A 5-Year-Old With Autism Creates Stunning Paintings

Autism can cripple an individual’s ability to socially interact and express themselves in ways that most of us can understand. However, this poorly-understood neurological disorder can also bestow extraordinary talents. Take, for example, 5-year-old Iris Grace, who creates beautifully expressive paintings in spite of – and perhaps because of – her autism.

Grace paints with an understanding of color that most 5-year-olds don’t have. However, she is only now learning to speak – something most 5-year-olds started to do when they were 2.

Grace’s mother, Arabella Carter Johnson, discovered her daughter’s talent when she introduced her to painting as a way to help her with her speech therapy. “Then we realised that she is actually really talented and has an incredible concentration span of around 2 hours each time she paints,” she writes on their website. “Her autism has created a style of painting which I have never seen in a child of her age, she has an understanding of colours and how they interact with each other.

The family sells Grace’s paintings for auction on their website and donates to various organizations that work with autism, so be sure to take a look!


















Girl With Autism Sings A Stunning Rendition Of ‘Hallelujah’

“It’s not just good because she’s dealing with autism … It’s good because it’s good — really good.”


My Five-Year-Old Autism Child Does Not Talk … Will He Ever?

This guest post is  by Connie Kasari, Ph.D., a Professor of Education and Psychiatry and the Center for Autism Research at UCLA.

This is the question and the worry for a quarter to about half of all parents of children with autism.  Research studies tell us that children who can talk by the time they turn five years old have better outcomes.  But is this age marker meaningful, and what does it mean exactly?

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The extraordinary success of early intervention programs has been shrinking the numbers of children who remain nonverbal.  Still many children develop slowly, becoming late speakers if at all.   What do we know that helps these children?

Late speaking children were the subject of a recent review paper, which was selected as one of Autism Speaks’ Top 10 Scientific Achievements in 2009 (Pickett, Pullara, O’Grady & Gordon, 2009).  The authors found 64 studies involving 167 children who learned to speak after age five.  Several important observations were noted.  First, the authors found that while most children who learned to speak were between five and seven years some children learned to speak for the first time at age 13 years!  The majority of children learned single words, but some were able to speak in sentences.  Finally, the numbers they report are probably an underestimate of actual cases since researchers often exclude children who are nonverbal, or under-report late speaking children.  Therefore, it may be harder to learn to speak after age five, but it is clearly not impossible.

What types of interventions are helping children to speak? Several approaches look promising.  Both behavioral interventions and ones using augmentative and alternative communication devices (AAC) seem to work.  AAC approaches (examples include PECS, sign language and speech generating devices) do not seem to inhibit the development of spoken language (Schlosser & Wendt, 2008); however, for many children the use of AAC allows them to become communicators without reliance on spoken language.  Thus, AAC interventions need to be adopted more often and studied.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the most common approach to teaching children with autism; however, the results of intensive training have not always improved spoken language.  A promising hybrid behavioral and developmental intervention focuses on ‘joint attention’, nonverbal gestures that develop before children learn to speak with words, and involve the sharing of attention between a person and an object or event.  Preschool aged children who received a joint attention intervention made greater language gains than children receiving traditional applied behavior analysis interventions (Kasari et al, 2008) but it is not clear if similar interventions will work with older children.

At UCLA we are beginning to test out whether a joint attention intervention will be effective for children who are nonverbal and older than five years. The study is an Autism Speaks funded High Risk, High Impact study for Characterizing Cognition in Nonverbal Individuals with Autism (CCNIA).  This multi-site study involves researchers from UCLA, (Connie Kasari) Kennedy Kreiger Institute (Rebecca Landa) and Vanderbilt University (Ann Kaiser).  We are comparing our joint attention intervention with a focus on spoken language (using Enhanced Milieu Training; Kaiser, Hancock & Nietfeld, 2000) to an intervention involving the use of a speech -generating device.  A unique aspect of this study is the use of an alternating treatment design, recognizing that children may need a sequence of treatments for best response, or may respond better with one treatment versus another.  This design is called a SMART design (sequential multiple assignment randomization trial –SMART; Murphy, 2005).  Our goal is to determine the most effective intervention for increasing communication competence of children who are nonverbal, recognizing the variability in characteristics of these children, and the individualized nature of their response to treatment.

So the good news is that language development CAN progress after age five, but stay tuned for more research


Kaiser, A. P., Hancock, T. B., & Nietfeld, J. P. (2000). The effects of parent-implemented enhanced milieu teaching on the social communication of children who have autism. Journal of Early Education and Development [Special Issue], 11(4), 423-446.

Kasari, C., Paparella, T, Freeman, S.N., & Jahromi, L (2008).  Language outcome in autism: Randomized comparison of joint attention and play interventions.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76, 125-137.

Murphy SA. (2005) An Experimental Design for the Development of Adaptive Treatment Strategies. Statistics in Medicine. 24:1455-1481.

Pickett, E., Pullara, O, O’Grady, J., & Gordon, B. (2009).  Speech acquisition in older nonverbal individuals with autism: A review of features, methods and prognosis. Cognitive Behavior Neurology, 22 1-21.

Schlosser, RW, & Wendt O (2008).  Effects of augmentative and alternative communication intervention on speech production in children with autism: A systematic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology • Vol. 17 • 212–230.


Mom Of Girl With Autism Writes Powerful Post About Kindness Between Kids

A Kentucky mom’s  post is showing the immense power in the kindness children show toward each other.

On July 23, Stephanie Skaggs posted a photo of her 5-year-old daughter Baylee, who has autism, having fun Hurricane Bay water park at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville. In the caption, she shared a moving story about that day.

Addressing “the mom in the baby water park at Kentucky Kingdom,” Skaggs explained that going to the water park can be a challenge for Baylee, who is mostly non-verbal and has trouble coping with unexpected change. That day, she was getting accustomed to the routine of waiting in line for her turn to go down the water slide, but other children cut in front of her.

“[Baylee] really doesn’t mind much that she had to wait longer, but is very upset that the steps of the routine she just learned are now out of whack,” Skaggs wrote. “And to her it feels like the end of the world!”

Worried that the situation would escalate into a meltdown, the mom was pleasantly surprised when a little girl at the front of the line looked up and said “she can go ahead of me.” A little later, someone else cut Baylee in line, but a little boy, who observed what had happened and understood she had special needs, offered her his place at the front.

“I was struck that two different children would be so intuitive and kind,” Skaggs wrote. “Like most autistic children, Baylee does not LOOK any different than any other child. And it’s not really immediately obvious by her behavior either. It takes some observation and usually children their age don’t realize she has autism.”

Stephanie Skaggs was touched by the kindness two children showed her daughter with autism at a local water park.

The mom said she praised the little boy and girl who let Baylee go ahead of them. “I told them both how great it was that they looked out for someone who was different … and the difference that small acts of kindness make even if it doesn’t seem like much,” she wrote. “They really touched my heart.”

When she later saw them together, Skaggs realized they were brother and sister. She asked them to point out their mother and then approached the woman to praise her parenting.

Addressing the thoughtful children’s mom, she wrote in her post:

“I made sure to let your kids know how nice it was for them to be kind and understanding, but I wanted YOU to know that you are raising two wonderful children. When I came to you and told you about my experience with your kids and told you that they were super kids and you are doing a great job, you said ‘I don’t know about that.’ Well, mom, you are. A small gesture like theirs may not seem like much. But I promise it was.”

As a mom of a child with autism, Skaggs said she is filled with worry and fear about the negative way people perceive Baylee because she’s a little different. But the kindness those children displayed at the water park gave her a sense of hope for her daughter’s future.

“When I looked at those sweet little faces, filled with pride as I praised them, it made me happy to know that more moms are raising their children the way you are!” she concluded her post. “So I just wanted to take the opportunity again to thank you and let you know you are doing a really really good job!”

Skaggs’ Facebook post has been shared almost 10,000 times. The mom told The Huffington Post that she decided to share her story because she was so touched by those children that she couldn’t stop thinking about the experience.

“A small gesture like theirs may not seem like much. But I promise it was,” Skaggs wrote of the experience.

Hoping to give peace of mind to fellow parents of kids with special needs, Skaggs typed out the post and it quickly spread across Facebook. While Skaggs wanted the mom she met at the water park to see the post, she did not anticipate it would actually reach her. But within hours of posting the story, she received a Facebook message from Laura, the woman she spoke to that day.

Laura said her children, Matthew and Grace, were also touched by their experience that day. “She said they talked about Baylee all day after we parted ways,” Skaggs recalled.

The two moms became friends on Facebook and remain in touch. Skaggs said she’s received positive comments and messages from people around the world, from South Africa to Egypt.

“It means so much to me that Laura and her children can see the far reaching impact of their kind gestures that they thought were nothing really!” the mom told HuffPost. “My hopes are that this simple act of kindness will spread and inspire people to just be kind … not just to children or adults with special needs but that being kind to anyone can reach so many people in so many ways. It is definitely worth the effort!”

Baylee always feels protected by her parents and five older siblings.

Though parents of kids with special needs feel that they must be vigilant, Skaggs said she hopes her experience inspires them to let their guard down and live in the moment sometimes.

“I would hope that, like me, they will have a renewed sense of hope and trust in those around them and are able to at least sometimes, even if it is jut for a few fleeting moments, just let that wall down and breathe and enjoy those moment with their kids,” she said. “To be able to stop and delight in their happiness and relish in their excitement and not be so worried about what everyone around them is thinking.”

Laura, Matthew and Gracie allowed Skaggs to do just that. The mom said they’re planning to get the kids together to play soon, maybe at Kentucky Kingdom again.



A Letter To My Neurotypical Husband, From Your Autistic Wife

Before you, I knew in my marrow that I would never be suited for a conventional love relationship. How could a woman who exists mostly in her own inner world, so tightly controlled, ever share a life with another person — until “death do us part,” no less? Every attempt I’d ever made at normal had failed miserably. I am too complicated, too particular, too cerebral.


I am much too much of everything. But you don’t seem to mind at all.

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When we received my autism diagnosis and I was surprised (but also not at all) and afraid it would change things between us, you smiled and said, “We always knew your mind was something special, sweetheart,” and I relaxed because I knew you meant it in the best possible way.

Thank you for reassuring me that there’s nothing wrong with me. Thank you for loving me with tight squeezes and direct language and morning coffee with one perfect teaspoon of cinnamon. Thank you for parking in the same spot at Target every single time, even though it’s not always convenient. Thank you for listening intently to my monologue about dragonflies.

When I clung to your hand on that busy sidewalk and stopped abruptly, anxious, you said, “I’ve got you, sweetheart,” and you moved me gently around to the other side, away from the street, keeping me close, like it was second nature to you and I was an extension of your body.

Thank you for looking out for me when I’m confused about how to look out for myself. Thank you for rocking me gently while we wait in a long line at the grocery store. Thank you for suggesting I eat, drink water and go outside for some fresh air.  Thank you for reminding me of the sequence of our plans next weekend — no matter how many times I’ve already asked.

When I was angry at myself because I struggle to understand how to be romantic, affectionate and nurturing — the way other women seem to be — you said, “We don’t have to love each other in the same way, sweetheart.” I cried, overwhelmed by the sweet ache in my chest, and unable to find the words to tell you that the way you love me is exactly right and more than I ever dared dream of.

Thank you for making no demands that I pretend to be anything other than I am. Thank you for not taking it personally when I look at you blankly after you’ve made a joke and then ask you to explain why it’s funny. Thank you for watching that moody foreign film with subtitles when you’d maybe rather watch the latest blockbuster.

When I curled into your chest’s concave spot that is just my shape and size, and you wrapped your arms around me, you whispered, “I love you, sweetheart,” into my hair. I said it back, but I don’t think you realize what I mean is that I have found my safe and peaceful space in your heart — my happiest, hope-filled place. And my inner world isn’t just mine anymore. It’s yours, too.



Autistic Boy Brought Home Birthday Invitation, Mom Shocked By Its Powerful Words.

Timothy was diagnosed with nonverbal autism when he was only two years old. As a result, every noise, distraction and emotional stimuli is multiplied ten fold. Though the now 7-year-old Timothy is well liked in school, his condition meant he was forced to turn down one too many birthday party invitations.

Recently, however, he got a birthday invite with a special note attached that brought his mom, Tricia, to tears. She took to Facebook to express her disbelief and gratitude.


The note read: [My son] Carter sat beside Timothy at school and he always talks about him (: I really hope he can come. We are renting a bounce castle that we can attach a small bounce slide at the bottom. We will also have water balloons & water guns. Maybe Timothy can come earlier in the day if it would be too much with the whole class. Let me know so we can make it work.


Tricia couldn’t believe the beautiful way that Carter’s mom had considered her son.

“Yes, I was shocked that someone would take not only the time to write the note but to be considerate enough to include him with all of his difficulties. It was a wonderful moment … We parents of the ‘specials’ know only too well the hurts our kids feel when they are left out of the social gatherings relative to childhood. Organized sports, play dates, sleepovers, and yes – the dreaded birthday parties,” she says. “I want only one thing for our kids – for all kids really, and that is inclusion. All they want is to feel included and accepted for who and what they are – that different is okay … it’s just different.”

For Carter’s mom, inviting Timothy didn’t require a second thought.

“Carter had always talked about him, so I didn’t think twice when he wanted him at the party,” Peikos says. “The only question was, ‘How could we make it work so that Timothy could come and have a great time just like anyone else?’ He came early. He went right into the bounce castle with Carter and they had a great time.” Peikos says she never realized just how important those simple words, “Let’s make it work,” would be. “These few words allowed Tricia and I to develop an amazing friendship. I love knowing that one note gave her the ability to go on another day as she continues life with Timothy.”

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Share this sweet moment with your friends today!




Ever Wondered What Autism Is? This Is a Fantastic Explanation!

Maybe your child was just diagnosed with autism. Maybe you were just diagnosed with autism. Maybe you want to know more about the disorder. Maybe you’ve been hanging out here on The Autism Site Blog for a while now and always wondered what exactly autism was, but were too scared to ask (no shame, friend!) Whatever your situation, you may be asking that huge, intricate, and complicated question: What is autism?

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Amythest Schaber is an autism advocate who runs the YouTube series, “Ask an Autistic.” (By the way: if you’re wondering why she prefers identity-first language [i.e. “autistic”] as opposed to person-first language [i.e. “has autism”], feel free to check out her explanation

In this video, she answers that big question about autism: What is it? Where does it come from? What is it characterized by? Is it caused by vaccines? Is it curable? And what can we do to help?

Whether you’re just learning about autism or are an autism expert, I think you’ll agree with me that her explanation is fantastic. I seriously wish I’d been directed to this video when I was first learning about autism



Awesome UK Teacher Inspires A Student With Autism


As a leader in the special education, we know and understand the needs of students with cognitive, learning and behavioral disabilities. However, their attempts to be “normal” often turn out to be unsuccessful, painful, and difficult. For instance, what would happen if a student with Autism Spectrum Disorder decided to sit for one of the “normal” exams? Some might be able to pass with flying colors, some might struggle but succeed, and some, might fail. The Mighty has recently published an article, written by Jordan Davidson, telling the story of a boy with Autism who tried to pass a standardized test, and his teacher, who definitely “saved the day.”


Brave 11-year-old Ben Twist at Lansbury Bridge School and Sports College decided to take a standardized test for a high school placement. Unfortunately, Ben, who is an autistic child, did not pass the exam. In Ben’s defense, these tests are really tough, even without Autism. What happened afterward is much more interesting. His teacher, Mrs Clarkson, wrote a special letter to congratulate the boy on his achievements. Clarkson, who is indeed amazing, also listed Ben’s qualities, skills and talents because, according to her, “these tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities.” She couldn’t be more right.

Students With Autism Show Strengths in Different Ways


“I am writing to you to congratulate you on your attitude and success in completing your end of key stage SATs.

Gil, Lynn, Angela, Steph and Anne have worked so well with you this year and you have made some fabulous progress. I have written to you and your parents to tell you the results of the tests.

A very important piece of information I want you to understand is that these tests only measure a little bit of you and your abilities. They are important and you have done so well but Ben Twist is made up of many other skills and talents that we at Lansbury Bridge see and measure in other ways.
Other talents you have that these test do not measure include:

• Your artistic talents
• Your ability to work in a team
• Your growing independence
• Your kindness
• Your ability to express your opinion
• Your abilities in sport
• Your ability to make and keep friends
• Your ability to discuss and evaluate your own progress
• Your design and building talents
• Your musical ability

We are so pleased that all of these different talents and abilities make you the special person you are and these are all of the things we measure to reassure us that you are always making progress and continuing to develop as a lovely bright young man.

Well done Ben, we are very proud of you.

Best Wishes,
Mrs Clarkson”

Lets Continue Inspiring Autistic Students

It’s wonderful to see that some teachers appreciate and value skills other than the “typical” ones: kindness, ability to make friends, musical and artistic ability, are incredibly important in life and may benefit Ben more than arithmetic. This attitude is crucial especially if you work with students with special needs. The education system in general should focus more on the individual approach rather than treat all students as a whole. This is the only way a teacher can find the “special” thing in a student and therefore spur their willingness to develop this ability. Last but not least, teachers should inspire their students. If knowledge is the seed, motivation is the soil, the water and the sun. As for Mrs Clarkson, we can surely nominate her as a Teacher of the Year, with the hope to have more nominees in the remaining months of the year.



A 7-Year-Old Autistic Girl’s Beautiful Letter To Her Mother

A series of letters written between a seven-year-old autistic girl and her mother has captured the hearts of thousands after being uploaded to Facebook.

A series of letters written between a seven-year-old autistic girl and her mother has captured the hearts of thousands after being uploaded to Facebook.


The post has been shared over a thousand times, and was written while Cadence, who has autism, sat beneath her teacher’s desk, which is a “safe space” for her.

In the notes, Cadence asks her mother if her autism “makes her bad.”

In the notes, Cadence asks her mother if her autism "makes her bad."


When asked why she would think that, Cadence references the many “grownups” who say it’s hard to be a parent when your child has autism.

She finished off the note by writing about her desire to not hurt anyone.
“I don’t like hurting people. I don’t like being scared. I would be scared in a jail room. I was born [with] autism but that doesn’t mean I was born bad.”

Cadence’s mother, Angela, told BuzzFeed News the letter acted as a reminder that the way adults talk about children affects them more than we consider.

Cadence's mother, Angela, told BuzzFeed News the letter acted as a reminder that the way adults talk about children affects them more than we consider.

“The burden of responsibility for enabling all children to feel safe, accepted and loved, rests with us, the ‘grown-ups’ – and sometimes we need reminding that we don’t always do a good job of it,” she said.

Cadence’s response led to Angela crying “happy tears,” touched by what her daughter had said.


“There have, on a handful of occasions, been scenarios where grown ups who are either not familiar with her challenges, or not tolerant of how she experiences the world, have behaved and responded poorly to her,” said Angela. “The negative impact on Cadence of these incidents have been very clear.”

Angela runs a Facebook page called “I am Cadence” that focuses on the idea that every child is innately special in their own way.

“Perhaps it is through the sharing of individuality over ‘fitting in,’ of encouraging curiosity and discussion over ‘gossip’, of promoting the right to child hood innocence over grown up perceptions – that it might just be possible, in some small way, to impact the world – one story at a time.”



My Son Has the Kind of Autism No One Talks About This Part 3-Term Life


Like most parents of children with autism, I have been reading about the family in California who is being sued by several families in their neighborhood. The lawsuitcontends that their child is a public nuisance because of his behaviors that his parents failed to fix.

One of the plaintiffs in this case stated “This is not about autism. This is about public safety.”

But he is wrong. This is absolutely about autism. It’s just not about the autism people hear about.

The media shows us all of the feel-good stories, like the child with autism who gets to be the manager of the high school basketball team, or the boy with autism who goes to the prom with the beautiful girl, or the girl with autism who is voted onto the homecoming court. We light it up blue every April and pat ourselves on the back for being so aware.

But we aren’t aware.

Because for every boy with autism who manages his high school basketball team, there are 20 boys with autism who smear feces. And for every girl with autism who gets to be on the homecoming court, there are 30 girls with autism who pull out their hair and bite their arms until they bleed. And for every boy with autism who gets to go the prom, there are 50 boys with autism who hit and kick and bite and hurt other people.

This is the autism that no one talks about. This is the autism that no one wants to see.

We aren’t aware.

One of the plaintiffs said “We’re not upset about him being autistic. We are concerned and upset about his violence (toward) our children.”

There is no way to be upset by this child’s behaviors and not be upset about autism.

Autism and behaviors go hand-in-hand. Why? The behaviors are communication. Individuals with autism often can’t communicate in a way that typically functioning people can understand. So they do things to get their needs met. And often the things they do are scary and violent.

My Son Has the Kind of Autism No One Talks About — Part 2

We aren’t aware.

My son, who is the same age as the child in this story, was extremely aggressive when he was younger. He did all of the things that the child involved in this lawsuit did. My son ran after other children on the playground just to push them down. He hit. He kicked. He bit. He pulled hair. And I never knew what was coming. For the longest time, I would flinch when he ran up to me…I didn’t know whether he was going to hug me or hit me. Can you imagine, as a mom, what that’s like? To flinch when your child runs to you?

We aren’t aware.

Because I didn’t know what my son was going to do to other children, we stopped going to the park. We stopped going to the Mommy and Me class at the library. We started going to the grocery store at 6:00 a.m. when most people weren’t around. He didn’t go to daycare but had a sitter at home so he wouldn’t be around other kids in a daycare setting. I essentially isolated him in order to keep other people safe. Can you imagine what it’s like to be a mom and not be able to take your child to the park? Or have your child attend birthday parties? Or have play dates?

We aren’t aware.

Because of my need to isolate my son, I also isolated myself too. I watched from my window as other moms in the neighborhood sat in their camp chairs and chatted while their children played. I couldn’t join them because my son couldn’t be around the other kids. Once a mom asked if my son could come to their house and play with her son. Can you imagine what it was like to feel so excited and then feel so ashamed when, after explaining my son’s issues to her so she would be aware, that invitation was rescinded?

We aren’t aware. Not at all.

But we can be. We can open our eyes and understand that autism isn’t all about the high functioning child who is “quirky” but OK to be around. Autism isn’t all about the six-year-old who can play Piano Man better than Billy Joel. Autism can be hard. Autism can be sad. Autism can be messy. Autism can be violent. Autism can be isolating.

My Son Has the Kind of Autism No One Talks About — Part 2

Once we become really aware, lawsuits like this won’t happen. Why? Because instead of putting blue lights on our front porches, we will go outside with our kids and we will help them play together…typically functioning kids and kids with autism. We will get to know our neighbors and we will embrace the children with behaviors and embrace their parents along with them.

We will learn what things trigger our child’s classmate who has autism so that we can help the children interact while avoiding things that will cause aggression. We will be a true village, including those who can model appropriate behaviors and those who are trying so hard to learn them. We will work on teaching our children not to hit and how to avoid being hit.

The parents involved in this lawsuit, on both sides, need to do more. More education, more understanding, more inclusion and more involvement.

Now tell me, is autism the real public nuisance?

We can become aware … if we really want to.