Brittany Miller

@brittany-miller | contributor
I am a 34 year old corrections officer, advocate, writer, speaker, and mother to an amazing little boy with autism. My life goal is to make this world a better place for people with disabilities.

What the Urge to Self-Harm Really Feels Like: A Poem

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . Gasping between breaths, alone and scared. My freedom awaits me, I’m already prepared. Anxiety peaks, madness ensues, Shame takes over, insanity looms. The pressure builds and rises to my throat, Swallowing it down is my only hope. I reach for release though shaky, I’m calm. I just need a few seconds, this won’t take long. A mental debate replays in my mind, Hesitation feels like hours and gets harder to find, Grasping for reason through excuses and lies. Escaping reality in search of a high, But the air feels like smoke, like I’m breathing in fire, Being trapped in a net, a blanket of wire. Capped off from exploding the pressure boils to be freed. Just on the surface so I’m able to breathe, Bubbling over I reach for relief. Hesitation is gone I know what I need. Losing the battle and also the war, Once is never enough, my body aching for more. Instant relief like a balloon popped of air, The pressure is gone with every tear. The cuts will heal over starting tomorrow, Scar tissue will fill the void that was hollow. My promise to fight is all I can give. If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 . For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Andesign101.

To the Teacher Who Will Be Working With My Son on the Autism Spectrum

Dear Teacher, I realize you’re busy getting ready for the upcoming school year. You are probably spending many unpaid hours unpacking and organizing your classroom with little help. I know you’re spending your own hard earned money buying school supplies and your nights might consist of preparing lesson plans and schedules. As a parent, I see and appreciate all that you do and the extra challenges you face while just trying to do the job you dreamed of having. I understand sometimes it may feel like a thankless job and at times you may feel stressed and frustrated beyond words, yet you mask it with a smile because so many people are watching and counting on you. I wonder if when it comes to dealing with administration and co-workers you feel your ideas and opinions fall on deaf ears; I understand how invisible that could make you feel. I relate to how frustrating it is when you feel like you have lost your voice. Your struggles and plight to be the best educator you can be does not go unnoticed by everybody, especially parents like me. No, I am not a teacher, a paraprofessional, an aide, secretary or even a student. I’m not even a janitor, lunch lady or librarian. Nor do I have a teaching degree or credentials. In fact, when it comes to how the inner workings of a school are maintained, my knowledge of it stems from reruns of, “Saved by the Bell.” So how could a regular parent like myself relate to some of your feelings? How could I have any clue about the daily struggles you might face? It’s because I am not just a regular parent. I am the proud parent of a child with a disability. Just like I do not know much about being a teacher, unless you are the parent of a child with disabilities, a special education teacher, have taken special education courses (which most general education teachers are not required to take), or have friends and/or family members you routinely visit who have children with disabilities, then I hope you hear me. I want you to understand me. For us, there is no summer vacation or spring break where we can just relax and toss our worries and fears aside until school starts back up again. When it comes to parenting there are no vacations and our breaks might consist of taking five sips of coffee instead of chugging down the entire mug in a single gulp! But it doesn’t have to be this way all the time, and you as a teacher can help. Which is why I have compiled a list of ways we can not only help, but also listen, accept and respect each other’s feelings and struggles along the way. 1. Details. I need details! When I ask you how my child’s day was at school (my child has limited verbal skills) please don’t tell me, “Good!” Good? What does good mean? Does good mean he spoke and interacted with other children? Does good mean he made it the entire day without a meltdown? Does good mean he got glue on his hands and didn’t react as if it were battery acid? Because my definition of “good” and your definition of “good” are probably not the same. My child communicating with other children without being prompted to do so, isn’t just good, it’s absolutely amazing! My child getting his hands dirty while doing arts and crafts without asking to have his hands washed, or just quitting altogether isn’t just good, its a major accomplishment! My child going eight hours without feeling too overwhelmed and letting the effects of a sensory overload get the better of him isn’t just good, it’s a freakin milestone! “Good” is something a parent like me associates with you getting front row seats at witnessing a major developmental milestone in my child’s life! So I need more than “good.” If my child conquered a life-long fear or achieved something he has worked hard at for years I hope you want to celebrate it, too. But, I can’t celebrate something I know nothing about. This is why I ask. So please, take an extra minute and an extra breath (or two) and elaborate on what made my child’s day so “good.”   2. Believe me. Please don’t look at me as just another parent when I rattle on about what my child likes and doesn’t like. Because I am not just rattling. I am providing you with insight, tips and experienced tools of the trade that will not only make my child’s day run smoother, but yours, too. I’ve already learned if my child’s clothing gets a little bit wet from rain, food, paint or a water fountain, he will immediately strip them off no matter where he is at or who is around. I have already learned when he starts picking at the skin on his lips it’s a sign he is feeling overwhelmed and anxious and is on the verge of a meltdown. I have already learned he has a higher pain tolerance (which is not an uncommon trait for children with autism), and if he falls down on the playground and actual tears leave his eyes, there is a good chance he may have broken a bone. These are things I tell you because you need to know them. And don’t just listen to me, but believe me. My expertise may not come with college credits, but it comes from experiencing and learning all of these things the hard way so that you don’t have to. 3. Ask! Ask! Ask! Call, text, Facebook message, e-mail, Instagram, tweet or send a carrier pigeon. I don’t care, but please ask me for help if you need it. Don’t make it harder on yourself or my child for months about something I may have a solution to. I know it’s hard to ask for help, especially when it involves something you think as a teacher you should be able to solve on your own, but if your regular teaching methods aren’t working or you have tried every trick up your sleeve with no avail, I may be able to help you both. Asking me questions about my child is not a sign of weakness, it is the sign of a great teacher who cares about my child’s education. Just like you, I want my child to learn and grow while he’s at school. Please do not wait until both of you are frustrated with each other. Do not be the least bit hesitant in reaching out to me. It’s about how we can help my son together. Just like you have a degree in teaching, I have a degree in my child. While my degree may not come rolled up in a scroll tied with a ribbon, it’s held together by a bond with my child I can only trust others will believe. It doesn’t contain a typed out script, its wording can only be said aloud if you take the time to listen. The degree I have in my child cannot be placed in a frame and hung on the wall, but it is on display every single day if you take the time to look. And it wasn’t placed in my hand by a school official, but rather given to me by someone much higher up who believed I would cherish him and nurture him beyond measure. So please trust in me, listen to me and hear me while I share the knowledge of my child with you because he is my greatest accomplishment. I hope by the end of the school year he will be yours, too. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .  

Jerry Turning

To the Police, From the Dad of a Child With Autism (and a Cop)

Brothers and sisters, we are losing. We can argue about the reasons why; we can argue about the biased media, unreasonable expectations, poor self-promotion. But the brutal truth I’ve seen is many individuals with special needs and their families are afraid to call us when they need help. They are afraid we will hurt them. They are afraid we will judge them. They are afraid we will take their children away. That is both tragic and unacceptable to me, and I hope it is unacceptable to you, too. This is difficult for me to say, but in all honesty I’m afraid, too. I am a high-ranking officer in my police department. I am in charge of training. I teach this stuff. And as a dad, I’m afraid, too. You — we — are granted immense power to affect the trajectory of people’s lives. That scares them — us. We are family. I would bleed for you. I am calling in my chips and begging you to hear me out. You will meet our families at our lowest points. Understand the courage and sheer desperation that is required, given their utter fear, to pick up the phone and dial 911 during a crisis. You will be tempted to judge us — to “otherize” us. Please don’t. I am a good father. My wife is a wonderful mother. We enjoy the luxury of an incredible support structure. And if you were to judge me based on any of the four (yes, four) times I have lost my son, you could make a case that I am unfit. Families like mine operate on high alert 24 hours per day. I have not sat and relaxed during a meal with my wife at a family picnic in 11 years. We take turns keeping watch over my son. We sleep in shifts. We sleep with one ear open for the sound of the chain latch on our back door — not because we are afraid of burglars coming in, but because we are afraid of our son breaking out. We are constantly aware of the ignorant stares and judgment of strangers. We have to carefully plan and coordinate even the shortest trips to the supermarket. I’m not asking for your sympathy. This is not a tragedy. This is a challenge. And sometimes, our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need you. I am your biggest fan. I am your loudest advocate. I am screaming from the rooftops that you are, without equivocation, the Good Guys. But it’s so fragile. One negative headline spreads like wildfire and can become the accepted perception. Open your hearts and minds, and learn about our families. Approach us with genuine curiosity and empathy. You have no idea how much we need you. A version of this post originally appeared on Bacon and Juice Boxes. The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. 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 Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

To the Hardware Store Employee I Asked for Keys for My Son With Autism

Dear “Santa Jay,” I walked into your hardware store on December 5, 2014, not as a consumer, but as a mom. A mom who has a child with autism. I was no stranger to what I was about to do, as I have done it with other businesses more times than I can count. I was fully prepared for the “odd” look I assumed I was about to get by asking questions like, “Excuse me, but do you have anything that resembles a panel horn?” (My 4-year-old taught me that it’s the control box that controls the fire alarms in large buildings) and “Do you have any boxes with pictures of microwaves on them?” Yes, I know that bewildered head tilt, eyebrow raise and wide-eyed look all too well. It’s the look of confusion, surprise and sometimes judgment of my ability as a parent. I’m sorry to say that as you greeted me with a “Can I help you with anything today, ma’am?” I had already judged you and your reaction falsely. I spouted off my normal speech. “Yes, I know this is going to sound like an odd question, but do you have any keys that have been miscut that I can buy from you? My 4-year-old has autism, and he is obsessed with keys.” I waited for your eyebrows to raise and your eyes to widen as you soaked in my question, but you didn’t give me a funny look or even attempt to raise an eyebrow. Instead, what you said to me is something I will never forget. Do you remember what you said to me? I do. I remember it word for word. “That’s actually not a weird question at all. I get one or two parents a year who ask for those.” What you said may not sound like much, but to a mom who often feels lonely, isolated, judged and living in a world others don’t understand, your words really translated to this: You are not alone. And in that one moment, on the date of December 5, 2014, and in that one single second, I didn’t feel like I was. Your response gave me much more than happiness. It gave me hope, it showed me compassion and it demonstrated acceptance for my child and the world he is living in. Do you remember what you did next? You then led me to a bucket filled to the brim with miscut keys, and you even helped me pick out some you thought my son would like while telling me, “Take as many as you want, free of charge, and come back anytime for more.” This leads us to now, more than a year later, and your words have still helped me get through some of my hardest days. My son is still obsessed with keys, and he carries them everywhere he goes. He even has “key breaks” at school as a reward for good behavior. Those keys that you so graciously offered to me for my child have become his biggest and best calming mechanism thus far. Over the past year, I have brought my son into your place of employment several times to pick out new keys to add to his obsession. Sometimes we see you, and sometimes we don’t. But just recently I stopped by to get keys from “Santa,” and I had the pleasure of speaking to you again. You asked me, “How is the little guy doing?” and once again, your compassion brought me to the verge of tears. So I want to say thank you “Santa Jay” for not just for giving me and my child the material object we were seeking, but for reminding me I am not alone. That we are not alone on our autism journey. My son’s obsession with keys may fade over time, but I can promise you that the words you spoke to me never will. Sincerely, One of many mothers who has a child with autism The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to a stranger or someone you don’t know well who showed you incredible love during the holiday season. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

To the Hardware Store Employee I Asked for Keys for My Son With Autism

Dear “Santa Jay,” I walked into your hardware store on December 5, 2014, not as a consumer, but as a mom. A mom who has a child with autism. I was no stranger to what I was about to do, as I have done it with other businesses more times than I can count. I was fully prepared for the “odd” look I assumed I was about to get by asking questions like, “Excuse me, but do you have anything that resembles a panel horn?” (My 4-year-old taught me that it’s the control box that controls the fire alarms in large buildings) and “Do you have any boxes with pictures of microwaves on them?” Yes, I know that bewildered head tilt, eyebrow raise and wide-eyed look all too well. It’s the look of confusion, surprise and sometimes judgment of my ability as a parent. I’m sorry to say that as you greeted me with a “Can I help you with anything today, ma’am?” I had already judged you and your reaction falsely. I spouted off my normal speech. “Yes, I know this is going to sound like an odd question, but do you have any keys that have been miscut that I can buy from you? My 4-year-old has autism, and he is obsessed with keys.” I waited for your eyebrows to raise and your eyes to widen as you soaked in my question, but you didn’t give me a funny look or even attempt to raise an eyebrow. Instead, what you said to me is something I will never forget. Do you remember what you said to me? I do. I remember it word for word. “That’s actually not a weird question at all. I get one or two parents a year who ask for those.” What you said may not sound like much, but to a mom who often feels lonely, isolated, judged and living in a world others don’t understand, your words really translated to this: You are not alone. And in that one moment, on the date of December 5, 2014, and in that one single second, I didn’t feel like I was. Your response gave me much more than happiness. It gave me hope, it showed me compassion and it demonstrated acceptance for my child and the world he is living in. Do you remember what you did next? You then led me to a bucket filled to the brim with miscut keys, and you even helped me pick out some you thought my son would like while telling me, “Take as many as you want, free of charge, and come back anytime for more.” This leads us to now, more than a year later, and your words have still helped me get through some of my hardest days. My son is still obsessed with keys, and he carries them everywhere he goes. He even has “key breaks” at school as a reward for good behavior. Those keys that you so graciously offered to me for my child have become his biggest and best calming mechanism thus far. Over the past year, I have brought my son into your place of employment several times to pick out new keys to add to his obsession. Sometimes we see you, and sometimes we don’t. But just recently I stopped by to get keys from “Santa,” and I had the pleasure of speaking to you again. You asked me, “How is the little guy doing?” and once again, your compassion brought me to the verge of tears. So I want to say thank you “Santa Jay” for not just for giving me and my child the material object we were seeking, but for reminding me I am not alone. That we are not alone on our autism journey. My son’s obsession with keys may fade over time, but I can promise you that the words you spoke to me never will. Sincerely, One of many mothers who has a child with autism The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to a stranger or someone you don’t know well who showed you incredible love during the holiday season. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

To the Hardware Store Employee I Asked for Keys for My Son With Autism

Dear “Santa Jay,” I walked into your hardware store on December 5, 2014, not as a consumer, but as a mom. A mom who has a child with autism. I was no stranger to what I was about to do, as I have done it with other businesses more times than I can count. I was fully prepared for the “odd” look I assumed I was about to get by asking questions like, “Excuse me, but do you have anything that resembles a panel horn?” (My 4-year-old taught me that it’s the control box that controls the fire alarms in large buildings) and “Do you have any boxes with pictures of microwaves on them?” Yes, I know that bewildered head tilt, eyebrow raise and wide-eyed look all too well. It’s the look of confusion, surprise and sometimes judgment of my ability as a parent. I’m sorry to say that as you greeted me with a “Can I help you with anything today, ma’am?” I had already judged you and your reaction falsely. I spouted off my normal speech. “Yes, I know this is going to sound like an odd question, but do you have any keys that have been miscut that I can buy from you? My 4-year-old has autism, and he is obsessed with keys.” I waited for your eyebrows to raise and your eyes to widen as you soaked in my question, but you didn’t give me a funny look or even attempt to raise an eyebrow. Instead, what you said to me is something I will never forget. Do you remember what you said to me? I do. I remember it word for word. “That’s actually not a weird question at all. I get one or two parents a year who ask for those.” What you said may not sound like much, but to a mom who often feels lonely, isolated, judged and living in a world others don’t understand, your words really translated to this: You are not alone. And in that one moment, on the date of December 5, 2014, and in that one single second, I didn’t feel like I was. Your response gave me much more than happiness. It gave me hope, it showed me compassion and it demonstrated acceptance for my child and the world he is living in. Do you remember what you did next? You then led me to a bucket filled to the brim with miscut keys, and you even helped me pick out some you thought my son would like while telling me, “Take as many as you want, free of charge, and come back anytime for more.” This leads us to now, more than a year later, and your words have still helped me get through some of my hardest days. My son is still obsessed with keys, and he carries them everywhere he goes. He even has “key breaks” at school as a reward for good behavior. Those keys that you so graciously offered to me for my child have become his biggest and best calming mechanism thus far. Over the past year, I have brought my son into your place of employment several times to pick out new keys to add to his obsession. Sometimes we see you, and sometimes we don’t. But just recently I stopped by to get keys from “Santa,” and I had the pleasure of speaking to you again. You asked me, “How is the little guy doing?” and once again, your compassion brought me to the verge of tears. So I want to say thank you “Santa Jay” for not just for giving me and my child the material object we were seeking, but for reminding me I am not alone. That we are not alone on our autism journey. My son’s obsession with keys may fade over time, but I can promise you that the words you spoke to me never will. Sincerely, One of many mothers who has a child with autism The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to a stranger or someone you don’t know well who showed you incredible love during the holiday season. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to mentalhealth@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

How a Family With a Child on Autism Spectrum Prepares for Thanksgiving

Oh, the hours of prep work that goes into preparing for a Thanksgiving family feast… Peeling, cutting, basting, dicing, slicing, baking, mashing, boiling and stuffing. Not to mention the three-page grocery list, aisle change maneuvering. shopping cart dodging and baking aisle crowd surfing just to get the ingredients you need before even opening your recipe book. No wonder you’re exhausted before you’ve even turned the oven on. Now take that prep work and multiply it by (a minimum) of 30 days, 370 hours and 2,592,000 seconds, and you’ve got the amount of time it takes  for an autism family to brace for the Thanksgiving holiday! An autism family doesn’t just “prepare” for Thanksgiving; we study it, rehearse it, plan it and dissect its every last detail until we’ve exhausted every possible option for potential meltdown or sensory overload. We plot out our exact location within the house. Bay windows: too bright. Carpet: too scratchy. Kitchen: too smelly. Open doorway: too loud. Then we stake it out. We arrive extra early to set up camp. Electrical outlet for electronics, check. Curtains or dimmer switches for calming, check. Sound proofing (with headphones on), check. Next we surveillance it for potential “intruder invasion.” Do the doors and windows lock? Can my child reach the locking mechanism? If he happens to build a grand staircase out of Legos or popsicle sticks, can he somehow get outside? Are there extra light switches, fan cords, hinges or fancy sound systems that could catch his attention? And finally, “Can I afford to replace anything in this room should it end up broken or damaged beyond repair?” Autism families don’t get up at 4 a.m. to baste the turkey on Thanksgiving morning because chances are we’ve been basting and slow cooking our own “little turkey” since the day after Halloween. Not to mention 4 a.m. would be like sleeping in! Autism families prepare for the upcoming holiday far beyond just making lists, shopping, cooking and baking. We’ve inserted our turkey timer before the calendar has hit November. We only pray it doesn’t pop before we’ve had the chance to arrive. So if you invite us over to your house to celebrate, please don’t be offended if we stay in a separate room, our children won’t socialize or we have to leave 20 minutes after arriving. Because just like you we worked hard to try and make the day special. We planned and prepared as much as we possibly could. And we appreciate the invitation more than you know. Remember the holidays can be hard for our children. Routines are changed, crowds gather and different smells, lights and noises fill the air. But we’re trying. And even if the turkey is dry, the mashed potatoes are lumpy and the dinner rolls are slightly “over browned,” we wont hold it against you because we’re eternally thankful you chose to include us in your holiday celebration. Autism families don’t just celebrate Thanksgiving one day a year; we give thanks for every minute that lasts a little bit longer.

Why I'm Considered a 'Soccer Mom' When My Kid Doesn't Play Soccer

I used to be jealous of those “soccer moms” running their children back and forth to games and practices. I used to get mad as hell when I’d hear them complain about a soccer tournament taking up their entire weekend. I used to smile but then cry behind closed doors when I watched their children play. I used to turn green with envy that they had children so able and willing to play, and then shed secret guilt-filled tears because I wished my child was like theirs. But not anymore. It’s taken me three years since my son’s autism diagnosis to realize that I am a “soccer mom” too, my child just doesn’t play soccer. You see, I do drive my child to and from practices several times a week, but we call our practices “therapy.” My child also has days where he gives it his all at practice, and he also has days where his head just doesn’t seem to be in the game. And just like your child, when my child’s name is called, he stands up and we both know it’s game time. My son’s field may look different than the grassy knoll your child plays on, but it’s really not that different at all. My child’s “goals” may not be between posts dug into the ground, but I promise you he has them (he has many of them), and I promise you he tries his hardest to score. His boundaries may not be drawn onto the ground with white paint, but he knows they’re there and he knows when he’s reached them. And yes, he even has a sideline too, when he has caused a “penalty” or just needs a little time out to rest and recuperate. I do get to cheer for my child, and you know what? He also has “fans” cheering for him too. Therapists, friends, other parents and even the receptionist give him an enthusiastic high five when he excels at something he’s worked so hard in achieving. When he scores a “goal” everybody stands, everybody claps and everybody can feel the excitement fill the air. Every “goal” is like winning the World Cup. If even just for a minute, I know my child feels like the star player. No, I don’t get to sit on a set of bleachers or in fold-up chairs along a sideline, but I always get a front row seat. Just like you, I’m the first one there and the last one to leave. My son also has a “coach,” and even though the correct medical term may be “therapist,” they have similar jobs. Just like you, I don’t always agree with his methods. I get upset when I think he’s pushing my child too hard. I get mad at him when I see my child getting upset and he refuses to let him quit. I may even raise my voice at him, walk towards him and point my finger in anger. But just like you, I know he’s only trying to help. And just like you soccer mom, I also know the agony of defeat. I know what it’s like to watch your child practice for hours on end, only to see little or no improvement in his skills. I feel the same way you do when you see your child drive the ball down the field towards the goal with nothing standing in his way and a wide open net for him to shoot at. I too hold my breath in anticipation, muscles frozen, and feel like the entire world is moving in slow motion as I watch my child get so close to scoring, only to have his shot miss or get deflected by an outside force. I also know (all too well) what it feels like to hold my child as he cries, tell him “don’t give up, you’re doing an awesome job” and wipe away tears when frustration and anger consume us both. I’m proud of my child every day just for trying. I’ m proud of my child for pushing himself past his limits, but most of all, just like you, I’m proud to be called his mom. So you see, soccer mom, we really aren’t that different at all. Our children may play on different fields and they may strive for a different set of goals, but that doesn’t make them any less of a child. And it doesn’t make me any less of a parent. It took me three years to realize that the world is filled with “soccer moms” all driving their children back and forth, cheering them on, wiping their tears and feeling the triumph of a win and the agony of a defeat. Yes, I’m a soccer mom too. I just don’t have the bumper sticker or the sweatshirt that says so.

Why It's OK My Son With Autism Is Obsessed With Microwaves

So let’s take a minute to talk about autism and obsessions. Now, when I say “obsession,” I really mean obsession. This is much different than just having an interest in a person, place or thing. Your child might really, really like SpongeBob, but a child with an obsession won’t see, hear, think or talk about anything else no matter how hard you try to distract them. I’ve found that when an obsession takes over a child with autism, it can consume them. Also, more often than not, I’ve seen a child with autism develop an obsession with an odd object, not just a toy or make-believe character. With that being said, I want to share with you a story about my son, Granderson, and how his obsession with an odd object completely transformed my way of thinking about autism obsession. Yes, my 4-year-old (at the time) taught me, his mother, that when it comes to autism obsessions…just let them be. At about age 3, my son became obsessed with microwaves. Yes, microwaves! I have no idea what his fascination with microwaves was because he couldn’t verbalize that to me. All I know is that his life, and in turn my own, became 100 percent consumed by microwaves. He would draw them constantly — amazingly detailed drawings — he would talk about them constantly. He would pretend everything in the house was a microwave. And he would find them everywhere. I had no idea so many gas stations had microwaves! Probably the hardest part of this obsession to swallow was that he beeped like a microwave — constantly! We bought every pretend microwave we could find, and then I resorted to making them for him out of cardboard boxes because it was the only thing that peaked his interest even a little bit. My entire house was filled with microwaves! This was by far the longest obsession he has had thus far. It lasted well over a year. So when Halloween rolled around, I bet you can guess what my son wanted to be? Yep, a microwave. By now, I had mastered the art of cardboard microwave origami, so it wasn’t the effort of making the costume I dreaded. It was my fear of what other people would think of him wearing it. I tried to get him to change his mind. I’m sad to say I practically begged, but when an autism obsession is in full force, it’s like a Category 5 hurricane, knocking down any new idea in its path. What would people say when they saw my 4-year-old dressed up as a microwave? What would other kids say? Would they make fun of him? I dreaded thinking about the comments about how he was “weird” or “strange” and immediately hit the fast-forward button in my brain to see him growing up and hearing comments like that. He already has extra challenges because of autism. Why couldn’t he be obsessed with something more normal and that wouldn’t draw attention to him in a negative way? The silver lining was that a part of me was happy that he actually verbalized to me his own thought. It was his own idea, and he was able to tell me about it, which is a huge accomplishment for a child with speech delay and echolalia. And that is why, much to my own dismay, I gathered my supplies. One cardboard box, one can of silver spray paint, one gray sweat suit, one piece of cellophane, one black sharpie and one battery-powered push button light and we had our microwave costume! My son was thrilled! The night came that I was going to take Grandy trick-or-treating in the church parking lot. I dreaded thinking about the large number of people all gathered into one parking lot. I dreaded the anticipated comments and stares he would receive. I dreaded the fact that it wasn’t very dark outside so he would be easily seen by everybody. I was dreading the whole experience. But what I didn’t know was that my entire outlook on autism obsessions was about to do a complete 180! We got out of the car at the church parking lot with my son holding my hand and proudly displaying his love for microwaves. Before we could even walk five feet the first comment was made… “Oh my gosh, look at that little boy! He’s a microwave!” a lady said, pointing at Grandy and nudging the group of people she was with. “That is the most creative costume I have ever seen!” I watched the entire group turn their attention to Grandy. They were laughing at my son, but it wasn’t the kind of laughter I was dreading at all. It was the innocent giggles and smiles of other children and adults oohing and ahhing over how cute my son looked dressed up as a microwave. All evening long the comments kept rolling in. Everywhere we walked, someone was complimenting my son about how awesome, cute and creative his costume was. I could only take credit for making the costume, but I made sure to mention that it was all his idea. My son reveled in all the extra attention and all the extra candy he received because of his creative costume idea. He was the star of the show. All eyes were on him, all comments were about him and all reactions were 100 percent positive! That was the single moment that changed my outlook on autism obsessions. You see, it’s not about what the autism obsession is or how other people view it, it’s about the happiness and creativity it brings to your child. It’s about taking their obsession and letting them use it to be their own person. It’s about letting your child stand out in a crowd. Looking back, my child wasn’t afraid of what other people would think of him dressed up as a microwave, he was just happy to be a microwave. That fear lied solely within me. So my here’s my advice on autism obsessions: No matter how strange they may seem, just let them be. Let your child grow with the obsession, learn with the obsession, be creative with the obsession and, most of all, accept the obsession. Don’t force your child to change their interests because you’re afraid of what other people may say or think. Let your child march to the beat of their own drum, and maybe you’ll find that marching along with them isn’t as hard as you thought it would be. On that day, in just a single moment, my 4-year-old taught me the true value of acceptance, love, compassion, creativity and individuality. My 4-year-old taught me how to march along beside him, and for a single moment, he let me inside of his world. And it was beautiful.