How to Raise Happy, Successful Autistic Children

The most successful, happy autistic adults are the ones who were nurtured and loved exactly as they were as children. This means that parents celebrate who they are and do not mourn or chide who they are not. Though you might be having a difficult time processing what autism means, this blog site is a safe place to help you work through it.

While it may be difficult for you to make sense of what autism means for you and your family, and you may even be sad your child isn’t the way you expected, it’s far more important to focus on who they are.

Finding ways to honor and celebrate your child and their unique neurology is the key to bonding and growing as a family. You will be amazed at what you notice in your child once you shift your focus from what they lack to the abundance of who they are.

The worst way to raise an autistic child is to believe that they should progress exactly as a neurotypical child. They’re not the same, but there are similarities.

I will not belabor this post with all of the ways humans might need the same things. Instead, let’s get to it. From years of research, here are the best ways to support autistic children:

1. Successful autistic adults’ sensory needs are believed and met.

If you are not autistic, your sensory profile is probably very different. That’s ok. What’s not ok is denying another’s reality simply because it’s not yours. Sensory needs must be honored to help the child regulate, rather than being preoccupied with how you or others perceive the child’s behavior as either positive or negative. 

This means when it is too loud for your child, hearing protection is offered.

If the environment is too hot or too bright, accommodations are made (like offering cool water, or sunglasses/hat/shade), even if the adult isn’t too hot.

If the child needs a break, the adult allows it instead of forcing the child to endure the torture. It doesn’t matter if it seems silly or unnecessary to you; believe them first and watch your bond deepen and your child thrive.

2. Varying communication styles are tended to and counseled.

Efforts are made to understand what the child is communicating in both words and behaviors, even if they’re not typical.

The adult does not worry so much about their own “expectation” as they do helping the child express themselves. 

Many autistic people are gestalt language processors, which means scripting and echolalia are used to communicate rather than original speech. @bohospeechie is a wonderful expert in this style of communication. Other autistic people struggle to verbally communicate and might need an AAC device or sign language.

The most successful parents of autistic kids understand that all communication is valid, and finding a way to meet a child where they’re at is paramount to developing a loving, stable relationship.

3. Etiquette and other social norms are explicitly taught so as to avoid grave social interactions that often devastate autistic people.

This helps autistic people have positive social interactions, and understand how to navigate neurotypical oddities like asking how people are doing even when neither party really cares about the truth.  Rather than focusing on “manners”, etiquette is explained clearly. The rules and expectations of a community are outlined to the child to help them understand social nuances, rather than blindly break unspoken rules.

4. Interests are encouraged, valued, and never belittled.

This helps autistic people make true bonds and friendships and have a deep sense of self. 

The realization that certain societal metrics like grades and “age appropriate activities” are largely governed by neurotypical people for neurotypical children. Though these were not created with your child in mind, these are the expectations and rules of society.

Efforts must be made to create a unique barometer that celebrates your child’s progress. 

I hope this helps you.

Please follow me on social media @sentationalstims for other supports to help your autistic loved one thrive!

Einstein, Autism, and You

Albert Einstein is a theoretical physicist famous for his relativity theory and shifting human understanding of science to quantum mechanics. He lived a profound existence and is one of the few internationally recognizable scientists, despite the fact that he’s been dead for decades. He was also very likely autistic.

It seems odd how autistic people are described by neurotypicals. Autistic individuals are often exceptional thinkers and wonderful humans. They also have flaws, as every human has. Biographer Walter Isaacson, after explaining his echolalia, “tantrums” and “inability to form a true bond” with his father, noted, “still, he was able to display empathy.”

For much of Einstein’s life, he worked even as World Wars threatened his life, as his first marriage crumbled, as his second son struggled with health issues his entire life and all the other issues that are typical of the human experience.

If an autistic person is on the level of Einstein’s achievements, neurotypicals often seem doubtful that he could be neurodivergent because he is so successful.

But even in his day he was deeply misunderstood by those who looked at him from a distance, and even a few close to him. It’s this misunderstanding that causes so much unnecessary harm. This post seeks to positively clarify how autism presents and uses Einstein as a prime example to celebrate the beauty and power of the autistic mind.

Einstein was so successful BECAUSE of his autistic mind.

Why do people Einstein was autistic? Here are 10 facts:

  1. From an early age it was noted that he displayed echolalia, which is when a word/sound/or phrase is repeated. Many people do this because it is soothing (like when someone is humming a song just for fun- that’s echolalia). It is especially common for autistic people.

2. Early on he also had many speech difficulties and would “practice” how he would say things with a mental script of sorts. Scripting is also common for autistic people.

3. It was noted in letters from family members that he had “the inability to form a true bond with his father”, which is something that people have long accused autistic people of: not being able to connect with others (which is wrong). It is probably more correct to say that autistic children often bond in ways different compared to a neurotypical child.

4. He had tantrums that caused multiple nannies to quit. These were probably not tantrums, but meltdowns caused by prolonged sensory/emotional overload. Later, as a grown person it was discovered that he had a slight allergy to wool. Several fans gifted him sweatshirts. He wore them often. He also didn’t like socks, which is also common for autistic people with heightened tactile sensory issues. He often appeared disheveled because he didn’t like to comb his hair (another sign of a sensory issue) and needed to wear comfortable clothing.

5. He was forgetful of items all through his life and depended on family and friends to help him get what he needed, especially when travelling. What’s interesting is that Einstein found people who did not chide him for this, but simply helped him when he needed it.

6. He loved sailing on water and could do so independently for hours. He never brought a life jacket or motor, even though he could not swim and lived before cell phone technology. A common autistic trait is finding deep peace looking at or being in/around water, even if it presents danger. Perhaps this is one reason why he is noted as saying, “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”

7. His grandparents knew he was “quirky” but noted that he was just as beloved as any other child. Einstein’s family was especially devoted to him. There never appears to have been a time when his family members tried to change him despite his “quirkiness”, which I think is a rarely discussed monumental advantage of Einstein’s and why he was able to find supportive people all throughout his life. Many autistic people are taught the way they are is “wrong”.

8. He also had severe gastrointestinal issues as an adult, another common trait of autistic people. He struggled to cook on his own (which is not uncommon for neurodivergent people).

9. His second wife nursed him back to health when he lost significant amounts of weight due to stomach problems. Their love was unusual and unconventional compared to others, (they were cousins, too), but they offered each other what they could; their love was mutual and genuine.

10. He loved music and he played the violin for fun. It helped him express emotions and work through challenging issues. Part of his genius was discovering the order of the universe, and music no doubt is proof of that.

Music is universal in how it helps with these things, but neurodivergent people who struggle to verbalize often use music as a means of communication. He played with his sons as a way of connecting with them.

It was his ability to get lost in deep thought, in music, nature, and science, regardless of deeply worrying circumstances sometimes surrounding him, which led to breakthroughs the world had never previously known.

If these facts don’t sound like an autistic person, then I don’t know what does.

Einstein had incorruptible skepticism and independence from others. Despite dozens of teaching rejections he continued his pursuit of the theory of relativity. He was even denied the job of being a high school math tutor early on in his career. He also was given credit for helping create the atom bomb, even though he tried very much to avoid use of this type of weapon for moral and ethical reasons. He worked diligently to have scientists and policy makers talk before using such a weapon, but to no avail. Political leaders dismissed his quest for international cooperation and peace as “wooly headed and naive” and almost “childlike” in his requests. Some called him a communist.

The irony of being the man responsible for the bomb and also attacked an not intelligent enough to understand the politics of humans is not lost on me. His final years on earth were used to try to right the wrongs of such use of force. This type of impossibility had frustrating, but Einstein didn’t appear to waste time being mad about it. .

This is a similar situation that autistic people face on a regular basis. For example being accused of knowingly breaking some social customs because they’re “too smart” to not know, but then are infantilized and not considered smart enough to make personal choices for themselves.

He continued on despite what others would have likely used as evidence they were not worthy enough. This is another key indicator he was autistic: what social pressure would have broken an neurotypical’s resolve was almost inconsequential to him; it didn’t occur to him to be meaningfully bothered by someone else’s judgement!

In the early days of Einstein’s rise to the stardom, many anti-Semitic scientists accused him of being a disrupter with no respect for the work of Newton and other accepted “truths” in the scientific world. Einstein’s work towards the truth, despite the hatred hurled towards him is precisely what makes Einstein so magnificent. Also, autistic people seem to have a keen advantage in this realm of social dynamics.

Einstein had intense focus and unending interest in thought experiments. He was unaffected by social expectations and his entire life he refused to conform to authority’s expectations merely because they were the authority.

What usually can psychologically crush a neurotypical is a non-issue for an autistic person. Don’t get me wrong: autistic can people notice when others are rude and disrespectful, they just don’t let it affect who they are. It is not their concern. This is a gift to be cherished!

Perhaps Einstein was very aware of things he could possibly change, and things he could not. He was clear on his passions and tended to them. He loved his family, and also accepted there were issues in his family that he had no control over, like other people’s life decisions. Is this a weakness or a strength?

It is time we began to talk about autistic strengths on a global level. This neurotype is the kind that revolutionizes the world, if only we support autistic people at a young age. One way to do so is to learn from #actuallyautstic people. Google it. It’s a thing. Refuse any work that attempt to stifle or eradicate autism.

Einstein’s behaviors and unique processing are reasons why he was not only one of the world’s greatest scientists, but also why he was a formidable social justice advocate in a time where people like him were being hunted by Nazis.

Einstein understood his gifts and limitations. He said of himself, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

Foster passionate curiosity in your children, especially your autistic ones!

Follow this blog or @sensationalstims, or read my book The Case of Sensational Stims to get tips about autism support and empowerment.

Become a Better Ally: 23 Things I Wished I Knew About Autism When My Child Was Diagnosed

June 18 is Autism Pride Day. Autism Pride celebrates the beauty of neurodivergence and all the possibility it brings to the world. This post is intended to help us all be better allies to the neurodivergent community, today and every day.

Here are 23 things I wished I had known five years ago in order to be a better ally to my child and autistic community members.

The intent of this post is for everyone, especially neurotypical (NT) parents, siblings, educators, peers, co-workers, policy makers, bosses, and caregivers who want to support autistic people.

Also to the neurodiverse (ND)/ #actuallyautistic people, I hope I got this right. If I didn’t or missed something important, please tell me!

1. Can you define autism, right now? If you can’t, then you probably don’t know much. Keep reading and learning!

When it was suggested that my one and a half year old might be autistic, I was paralyzed with fear. How in the world would I help my child? Where do I start? I cannot remember the exact moment when it happened, but at one point the epiphany came: I knew NOTHING about autism and this ignorance filled me with dread and fear.

Once I was able to define autism without googling it, the anxiety began to subside. I became receptive to learning more and better equipped to help my child after his official diagnosis.

Start with learning the definition and do not attach judgement to it. Observie and learn, rather than rely on presumptions. When I did that, I ceased to worry about all I didn’t know.

Even if you know nothing right now, just learn one thing today. Then grow from there.

Knowledge is power.

2. Autistic is not a bad word, so don’t act like it. You’re allowed to say autistic. In fact, most people on the spectrum prefer this phrasing because their neurology impacts their entire life experience. However, not all autistic people prefer this. Confusing, I know.

Want to know what to do? Just ask the person what they prefer!

Does it feel weird to ask them? That might be because you think of it as an insult. Autistic is a type of brilliant neurodivergence. It’s not an insult. If you still feel weird about it may mean…

3. One’s level of (dis)comfort when discussing autism indicates how much learning needs to happen. So learn! I’ve written about it here on the blog, but also follow the hashtag #actuallyautistic to learn about autism from autistic adults. I share many of my faithful resources on my Instagram @sensationalstims.

4. Tell your child ASAP. Do not hesitate to tell your child. Why?

A. Hiding an autism diagnosis implies there is something to be ashamed of. I assure you there is not.

B. If you feel ashamed, you need to seek help. I say that with the utmost love and kindness. Lots of folks who have a neurodivergent child learn about their own neurodivergence and/or suppressed traumatic past. Seek help. You’re not too busy for this.

There is no shame in taking care of yourself. A healthy ally is an effective ally!

C. Your child is amazing. Learning from your them is a wonderful way to learn about what autism means for your child.

D. Most autistic people who were diagnosed as adults will tell you they’ve always known they were different than neurotypical peers. Your child likely already knows there’s something different- use the right words to explain it!

E. Understanding everyone’s unique needs significantly reduces stress on the neurodivergent person (and neurotypical people, too).

F. Tell siblings and people living in the house, too. Why? Because you live together! It’s helpful to know about family members’ different needs.

G. Don’t advertise a diagnosis without consent. But if the autistic person is a child and lives with or frequently visits another person/family, it should be shared.

5. Stimming is important! Autistic people have a different sensory processing system. Stimming is a way to deal and cope with different sensory needs. Check out my book about stimming. It’s an enlightening, sweet book about allyship and authentically represents what stimming is.

6. Some people will absolutely break your heart in their unwillingness to make the world more inclusive. As you become more aware about autism needs, some responses from family, friends, even medical practitioners may surprise you. Trusted people might be ignorant which translates to mean, ugly messaging.

It hurts. It’s confusing.

Sometimes you will need to let those people go and sometimes you can educate them. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of this experience and it’s rough. But I also have learned so much from my mistakes and from transgressions committed against me and my child.

7. Some people will restore your faith in humanity. Cherish those kind, loving people. Remember them instead of the heartbreakers. Become this person. I’ve also been on the giving and receiving end of this experience, too. It’s all I’ll ever need in the world.

8. “Curing” autism is wrong. Autism is the way a person is. Acceptance is the only cure needed. If you want to “fight” the way a person is, it’s a traumatizing, abusive approach. There are MANY outlets that want to “cure” autism. This is highly offensive. I was looking through all the notes I have taken over the past 5 years and early on in my journey I went to a training called “Fighting Autism with [insert the name of quack doctor here].”

I shudder at some of the “professional” advice I paid for, believed, and followed.

However, there are things you can do to support an autistic person to help them experience the world in a healthier way. For example, food tremendously impacts a person’s overall health. A common experience for NDs with sensory sensitivities is that they struggle to physically tolerate certain foods. Uniform tastes/textures tend to be preferred and this uniformity is a guarantee in highly processed foods. But highly processed foods have unquestionably adverse health effects.

There are therapies and support for this that I’ll share about later. Learn from professionals about ways to work with sensitive palates so your loved one can be healthy, and also have their legitimate needs met!

9. How to discover if a training/therapy is appropriate or not: replace “autism” with another group’s name and see how it sounds. By using a different noun instead of “autistic” in the description of the proposed training/therapy if it is problematic or not. I share this because it is often overwhelming to learn, implement, and adapt to a person’s special needs. It’s also expensive and very time consuming; most parents don’t know where to start or what to do.

For example, instead of the aforementioned “Fighting Autism with Dr. Quackenstein” training I attended (see tip #8), I replaced the word “autism” with the word “Latinos”, and said it aloud. Let’s see how it sounds: “Fighting Latinos with Dr. Quackenstein”. Wow!

It immediately sounds wrong. You can do it with any noun you prefer and prepare to be amazed and how awful and trauamatizing really intelligent people can be.

10. You may have feelings of guilt the more you learn about autistic people and their needs. Some may feel guilty with regards to their previous attitudes. Others might realize therapies/trainings attended in the name of helping were actually traumatizing the one you intended to support.

I know I have struggled with this immensely. All I can say is that when you know better, you do better. Guilt and shame help no one. Move forward by acknowledging your mistake and vow to do better by first listening to autistic voices.

11. Don’t use the terms “high functioning” or Asperger’s. The implications of these terms are laden with ableism. Autistic people have varying support needs that fluctuate over time, so instead of “high functioning” (because we have no clue how much effort/work it takes for an autistic person to be perceived as ‘high functioning’ aka neurotypical), it’s much better to say describe a person’s support needs. For example, “Sally has low support needs in the area of math, but high support needs in executive functioning skills.”

Asperger’s is often used as a synonym for high functioning and implies that a person is only a smidge autistic. Actually, Asperger is the last name of a Nazi doctor who did terrible things during WWII, including murder children. Also, Asperger’s (since 2013) is no longer a recognized label on the DSM-5. That’s because…

12. A person is either autistic or not autistic. Similar to being pregnant, you can’t be it a little or a lot. People are autistic or not. While neurotypical people may have some autistic traits because autistic traits are human traits, we are not all a “little bit autistic.”

Just like you would never say to a that because you and and a pregnant lady both have lower back pain that “we’re all a little bit pregnant”, don’t say “oh we’re all a little autistic” to an autistic person. It’s rude, untrue and not perceived as the sweet bond you think it might be. Also unlike pregnancy, autism is lifelong. A person cannot outgrow autism. Which leads me to my next point…

13. Autistic children become autistic adults. The autism spectrum is wide and depending on a person’s access to healthcare, support systems, intellectual capabilities, unique life experience, geographic location, gender, culture, socio-economic status, etc., the presentation of Autism and support needs will vary. But autism doesn’t go away with age. And since autism cannot be detected purely by visual cues, it’s always best to just recognize that sometimes people need help whether they have a diagnosis or not.

Getting an official diagnosis is a privilege. It takes a lot of clinical experts to get a diagnosis and it takes a long time to do. Usually people who can afford health care get this, while many others don’t. Respect those who have had obtained an official diagnosis and those who haven’t but have self-identified. Sometimes that’s all a person can do.

14. There will be awkward moments. Communication differences often cause social distress for both neurodivergent and neurotypical folks. Always presume competence and recognize that everyone is doing the best they can.

Most often, because communication styles differ, neurotypical people often feel offended by an autistic person’s linguistic faux pas. Because a NT usually has the social power, they are the ones typically considered “right”.

Neurotypicals, remember the inherited the privilege of being born neurotypical. It’s significantly easier for you to understand the social nuances of the NT world that impact every element of life.

As a parent who routinely finds myself in extremely awkward situations with my child and another person, I can assure you we’ve never died from it. Lean into the awkward.

15. If you’re not sure why an autistic person says/does/thinks a certain way?: ASK! My entire world shifted when I realized there are autistic people who are more than happy to share their insights and experiences and often do so for FREE!

There is no better expert on what autism is than asking an actually autistic person. Better than even asking, simply listen and learn! I follow the hashtag #actuallyautistic as well as a variety of specific accounts. This was especially helpful when my son was preverbal. These adults’ stories, wisdom, and knowledge stunned me. If you follow @sensationalstims, I share many helpful tips from a variety of accounts.

Bonus: I now get to ask my own child about his needs, preferences, and experiences.

16. There are lots of ways to communicate. Many autistic people struggle to converse verbally, but AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices, sign language, writing, and behaviors are all legitimate, helpful ways to communicate. If you know of an autistic person who struggles with speech, find other avenues to connect and resist the urge to only value spoken language.

Also, depending on the stress load a neurodivergent person is under, sometimes the capacity to communicate verbally significantly declines. So if a neurodivergent person doesn’t answer right away, even if they usually speak, this may be due to other mitigating factors.

Neurodivergent folks often shed a light on problematic social practices and confusing figures of speech by acknowledging (or not acknowledging) certain social things. Instead of writing off these unique observations/behaviors as idiocy, the kind thing to do is either to explain why something is a certain way or acknowledge that while something might not be entirely practical, discuss how to handle the situation in a socially acceptable way, but that still keeps the dignity of the neurodiverse person in tact.

Additionally, what neurotypicals may label as rude might feel direct to a person on the spectrum.

17. Neurodivergent Love Languages. I saw this tweet from Amythest (@neurowonderful) and need to directly quote it: “The five neurodivergent love languages: infodumping, parallel play, support swapping, Please-Crush-My-Soul-Back-Into-My-Body, and ‘I found this cool rock/button/leaf/etc. and I thought you would like it”.

These terms all relate to different, sacred ways a neurodivergent person might share their platonic or romantic affections. If an ND shares love with you in a unique way, feel honored because many autistic people have learned to mask their true self due to negative social consequences. Also, these ways to share love are not ONLY for NDs, but they tend to be more common for NDs than NTs.

18. Be EXTREMELY careful when financially supporting autism foundations. When it comes to autism research, not all foundations are created equal. Many of these places have worked to eradicate autism (read: practice eugenics). Here are some good ways to tell if a foundation is worthy of your money:

A. They hire autistic people to learn about autism and the autistic experience.

B. They find ways to support autistic peoples’ needs, not suppress or force compliance, and proudly share it with their supporters.

C. They do not infantilize autistics or view autism as a tragedy or disease to overcome, but celebrate the beauty of the neurodivergent mind and all the possibility it brings to the world.

D. Though autism rates are on the rise, it remains one of the lowest funded areas of study in the United States. It’s important to think about who we fund and who we don’t in the process of rectifying this sad fact.

19. Your attitude and language matters: be mindful of the words you use. How you act and talk about a person’s neurology will significantly impact their life experience. Much of the anxiety and depression autistic people experience are due to trauma, not autism.

20. Autistic/ Neurodivergent people live in a neurotypical world; they are usually not in positions of power. It can be very challenging, complicated, confusing and exhausting. Just because some things might be obvious/simple/easy for an NT does not make it so for ND people, who are almost ALWAYS required to make an adjustment, not the neurotypical person in a position of power. If you want to be an ally, explain things simply and give people time to adjust.

Pro tip: these approaches are helpful for nearly all humans!

21. Pathologizing differences is wrong. A common reason family’s fear an autism diagnosis is because it is often pathologized or phrased in ways that are similar to life-threatening illness. Here’s a common one: “Know the signs of autism and get treatment right away!”

I’m sorry, am I looking for a neurological difference or stroke signals?

Often, typical autistic traits are listed like symptoms which freak out inexperienced parents! For example, lining up toys is a common identifier when starting the path to diagnosis. Is this type of play inherently bad? Of course not! However, recognizing and diagnosing autistic traits helps people get appropriate services and assistance.

22. Address needs without attaching judgement. An ally does not judge another’s need, but accepts what it is and helps meet the need.

Sometimes autistic people are gifted at things that you might not value, and not very good at things you have determined are necessary. Please resist the urge to shame a person for engaging in “immature” play, or “hyper-fixating” on something you don’t care about.

There are things that autistic people will need to learn that might have been simple/easy for you or other neurotypical children. So what?

If you find yourself saying things like, “she should know how to do this by now!” or “this is so easy why can’t you just do it this??” Or “be more flexible- why do you care so much?!” These shaming statements do not support or affirm an autistic person, but encourage masking and burnout.

Remember that milestones can come at varying ages and give people time to develop skills and have a healthy life experience.

23. Celebrate neurodiversity today and every day! I am so thankful to live in a world that is beginning to tap into the power of neurodivergence. The more we learn about different manners to solving problems, viewing the world, and our own unique needs, the better of we will be.

Thank you for reading. I hope this all helps us be better allies to the growing neurodivergent community. Please share and don’t forget to follow @sensationalstims on Instagram and Facebook!

I honestly could add more, but I tried to write the most important aspects that helped my family.

Is there anything I missed or something you found interesting? Tell me!