Category Archives: Inspiration

15 Tips for Hosting a Sensitive Santa in Your Community


A preverbal child approaches Santa in his own way and time.

Early on a Sunday morning our years ago, my husband and I drove our children Bronwyn and Callum an hour away to a mostly empty shopping mall for “Sensitive Santa.”  It was advertised as a Santa event for special needs kids.  Supposedly, there would be no lines, little waiting, and there would be efforts to make the setup more “sensory friendly” for children with special needs, in particular autism.  We made an appointment and had high hopes.When we arrived, we were disappointed to discover that there wasn’t anyone present to really manage the “appointments.”  There was a line, filled with children in wheelchairs, autistic kids in full meltdown, and babies with oxygen tanks.  No seating or room to allow them to wait comfortably.  And, although the mall was empty and fairly quiet, the Christmas train in the center court was still running, and we were all standing under the bright, florescent lighting that so many special needs kids are overly sensitive to.



Another child is still “warming up” to the idea of Santa, who sits patiently nearby – with no pressure.

By the time we approached Santa – who barely interacted with the kids at all – we were disenchanted to say the least.  There was a photographer, who appeared to be a bored high school student.  We paid her $20 to take a single photo in which my son was staring off into the distance.  We escaped with our single photograph and a not so wonderful Santa memory. I got to thinking that this could be done better.  I spoke with a colleague, a school psychologist, who also attends my church.  Together, we came up with a plan and made it happen.  We’ve just finished our third successful year of Sensitive Santa.  Here’s what we did and what we’ve learned.


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    Sometimes we’re braver with daddy nearby.

    Location is key.  You’ll first want to secure the perfect place.  That’s not going to be a mall or shopping center.  You’ll want a place with gentle lighting.  And, ideally, it should look homey and inviting.  We chose our church’s “guild room” in our parish hall – which is a room normally used for confirmation classes and brides getting ready before weddings.  It has a couch, a fireplace, and is carpeted.  It helped that just outside the room are tables and a kitchen.  Churches can be perfect locations for Sensitive Santas, and it shouldn’t be too hard to find one who’d love to add this ministry.

  2. Partner with the school district. Go to the head/director of ESE for your district.  Explain what you want to do and that you’d love to enlist the help of volunteers from your school district – in particular, those who work with special needs students.  Our Director of Exceptional Education spoke with the Superintendent and approved double “comp time” for employees who signed up.  This partnership is ideal, because you’ll need a way to contact the families you’re targeting for this event.  Due to privacy laws, you won’t be able to get a list of students.  We made flyers and then gave them to ESE employees in the district who best knew the children.  Once those flyers went home and the families contacted us themselves, we were good to go.
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    David told Santa, “You’re my best friend.”

    Contact pediatric therapy clinics in your community. Give them flyers as well.  You’ll find even more kids this way.  Ditto for pediatricians, though you’ll need to be sure to stress that this event is strictly for special needs patients.

  4. Create a Facebook page with contact and registration info. I created a Google document that was accessible with a password I put right on the flyer.  Parents completed contact info, health background, and added specific information that would best help us to make the interaction positive.  (Fears, sensitivities, etc.) I also included a question about preference for morning or afternoon appointments.  Then I called the families and set an appointment time for them.  Be sure to get cell phone/email info.  You’ll want to send out a reminder text or email to avoid no-shows.  We don’t set an age limit for those with special needs.  Some remain true believers their entire lives, and that’s fine with us.  Siblings are ALWAYS welcome and are made to feel their time with Santa is just as important. Get family permission ahead of time to post their children’s pictures to your Sensitive Santa page and to perhaps be used with media.
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    This young lady adores Santa and the opportunity to spend a whole 15 minutes with him.

    Give each family a 15-minute appointment with Santa. Special needs kids, depending upon their disability, might need some time to warm up to Santa.  The 15 minutes will also allow the photographer (who will shoot continuously) to take photos of the family together, siblings, etc.  This is where it helps to have ESE employees as volunteers.  They may know some of the children and have ideas that will help make it a positive visit.

  6. Enlist help on social media. From just posting what we were doing and what we needed, we obtained ink cartridges, photo paper, coloring books (to entertain kids while they wait for their pictures to print), toys/gifts, paper products, etc.  We also located more volunteers this way.  It helped to create a private group for volunteers as well.
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    This photo was the first Jayden ever had with Santa. His mother left in happy tears.

    Ask a local restaurant or two to help feed your Sensitive Santa staff. Two of us organizers made slow cookers full of soup.  And a local restaurant made sandwiches to accompany them.  Be sure to acknowledge them on social media.

  8. Secure a photographer. We hit the jackpot with ours.  Not only is she a part-time professional photographer by weekend, she’s also an ESE teacher.  She had experience in coaxing great candid pictures with special needs students, which is ideal.  We also have a second amateur photographer who is a high school student.  While our main photographer did the Santa sessions, the student photographer walked around and shot candids all day of volunteers, families, etc.
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    But here’s what we had to do to get that photo. First, the photographer took Jayden to tour the kitchen and the rest of the parish hall. Eventually, we got closer to the Santa room. And that was okay with everyone.

    Hold a meeting with your volunteer staff. Brief them on each family attending.  Prep them for the various disabilities represented.  Volunteers will need to be reminded that certain children might become overwhelmed and adjust their approach accordingly.  Other children will love to sit and color Christmas pictures with volunteers or watch holiday movies on a nearby laptop.  Be sure to have someone whose job is to quickly remind Santa who is visiting next and to escort families in to Santa by saying, “Great news, Santa!  Bobby and Mary are here.”

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    This sweet young man took in Santa with his senses.

    Contact your local newspaper. Sharing the event with the community will help to ensure you have enthusiasm and donations/volunteers next year.  It also makes for a beautiful Christmas morning front page article that will warm hearts.

  11. For the photo session, don’t worry too much about posed pictures. Place a chair next to Santa, and put no pressure on any child to sit on his lap.  Some will run right to him and be happy to pose for a picture.  By all means, take those pictures.  But many, particularly those with autism, won’t ever look into the camera for a posed shot.  Instead, focus on natural laughter and interactions.  Take candid photos with a “photojournalistic” approach.  Capture the shy child rolling on the carpet.  The handshake with Santa.  Back up and take a shot of a child sitting on his dad’s lap while dad talks to Santa.  You might not get a “Santa picture” the first year.  But the child will remember the positive, non-stressful interaction.  And you might get one next year.  Our goal is always the same.  Children may enter crying.  But we do everything we can to never have one leave crying.  (It’s perfectly okay for parents to leave with happy tears, however!)
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    Children waiting on their pictures get to color, watch holiday movies, or eat cookies and hot cocoa — with no lines.

    Print just two to three photos per family. To keep it simple, have two SD cards.  As soon as a session finishes, the photographer hands the SD card to the printing volunteers.  They look through the photos quickly and select the best two or three.  They quickly print them and put them in an envelope.  We then instruct the families to go to our Facebook page starting that night and the next day and look for their pictures to be uploaded.  We include a letter from the photographer signing over all photo rights and permissions to families for the purpose of printing and posting.

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    Pretty sure this young man’s joy speaks for itself.

    Make a social media post for each family’s pictures.  That way they can share with family and friends.  And they’ll want to.  Many of these families will tell you their child has never had pictures with Santa.  It’ll mean the world to them.

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    Sitting on Santa’s lap isn’t necessary. Just hanging out nearby is okay too.

    Create a “best of” photo album (with one picture from each family) and cross-post to popular social media pages in your community. Be sure to tag your community partners.  It’s great PR for next year.

  15. Make notes about what went well and what you might do differently next year. Start your planning again in September, and make it a tradition.  It’ll be one of the happiest days of the year.




Hear Me Roar: Inspirational Songs for IEPs (a Playlist)

noteThanks so much to my wonderful followers on Facebook for contributing to this playlist.  There are some great suggestions — including several I’d never heard before.  Play this in the days leading up to your child’s IEP, mediation, resolution, etc. — and go advocate for your child!

Let me know if you think of any songs I should add.  :)

Autism Shines – Callum

Here is our contribution to the wonderful Autism Shines project.  Autism Shines is an effort to cast a positive light on our spectrum children, rather than allow the misinformation in the media to contribute to public fear.  You can show how you or a loved ones shines as well by uploading a picture to their site or Facebook page.

Special thanks to Lexi at Mostly True Stuff for helping with our picture.


Growing Pains: One Year of Flappiness

 A year ago, I sat on my couch – staring at my computer screen, trying to come up with an original name for a blog.  I don’t remember everything I tried, but I do know just about every domain referencing puzzle pieces is taken.  (I’d like to take the time, on behalf of the autism community, to issue a huge mea culpa to the online jigsaw puzzle industry.  Sorry.)  After giving up on puzzles, I started over with flapping, then flappy, then happy – and Flappiness Is was born. 

I needed an outlet.   I looked at a few autism blogs (quickly realizing special-needs parent blogging wasn’t exactly a new idea).  I noted that most of them had a presence on social media and resolved to do the same.  And then I wrote my first fledgling post.  My goal was simple.  I just wanted to talk to a few people who knew what I was going through. 

And then my world expanded.  I can tell you I never dreamed of the following this blog would attract.  The heartfelt stories of those in the trenches.  Words of wisdom and motherly reassurances from women who’ve already raised their children.  Honest, illuminating, and kind perspectives from self-advocates.  Emails and private messages comparing notes, asking for advice, and saying thank you.  The sharing of tips, advice, resources, information from so many.  I never imagined that this little labor of love would give me so much more in return. 

I’m not the same woman I was one year ago.  My skin is a lot thicker.  I’ve gotten my son formally diagnosed, enrolled him in public school, watched my beloved father pass away, dealt with probate, renovated a house, moved, put my innermost thoughts and feelings on the internet, gone viral, been published in a few places, encountered scathing criticism online, and had a major health scare.  I’m evolving from someone who cared what everybody thought to one who realizes she can’t please them all.  My sense of purpose is growing.  And I’m realizing that I still have dreams of my own that are worth pursuing.

All because of you. 

Yes, this blog has been an extraordinary experience for me.  I still cannot believe that people have been interested in what I’ve had to say over half a million times now.  And I’m so very grateful for it.   I have made amazing friends in this blogging journey.  Wonderful people who have validated my concerns, joys, and even my darkest moments.  Tireless advocates who humble me in their devotion to and efforts on behalf of our cause.  Self-advocates who inspire me to dream big dreams for my son and all those like him. 

Thank you for casting light upon this path, for showing me the surest places to set my feet, and for reaching out to hold my hand.  It’s a good thing to know you’re not alone.

Thank you.





Immeasurable Gifts

My beloved Daddy and Callum at his 3rd birthday party.  Taken a few weeks before his passing.

My beloved Daddy and Callum at his 3rd birthday party. Taken a few weeks before his passing.

Today, I am guest posting over at Childswork/Childsplay.  Please visit me there by clicking “Continued”.  :)

On the day after Thanksgiving, I threw myself into Christmas.  I woke up my husband early and insisted he go and get the tree and ornaments out of storage.  It is our first Christmas in our new home, so I was determined to make it a good one.  It is awfully hard to not have fun decorating with little ones.  I loved every minute of it.

But for all the tree-trimming and elf-on-the-shelf fun, this year it is bittersweet.  It is the first Christmas without my beloved daddy, who died in May.  Daddy loved Christmas.  He was one of those rare people who get the true spirit of the season.  He whistled Christmas tunes everywhere he went and put up tacky decorations everywhere just for the joy of it.  He couldn’t care less about gifts.


Flappiness Is to “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”: #AutismPositivity2012

A few days ago, you or someone like you googled, “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”.  I have thought about you ever since.  Wondering what is happening in your life to cause you so much distress over something that is simply a part of who you are.  For I know there must be something, and it is obviously hard.  No, I don’t know your name.  I don’t know where you live.  I don’t know how the world has treated you.

But I have seen the pain in the eyes of my students on the spectrum.  As a teacher, I have witnessed the aftermath of your peers’ indifference, amusement at your social missteps, and even cruelty.  I have watched you try so hard to fit in to a world that doesn’t understand you any more than you struggle to understand them.

You try to make small talk, but it isn’t received as you intended.  You share your opinion in class, and are bewildered by their laughter.  Even some of the teachers and other adult staff sometimes seem annoyed.  There are all kinds of unwritten rules about what to say, what to do, how to look — and no matter how hard you try to get it right, you always seem to get it wrong.  The thing that people don’t seem to realize is that – inside – you are just a person who wants the same things everyone else does.  Friendship.  Respect.  Fun.  To share your interests and experiences with others.  Perhaps to meet someone special.

But right now I’m guessing you don’t have many of those things.  And you’re probably wondering if life is always going to be this hard.  If there will ever be a place you belong.  If you will ever be able to sit among a group of people without a running dialogue of worry, embarrassment, and checklists of those unspoken rules running through your head.

Clearly, you want to be “normal”.

Well, I just so happen to be someone you would consider “normal”.  (Whatever that is.  I’m here to tell you that I’ve known a lot of “normal” people.  Quite frankly, we’re all us strange – this mixed bag of humanity.)  But I make friends easily.  I understand those confusing social cues that seem to elude you.  And I have never lived in daily fear of being bullied and antagonized.  So, no, I have not lived your life, and I don’t know what it is like to be you.

But being what those in the autism world call neurotypical, I have made my own observations of the differences between people on the spectrum and people like myself.  One of the things autistic people are characterized by is having an affinity for detail.  Many of you notice so many things that neurotypicals never will.  It’s a really cool ability.  We NTs, on the other hand, aren’t as observant.  We tend to be blind to those who are different.  And, even when they are pointed out, many of us still fail to really see them.  A kind of emotional blindness, if you will.  And, it really is not intentional.  It’s just that it sometimes takes an extraordinary experience – such as parenting, loving, knowing, teaching, or working with someone on the spectrum for our eyes to be opened.  But without that experience, far too many of us remain blind to those right in front of them – their differences, what they share in common, what they need to navigate the world just a bit easier, and what they have to contribute to our world.

Yet some of us have had that extraordinary experience.  Some of us now have a new set of glasses with which to see the world.  As one who counts herself among them, I am so very grateful for that.

I’m so sorry that so many of us still have not had our eyes opened.  I’m sorry for the frustration and hurt that we have caused you – that would make you wish you were somebody other than who you are.  Yes, you do stand out.  But you know what?  So do some stars.  Some are just brighter, more colorful, and more interesting than all the other not-so-remarkable stars in the universe.  When I think of you, of others I have known like you — and my precious amazing boy, also autistic – I see stars.  And to me, and other NTs like me – whose vision has been strengthened – you are beautiful.

Right now, you may be looking around you and wondering where the heck we all are.  Are there people who will accept and appreciate you?  And are there others like you who have gone on to happy and fulfilling lives, having survived the very difficult years you are enduring right now?

The answer, I am so very pleased to tell you, is yes.  We are all over.  We are in this country and others.  We are in large cities and small towns.  We are universities and the workplace.  Churches and advocacy organizations.  And you may be too young to have an opportunity to break away from your small corner of the world to meet us all.  But we are here.  And we have our hearts, minds, and arms open and waiting for you.  As the saying goes, “It gets better.”  You just need to hang in a bit longer, learn as much as you can, and then step out into the world and begin bridging those connections.

In the meantime, you may be surprised to know that there is an entire online community and autism/Aspergers blogosphere already available to you.  Autistic/Aspie youth and adults, sympathetic NTs, and experts.  Websites, blogs, chat rooms, forums, support groups, Twitter, Facebook pages, and much more.  You would be surprised at the warmth, friendship, and understanding available right now — today — if you will just log on and seek it out.

For more messages of hope to you from the autism blogosphere, please visit the Autism Positivity Flash Blog.

It’s a big world out there.  And you haven’t even seen 1% of it.  There are happy and successful people just like you who are all too happy to tell you that there is a lot to look forward to in life.  Seek them out.  Connect to them.  Follow their advice.  And, hopefully, one day you will be in their shoes — proving to a young person just like yourself that there really is a place for him/her in the world.

For it is there — waiting for you to claim it.

If you would like to read more messages of hope from people in the autism community, please visit the Autism Positivity 2012 Flash Blog.

To “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”: An #AutismPositivity2012 Flash Blog Event

A couple of weeks ago, someone somewhere googled “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”.  The phrase popped up in a blogging dashboard and struck the blogger as being particularly sad.  She wished she could have answered.

We don’t know who it was.  We don’t know where he/she lives.  We have no idea if he/she found what he/she was looking for in that search.

We do know that search directed that person to a blog.  We do know the searcher clicked on it in an attempt to find what they needed.  And we do know enough about the challenges of autism to know that person is likely not alone in that sentiment.

So, we got to thinking.  What would we say to that person?  What if it was a kid, desperately trying to make it through tough years of intolerance and ignorance?  What if it were a person who might never stumble across the amazing voices speaking for autism acceptance?  What if that person thought himself/herself all alone?  What would we say about the present?  What would we say about the future?  What would we say about happiness?  And hope?

Each of us in the autism community –- self-advocates, parent advocates, friends and family, teachers, health professionals—we would all have different messages for “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”.  But likely we would all try to send the message that there is a brighter future and that friendship and support are out there.

We are asking every blogger in the autism community to write a message of positivity to “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”.  So that next time that individual (or another) types that sad statement into Google, he or she will find what they need – support, wisdom, and messages of hope from those who understand.

And – for those of you who do not blog but wish to join in – please post your positivity message to

Please join with us on the last day of Autism Awareness/Acceptance Month – April 30th – in a flash blog of autism positivity.

To participate:

  1. Publish your post on April 30th in the following title format:  “[Your Blog] to ‘I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers: #AutismPositivity2012”.
  2. Share your post on Twitter and Facebook, using that hashtag.
  3. Add your link to the Autism Positivity website and grab the badge:
  4. Share/reblog this message to your blog, page, etc.

This Autism Positivity Flash Blog Event is the brainchild of Thinking About Perspectives, a group of bloggers committed to increasing autism awareness and acceptance via open and respectful dialogue.  We are:  30 Days of Autism, Outrunning the Storm, The Third Glance, Aspie Kid, Flappiness Is, Quirky and Laughing, Life on the Spectrum, Fairy Tale Forgotten, The Aspie Side of Life, and Inner Aspie.

8 Reasons Why My Dad Is Autism Grandparent of the Year

The nice thing about having your own blog is that you get to declare things with no oversight committee.  So, today I am declaring my father – 2012 Flappiness Is Autism Grandparent of the Year.  

Being the grandparent of a child with autism can’t be easy.  On one hand, you are worried about your grandchild.  On the other, you are worried about your own child – the mom or dad.  You want to help, but you don’t want to interfere.  Or maybe you do — in which case you will end up on an altogether different kind of post.   😉  

My dad is awesome.  And, since he never toots his own horn, I’m going to do that for him.  So, Dear Reader, please allow me to share with you the eight reasons why he wins:

1.  He has never – not even once – unburdened himself on us about his own fears or grief.  He is wise enough to understand that we have all we can handle of our own.  I am sure he worries, because I know he loves his grandson.  But he has rightly concluded those feelings are best shared with others.

2.  He does not presume to tell us what we should be doing with regard to raising, educating, or providing treatment/therapy for our son.  He listens to me discuss it — at length – but just nods and says something to the effect of “Alright.  That makes sense.  So where do we start?”  If I ask his opinion, he’ll share it.  But, otherwise, he merely supports what decision we have made.  I haven’t asked him why he is so good about this, but I suspect it is because he trusts me to have researched a topic to death before arriving at a decision and that he thinks I have good judgment.  I really appreciate that.  And, because of that, I seek his counsel more often.

3.  He doesn’t get upset when we inadvertently forget something.  He knows our days are busy and our stresses many.  He knows that therapy and specialists cost a lot of money.  And he doesn’t get the least bit upset when we find it necessary to do a “just buy gifts for the kids” kind of Christmas.  He’ll tell you that us forgetting things just buys him another “get out of jail free card” for when he forgets something.  But, humor aside, he doesn’t sweat the small stuff or attempt to test our affections.

4.  He stays in the here and now.  Because he knows it is too early for predictions, he doesn’t ask for them.  He doesn’t pester us with “Well, does the therapist think he will talk one day?” or “When is he going to ______?”  These types of questions not only cannot be answered at this time, they also cause us a great deal of anxiety.  I’m sure he wonders as well, but he doesn’t burden us with it.

5.  He doesn’t bat an eye at the disaster area that is our home.  Not even once.  My dad has seen the crumb devastation our little human wood chipper wreaks when eating, his penchant for writing on walls, and his love for testing the properties of gravity with all living room objects.  So my dad just clears a spot and settles in for the visit.

6.  He doesn’t place guilt on us for the things we choose to decline – like parades, chaotic birthday parties, or piano recitals.  He understands that there are some things we just don’t want to do with Callum and that there are some things Callum just doesn’t want to do period.

7.  He has never attempted to deny there was a problem.  Even from the beginning – when others were saying, “He’ll be fine” and “He’s just a boy”,  he never silenced my fears by suggesting that nothing was amiss.  As nice as it is to be reassured everything is okay, it doesn’t silence your intuition.  My dad is great about acknowledging a problem without carrying on as if the sky is falling. People like that keep you grounded.

8.  He truly enjoys his grandson.  When he visits, he delights in the child Callum is right now – rather than adopting The Look of Tragedy every time he sees him.  It’s important for a child to not only be loved, but to be liked just as he is.   And, because he accepts my son for the wonderful little person he already is – rather than waiting to see who he will become – he is able to enjoy his uniqueness as well.  When Callum does something remarkable – something that can be attributed to autistic traits – he gets a kick out of it.  And although, like me, he worries about him, he also finds him fascinating.  That’s unconditional love, with the stress on — unconditional.  :)

P.S.  And one more fabulous thing about my dad.  He subscribes to my blog and reads me every day!

So, who do you nominate for Autism Grandparent of the Year and why?

It isn’t just beauty that is in the eye of the beholder.  The concept of autism, too, is relative to one’s experience.  Mommy Buddy on Facebook made this.  Awesome!

You can also visit her blog – My Little Martian.

If you enjoyed this perception vs. reality, check out this one by Rampant Insanity.  

You might also like this post about stereotypes with autism – “A Syllogism: Some Autistic People Really Are Jerks”.

Membership Rewards: 10 Perks to Having a Child with Autism

Since I tend to write someone dramatically and have been known to drag my soapbox around, it occurred to me that it is high time I write something happy.  For not everything about autism is sad.  Some of it is inspiring.  Some of it is funny.  And there are definitely good things about raising a child with autism.  Sometimes we forget to tell others.  And sometimes we forget to remind ourselves.  :)

1.  Folks tend to nominate you for sainthood.  We, of course, know that it isn’t us that are special.  It’s the child that makes you special.  But glowing praise never hurt anybody.  And, sometimes, a little pat on the back is what you really need.

2.  The sweetness of the baby years lasts longer with developmentally delayed kids.  And, if your child is a sensory seeker, you can get all kinds of skin to skin snuggling for years. 

3.  You will connect with people and form friendships based upon your shared experience in raising special needs children.  These are amazing people whose hearts and minds have been tempered by this life-altering journey.

4.  If your child has food aversions, you won’t hear a lot of “I want that!” in the grocery store.  I’ve never once had to give up my own food for my ASD child.  My NT daughter, however, is a persistent mooch.

5.    You will develop an appreciation for detail.  The details that your ASD child is so good at fixating upon.  I now notice more about the world than I ever did – the sounds, the smells, the textures, etc.  I have him to thank for that.

6.  Their toy wish lists aren’t extensive at all.  Young ASD kids get way more excited about household objects than toys.  This makes birthdays and Christmases less about things and more about appreciating your blessings.

7.  You become more patient with both others and yourself.  There is simply no other option.  You discover that it isn’t just the child who is growing.  You are as well.

8.  We take nothing for granted.  Not a single thing.  When you live in the unknown, all progress is singularly wonderful.

9.  You now have the ability to reach out to others beginning the same journey.  Which means that you have knowledge, skills, and compassion that can touch the life of another in need.   You can be the reassuring hand reaching out in the darkness.

10.  The child.  He or she is the best reward of all.

P.S.  It has been pointed out to me that I failed in mentioning a primo perk to having an ASD child – Fast Passes at Disney!  Sea World, other theme parks, etc. They’re called Guest Assistance Cards and require a doctor’s note.  They allow autistic kids and their families to enter/exit via a less congested area to help prevent sensory overload, etc.  Parents of ASD kids rave about how this simple thing can save a family vacation.  :)

What membership perks have you discovered in having a child with autism?

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one by Autism Daddy.  It’s a similar list and funny!