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Autism is still misunderstood. 8 parents share what you should know about it.

'When my child flips out, he's not giving me a hard time — he's having a hard time.'

Autism is still misunderstood. 8 parents share what you should know about it.

Although 1 in 68 children in America have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, many people still don't understand it.

Quick, what's the first thing you think of when you hear the word "autism"? It only happens to white families? It's only an issue for boys? Kids with ASD have no emotions?

The misconceptions are everywhere. Even in 2016, some people are like...


GIF from "Modern Family."

It's one thing to read books or studies on ASD to correct those assumptions, but it's another to hear it from the people who raise children with ASD. To that end, we reached out to a few of them.

Eight parents shared the one thing they wish people knew about raising a child with ASD.

1. I don't want my child to be labeled.

It may not seem like a big deal to some people, but Sonya wants to be clear about how her child should be addressed. He's not an autistic child — he's a child with autism or ASD. Making that subtle change makes a big difference.

Photo from Sonya, used with permission.

"We don't say things like, 'This is my asthmatic sister' or 'This is my cancerous uncle,'" Sonya told Upworthy. "Changing the language lessens the stigma and allows others to see they are a person before a diagnosis."

2. My son is highly intelligent.

Natasha wants to quiet the noise she hears about the lack of intelligence of children with ASD.

Photo from Natasha, used with permission.

"Those with ASD, like my son, are highly intelligent but learn differently," Natasha told Upworthy. "They are both mentally and emotionally intelligent, but one may need to look and listen differently to grasp their greatness."

3. My child is happy.

Maya notices how happy her son is, along with other kids with ASD. She just wants people to look past what's on the surface to see it.


Photo from Maya, used with permission.

"It's beautiful to see how rich their world can be even when they seem to stare in an empty space," Maya told Upworthy. "They enjoy such happiness."

4. I want more schools to truly understand what it's like to work with children with ASD.

Being a teacher is a very difficult, and Katherine understands that. She just wishes more schools would be more proactive when working with children with ASD. That includes doing more to fight bullying and understand meltdowns.

Photo from Katherine, used with permission.

"Teachers who feel overwhelmed by students with ASD need to speak out and get the help they need in their classrooms," Katherine told Upworthy. "These children are precious, and I want my grandson and others like him to be happy and understood."

5. I want people to know that being quiet doesn't mean being unaware.

Tamara's son may not be extremely talkative, but that doesn't mean he doesn't know what's going on around him. That's the case with many kids with ASD.

Photo from Tamara, used with permission.

"Nonverbal does not mean that they can't communicate in their own way or that they aren't aware of how you treat them," Tamara told Upworthy.

6. I want people to know that my child is talented.

Jody knows children with ASD can do a lot of amazing things. She wants others to know, too.

Photo from Jody, used with permission.

"Our sweet boy may not be able to speak or dress himself, but he is as gentle and innocent as an angel and can play piano by ear," Jody told Upworthy.

7. I want people to know that safety is a big issue for children with ASD.

Travis, a dad to a son with ASD, believes that keeping him safe is a challenge that many simply don't understand. He recalls times when his son left the house and failed to respond to his own name, and that is beyond scary.


Wandering is a major concern for parents raising kids with ASD. Photo from iStock.

"I wish people would realize that I can't just let him run off and play," Travis told Upworthy. "Some kids with ASD need constant supervision for their own safety as well as the safety of others."

8. I am not sad.

A lot of people want to offer sympathy to Jo Ellen, but she's not interested in it. As a matter of fact, she's quite happy and so is her daughter.

Photo from Jo Ellen, used with permission.

"I want people to ask me about what makes her excited because I would love to tell them about her fascination with elephants instead," Jo Ellen told Upworthy.

April is Autism Awareness Month, so kudos to these parents for doing their part to raise awareness of an often misunderstood condition.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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