Mother and daughter in front of open door at home, with daughter wearing backpack, and mom holding daughter's hands

To the Single Parent With a Child on the Autism Spectrum

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I am one of you. I see you at the autism support events, alone with your child trying your best to keep them calm and engaged in our group activities. I talk with you all the time online, giving each other encouragement and support, knowing this world can be a tough one, especially if you don’t have support. I see you in my daughter’s classroom. I am one of you, and I want to say these things to you…

You are amazing. You have courage and strength within your heart, and you make sure your child is taken care of. You do it alone, and that takes a lot. Your little one may not be able to tell you with their own words how much they appreciate all your patience and love but I believe they feel it. You advocate for your child, and you make sure people listen and learn about autism. You are a hero to me, and you should carry your head up high because you are doing this all on your own.

It’s OK to feel lonely and be scared. I can’t even begin to say how many sobbing sessions I have had in the shower where no one can hear me. How many sleepless nights I have spent worrying about her future, wondering if I am doing enough. Am I doing enough? Did I harm her by not being able to provide for her a traditional family unit? It’s in these moments of weakness that I remember the greatest power we carry as human beings is love. That’s all she asks me for, and that’s what I have a surplus of within my heart. I may not have a partner to hold me at night and tell me it’s OK, but I have my beautiful children who give me unconditional love, and they carry me through any hardship I may encounter. I give them my best, and I know they are the fuel I have every morning to continue to work hard to give them a better life.

Find your support network and learn to rely on them. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by the most supportive and loving family in the world. My friends could not be more loving towards me, and they have really helped keep me encouraged and focused throughout my journey. Divorce and my daughter’s autism diagnosis came at the same time in my life, and I can honestly say I don’t know how I would have made it through without my family and friends. I had to learn to reach out when I felt overwhelmed and be honest about my feelings. To ask for help when I couldn’t handle the day’s challenges. Online support networks have been so positive in my life. I have met incredible friends through them and I love seeing their kids’ pictures come up on my social media feeds. I’ve learned valuable lessons from them, and I know I am not alone on my journey. There are people in the world who understand and care; don’t be afraid to find them and rely on them.

Enjoy all the little things, every milestone met, every quirk your kid may have, every smile, every hug. My daughter is the happiest little girl you’ll ever meet. She fills my days with renditions of her favorite Disney songs, belting them out to the top of her lungs. I recently taught her how to give eskimo kisses, and on my tough days, when she brings her little nose to my face, I just know we’re going to be OK. I don’t have all the answers; I’ve learned that I just need to take my life day by day. Every time she learns a new word or expression, we have a huge celebration in our household. She has brought a type of love to our family that is fierce and full of joy. So, even though I may be a single parent at the moment and not have someone to call my love, I am not short of it at all. My world has become a beautiful place of learning and growth.

So from one single parent to another, let’s go forth and conquer the world with love and advocacy for our little ones!

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4-Year-Old on the Autism Spectrum Denied From Boarding Southwest Flight

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Last week, Adonis Roman, a 4-year-old on the autism spectrum, and his family were prohibited from boarding their Southwest Airlines flight to Boston because Adonis required accommodation, according to his mother, Jocelyn Roman.

Posting her family’s story on Facebook, Roman shared:

My 4 yr son Adonis is autistic and simple everyday tasks like waiting in lines, and being in unfamiliar places can be extremely overwhelming for him. Visual calendar, countdowns, and keeping him in the know are essential to his development. With that being said certain accommodations must be made to avoid certain behaviors and or meltdowns. I tried to explain this to their ticket agent, who quickly cut me off, slammed her hand on the counter, and made my family and I step to the side.

“The only accommodation we ask for is to board the plane before it gets too crazy,” Roman told The Mighty. “Typically right after the wheelchairs and supported walkers.” After being told to step aside, Roman tried to explain to the ticket agent why boarding early is imperative for her son. The agent repeatedly denied Roman and her family from boarding and asked for documentation and proof that her son is on the spectrum, Roman told FOX25.

As the Roman family waited, Adonis began getting anxious, rocking back and forth and stimming orally. “The attendant at this time called for back up via supervisor, security and deemed it necessary to have EMS evaluate my son for some sort of contagious illness.”

Emergency Medical Services quickly cleared Adonis, and once again, Roman attempted to explain her son’s needs to flight staff. “Instead the supervisor proudly told me that no accommodations would be made and due to my attitude my son would suffer and we would have to wait for the next flight,” Roman wrote in her Facebook post.

Eventually, Roman was able to talk to a manager, who apologized, but the family still missed their flight, forcing them to stay another night in St. Louis. Southwest payed for their hotel, offered $200 flight vouchers, and eventually reimbursed the St. Louis-to-Boston leg of their flight.

The company has since been apologetic, but Roman said there is more airline companies can do to support families on the autism spectrum. “Just respect the diagnosis,” Roman told The Mighty. “It’s not contagious, it’s a developmental disorder. Something as easy as boarding the plane first would have allowed him to have a couple extra minutes to get comfortable and acclimate himself with an unfamiliar environment.”

Update: A spokesperson for Southwest told The Mighty: 

Southwest Airlines is committed to providing courteous and efficient service to all customers. Prior to the flight, a customer became ill in the boarding area and our employees contacted paramedics for help. Our employees then re-booked this customer and his family on a non-stop flight while also providing them with a hotel and travel vouchers. If we have reason to believe that a customer will need medical intervention during a flight, we may require a medical certificate and/or evaluation from trained medical professionals to safely clear the customer for travel. We reached out to the family and we hope they will give us another opportunity to serve them in the future.

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The Clarity My Autism Diagnosis Has Brought Me

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I’ve been diagnosed and labeled with all sorts of things in my life, spanning the full gamut of medical and mental health issues, and while most transitions in my life seemed to bring about a host of new symptoms and resultant diagnoses, nothing really tied the whole picture together. Nothing ever truly explained why I felt so different, so off, and so close yet so far from everyone and everything I wanted to be. The one consistent thing in my life seemed to be the fact that I struggled with things other people didn’t seem to struggle with and that I also didn’t know how to articulate these challenges. The irony was, for a person who is exceptionally gifted at finding patterns, I saw no method in the madness, no similarity in the symptoms and difficulties, and no way to predict or understand when something was going to be tough for me.

It wasn’t until early summer of last year, just before turning 30, that the pieces finally came together: I was diagnosed with autism. I, like many, received what they consider “a late diagnosis,” which is particularly common in women because of both a lack of understanding in terms of the presentation of autism in women, leading practitioners to miss the diagnosis, and to our uncanny ability to camouflage amongst neurotypicals by learning and emulating their behavior. (We can be good at memorizing patterns, even in social behavior.)

For me, autism explains so much. It’s funny, because I think one of the symbols used by the autism community is the puzzle piece and although I don’t know much about this, I do know that for me, receiving this diagnosis was like finding that puzzle piece (or two) that slipped under the rug and finally fills the blatant gap in the middle of what should be a complete picture. In my own ignorance, I had no idea what autism was really like, especially in women, for which it can be quite different than media portrayals.

For most of my life, I feel like I’ve lived two lives that are concurrent but not parallel. They bump into one another, they pull and push, they fight me for dominant expression because in any given moment, only one really gets to show its face. I have the life that I try to live externally: Here, I am a student of the world. I constantly observe, catalog data, categorize, and try to present myself the way I see in those around me. I carry on conversations by learning what to say, I go out, I laugh, I try to join activities, I work. This life exhausts me because it’s foreign to me. It’s a constant game of trying to understand, of calculating, of interpreting. It is somewhat like playing a character. It’s stressful because there is always the risk of messing up, which could open the windows for the other part of me to come out, to expose my weirdness. It wipes me out so much that prolonged periods of such behavior caused doctors to be concerned about my physical health: was it chronic fatigue, lupus, another underlying autoimmune issue?

The other part of me looks just like everyone else at first glance. But I’m different. This part of me can’t stand the feeling of socks, tags, certain shoes, or seams so much so that it causes vomiting. It prevents me from tolerating things touching my skin in certain ways. I can’t wear my hair down and people call me a tomboy. Some people who have known me for 10 or 20 years have never seen my hair down. This part of me can’t take noises, especially repetitive ones. I can’t tolerate certain food textures without gagging, and while in full disclosure I did have an eating disorder as a teenager, I have since learned this can be unfortunately common for women on the spectrum for a host of reasons, one of which I imagine is sensory-based. My list of sensory issues is so vast that it could be its own tome, but I will just say, for me at least, it is the most difficult part of my autism. In addition to affecting the five senses everyone thinks about, it also impacts proprioception, vestibular function, and what is known as interoception (the ability to sense internal stimuli such as hunger, body temperature, the need to use the bathroom, etc.). The sensory processing challenges of autism make it hard to be comfortable in my own skin, in the “comfort” of my own home where we can control the environment as much as possible. The real world? That’s a minefield of sensory bombardment; it’s one of the main reasons pretending to be “normal” is so exhausting.

The sensory challenges aren’t the only difficulties that the “real me” faces, and I’ll go into these more classic ASD-related difficulties another time, I imagine. The sad truth is that women, particularly undiagnosed, on the spectrum are at risk for various comorbidities like major depressive disorder, eating disorders, sexual assault, among others. Unfortunately, all of these have applied to me and I suffer the consequences of them today. While I could get into each of them separately and maybe will eventually, I share this because it’s one of the main reasons I’m choosing to speak up about my autism. Yes, it’s true that people on the spectrum (and people who aren’t) have lots of wonderful gifts. And yes, it’s true that we can blend in very well and “act normal,” and it’s true we can be successful in work, relationships, and life. But it’s also true that autism isn’t a minor challenge. It’s a real diagnosis that indicates a difference in the brain. Our brains aren’t worse, they aren’t better, but they are different. The issue with late diagnosis for me is that it further engrains the feeling of “differentness,” of confusion, and can exacerbate the challenges of the “disorder.”

My feelings of weirdness, loneliness, and a lack of belonging and understanding myself has caused major self-esteem issues and depression, so much so that at times in my life, I’ve been heavily medicated and suicidal. My inability to sense danger and to read people well likely contributed to my attack. That single day saddled me with what I will honestly admit is pretty debilitating PTSD. While I’m doing a lot better since that trauma in many ways, quite frankly, I have no confidence it won’t happen again unless I avoid people, which I don’t want to do. Had I known I was autistic younger, I may have devoted more attention and invoked more specific training to understand predators or at least how to defend myself. If nothing else, it may have alleviated some of the blame I put upon myself for so long.

I want to make it clear that I’m not bitter or upset that I wasn’t diagnosed earlier. I don’t blame all my weaknesses, challenges, and poor choices on being autistic. Receiving the proper diagnosis, even if “late,” simply provides more clarity for which to understand myself and learn to cope better, love myself more, be a better partner and friend, feel healthier, recognize red flags or challenges before they derail me, and feel less alone and confused. The day you stop learning and growing is the day you stop living. My goal is to begin to embrace who I am, to get to know myself better, to let others into my world a bit more, and to do my piece by opening up a little so that more people are aware of the tribe of autistic women. My hope is that increasing awareness will bring earlier diagnosis and possibly prevent some of the battles I faced for younger girls on the spectrum.

An autism diagnosis doesn’t guarantee the struggles I have, it doesn’t justify my mistakes or shortcomings, but it is a bit like finally getting glasses when you’ve been squinting, stumbling around, and seeing everything blurry for years. I guess this analogy is particularly apropos for me: I just got glasses! So, to each person that reads this, whether I know you or not, thank you for your time, your interest in this topic, and for helping me start this discussion. Please connect and question me in any way that feels right to you. We are all at different parts of our journeys and in different paths but ultimately, we all, I hope, are just trying to do our best.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Follow this journey on Processing Problems.

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Coding Autism Teaches People on the Autism Spectrum How to Code

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Across the U.S., more and more companies are looking for web developers as well as people who can code. This field of job growth can provide significant opportunities for autistic individuals, Coding Autism, a new training program for people on the autism spectrum, believes.

“Coding is a great career for people with autism because many of the traits associated with people on the spectrum correlate with those of a successful coder,” Austen Weinhart, co-founder of Coding Autism, told The Mighty. “Some of these traits include attention to detail, talent for recognizing patterns, comfort in repetition, introvert personalities, and directness in communication. With the right training and accommodations, a person on the autism spectrum can transition into a position where they not only have financial stability but also long-term career growth.”

Coding Autism is currently crowdfunding for its first web development boot camp and hopes to raise $50,000 to provide full scholarships for its first group of students. Its first course, ASPIRE Web Development Immersive, will be a 15-week, full-time course in Thousand Oaks, California. The course will teach coding basics, preparing students for an entry-level job as web developers. Coding Autism also plans to launch online classes for those who cannot attend in person, starting in 2018. So far, the campaign has raised more than 60 percent of the funds it needs to get started.

“It is completely unacceptable that our autistic community is experiencing an over 80-percent unemployment and underemployment rate,” Oliver Thornton, Coding Autism’s CEO and co-founder, who is also on the autism spectrum, said in a press release. “As passionate advocates who have either been diagnosed with autism ourselves or have family members affected with autism, we understand that with the right resources, training, coaching and environment that individuals with autism can thrive in the workforce.”

In addition to teaching software engineering, quality assurance, and web development, Coding Autism will also assist its trainees in finding jobs. Coaches and educators will provide students with resume workshops, career counseling and interview preparation all of which is designed specifically for autistic individuals.

The training program is a certificate program and not a degree. “Many coding jobs also do not require a degree. All that matters is that applicants show that they have the skills needed and are up to the task,” Weinhart added.

Many companies, including Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, have launched hiring initiatives geared towards employing those on the spectrum. “The vast majority of people with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, leaving a large pool of untapped talent. If we work together, we can help make a difference,” Neil Barnett, director of inclusive hiring and accessibility at Microsoft, wrote on the company’s blog earlier this month.

With more opportunities arising, Coding Autism hopes to help more people on the spectrum enter the job force as prepared and qualified applicants.

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Learning Not to Second-Guess Myself After My Autism Diagnosis

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I’m in the car, stopped at traffic lights. I’m at the front of the line. Our traffic light turns green. The car next to me doesn’t move. I check the traffic light again — it’s green. Green means go. But I must be interpreting this situation wrongly somehow. The cars behind me start honking their horns. Is it to warn me not to go? The driver in the car next to me realizes the light has turned green and speeds off.

I second-guess myself a lot. It’s because I get seemingly obvious things wrong when I’m so sure the answer is different.

It was the same when I finally went to get myself assessed for autism as a 26-year-old woman. I was so fed up with feeling like there was something horribly wrong — even though I have a wonderful family, live in an amazing country and work at the best place in the world doing a job I love. Since childhood I have often felt so overwhelmed and disturbed that it leads to despair.

I made the decision not to tell anyone about the assessment. I had already done all the research and their doubt would stomp all over my certainty. I left three hours early to get to the appointment that was located only half an hour’s drive away, because I had never been to this place before. So of course I got lost and panicked and confused about where I was allowed to park, and took three hours and 20 minutes to get into the building, crying and shaking.

They asked me questions for two hours, then I showed them some of my drawings. They called me soon after to confirm that I have autism. This was great because for me it tied up so many frayed ends of psychiatrist suggestions of major depression, OCD, BPD, ADD and whatever else I had received throughout life. The awful sensations I felt about everyday things that didn’t seem to phase anyone else — like having to hold my breath when walking through a grocery store, scratching my skin raw when I see a texture that makes me uncomfortable, calming myself down by being alone and doing something repetitive like picking every grass seed pod from a garden, shelling and sorting each section of it into piles (this is how I spent my time after school every day as a child).

A year later, some people are still coming around to the idea of me being on “the spectrum,” but will concede that I “have difficulties” because their mental picture of autism conflicts with their image of me. Others weren’t surprised by the diagnosis at all. Others still have been so respectful and asked questions to understand more.

I work at a wonderful school that loves to help the kids who are wired differently, like me. And as I work to help them, I get to learn a bit about myself, too.

My different way of seeing things can give people a wider perspective. My obsession with art can bring joy to people. My going through horrible feelings means I can understand and be there for people going through horrible things.

So I’m learning not to second-guess myself, but tune into the way I’m wired. We’re all different and have something crucial to contribute to the world — and I’m thankful for the special things I get to share.

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Autism and Me: What I’ve Learned in the Year Since My Diagnosis

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This year, 2017, is vastly swimming by. It seems that just yesterday we were celebrating Christmas and now we’re welcoming in spring and all the beautiful flowers that bloom and the gorgeous baby animals that are born.

April is an incredible month; besides the fact the weather is becoming warmer, it’s also Autism Awareness Month. This is the first Autism Awareness Month I have ever participated in, and it feels amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Autism Awareness should occur every day, every month, but it’s refreshing to know that there is a dedicated month for autism and Autistic people.

It’s approaching a year that I was diagnosed with autism, and what a year it’s been, with learning more about myself as a person, attending support groups and learning how to be more independent. Without forgetting to mention the incredible people I’ve met and had the privilege of working with, including my lovely support worker, and the lessons I have learned in terms of myself, other people and life.

I was diagnosed with autism at 19, and I can assure you that only positives have come from my diagnosis. My eating disorder therapist was the first to pick up on my possible autistic traits; I am thankful that she did or I may have never been diagnosed, meaning I would never have received the help and support I currently have access to. However, just because I have been diagnosed a little later on in life doesn’t mean I haven’t always had autism. Autism is a lifelong developmental condition, meaning it’s present from birth and you cannot just catch it or develop it in the future. The reason I hadn’t been diagnosed prior to this is because nobody had picked up on it. It seemed to me like everybody just assumed I was shy, and I had grown somewhat comfortable with being “the quiet one.” In addition to this, autism can be harder to recognize in females, with one potential reason for this being that we might try to copy those around us as a means of fitting in. But this certainly doesn’t mean males cannot be diagnosed later on in life, too.

I find that people fail to understand autism due to the stigma that surrounds it. It’s time to address this stigma in an attempt to stamp it out completely. Comments have been said to me, including “you don’t seem Autistic.” And I simply put this down to a lack of understanding and knowledge regarding the condition. For example, autism is not a mental illness. It’s impossible to “look” Autistic, and people are only aware of my autism if I trust them enough to discuss it with them. Many people were in shock about my diagnosis because I am intelligent and because of how well I do academically, which is silly considering Autistic people can be highly intelligent. I am blessed to have such understanding and loving people in my life, including my family, my friends and my medical professionals.

Before I was diagnosed as Autistic, I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant or what it included as such. But with each day I am growing to accept and understand my condition, because it doesn’t define me, it’s just a part of who I am. There is a huge Autistic spectrum, and no two people with autism are the same. For instance, I struggle with communication whereas others may struggle with knowing when to let others communicate. I have a huge passion and admiration for animals, whereas others may have interests in other areas. Some people may find certain noises or bright lights frustrating (I hate the ones in supermarkets, ugh), and some people may only feel comfortable wearing a specific brand or item of clothing.

Due to my autism, I struggle with certain aspects of life, but fortunately for me I can learn to challenge them and to maybe overcome my difficulties too. I’ve yet to meet somebody who doesn’t accept me for me. But if the time comes and this does happen, I will simply tell them where to go because I need acceptance and understanding, not judgment and criticism. I struggle with tolerating change, social communication, high levels of anxiety, and low self-esteem/confidence. I cannot always understand sarcasm and have been known to take things literally. I struggle with small talk as I find it pointless and unnecessary, not to mention that it makes me feel extremely awkward. I dislike meeting new people and going to new places, and I also feel uncomfortable in busy/crowded places. I don’t always enjoy things my peers enjoy, including going out drinking and going to parties. Instead of putting myself down for not fitting in with those aspects, I simply carry on and do things I feel comfortable doing instead. I do enjoy spending time with animals, including my cat and rabbit, visiting animal-related places such as animal sanctuaries and zoos, and going for walks in nature. I also enjoy reading, writing and doing anything artistic (well, apart from sewing!).

Being diagnosed with autism has had such a huge, beneficial impact on my life, and despite the fact that I get frustrated with it sometimes, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Why? Well, because autism makes me, me and it makes me unique. It has given me answers to so many things in terms of who I am and why I do, say and understand things differently. In the beginning I was ashamed of even being put in for an autism assessment. I am slowly, but surely, moving on from that feeling, and I’m learning to accept that it isn’t a negative thing at all, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Accept difference, not indifference. I see things in the world differently at times; that doesn’t mean I should be seen or treated differently.

I am an Autistic young person who was once an Autistic child. Instead of judging me, support me and provide me with reassurance and understanding.

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