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!

Understanding Stimming Means Understanding Autism

If you don’t know what stimming is, you probably don’t understand autism very much. I never really knew what autism was either and I didn’t much care until my child received his diagnosis.

I was so scared about my son’s future after learning he had autism. I had no clue how to actually help him or even make sense of his needs.

What kind of parent doesn’t know how to help their kid?!

Me! I had no clue what to do. But I was that parent! Maybe you are too. That’s why understanding what stimming is matters so much if you want to help your autistic loved one. *Spoiler understanding stimming helps lots of other people, including you!*

Being able to understand stimming takes the fear out of the unknown aspects of autism, at least it did for me.

The Case of Sensational Stims helps parents understand the parts of sensory differences that autistic children don’t have the language to explain.

And it explains stimming so simply, even children understand. It’s on Amazon.

When I learned my child was autistic, I was afraid. I was a first-time parent and was already worried I’m screwing up.

This news sent me over the edge. 

I couldn’t even explain what autism meant. I felt scared and helpless. Autism always seemed like something bad. Words like “suspicious”, “symptoms”, and “red flags” were now being used to describe my child. I was so conflicted. My baby was good. How could he be these bad things?

I didn’t realize the impact of this language until years later. That’s when I wrote this book for you. I don’t want any person to feel the way I felt.

I know now it wasn’t autism that was the problem. It was how much I didn’t know. It was also how poorly autism was explained to me.

Autism was always presented like some lurking, scary monster. It took personalities away. It could come without you ever knowing about it. It was something to be avoided at all costs.

My child was happy and thriving. He’s hilarious. He’s loving. There’s no way it’s autism.

But he responded unlike other kids his age. And his 17-month younger sister. It had nothing to do with my parenting. 

It seemed like no matter what I did, certain things were just different.

If it was very loud he had to get out of the room.

If there were a lot of unexpected changes he cried a lot.

If it was very hot he seemed to overheat.

If it was very cold he didn’t seem to care.

If he got hurt he never cried out. Even when it was clearly painful.

His language was different, but I could understand well enough.

No matter what I did he would always run back and forth. He would flap his hands. He would squish himself beneath the cushions of the couch. 

Some nights he never slept.

Food was often difficult for him and not in a “picky toddler” way. It was like it hurt.

I was concerned and confused. My child was amazing but he was different. 

But when I learned about stimming, all of his behaviors began to make sense. 

I realized what his autism means for my family. 

I was no longer afraid! His sensory differences are autism!

I also realized I stim quite a bit even though I’m not autistic. Most of us do!

Stimming is a sign that a person is managing things like noises, lights, food, learning exciting bits of information, having a big feeling, etc. A person stims with their body. Stimming might look like rocking, hand flapping, repeating a word, galloping, pacing, etc. Most people stim.

When we discover a stim’s purpose, we help people thrive.

That’s what happened for us and it can happen for you too.

Sometimes you need to be a detective to understand a stim’s meaning. 

That’s why the book is called The Case of Sensational Stims

Joey and Elise teach what stimming is. This book will help you understand what stims are and why they’re important.

My child is amazing just the way he is. His autism is an important part of who he is. We don’t need to fear autism. We don’t need to overcome it. 

We embrace who he is entirely.  Including his autistic mind.

Understanding stimming allowed us to do that. 

You’re here because you want to support your autistic loved one. Maybe you don’t know where to start. This book is for you.

This book:

  • Explains autism in a children’s story
  • Models how to support disabled people
  • Includes a glossary of important terms
  • Will help you support the autistic person in your life
  • Is a great place to start learning

Could My Child Be Autistic?

If you’re on this page, you’re either wondering if your child is autistic or has just been diagnosed. This page is here because when my child was first diagnosed and I was so fearful of what the “A” word meant for him and my family and our futures, I scoured the internet and library looking for answers. I put them all here for you. 

This blog is to help you understand autistic people better so you can help them thrive in a world that wasn’t designed for them. It’s to help you possibly prevent mistakes I made early on so that you don’t unintentionally harm your child. And mainly, this blog is to help anyone who knows an autistic person and genuinely wants to include them and make the world safer. 

First, breathe. Relax. You know that baby you wanted and hoped for and loved? They’re still there. You just paid such close attention you realized they process information differently than neurotypical people. Your child isn’t broken! You noticed their needs and processing differences. You’re a great parent for doing that! Even if you didn’t do it right away, that is ok. 

You probably noticed because their sensory processing is markedly different from your life experience and you began to wonder why. 

Perhaps the sensory world your child is exposed to is stressful, or exciting, or overwhelming, or something else. Again: you noticed! You didn’t just say “Oh stop being so dramatic!”

Or maybe you did, but you realized some things, no matter what, cause issues for your child and are impacting his/her daily life. Whether they’re autistic or not, you’re probably here because you know there is something different. 

These processing differences may be signs of autism, but if so, your child isn’t broken. This page is to explain what and how accommodations help a neurodivergent person thrive. We use appropriate terminology, unlearn harmful stereotypes and outdated terminology and practices, and evolve so that our loved one can be a happy, fulfilled person. Heck, you may even learn a bit about your own processing system or others. 

I am so glad you are here!

What are the Signs of Autism?

Are loud noises, bright lights, extreme hot or cold, strong smells, textures an extreme sensory experience for your child? Does he or she deeply enjoy or fear or melt down in these sensory experiences and it’s not like a neurotypical child? 

Does he or she love to get pressure (like a big squeeze or being in a tight space) or perhaps loathe hugs? 

Does he or she have unusual facial expressions for the situation (maybe doesn’t look excited when there’s a big surprise or perhaps appears overly emotional for a basic situation)?

Does he or she have language delays or quite exceptional at language for their age?

Does he or she have the ability to focus on one thing for an exceptional amount of time without getting bored or perhaps watch and rewatch certain scenes or shows for an amount longer than what you’ve done?

Does the person display struggles with knowing appropriate body distance between others in a social situation?

These are all indicators that your child might be autistic and if at all possible, a formal diagnosis is important and very helpful. Notice how these indicators were not referred to as a “red flag” or “a warning”. A diagnosis is helpful, but do not confuse autism with a life threatening illness. 

Autism is a processing difference, much like the difference between two computer types like a Mac and an IBM. Even though these computers can both do things, certain programs that work on one won’t work on another. Their interface is different. Perhaps you have a preference for one type or another. Obviously this is not a personal computer and I sincerely hope you won’t take your child back to the hospital because you wanted a Dell and not a Mac. Because the truth is, if your loved one is autistic, they were born that way. And you don’t need to mourn. It’s just different than what you thought. 

Think of all the things you loved about your baby. Think of all the ways in which they demonstrate their love for life. 

Imagine if the person or people who raised you thought, “if only they weren’t this way. I wish they were how I imagined they would be instead.”  Ouch. That would hurt. Maybe some of us reading have had that experience.

Hoping a child would “overcome” the way they were born is a terrible way to live and treat another. This page is to find ways to celebrate who your child is and help them thrive.

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!

Autism Acceptance Begins with Autism Awareness: Stimming

John Steinbeck once said, “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.” How true that statement still is.

Today we discuss autism acceptance. Society often looks at but doesn’t actually understand what autism actually is. I suspect this is because everyone has heard of autism but few can actually explain what it means. This is a problem that this post is designed to ameliorate.

Today I share with you how I came to authentically understand the beauty of neurodiversity.

I hope this piece helps you be an effective ally for any neurodiverse person.

Right now in America, 1 in 5 autistic teens will be stopped and questioned by police before age 21 for suspicious activity. People with disabilities, including autism, are five times more likely to be jailed than those without disabilities. This is a problem that you should care about.

“But what if I don’t know anyone who is autistic?”, you may ask.

I understand that stance because I once had a similar view. Today, I have a big favor to ask: read this like the person you love most in the world was recently diagnosed as autistic.

Today, 1 in 54 people are autistic. Statistically, you’ll know someone who is autistic and it might not look like what you think it should. Because as I noted earlier, most people are familiar with the word, many could not explain what it means, what it looks like, why it happens, or what supports are needed to help people on the spectrum thrive.

The truth is I would not have made this effort if it were not for the sake of my own child who was diagnosed about 6 years ago. I also know I am typical in this way; I don’t generally care until I see how it affects me.

Accepting and harnessing the power of neurodiversity will help solve a lot of society’s problems.  I’ll tell you more about that in another post, but today I need to talk about something more pressing: the safety of autistic people

Before I begin, I must note that I struggle to critique people in positions of power because I know at the end of the day, we are all doing the best we can. I am not anti-police, anti-medicine, anti-teachers, anti-psychologists- I am not anti-anyone. But I am unapologetically pro-safety, especially when it comes to my own child. Lots of people are aware of autism but it’s very obvious many do not accept autism. We need acceptance so parents can help their children thrive, so doctors can authentically support their patients, teachers help empower their students, and law enforcement do a more effective job when working with autistic people.

We need not just autism awareness, but autism acceptance. You cannot accept what you don’t understand, so the point of this post is to help us understand autism a bit better, nothing more, and nothing less.

Autism accetpance would have helped the Utah officers who shot 13-year-old Linden Cameron eleven times. Eleven. Times. I wasn’t there when Linden was shot eleven times, but I bet this 13-year old was stimming in public.

Why was this 13-year-old was shot eleven times? More likely than not, officers didn’t know what they were looking at and felt threatened because of their ignorance. Stimming can seem scary. Especially if you hear lots of sounds and noises and don’t know these are simply a very important way some people need to regulate their senses. I hope you can understand why parents like me, who are also parents of Linden, would want people in positions of power to genuinely understand the autism spectrum.

It’s the same reason Elijah McClain, a young black man who “looked sketchy” (that is an actual quote from an officer involved), was ultimately was killed through events orchestrated by law enforcement. It happened because of Elijah’s unusual appearance.

If we just accept that getting riddled with bullets is simply a part of life, we are doomed. It’s not normal, so don’t act like it. You can be outraged that this happened and still want to work with police so that this never happens again. And by the way, this doesn’t just happen with police. Abuse by parents, caretakers, educators, random people also happen daily.

But of the most pressing importance is that people in positions of power are stressed out when they see neurodiverse people regulate their senses in public (aka stim). A major reason for the stress – which manifests in fear- is because these powerful people are uninformed/miseducated. So let’s inform people properly so that everyone can interpret what they see correctly and help everyone thrive. But you can’t be informed if you judge stimming to be something to be “cured” or deem it rude and something to suppress.

Stimming can look like rocking back and forth, flapping hands, making noises. My son often stims by galloping back and forth and making grunting or squealing noises. The purpose of stimming is to work through a sensory or stimulating experience. That’s what my book The Case of Sensational Stims is about. It is now available on Amazon.

Stimming is a common behavior of many people, especially autistic people. It is often confused for “antisocial” or “suspicious” behavior that needs to be stopped. When adult autistic people stim, it is often interpreted as a person on drugs, which might be one reason why they are more likely to be apprehended by law enforcement.

My own child tends to stim more when he is anxious or excited. He often takes a second to stop or respond if he needs to answer a question, and I can clearly see how someone like him could get in trouble by the police. Depending on the intensity and nature of the stim, it is difficult for him to immediately stop or listen to a verbal command. I wrote The Case of Sensational Stims to address stimming. I did not want my son to have the same fate as Linden or Elijah. That’s the real, selfish reason I wrote this book.

But on a more positive note, it’s a happy book that celebrates stimming for what it is: a way to regulate one’s sensory experience and needs. Special sensory needs are nothing to be ashamed of. They simply need to be understood.

I also don’t believe in the concept that there are “other people’s children”. Linden and Elijah deserved safety. My son will be one of the most vulnerable in society because he is not in the majority class of neurotypical. People in incredible positions of power like the officers who shot Linden did the opposite of creating a safe environment. I don’t think they intentionally set out to harm an autistic child. They didn’t know what they were looking at. We have an education problem that can be fixed. But please, do not waste your time defending these officers. To do so would be to normalize shooting children. That’s lunacy. If you feel the strong urge to do that, this is not the place for you.

I wrote this post and my children’s book to fill the gaping, dangerous abyss that exists because people in positions of power do not understand some basic things that are critically important for the safety of neurodiverse people.

To be an effective advocate I needed to do the painful unlearning of some serious misperceptions, just as I am asking others to do. The Case of Sensational Stims, a children’s book I wrote to educate all of society about the importance of stimming is the result of my unlearning. It’s founded in my new education from resources written by autistic people as well as from my time spent in a classroom and learning about my child’s and my own neurodiversity.

My son’s “mysterious” needs are actually very relatable when I took the time to just listen to those who had similar needs. Typical behaviors of autistic children often begin with a question rooted in dismay (e.g. “why is he lining up his trucks!?”, or “why does she cry when I give her a bath!?”, “why does he keep saying the same words over and over!?”) and these same observations are often problematized by clinicians. Most of this unusual behavior is not harmful, but it certainly is different. And obviously, some stimming can be harmful if a person is banging their head against a wall or picking themselves until they bleed. My son often would bite hard things like bed posts and banisters. Something about the pressure on his teeth felt really good, but I feared he would only have nubs for teeth and all of my wood surfaces would have bite marks. We eventually learned about chewlery, got him a few options, and behold! His teeth are safe and so is my furniture! It was also very encouraging to know that this was a common need and that there were stimming tools to help my child with his unique sensory needs.

This realization took many months of agonizing over what I was doing wrong to make him want to bite hard surfaces. The answer was nothing! His sensory needs had nothing to do with our parenting. Relief!

But many well-meaning people try to “teach” their child how to stop regulating themselves if it is not socially acceptable. Instead of encouraging others to repress their stims, we need to discover what the root of the stim is and if necessary, help replace with healthy, safe behaviors. Stimming is an important means of regulation and supressing it causes burnout and meltdowns.

Before I knew better, I pathologized stimming. “He can’t keep moving around while we are at a restaurant!”, I would proclaim. I viewed my son’s behaviors like a tumor growing on his body, but if I am really honest, this was mainly because I knew others were judging his behavior and I felt ashamed and embarrassed. When I changed where I obtained my information, I gained a newfound perspective that empowered me to become a better parent to my child and teacher of neurodiverse students. I quit caring about judgement because I had clues about why he was behaving certain ways.

I realize now that all forms of behavior from all people, both neurodiverse and neurotypical, are important forms of communication. My son’s “unusual” behaviors serve a very meaningful purpose. For the first time, I saw beauty and wonder at his behavior like most parents of young neurotypical children do (instead of the chronic anxiety and dread I previously experienced when I saw him stim). And certain behaviors like running back and forth incessantly- one of his stims that led me to the path of diagnosis- was an indicator that he was regulating himself due to environmental stress. I was finally able to see it for what it was (for him, this was due to loud noise that hurt his ears). I now could support him appropriately (we use ear plugs/ defenders, or sometimes we just leave if it’s too loud). It was a miraculous yet simple discovery. I didn’t have to judge his behavior nor worry how others would feel about my child “running amuck” in a restaurant when he was really just soothing himself.

Getting information from the right sources is critical. Everything seemed to “fit together” when autism was explained to me by autistic adults (but no, for the record I don’t use the puzzle piece to symbolize autism and here’s why). I no longer hoped my son would “learn better” or “be different”. There was nothing to mourn; he just needed a specific kind of support that I knew nothing about. Everything came into focus, but I wasted critical formative years on a clinical approach to autism. If this post can prevent one parent from the agony or one child from the misery, my effort here will not have been wasted.

My transformational understanding is not overly optimistic nor does it discredit the real challenges and concerns that accompany those with special needs. But caregivers, whenever an “expert” pathologizes an unusual or undesired behavior or says it’s a manipulative, conscious decision made by your neurodiverse child, I tell you without hesitation seek a different advisor: your “expert” is a hack.

Advocating effectively is difficult. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the final destination of total inclusion and societal harmony. I also know I make mistakes even though I’m trying my best. I’m sure some reader will be offended by something I’ve written here and inform me what a piece of trash I am because of the way I worded something. I’m fully anticipating it and ready to do better once I know better (also I will leave room for the possibility that sometimes keyboard crusaders can be wrong).

If we want a healthy, thriving, conscious society, we need to call things by their proper names and take time to genuinely learn about what we don’t understand. Just because you can “see” something, as Steinbeck noted, does not mean you actually understand what you are looking at.

At the very least, we need to believe people -all people- when they share their experiences. And if you haven’t made yourself uncomfortable by getting to know the person –not the topic– maybe that’s where you should first begin. It’s important to support where we can, and genuinely ask questions with the intent to understand. It takes time to look, see, and interpret. You might have to unlearn some things. That’s ok. This courageous decision is an investment of your precious energy. I can promise you though, the reward is worth it. 

If you would like to pre-order a copy of The Case of Sensational Stims you can do so here until May 1, 2021. After that it will be available on Amazon in May.