe it. As a parent, you know your child. If you know in your gut something is going on, don’t let the word “just” enter your vocabulary. You are the first expert and only advocate for your child. Trust yourself and trust your child.

If you are a fellow parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I can’t tell you why your child has autism, but I can tell you why your child has you: because you are the best for them. You are the perfect person to love them, struggle with them, fight for them, guide them, and sometimes just fumble through the dark with them.

If autism is not a part of your life, I simply ask you to understand there is no single picture of autism. The child in the grocery store who seems too old to be acting a certain way might be on the spectrum. So might the cashier. By the same token, a child on the spectrum may appear to be no different than any other child, but this doesn’t mean the diagnosis is any less legitimate. This same child may go home tonight and refuse to sleep until all of his money is counted and he had read no more or less than three chapters in his book. If you’ve met my son you’ve met an intelligent, empathic, loyal, intuitive boy who will talk your ear off about Taylor Swift and Kidz Bop. You’ve also met only one person with autism.

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My son is on the autism spectrum.

He is clever. He is a starter and finisher which is great in a classroom environment. He needs to complete what he starts and has always needed to do things well. He has high expectations of himself and wants to please you.

My son loves other children and likes to play structured games over and over again. Play chase with him and he will be happy all day, play video games and that’s even better (as long as you stick to the rules). My son loves to run and will circle the park over and over on foot or scooter, he will include anyone who wants to play in his game. He is social.

My son is a sensitive child. He is an empathic friend.  If he sees you crying he will ask if you are OK. He is not mean and does not pick on children who do not fit in.

My son has the fundamental skills needed for friendship but misses the subtleties in communication. He may not pick up on your tone of voice or he may misread your body language. He does not understand flexibility within rules or why they change from place to place. This is not obvious by looking at him. When he is playing, he does not stand out. You need to know my son well to understand the difficulties he has.

My son makes friends easily but sustaining friendships is difficult. To look at him you will see how socially interactive he is, he pursues friendships and will include people in his games. He is great at turn taking. But he is also incredibly sensitive, which stands out for a 7 1/2-year-old.

When the world around my son  seems unpredictable and overwhelming, he doesn’t know how to respond. Sometimes if the environment is too busy or noisy, this can upset him, too. This can socially isolate him from his peers and make him stand out as different.

If a child has a diagnosis of autism, please understand there is a reason for the diagnosis and the child needs additional support and understanding outside of what a typically developing child may need.

My son’s behaviors may be mostly socially “normal” and he is a very bright child who learns easily and wants to achieve. My son’s autism may not look like what some people picture as autism. But I assure you, there is no “typical” in autism. Each child is unique and full of capabilities. Each child deserves support and each child needs understanding.

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