Nutrition and Autism: It’s Not Exactly What We Think

When people say that they can “heal my child’s autism” with their special vitamins, I react differently than when my son was first diagnosed.

At first, I desperately wanted to get rid of his autism. I hate admitting this, but I’ve tried vitamins. We ate pretty “clean”. and part of my motivation was to heal him.

I thought this was because autism was always described as a horrible thing that would devastate our family unit. Autism was described in “red flags” and “symptoms” and I thought my boy would be “trapped in his own mind”, because that’s how it was explained on tv by authority figures.

I wanted him to “get better”, because the way autism was always explained to me, I thought it was a disease to be cured.

Once I learned from autistic people about what autism actually is, I realized my errors. At one point I became enraged at people who tried to take everything that makes my child so perfect and tell me they can “fix it”.

But now when I hear a person claim they’ve “healed autism” through nutrition, it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t offend me. But I wonder what they really mean.

First thing’s first. There’s no way around it: what we consume affects every aspect of our being. Nutrition is the very foundation of health and healing.

And yet, the word “healing” is often conflated with curing, and many of these same aforementioned people attempt to “cure” autism with vitamins.

As if a neurotype needs “curing”. 

I’ve also noticed that these same people who believe in curing a neurotype have a very narrow understanding of what autism is. Many times they will make claims about “severe” autism. So before we move on, we need to have the same working definition of what autism is.

Autism is diagnosed when a person meets a “smattering” (that is the official word used) of identifiable markers. A person cannot be “more” or “less” autistic: if you meet the smattering of criteria, you are. Can you have “autistic qualities” and not be autistic? Of course, because autistic traits are human traits.

But autism is a spectrum and autistic people have a wide variety of support needs, some with less, others with more, and sometimes these needs change with time.

Additionally, some autistic people have co-occurring conditions, which are often conflated with autism.

For example, autism is not an intellectual disability, but some autistic people are intellectually disabled (just as some neurotypical people are intellectually disabled).

In an attempt to keep this brief, the most common markers of autism are (but not limited to):

1. an obviously different sensory profile in which sensitivities to things like light/sound/pressure on the body are markedly different compared to a neurotypical person. Often this intense sensory input is dealt with by stimming, an important regulatory behavior that most people do, but autistic people do more often and often in more noticeable ways. Here is my book that simply explains what stimming is.

2. a different manner of speech and/or communicating compared to a neurotypical person.

If you noticed that both indicators of autism relate to not being neurotypical, you’re very observant. We will discuss the implications of this another time.

“Curing” an autistic person means to extinguish their very existence. If I were to approach you and say, “there is something wrong with your mind. It doesn’t work right. Every single way you interpret information in your surroundings is wrong and backwards, but trust me, I can fix you. Here take this medicine.”

It’s offensive and not necessary. 

Curing how your brain interprets information implies that there is something wrong with it in the first place. 

A judgmental approach to autism is common, especially in holistic communities, which I proudly am a part of (usually). Changing my diet has profoundly impacted how I exist. I learned how to heal my gut and improve my health through functional medicine and nutrition.

Holistic and functional medicine practitioners lose an entire demographic of potential clients because they ignorantly presume that all autistic people and their families must want the unique neurology of autism extinguished.

And many times these same people believe we need to cure autism because when they think of autism, they are talking about a very particular type of autistic person who has significant obvious support needs. They do not understand that you cannot “spot” all autistic person in the general public.

The same circles that significantly improved my health also call autism an “epidemic”, which implies it is a disease to be eradicated. 

While it is true that autism rates are “on the rise”, the exact reason for this has not been determined yet. These same “holistic” people will claim it is from exposure to heavy metals and toxins in our food.

But an important reason, (one that these people rarely acknowledge), is that autism is more diagnosed today than it was even 10 years ago. When people were previously called “quirky”, “different”, “odd”, “troublesome”, we now have an understanding that there are different styles of communicating, and that autistic people raised in significantly supportive and accepting homes can thrive.

In particular BIPOC and females are now being diagnosed more than ever, whereas before, these people were often hidden from society or brutalized in order to make them conform. Sadly, this was often done in the name of “safety”. If you want to read about this, please do yourself a favor and read In A Different Key.

But back to food and autism. Sound nutrition is paramount to everyone’s health. When we eat better and consume consciously, our rates of depression, anxiety, and chronic inflammation plummet for everyone.

Neurotypical people would do well to recognize that using language to “cure” someone’s neurotype is harmful. 

And yet it must be said that many autistic people also do not consume high quality food. Why? Many autistic people struggle with nutrition because food is an intense sensory experience for them.

For example, no two berries will taste exactly the same and each one can be interpreted as a shock to the palate (for some people).

Sometimes the smell or sight of a food triggers a gag reflex (because remember how I said a hallmark of autism is a heightened sensory profile?).

Is this example true for all autistic people? No.

Do some neurotypical people have heightened senses like smell, sight, or taste. Yep.

Do sometimes people think that they’re just picky and difficult but when they learn about the hallmarks of autism they realize they could be on the spectrum but never pursue it has been explained to them as though it is a horrible disease that needs to be cured? You betchya.

Processed foods are uniform and often considered “safe” by autistic people because it will not shock their gustatory sense.

There are ways to help autistic people become comfortable with diverse food, but it often takes time, resources and education.

Socio-economically disadvantaged families are unable to do this, and often opt for processed foods in order to feed their child. Because believe it or not, autistic people like my child will simply not eat rather than eat something appalling to their palate. They can do this indefinitely. It is not the same thing as a “picky” eater.

Wealthy people often are the ones who “heal” their autistic children, but what they really mean is that their child’s gut biome is healthy and thriving due to the nutrition provided. When they say the “behaviors of autism” are reduced or eradicated, it likely means their child does not have an inflamed nervous system and likely, their child has adeptly learned how to mask publicly so they do not appear autistic. Because remember, their parent has spent a lot of time and money “curing it”.

It should be noted that these wealthy people also often have insurance and provide early intervention like speech and occupational therapy, allowing their child to communicate and perform daily living tasks which enhance their self-worth and developmental progress.

We don’t need to shame people for these things, but I do believe we can do better for all autistic people who just want to live happy and healthy lives.

We can hold these two truths simultaneously: our food chain (especially in America) is profoundly damaged, and still make space for the fact that there are a variety of neurotypes and ways people process their environmental and emotional input. 

If you’re interested in me doing a deeper dive into food, gut healing, and autism, please drop a comment below!

Here’s What I Wished I Knew When My Kid Was First Diagnosed as Autistic

hen your child is identified as autistic, most parents believe they need to learn a monumental amount of information in order to support their child. I definitely took that approach when my kid was first diagnosed. 

But in hindsight, if you really want to help your child, an unlearning must occur. 

Most parents begin to observe that autism might be present in a child when developmental milestones are not met at the typical times. This often creates fear and anxiety within the parent.

This looks like: “She should be talking by now” or “Why isn’t he playing with kids at the playground?”

This is what happened with my child. It appeared everything was “normal” and then, around 17 months, we saw a regression in speech, as well as sensory processing differences that were no longer quirky; they were intruding on his quality of life and ability to access a typical education.

There was no doubt my son was growing and learning, but he was doing so in a way that caused alarm because it was not typical.

The alarm was that he appeared autistic, when previously he didn’t seem to be. 

I was always taught that early intervention was the key to a child’s success. I was counseled about the “warning signs” of autism and how it needed to be “treated” right away, or else….

This right there is what people need to unlearn.

The way autism is described to parents makes it seems like a disease that can grow and take over an entire person, somehow locking them away from meaningful relationships and joy. 

Unlearning that approach and asking better questions will yield far greater results. 

Better questions are: is your child developing? What external factors could be preventing development? Are you aware of your child’s sensory needs? What do you know about the autistic mind and how it differs from a neurotypical mind?

If you can answer these questions first, the fear will begin to dissipate. Autism is a disability because of the world we live in. The timetable pushed from the medical and educational community might leave your child out. 

Do not get me wrong, milestones are important markers, but if your child is autistic and not meeting milestones at the prescribed timetable please do not fear. 

This requires a great deal of courage because many parents are shocked by an autism diagnosis in the first place. Additionally, asking questions to people in positions of authority like school officials and medical providers is often perceived like challenging authority. 

Some questions I had to ask: How does one “treat autism”, exactly? If we don’t approach it like a disease, what else will happen? How do I intervene in autism, exactly? What am I intervening in, exactly? 

Years later, here’s what I wished I was told when my kid was first diagnosed: 

  1. Developmental milestones are approximations of appropriate progress. 
  2. Milestones are based on the neurotypical standard that dominates parenting books, and they shape our perception of acceptable development. 
  3. Our whole educational system is based on a neurotypical timetable that leaves very little space for neurodivergent thinkers who develop outside the typical. 

It’s for this reason my spouse and I feared for our son’s future. We were very explicitly told that autism was serious. We were coached that his natural way of processing information was something to extinguish as best we could with “early intervention” that could reduce “symptoms” of autism. 

The autistic way of processing the world is not a disease. Approaching your child as though this is the case is precisely how you damage and traumatize them. Autism is not the problem; our way of thinking about it is.

Our entire system is based on an expectation of socially accepted time and space for our children. If your child has been diagnosed as autistic, I understand the fear and concern you might be having, especially if you have not paid close attention to autism before. But very likely your child will not develop typically because your child isn’t typical. That isn’t a problem unless you judge it to be one.

If your child doesn’t develop at the same rates as others, doesn’t mean development isn’t occurring. 

And maybe they speak later, or achieve gross motor skills later. So what? 

Maybe they’ll need additional support like speech or occupational therapy that helps with the acquisition of those skills. So what? 

Your child isn’t broken. I bet your child has other gifts that are never asked about or measured on a pediatric chart. But you could chart them if that’s what’s needed to celebrate. And you need to celebrate them just as all children need to be celebrated for exactly who they are. 

Parents must get used to the idea that the way their child grows could look different than others, and that’s perfectly fine. 

I remember very vividly a time when I was taking my then three year old to daycare. I was constantly worrying about his lack of speech and what I would do. I worried about his intelligence multiple times per hour. “What is happening inside his mind? Why can’t he repeat after me? What is happening? He used to make sounds, right?”  

I buckled him in and got in the car, and he began making all kinds of sounds as I began to reverse the car. I said, “what’s wrong?!”, surprised by the sounds he made. 

My first inclination was that we were in a rush, and stopping for what seemed like “nothing”. We were always running late, and I was stressed. And yet, I could not help but be shocked by this unusual interaction.

He kept making the sounds, never ceasing until I put the car in park. At the time, he struggled to point, which is a common issue for autistic children. It seemed he was alerting me to the front of the car, so I opened the door and saw my coffee mug resting on the hood of my car. I could not believe he noticed that and that he felt compelled to alert me. 

In that moment, I was overcome with emotion.  I realized my son notices so much he probably cannot begin to say all the things he observes. I felt so proud of him, and if I am honest, I was proud of myself. Instead of writing off his attempt to communicate, I listened to it. It was different than his sister, but he was engaging me as best he could. 

That moment was transformative. I began to witness all kinds of tiny interactions he was making; I was oblivious to them because of my expectations of how it should be. 

From that moment, I shifted and I write this in the hopes that you will too.

Thank you for being here!

Why Is It So Difficult to Understand Autism?

“For as soon as an unexpected fact appears, we try to fit it in the framework of the common places of acquired knowledge and we are indignant that anyone should dare experiment further.”

– Paramhansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi

Yogananda’s quote regards the human approach to science and the nature of the universe, but when I apply it to the neurotypical understanding of autism, it seems to fit just right.

Autism is often unexpected by families. It is also commonly explained as a deficiency that needs lots of therapy and remediation, rather than a neutral neurological processing difference compared to the neurotypical processing. Our introduction to autism is usually one cloaked in words like “reg flags”, “symptoms”, and “disorders”. Because of this negative introduction, unwitting parents and caregivers are on defense for anything related autism.

Parents especially fear autism, yet understand their child is also perfect the way they are. Often they’re perplexed because they note the growth, intelligence and creativity of a child, but observed they’re markedly different than typical peers. This duality of understanding is the source of so much anguish and frustration. It doesn’t need to be this way.

This may also be due not just to negative explanations of autism, but also because people conflate autism with a form of intellectual disability. These two things are not mutual, though autistic people (and neurotypical people) can also have intellectual disabilities.

Here’s the entire quote from Yogananda, and just for fun, let’s pretend that this it is about the understanding of neurological processing differences:

“The truths- those surprising, amazing, unforeseen truths which our descendants will discover are even now around us, staring us in the eyes, so to speak. And yet we do not see them. But it is not enough to say we do not see them. We do not wish to see them. For as soon as an unexpected fact appears, we try to fit it in the framework of the common places of acquired knowledge and we are indignant that anyone should dare experiment further.”

– Paramhansa Yogananda, from Autobiography of a Yogi

If an autistic person’s behavior does not make sense to you please consider doing the following:

  1. Observe the behavior without judgment. This will be nearly impossible, so here’s an easier way: every time you witness the behavior, check your thoughts to see when you are deeming something socially appropriate or inappropriate.  Observe how you feel when you witness this. Consider your emotions as you observe. Are you uncomfortable? Angry? Embarrassed? Curious?

Once you’ve understood through which lens you are witnessing the behavior, be aware this is impacting your ability to “see” the behavior for what it is.

Behavior is a form of communication and for many autistic people, their bodies are important means to communicate when they are unable to verbally articulate their needs. 

  1. Ask the autistic person when they’re in a rested state what their behavior means. Often, they will tell you. If you interrupt to tell them why it is bad/wrong/unacceptable, remember that they will likely stop telling you in the future or find deep shame in trying to meet their own needs. 

If the person is too young to explain or unable to articulate what/why, consider searching the web for autistic voices who can explain things. Do not ask when they’re overstimulated, as answering may be impossible in that moment.

A group that substantially changed my understanding of autism was the closed Facebook Group “Autism Inclusivity”. This is an educational group where parents and caregivers of autistic kids can ask autistic adults about behaviors and intentions.

Caution: read the rules and observe first. Learn about etiquette in safe spaces for autistic people. Ableism and sympathy for neurotypical people will not be present here; this is because most other every place in the world favors the neurotypical. Go there to learn and be amazed. Also, on my Instagram page, I repost daily tips from #actuallyautistic people and neurodiversity affirming clinicians and researchers. My handle is @sensationalstims.

If you want to understand autism, learn from autistic people!

3. Do you understand sensory differences? I didn’t. I am embarrassed to admit this, but I thought we all kind of had the same sensory experiences. Autistic people usually have heightened senses that, unless supported, are often overwhelming and can cause anxiety, fatigue, burnout, and meltdowns. Learn what your child’s sensory needs are.

I urge us to all remember how we were initially instructed about autism: we were trained to believe autism is a deficiency that needs adjustment, instead of a processing difference that needs support, especially for those of us struggling to understand an autistic family member, friend, student, or client.

Fill out this form to get a free resource to understand sensory differences and stimming!

Or buy my book The Case of Sensational Stims to learn what stimming is and why it’s so important. Available online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Wal-Mart. 

Thank you for being here. Getting curious is the first step to creating an inclusive, safe world for everyone, especially autistic people!

Difficult Behaviors, Autism, and Trauma

If your child is struggling at home or at school in significant ways that are impeding their personal growth, I hope you read this post. 

Many autistic people’s behaviors are misunderstood. I hope this post helps us understand what we are looking at! We do not need to fear autism, we need to learn how to support autistic people.

Typical trauma responses to situations perceived as dangerous are: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. 

When the fear center of the brain is activated, higher level thoughts are unable to be accessed. 

The purpose of this post is to help anyone who works with an autsitic person understand how to support a person whose fear center is activated and a trauma response is happening.

Every human has a genetic predisposition to one of these four responses. Here’s what this means for autistic people:

Autistic people process situations differently, compared to neurotypical people (that’s why they’re diagnosed as autistic!). They process things so differently that it is disabling. 

Autistic people are frequently placed in situations perceived as dangerous because of their unique processing system.

Prolonged time in stressful environments becomes dangerous; the autistic person knows it means pain. 

For example, autistic people usually have a unique sensory profile that makes a typical situation extremely stressful. Often things like lights/temperature/sound can be so overstimulating that it registers as pain or discomfort. 

Trauma responses will be triggered in these situations, and we are all hardwired to react in one of four ways. 

Fawn=trying to please someone who causes discomfort as a means of trying to avoid conflict.

Flight= trying to escape/elope to avoid the perceived danger.

Freeze= the inability to move when danger is present.

Fight= facing the perceived threat aggressively.

Autistic children in school who have a fawn or freeze response generally are perceived as “good kids” and will be described by their teachers as “wonderful students. I can’t imagine why they fall apart at home!”

Autistic children who have a flight response are often considered liabilities, and efforts are made to keep them close to the location they’re trying to flee. Yes, even though that location is determined to be dangerous by the autistic person.

Autistic children who fight are considered dangerous and threatening. These are the ones who are often scolded and chided. They are either placed in a separate area so as not to harm others, rather than taught how to regulate and work through situations that are perceived as dangerous. These children are frequently misunderstood and consequently perpetually frustrated. 

This creates a dangerous cycle for both the child and all those who work with him/her. The child learns that the way they respond to danger is “incorrect”, which means that their entire life they will either try to figure out what is wrong with them, or will find everyone else to misunderstand their needs, causing shame, anger, and guilt. 

To avoid these unfortunate, traumatizing situations, we need to understand what fear responses are, and how to help unpack the situation, rather than to just get the child to behave the way we want in the moment.

Frequent exposure to painful situations means danger will be detected.This is true for any human. 

If your child is struggling with one of these trauma responses, you’ll need to determine what their perceived danger is. It is likely something with their senses, and because autistic people, especially young ones, tend to struggle with communication, you will need to look and listen closely to determine the trigger. 

Just because it isn’t triggering to you or the teacher means the situation isn’t for the autistic person. 

Once you do that, you can help your child work through the pain. Provide sensory tools that can help them cope. For example, if it’s very bright, offer them sunglasses. If it’s loud, offer noise canceling headphones. If needed, leave the situation with the child. 

I know some of you are saying, “this is not realistic! I cannot leave every time my child is overwhelmed!” But maybe not every time. Just for right now. Demonstrate to your child you see that they’re in need. Then give them what they need. They will begin to trust you, rather than distrust people who frequently put them in situations perceived as dangerous.

If you find the approach of meeting a child’s needs especially triggering, it would be wise to consider why that is. If your parents taught you that meeting a child’s needs was not “good parenting”, working with a therapist can help you unpack that.

The truth is helping a child, especially a child with sensory processing and communication issues feel validated and understood, creates a happy, healthy adult. 

We do not need to fear autism, we need to learn how to support autistic people!

Thank you for being here. If you found this helpful, please follow this page. If there’s any other things you could use support with, please message me and I can provide resources! 

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.

How Should I Tell My Child They’re Autistic?

“How should I tell my child they’re autistic?”

-Many concerned parents

I cannot count how many parents have messaged me about this question. It’s so many that keeping track would depress me.

Some parents approach their child’s neurology almost like “the birds and the bees” talk. It feels weird and awkward. But of course, your child’s neurology is not something that should be awkward or a source of fear or shame. Why is it though? I mean, we would never fear telling a child she was diabetic or epileptic- NOT knowing those things causes more issues. The same is true for autism.

Some parents fear telling their child will limit them in some way; almost like uttering this truth will unleash some kind of power over the child. These parents treat sharing their child’s autism diagnosis  like characters in Harry Potter reacted to the name “Voldemort”. 

This kind of makes sense to me. 

Many parents are scared of what autism really means. They don’t know what to do about it, but they know it’s there. 

To call autism by its name somehow gives it more power, maybe? 

And maybe by not calling it by name, a child won’t be so “autistic-y”.

I say that tongue in cheek- but it baffles me how conflicted parents get about this. 

I told my child when he was about 4 because that’s when I first realized he is perfectly fine the way he is. I wished I had told him sooner.  If you know and your child is much older, please do not fret. But take a moment, read the rest of this post, and then tell them!

I started by explaining stimming because that’s how I noticed my child had a different processing system; it was my clue he might be autistic. I didn’t know what stimming was until an autistic adult shared it with me.

Stimming is how a person physically regulates their body when there is a lot of external input. It might be rocking, hand flapping, echolalia, galloping, etc. It explained so much about my child; everything fell into place after that. 

I realized that my son stims a certain way when it’s too loud. He stims differently when he’s excited about something. He stims another way when he is anxious. My son is mostly verbal, but when he is feeling big feelings, he really struggles to articulate his needs. His stims are not random or arbitrary, they are my clue to assist him when he isn’t verbal.

So to answer the question of how to tell your child they’re autistic I say: start with stimming. 

Explain what stimming is to your child (and any of their siblings). I wrote a book about it called The Case of Sensational Stims and it’s on Amazon now. Demonstrate how you stim (because you probably do), but explain that it’s very important for your autistic child because their brain processes information in a particular way. Their particular way has a name.

Their mind is autistic and those who aren’t autistic are called allistic. We all process information a bit differently. No one type is better or worse, they’re just different and we need to honor everyone’s brain (or neurology).

Boom. You did it!

Then… you keep lines of communication open. 

No, you don’t need to talk about it every day, but make sure you say the word autism. There’s not one thing to be ashamed of. Your child was born with a phenomenal mind.   

Ask your child(ren) what autism means to them. Learn from them. Learn with them, Coach them. And remember, autism presents differently in every person. Stims evolve over time. Some things that used to be hard get easier and vice versa. 

The best way to start is to figure out why it feels so uncomfortable for the parent. It’s usually because they don’t know much. Learn from #acutallyautistic people and buy my book on stimming on Amazon. It’s a great way to get started, if I do say so myself. 😉

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

Autism and Standard Pediatric Development

“Life is not linear. When you follow your own true north you create new opportunities, meet different people, have different experiences and create a different life.” -Ken Robinson
Autism usually doesn’t follow typical pediatric development and this is usually why parents are so alarmed at the possibility of an autism diagnosis. 

The autistic child is a-typical. They are the minority neurological type which means their way of processing the world falls outside the norm of neurological processing.

Autistic children tend to not develop typically, which is usually how parents are tipped off that their child is autisitc in the first place. 

When children fall outside of the standard development time frame of speaking, writing, walking, etc, parents are fearful (unless of course the milestone is met early, in which case their child is a genius). The fear of autism is largely rooted in ignorance and the way many medical professionals describe autism. They say things like “red flags” and “treating autism” and “suspect a neurological disorder” and other such turns of phrase that can scare an uninformed parent witless. 

Doctors are usually amazing, but the average pediatrician do not know much about autism save a few hours of (likely) outdated instruction from a textbook unless they have a personal relationship to an autistic person or took time out of their busy life to learn on their own. 

Development and growth of a child, especially an autistic one, should not be compared to that of a neurotypical child. But developmental milestones are based on the standard and anything that falls outside of the standard progression is almost always the concern.

I am not a medical doctor, so please do not use this for medical advice. My page is a starting point to get people’s mindset shifted. This exists to help people who care to reframe their thinking about neurodiversity.

This page is to help anyone who knows autistic people but doesn’t know what autism really means. Better questions to ask if your child falls outside typical developmental milestones might be:

Is my child learning?

Are they growing?

What do I know about autism?

Is my child distressed often over things that aren’t a big deal to me? Figure out what you know and why you think what you do! 

Usually parents notice sensory differences that prevent a child from interacting with his/her environment, which can prevent growth. And when this happens a parent will say “I don’t understand” but what this usually means is: “I liked this thing when I was their age”, or “other children love this”, or “I was told this is the right way and my kid isn’t falling in line”, or “this isn’t making them happy and it doesn’t make sense”, or “other kids are already doing this but my kid is not”.

The parents who struggle the most with the possibility of an autism diagnosis tend to be the ones who are unwilling to adjust their perspectives.
A struggling parent usually leads to a child that struggles.

An autistic child is a unique individual with their own needs. Figure out what they are. Once you meet their sensory needs and your child is regulated, watch them blossom. Enjoy your child for who they are, not who you imagined they would be.

Please like and share this post with anyone who might benefit.

Follow @sensationalstims on Instagram for daily tips and support!

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.

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.