Courtney Barnum

@alegionforliam | contributor
Courtney Barnum is a stay-at-home, home-schooling mother. She and her son, Liam, are both on the spectrum. She runs a local autism support group, as well as a Facebook page for other autism parents. She also blogs when she needs to get her feelings out.

Mom of Autistic Child Responds to Judgment Around Toys

A young autistic boy had been asking his parents for a doctor kit. While “shopping” on Amazon, he added about 50 of them to our cart. During that week, he had therapy appointments, so Mama told him she’d take him to Walmart. He couldn’t wait to go shopping for a doctor kit. This little boy is 10. In many ways, he’s wise beyond his years, but in others, he’s still a kid at heart. The day came to go to Walmart. The boy was so excited. He chattered nonstop about getting his doctor kit and playing vet with his dogs and stuffed animals. When he and his mama got to the toy section, he stopped. Suddenly he looked sullen and even scared. “Mama, you go first,” he whispered. There happened to be sales associates on every aisle, and this little boy seemed like he felt embarrassed. At this moment, his mom had an idea about what was wrong. She walked ahead and pointed out doctor kits when she saw them. He finally chose which kit he wanted. (It was between an all-pink kit or one geared for toddlers.) The boy whispered his choice to his mama, seeming like he felt too embarrassed to reach out and touch them or look them over. He was too nervous to carry it up to the register. But as soon as the little boy got into the car, he was ripping it out of the bag and proudly showing it to his daddy. The toy doctor kits were on just two aisles, the baby toy aisle and the all-pink “girl” aisle. Now this little boy might know his family doesn’t judge him for the toys he chooses, but sadly, he might also know that others in the world can at times. You see, it doesn’t matter if he wants something pink, or blue, or 50 shades in between the two. It doesn’t matter if the suggested age is 3 to 6 years, or older. In his home, there is no age restriction or gender stereotypes. Let me put a spin on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touching words… A toy is a toy is a toy is a toy. It shouldn’t be genderized or limited to age (except of course for small pieces and kids who might put them in their mouths). Why can’t more people grasp this? Kids are kids only once. Their childhoods should be happy and magical and free of useless judgment. Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by danr13

Mom of Autistic Child Responds to Judgment Around Toys

A young autistic boy had been asking his parents for a doctor kit. While “shopping” on Amazon, he added about 50 of them to our cart. During that week, he had therapy appointments, so Mama told him she’d take him to Walmart. He couldn’t wait to go shopping for a doctor kit. This little boy is 10. In many ways, he’s wise beyond his years, but in others, he’s still a kid at heart. The day came to go to Walmart. The boy was so excited. He chattered nonstop about getting his doctor kit and playing vet with his dogs and stuffed animals. When he and his mama got to the toy section, he stopped. Suddenly he looked sullen and even scared. “Mama, you go first,” he whispered. There happened to be sales associates on every aisle, and this little boy seemed like he felt embarrassed. At this moment, his mom had an idea about what was wrong. She walked ahead and pointed out doctor kits when she saw them. He finally chose which kit he wanted. (It was between an all-pink kit or one geared for toddlers.) The boy whispered his choice to his mama, seeming like he felt too embarrassed to reach out and touch them or look them over. He was too nervous to carry it up to the register. But as soon as the little boy got into the car, he was ripping it out of the bag and proudly showing it to his daddy. The toy doctor kits were on just two aisles, the baby toy aisle and the all-pink “girl” aisle. Now this little boy might know his family doesn’t judge him for the toys he chooses, but sadly, he might also know that others in the world can at times. You see, it doesn’t matter if he wants something pink, or blue, or 50 shades in between the two. It doesn’t matter if the suggested age is 3 to 6 years, or older. In his home, there is no age restriction or gender stereotypes. Let me put a spin on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touching words… A toy is a toy is a toy is a toy. It shouldn’t be genderized or limited to age (except of course for small pieces and kids who might put them in their mouths). Why can’t more people grasp this? Kids are kids only once. Their childhoods should be happy and magical and free of useless judgment. Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by danr13

Mom of Autistic Child Responds to Judgment Around Toys

A young autistic boy had been asking his parents for a doctor kit. While “shopping” on Amazon, he added about 50 of them to our cart. During that week, he had therapy appointments, so Mama told him she’d take him to Walmart. He couldn’t wait to go shopping for a doctor kit. This little boy is 10. In many ways, he’s wise beyond his years, but in others, he’s still a kid at heart. The day came to go to Walmart. The boy was so excited. He chattered nonstop about getting his doctor kit and playing vet with his dogs and stuffed animals. When he and his mama got to the toy section, he stopped. Suddenly he looked sullen and even scared. “Mama, you go first,” he whispered. There happened to be sales associates on every aisle, and this little boy seemed like he felt embarrassed. At this moment, his mom had an idea about what was wrong. She walked ahead and pointed out doctor kits when she saw them. He finally chose which kit he wanted. (It was between an all-pink kit or one geared for toddlers.) The boy whispered his choice to his mama, seeming like he felt too embarrassed to reach out and touch them or look them over. He was too nervous to carry it up to the register. But as soon as the little boy got into the car, he was ripping it out of the bag and proudly showing it to his daddy. The toy doctor kits were on just two aisles, the baby toy aisle and the all-pink “girl” aisle. Now this little boy might know his family doesn’t judge him for the toys he chooses, but sadly, he might also know that others in the world can at times. You see, it doesn’t matter if he wants something pink, or blue, or 50 shades in between the two. It doesn’t matter if the suggested age is 3 to 6 years, or older. In his home, there is no age restriction or gender stereotypes. Let me put a spin on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touching words… A toy is a toy is a toy is a toy. It shouldn’t be genderized or limited to age (except of course for small pieces and kids who might put them in their mouths). Why can’t more people grasp this? Kids are kids only once. Their childhoods should be happy and magical and free of useless judgment. Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by danr13

Mom of Autistic Child Responds to Judgment Around Toys

A young autistic boy had been asking his parents for a doctor kit. While “shopping” on Amazon, he added about 50 of them to our cart. During that week, he had therapy appointments, so Mama told him she’d take him to Walmart. He couldn’t wait to go shopping for a doctor kit. This little boy is 10. In many ways, he’s wise beyond his years, but in others, he’s still a kid at heart. The day came to go to Walmart. The boy was so excited. He chattered nonstop about getting his doctor kit and playing vet with his dogs and stuffed animals. When he and his mama got to the toy section, he stopped. Suddenly he looked sullen and even scared. “Mama, you go first,” he whispered. There happened to be sales associates on every aisle, and this little boy seemed like he felt embarrassed. At this moment, his mom had an idea about what was wrong. She walked ahead and pointed out doctor kits when she saw them. He finally chose which kit he wanted. (It was between an all-pink kit or one geared for toddlers.) The boy whispered his choice to his mama, seeming like he felt too embarrassed to reach out and touch them or look them over. He was too nervous to carry it up to the register. But as soon as the little boy got into the car, he was ripping it out of the bag and proudly showing it to his daddy. The toy doctor kits were on just two aisles, the baby toy aisle and the all-pink “girl” aisle. Now this little boy might know his family doesn’t judge him for the toys he chooses, but sadly, he might also know that others in the world can at times. You see, it doesn’t matter if he wants something pink, or blue, or 50 shades in between the two. It doesn’t matter if the suggested age is 3 to 6 years, or older. In his home, there is no age restriction or gender stereotypes. Let me put a spin on Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touching words… A toy is a toy is a toy is a toy. It shouldn’t be genderized or limited to age (except of course for small pieces and kids who might put them in their mouths). Why can’t more people grasp this? Kids are kids only once. Their childhoods should be happy and magical and free of useless judgment. Editor’s note: This story has been published with permission from the author’s son. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock image by danr13

Tips for Special Needs Families Celebrating the Holiday Season

‘Tis the season! Bring on the holidays — the parties, the shopping, the decorating, the traditions and the stress! I’m no expert, but I have learned some things while raising my autistic son. Here’s my list of tips for the holidays for special needs families. 1. Prepare, prepare, prepare! By this, I mean do your best to know what parties you’ll be attending at least a week ahead of time. I personally try to get all mine figured out by the first of December. I do this because this way I have plenty of time to prepare my son Liam. We talk about what days we are going where, and what we’ll be doing. We talk about whom will most likely be there, and about how long we plan on staying. (That’s not to say we don’t leave early if need be. That leads me into number two.) 2. Have an escape plan. Parties, people and tons of smells and loud noises can be overwhelming to neurotypical people; imagine how it is for someone who is sensitive to all of these things? Always have an escape plan, complete with a code word. For example, we have two types. We have a code word or a signal for Liam that means he needs some space and quiet. When he says this word or gives us this signal, one of us excuses ourselves from the party and takes Liam to a quiet room, or outside if possible. This code word and signal is reserved for “I can’t take anymore, and I need to go home.” Our families know by now this sometimes happens, and they know if we suddenly excuse ourselves and start saying goodbyes, Liam needs to go. 3. Shop online. Many of us already do that, but I kid you not, as a special needs mom, online shopping can be a lifesaver! The crowds, the noises, the lights, the smells, it’s a lot. Grocery shopping can be hard enough, but Christmas shopping is sometimes super tough. So don’t feel guilty. If you can get it online, do it. If you can order your groceries, have them delivered, or even just go to the store to pick them up, do it. 4. Let go of perfection. The holidays are never perfect. We’re not living in a Norman Rockwell painting. All you should strive for is a peaceful and happy holiday. Which brings me to the tree. My son and I disagree when it comes to the tree. I used to dread doing it because all his favorite ornaments were front and center, pretty much on one branch. I’d move them, and the next time I turned around, he moved them back. I gave up. I let him decorate his way, while I mildly coax him to space them out, and I let it go. Decorating the tree has been so much more enjoyable since I learned this lesson. Remember, they won’t be young forever, and there will come a day they won’t care about decorating the tree. That’s your time to shine! 5. Always take food. Find a nice separated lunch box, or bento box, and pack it with your child’s preferred foods. Or take their favorites as your dish to pass at the party. Don’t force them to eat foods they can’t handle. Food aversions are real, and you don’t want your kid to vomit. 6. Let them be comfy. Many of us like to dress up for the holidays. If you’re like me, it may be the few times a year you don nice clothing and actually wear makeup. But don’t force your kids to dress up. Clothing sensitivities are hell, and how much fun will they have in a scratchy sweater? My solution to this was to design my son an “ugly Christmas sweatshirt.” He can’t handle sweaters of any kind, but he can do sweatshirts. So I designed him one and he loves it. I also buy him nice black sweatpants. That way he’s warm, comfy, and he still looks great. 7. Let us stim. This applies to every day, but I’m adding it here because some parents will distract a stim when at a function or party. Don’t. As long as your child isn’t harming themselves or someone else, let them stim away. It makes us happy. It helps us calm ourselves. It helps us decompress. 8. Take fidgets, tablets, phones and more. Screen time calms us. Let us have it. Also bring fidgets or preferred toys to keep us busy. Maybe include a board game your kids like to play that he or she can share with cousins or friends’ kids. Liam always has a bag of stuff he takes, and his top choices are his tablet, iPhone, squeezy fidgets, a few cars, and a game. 9. Don’t feel bad for saying no. If your child is having a rough day, and you know attending a party will not be conducive to him or her, don’t go. Don’t feel guilty. Stuff happens. We have missed many a party because of this reason. Family and true friends will get it. They may be disappointed, but they will get it. Instead, let your kiddo pick out his or her favorite Christmas movie, grab some snacks and chill. 10. Do what makes your child happy. Do what works for your family. Do for others as you or your child can tolerate. But most of all, enjoy the holiday with your kids. They’re only young once. Make memories you will forever cherish — even if they involve staying home in your jammies. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Top image via Thinkstock Images

When Someone Asked, 'Do You Wish You Never Had Him?'

I was recently asked by someone, referring to my son, “Don’t you sometimes wish you never had him?” The question wasn’t meant offensively, but I paused a moment, letting those words sink in. I didn’t pause because I had to ponder my answer; I paused because I was shocked at the question. I’m not judging the person who asked me. Yes, it’s a harsh question. But it was an honest question, and I have no issues with speaking honestly and candidly about our journey. “No,” I replied. “Be honest,” she said. “Honestly, no I don’t. I hate bipolar disorder. I hate when it makes him depressive. That, I wish we didn’t have to deal with,” I replied. And that’s the truth. Even if someone asked me on one of our worst days, it would still be my answer. Here’s our truth: he has bad days — days where I think to myself, “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if he can do this.” Days, even weeks, where we can’t leave the house because he’s in such a deep depressive cycle, he can’t stop crying and screaming. Days where he begs me to make it stop. Days where he begs his brain to “leave him alone.” Days where I won’t contact my family or interact with the followers on my page because I can’t leave him alone, and because I can’t stand the thought of talking with people and trying to act like everything’s OK. But you know what? He perseveres. He gives us the strength to continue. He is the reason we are strong. He is the reason we keep on keeping on. Through all of this, never once, not even for a split second, have I ever wished Liam wasn’t my son. I had seven miscarriages before he finally came into our lives, and I thank God for him every night. He’s one of the strongest people I know, and even on hard days, I’m happy he’s my son. Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam.

How Eminem Helped My Son With Autism Improve His Speech

Yes, you read that right. Eminem. So, my son Liam is on the autism spectrum. He actually spoke early, but he was super hard to understand. We were translators for years, and sometimes we still are. When he was 5, I was told that even though he spoke, he was still considered to have a speech delay. Let me take a minute and say thank you to the two women who’ve been my son’s speech-language pathologists. He’s been in speech therapy since he was 5. People can finally understand what he’s trying to say, and he’s doing much better with context. However, he sometimes stutters and still has issues with some words. This is where we feel Eminem has helped. I love music. We have always exposed him to all forms. (Hearing your 2-year-old sing “Jailhouse Rock” is adorable, even when it’s hard to understand what he says.) When he turned 7, he decided his favorite musician was Eminem. He loved to listen to him rap. I downloaded all the clean versions of Eminem’s songs I could find and filled Liam’s tablet with them. Liam would listen to the same song, repeatedly, all day. If it came on in the car, he would screech until everyone was quiet so he “could rap.” Little by little, he was getting it. If you’re a fan of Eminem, you know how fast that man can speak. He also speaks very clearly, and you can tell what he’s actually saying. This was great for my son. While Liam can’t keep up with all his songs, there have been a select few he has nailed. Of course, they are his favorites, and I really couldn’t count how many times he’s listened to them, practiced them and rehearsed them. We went out on an errand today, and Liam asked for “his” Eminem. I obliged. It wasn’t long before my partner Pita and I were tuning out Eminem so we could hear our son singing. He nailed it. Every word. (Except for the curse words — those are spun out.) To hear a boy who was once so hard to understand speak so clearly, so fluently and with such confidence — well, it warmed my heart. It warmed Pita’s, too. I commented quietly on how much Eminem’s music has helped him, and he agreed. When listening to “Slim Shady” 15 years ago, I never would have thought my future son would be such a huge fan. I also never thought that Eminem would be helping my son to speak better. Funny how life works. Therapies come in many different forms. Something that may seem like a kid just listening to music could be a child learning to speak better. Liam rapping along with Eminem in the backseat of the car. (DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way endorsing that Eminem will help your child speak better. I am merely relating our experience.) Follow this journey on A Legion for Liam. Feature photo of Eminem from Eminem’s Facebook page.

To the Friends, Family and Classmates Who Don't Invite My Child With Autism

It’s a scenario I hear time and time again: our autistic kids getting left out from birthday parties. Whether it be from classmates, friends or family. It stings. Some of our kids may not care. They don’t like to be around a bunch of loud people. But asking is still the right thing to do. Don’t assume they, or we, won’t want to take part. Include us! Let us make that decision for ourselves. If we decline, understand. It’s not you. We may be having a rough day. Our kids may need a break from sensory stimulation. We may have therapy engagements. There could be a million reason we can’t come, but you won’t know unless you invite us. Recently, it happened to my son. He doesn’t know yet. I assure you when he does, he will be hurt. He’s sensitive. He constantly worries people don’t like him or think he’s weird. I hid the pictures of this party from my Facebook timeline when I let him play a pool game on my account. He also has a generic account, that his father and I control, to play games. I logged into that and hid the pictures from that timeline too. It’s just a matter of when his friend says something about the party. He will know. He will know he wasn’t asked. He will then ask us why. How do we answer that? Maybe it was an oversight? It happens. Or maybe it wasn’t. We’ll never know because I won’t ask. I don’t like confrontation like that. All I know is, it hurt. When those pictures of his friend and the other kids having fun came through my feed, my heart sank. It’s hard when your kid isn’t included. We know how amazing our children are. Sadly, others can’t see that. Judgment clouds their minds. They assume our children are bad or a problem or a handful. Get to know them. I promise you won’t be disappointed. You will see life from a perspective you never expected. You may even learn a few things. Like tolerance, acceptance and perseverance. Our kids deserve that and more. So please, from one mother to another, don’t forget us! We matter! This post appeared as a guest blog on Kelly’s Thoughts on Things.

The Word That Made My Son With Bipolar Disorder Suddenly Change the Channel

When my son quickly changed the channel the other evening, my heart sank. Our TV is tuned to the Disney channel all the time. I love how they keep with the times but still have wholesome programming. We were watching “Dog with a Blog” and the son in the show, Tyler, called someone “crazy.” I know, people say that all the time, but here I am, with an autistic son, who also has bipolar disorder. He is currently in a severe depressive cycle and very sensitive. To hear this term used as a joke really bothered him. I used this to get him to open up to me. “Why did you change it?” I asked. “Because Tyler said ‘crazy.’ I don’t like that, Momma. Do people think that I’m crazy?” So now you see why it upset us. When I was growing up, kids called everything “gay.” If something was stupid or you didn’t like it, it was “gay.” As a teen, I saw no harm in this. The thought never crossed my mind that it could hurt someone. Until someone in my family, whom happens to be homosexual, expressed hurt in how I threw that term around. I never used it again. I reach out and divulge details of our journey because we want to help change the world. We want parents and other children to know that they aren’t alone in their struggles. We also want to educate our youth that some words should not be used an adjective. It may not hurt you to hear it, but I promise you it’s hurting someone else. This goes beyond just “crazy” and “gay.” Words like “retarded,” “short bus,” “insane,” “cray cray,” these words hurt! If you’re a tall, skinny person you wouldn’t want someone referring to you as “that tall, skinny kid.” You would want to be referred to by your name, or something positive about you. Same goes for someone with a mental illness. They don’t want to be called “crazy,” or “cray cray.” Nor do they want to hear you calling others that. “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is Bull! Words hurt, sometimes more than a punch to the gut. We are only as good as the examples we set for our children. So as a mother, I beg you to think about the words you are using as an adjective. You set the example for your children. If they hear you say them, chances are they are repeating them. The Mighty is asking the following: What was the moment that made you realize it was time to face your mental illness? What was your next step? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “ Share Your Story ” page for more about our submission guidelines. Want to end the stigma around mental illness? Like us on Facebook . And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night .

Son With Bipolar Disorder Writes Hurtful Note to Mom

Last night was a rough one here at the House of AuSome. My son, Liam, got upset with me because he wanted to watch a certain movie, and I told him it was inappropriate for him. He got mad. So mad that he shut himself up in his room to pout. For an hour. Liam is never too far from me. He won’t stay anywhere. He follows me around the house. You get the idea. So I was shocked. I let him pout. He even wrote me a letter on strips of paper. It came time for his melatonin dose, and he still wasn’t speaking to me. I waited half an hour for his gummy to kick in, and I told him I was going to bed. He wrote me a note saying he wasn’t talking to me, and he was going to sleep in the living room. Again, I was flabbergasted because we share a room. He can’t sleep by himself, and for any of us to get any sleep at all, this was our only course of action. I told him I understood. I bent and kissed his forehead and told him I loved him. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. I walked back to our room. As I was standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I heard the pitter patter of little feet. Then two little arms embraced me with such force, I staggered for a moment. I looked down to see his face. All red, tears flowing down his cheeks. He started to heave with heavy sobs. I quickly rinsed my mouth and managed to walk him, still grasping me with all his might, over to my bed. We sat, and he immediately climbed into my lap. My heart sank. He hasn’t cried this hard since his last severe depressive cycle. That was last year. It could come at any time. We’re on pins and needles, fearing it could come every day. I started softly asking him questions. “Are you OK? Are you still angry with me? Do you understand why I said no? Do you know how much I love you?” He wouldn’t speak, only answering with nods. You see, if he were having a meltdown, I wouldn’t be barraging him with questions. I know that would only make it worse. With a dual diagnosis of autism and bipolar disorder, it’s usually one or the other, or one making the other worse. (Example, if he has a meltdown and screams nasty things at us, he sometimes then goes into a depressive cycle because he feels bad for his behavior. Or, if he’s in a manic cycle, he is so high energy and stimming off the walls.) He started pushing against my body to rock him. And so, we rocked like that for a good 40 minutes. The crying became softer and then stopped all together. I took a moment, and I silently thanked God. Seeing your child in a major depressive cycle literally sucks all the life force out of you. I pray every day that it will skip this season, and we won’t have to watch our son in mental agony. He asked for the Kindle, and we sat and played a few games together. We laughed. We giggled. I kissed his gorgeous forehead. He told me he was sorry. He told me he was sad because he was afraid he hurt my feelings, and he doesn’t like to do that. I smiled and assured him that I too, (believe it or not) was a kid once. And I too, had been in a similar place with my parents. He handed me the Kindle, snuggled into my arms and fell asleep. I left him like that for a bit. Staring at his peaceful face. Silently wondering how I got so lucky as to be his mom. With all the struggles, the good days and the awful ones, I wouldn’t trade this child — or my life with him — for anything in this world.