When my husband was diagnosed with autism, things changed ... but also they didn't.

We were only together for six weeks before my husband proposed to me, and I said yes.

I think our quick engagement had a lot to do with him being so many things I am not — this balances us out. That balance, we've come to find out, has a lot to do with him being autistic.

We always knew our personalities were in opposition: I’m outgoing while CJ is more reserved. I’m a bull-at-the-gate personality while he is more practical. I have to learn things by making mistakes, diving in and making a mess … whereas he rarely makes mistakes because he is calculated and methodical.


All photos via Jessica Offer, used with permission.

I’m sure I can be difficult with my haphazard, carefree nature, but it’s been so long now that he barely raises an eyelid at my wild ideas. We are the push and pull to each other, and I have stretched him out of his comfort zones bit by bit. He’s reined me in where I need it, too. (And I’ve definitely needed it at times.)

People tell me my husband is blessed to have me, but the truth for me is, it often feels like the other way around.

We will have been married for 10 years this coming October, and it wasn’t until our seventh year of marriage that we learned he has autism spectrum disorder.

His diagnosis happened after our eldest daughter was given hers. Since then, another of our four daughters has been diagnosed too. So half of the family members within our house are autistic — all with unique strengths and triggers.

I remember, looking back, how frustrated I used to get when we’d go out for lunch or dinner together and he could never make a decision about where we should go or what to eat. Often, we argued for hours and then eventually come home without having eaten. Hindsight tells us now that this is because CJ finds on-the-spot decision-making really hard and overwhelming.

Now, we plan where we’re eating beforehand so he can peruse the menu. And what do you know — there have been no more arguments about eating out since!

Over the years, we’ve had to come up with different ways of doing everyday things.

Autism doesn’t define my husband, but his diagnosis definitely liberates us in terms of his strengths as well as his limitations. Because he is autistic, I don’t blame him for being a "stereotypical male" when he puts off doing the dishes. Instead, I know that it’s because he has sensory issues surrounding temperature and tactile defensiveness.

And there’s no way I would ever expect him to fold something made of microfiber! But he’s awesome at grocery shopping (he knows the aisles and order of products by heart), and I love how much he has to teach me.

We plan our weekends in advance and take social overload into account very seriously.

This means I aim to only have one day per week on the weekend where I expect CJ to be out of the house and around other people. He needs the other day to recharge and chill, and that’s fine by me. In fact, he heartily encourages me to go out and pursue my interests and friendships, even if they aren’t the same as his.

And what may be obvious and automatic to others isn’t for us.

Friends ask us about the key to our marriage and we both answer "whiteboard" enthusiastically in unison.

It has saved us from many arguments, and it’s prevented many feelings of built-up resentment. It’s kept in a communal space in our house where everyone can see it, and we each write on it things that need doing or things that the other person needs to remember. That way, there’s no nagging. I don’t need to expect CJ to read my mind, and he can’t accuse me of not having told him something because it’s *right there*. I have even used it to write down what I needed from him in terms of support when I was unwell, and it was super-effective.

I take for granted that not everyone can fix physical things in the blink of an eye like CJ can.

In our house, if anything breaks there is never any hesitation before I say, "It’s OK; Daddy will fix it." CJ’s incredible intellect means he can piece things together in the blink of an eye. It’s awesome being married to someone so handy ... not to mention sexy.

His attention to detail also makes him an incredible chef.

CJ makes pancakes for our family every Sunday morning that automatically come out identical in size and width. And his pizzas and cakes are basically professional replicas, only better.

At the end of the day, this is what I hope folks can learn from CJ and me:

Being married to someone who is autistic is not really that different from being married to someone who is neurotypical: Everyone has their own set of strengths, weaknesses, and areas that need sensitive consideration. And just like any marriage, you compromise and find ways to get to a place that works.

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When you love someone, you don’t love them in spite of their diagnosis ... you love them because of it. Because without their diagnosis, they wouldn’t be the person you fell in love with anyway.

Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."