There are so many efforts underway for autism awareness and it’s amazing to see how much those efforts have opened doors for– and many people’s eyes to – the autism community. However, one area that doesn’t often get as much attention, but truly needs to, is the support of adults with autism. There are a lot of people that still think autism is a ‘childhood disorder’ that people tend to ‘grow out of.’ But as we know, there is a large, and growing, amount of underserved adults with autism – many who had services and support throughout their entire life until adulthood, when those services were no longer accessible.
So, what can be done? One big step in the right direction is how some companies are creating jobs for those touched by autism and/or providing training to develop the skills people need for employment. One small cupcake shop making a big impact is Puzzles Bakery and Café based in Schenectady, NY. Half of the staff at this café has autism. The owner, Sara Mae Hickey, who has a sister on the spectrum, saw a need in the community for employment opportunities for young adults with autism and said, “A lot of us are exposed in our everyday lives, but it’s really great to put a face on that and to know that the person bringing you lunch may or many not have special needs and that’s just normal.”
The café offers pet therapy and other programs for those it can’t employ. Since Puzzles opened, they have received 600 applications, but the café can only employ 25. (check out more in this article). That just goes to show that a tremendous need exists, and places like Puzzles, while a start, can’t do it alone. It’s our hope that others follow in their footsteps so that we can continue to support all people touched by autism throughout their life.
I came across this piece by Katie Hayes in which she eloquently describes how having an autistic sibling has made her a better person. It seems we often hear from parents of autistic children, with siblings being a more rare commenter. Katie provides insight on how her life was impacted by her brother, who has autism, and while there are always challenges to overcome, she shares how having a brother with autism has also enriched her life.
Katie writes, “My brother caused me to become a tougher and more compassionate individual than I would have otherwise, but I am still passive-aggressive, impatient and slightly selfish. I’m not the one who deserves your kindness; he does. Growing up, he constantly put me in uncomfortable situations, caused me to put his needs above my own and loved me more than anyone else.”
When I first came across Broadway actor Kelvin Moon Loh’s recent Facebook post that started off – “I am angry and sad. Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater…” I was upset. Reading that first bit of the post, my heart just sank. I thought it was going to be a rant about how that child shouldn’t have been at the theater, likely calling out the family for being inconsiderate or something along those lines. Unfortunately, as we all well know, many of those types of posts exist. However, after reading on, I was pleased to see that the post was quite the opposite.
During a matinee performance of “The King and I” in NYC, Loh says that during an intense scene, a young boy with autism began making some loud noises, which drew some glares and unpleasant comments from other audience members. And, thankfully, Loh wasn’t going to take it. Following the performance, Loh posted a heartfelt request for empathy and understanding for the boy and his mother. In his post he wrote, “When did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experiences that we lose compassion for others?”
Loh, who was a schoolteacher before Broadway, told TODAY.com that he felt he had to say something and to ask for people to try to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. He said “parents of autistic children sit there with such fear and terror that this episode could occur. I was watching a mother’s nightmare happen, and I just wanted to have her know that what she’s doing is right in trying to expose her child to the theater, and there are advocates supporting her.”
And while Loh may not have heard from that mom in the theater, his message has reached others – whether it gives families touched by autism encouragement to try new experiences, or if it gives people a bit more understanding so that they may think twice the next time before passing harsh judgment.
We are glad there are advocates like Loh out there stepping up because we could all benefit from his message of compassion.
If you were asked to make a list of qualities of a true friend, what would they be? For seven-year-old Molly-Raine Adams from Ireland, her list is short, simple and something I think we can all relate to. Molly-Raine, who has autism, was asked to make this list as part of a homework assignment, which, according to her mom, Karen, she did all by herself. Her note reads:
Someone who . . .
anbrstans (understands) me
nos I have atesm (knows I have autism)
smiles all the time
cees me comgin wen im sad (sees me coming when I’m sad)
Karen says she thinks her daughter really just wants other children to understand why she struggles with certain things and how she processes her surroundings, saying, “Mol struggles with everyday things that people take for granted. She may start screaming or lashing out at me in a shop due to sensory overload when her brain is struggling to process all the sights, sounds and smells. Because she has adult like speech people don’t realize she has special needs and assume she is just being naughty.”
We could learn a lot from Miss Molly-Raine – and, in fact, that’s exactly what she’s hoping for. When Karen asked her daughter if she would mind sharing her list online, Molly-Raine said she thought “it was a good idea because someone might read it and tell their child about autism.”
Anita Lesko and Abraham Nielson will be getting married this weekend, and they have planned something significant to mark the occasion – they’re going to have the first all-autism wedding.
Both Anita and Abraham on the spectrum, and their entire wedding party and all the participants – such as the ring bearer, harpist, cake baker, groomsman, etc.) identify as autistic. They met initially through an autism support group, which was led by Anita, and after some time they went to dinner. As Antia describes,
“We got into these big conversations about our feelings, our emotions and our loneliness issues. That was the night that we fell in love with each other,” she says of that evening in May 2014.
The wedding will take place at San Diego’s Love & Autism: A Conference with a Heart, a conference organized by Dr. Jenny Palmiotto to bring awareness to the fact that every individual deserves to be loved.
Anita said, “People on the spectrum tend to not get invited to parties or weddings or anything. I figured our wedding could give folks on the spectrum an opportunity to get to attend a wedding and be part of something like that.”
Congratulations to Anita & Abraham! You can read more about their story here.
Jackson Cook is one impressive 8-year old. He took a very brave step at the beginning of his school year at the Twin Cities German Immersion School, where he is in the third grade, by giving a speech about autism. You see, Jackson, nicknamed Jax, wanted his new class to understand why he’s easily frustrated or avoids eye contact – and why he needs extra help sometimes. So, with help from his mom, Jax wrote a heartfelt speech, which he read to his class. In it, he shared:
“Raise your hand if you know what autism is. Raise your hand if you know that I have autism. It makes some parts of my brain work really well and some parts of my brain work not very well. Doctors don’t know what makes some brains have autism and some brains not have it. I have it, but Charley doesn’t, even though he’s my twin brother.
Sometimes I need help learning things that other brains automatically know. Like my brain tells my body that it is not comfortable to look at someone in the face when they talk to me.
The autism in my brain is something that I like, and something that I don’t like, but it’s part of me, just like your brain is part of you.”
When asked about Jax’s speech, one of his classmates said, “I thought it was a good speech because it was really nice and really brave.”
We know that for every four boys diagnosed with autism, there is only one girl diagnosed. And while that ratio may imply that autism is more prevalent in boys than girls, it doesn’t mean that’s necessarily the case.
According to a new study, there are significant brain structure and behavior deviations between boys and girls touched by autism. Girls with autism often display symptoms differently—specifically, girls tend to show less repetitive behaviors, such as hand-flapping, a narrow scope of focus, or even the need for rigid routines are not as prominent.
What this means is that girls with autism could be getting overlooked, or it may make it harder for them to get the right kind of therapy. This type of study could prove extremely helpful in understanding how autism differs between the sexes, leading to better diagnostic criteria and treatment.
Prepare to be blown away by talent! Seven-year-old Jacob Velazquez, featured in this video, showcases his amazing piano skills with a medley of Taylor Swift songs, such as “Bad Blood” and “Shake It Off.”
Jacob, who has autism, gives a shout-out to Taylor at the start of the video, saying, “I’m your biggest fan and I hope you can sign this for me one day.” (holding up her album “1989”). And it looks like Jacob’s wish will come true – after sharing the video online, Taylor responded via Twitter saying, “I HAVE to give you a hug for that beautiful piano medley you did! Please come to a show on my tour and say hi to me? My treat.”