April is Autism Awareness Month, now more commonly being called Autism Acceptance Month, when those with the disorder and their families and friends promote inclusion and work to change the dialogue from one of fear and pity to that of support and empowerment. Here are the stories of 21 autistic kids from around the world who might shift your perspective.
Marianne, 7, Australia
Marianne is a rambunctious child who loves to dance, draw, paint, swim, and travel. She is inquisitive and creative. She has some speech, but through RPM, (the Rapid Prompting Method), she can communicate her thoughts and ideas thoroughly. Marianne says of herself: "Autism has made me so much more to be a better person inside and outside."
Marianne's mom says: "She is the greatest gift we ever received from heaven above."
Ryan, 9, Texas
Ryan is nonverbal but has been learning grade-level and above-grade-level academics for more than two years now. Ryan learns by Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), which has also enabled him to learn to communicate his thoughts using a letter board. He loves his family, reading, and his country. He also loves the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson book series and is interested in learning more about history. Ryan and his mom write a blog at iaminmyhead.com.
Ryan's mom says: "I believe that Ryan will help change the face of autism by showing others that autistics are just like us on the inside even if their outside demeanor does not reflect that. Autistics are fully intact mentally but they lack the ability to control their bodies and demonstrate what they know. Ryan is living proof of this."
Filbert, 7, Illinois
Filbert is homeschooled and uses RPM to communicate. He describes himself as "smart, handsome, and tenacious." He is interested in gross science facts, being a goof ball, and all things music.
Filbert's mom says: "Having Filbert has shaped more tangibly how judgment just prevents us from loving. My life goal is to love all, just as they are, while offering them every opportunity to be the best versions of themselves—without a deadline attached!"
Gryphon, 3, California
Gryphon is a non-speaking autistic 3-year-old who loves to draw, listen, and dance to music and watch and act out his favorite movies. He also loves to cuddle with his parents, three older siblings, and his stuffed animals, as well as study letters and numbers, stack and arrange blocks, and be outside.
Gryphon's mom says: "Gryphon's autistic-ness brings a lot of joy and learning and unique perspective to us, and we couldn't be happier to have him in our family."
Arren, 13, New York
Arren is a 13-year-old native New Yorker. He's never met a sport he doesn't like. His special interests include music, zombies, and dressing snazzy.
Arren's mom says: "Nothing I could say expresses Arren better than the joy he already communicates himself with his whole body."
Amelia, 7, Australia and Texas
Amelia loves horses, Tinkerbell, Tarzan, and all music!
Amelia's mom says: "Autism has taught us new ways to see, hear, live, love, and learn. And it is amazing!"
Dana, 8, Tennessee
Dana is in love with everything Minecraft, My Little Pony, and makeup. She claims to be a tomboy, but has a princess heart. Dana wants to be a teacher, own a lemonade stand, babysit, and be a YouTube star. She is a walking music dictionary. She can tell you any song title and artist of every song she's ever heard, and what key it's in. She plays the piano and guitar and writes and illustrates her own comic books. Dana has never met a stranger and strikes up conversation with everyone wherever she goes. She is a hugger. She is dynamic.
Dana's mom says: "She is unique. My biggest fear is that she won't care about fitting in with her peers. My other biggest fear is that one day she will."
Catcher, 5, Australia
Catcher is funny and fiercely loyal. He loves making his little sister laugh and quiet cuddles with his kitten. And trains!
Catcher's mom says: "Catcher's diagnosis called our family to be stronger and prouder than we expected to be. We are grateful to have him—and his incredible collection of trains—in our lives."
Josh, 10, and Julia, 13, world travelers
Joshua and Julia are traveling the world with their parents and seven other siblings. Currently in Israel, in the last year they have visited countries all over Europe and they enjoy the adventure.
Joshua loves swimming, sandcastle building, and bird watching. Julia loves playing with her baby brother, holding hands while walking in the sunshine, and organizing anything.
Joshua and Julia's mom says: "When I look into my children's eyes, I do not see ASD. I see my children on a journey. A journey out of themselves and into the world around them. A journey that has taken them farther than I thought they could go."
Camryn, 14, and Chloe, 11, Wisconsin
Camryn likes music, dressing up, going for walks, and seeing her friends at school. Her warm hugs and effervescent personality make everyone smile.
Chloe likes going to the zoo, playing games, playing with her dog and going to church. She has a charming and funny personality and quickly learns new things once she puts her mind to it!
Camryn and Chloe's mom says: "Autism is just part of who my girls are. It doesn't define them. Sometimes it's hard—like really hard. Other times, it's so beautiful that I can hardly catch my breath."
Trevor, 5, Texas
Trevor has diagnoses of autism, apraxia (speech and global), OCD, and SPD. He loves puzzles and will sit and diligently work until it's solved. Trevor's laughter is contagious to everyone around him.
Trevor's mom says, "One of the best things about Trevor is that he's always smiling, always happy. He never lets any of his special needs hold him back."
Kieran, 7, and Finley, 8, Texas
Finley and Keiran are brothers—born a year and a day apart— who are both on the autism spectrum. They're good friends, though they each have their own interests. Finley loves Thomas & Friends and puppy dogs. Kieran loves weather and science and trains.
Kieran and Finley's mom says: "The boys work so hard for all their milestones, including talking, personal care, and social skills. We appreciate the little things more than we may have otherwise."
Aysar, 7, Palestine
Aysar is always optimistic and smiling all the time. He's a good boy who is tender, kind, and soulful. He loves having everyone around him and being surrounded by people who communicate with him. He loves to hug and kiss them!
Aysar's mom says: "Aysar makes me happy and proud. I feel happy when he learns something, whether it's something he learned quickly or something that it took me time to teach him. Usually, he's a fast learner."
Haven and Henrick, 4, California
Haven and Henrick are autistic twins who are mostly non-verbal. Haven loves hugs and is a thrill-seeker. He loves jumping off or climbing on things and using his imagination to talk to his stuffed animals or playing dinosaurs.
Henrick is a cuddle-bug and tech junkie. He adores anything he can control and, although he's sensitive, his mom notes he's excellent at self regulation. The moment things get too much he knows he's able to go to his room in the quiet before he gets upset.
Haven and Henrick's mom says: "I know I wouldn't be the mom I am today without these little men. They have taught me to slow down, watch the flower blooms, and to always remember that the little things mean the most. With them nothing is taken for granted. Just hearing them say 'mom' is a rare blessing, but when I hear it my whole world stops."
Liam, 7, Oregon
Liam is a fun-loving autistic boy who loves to spend time with his family, listen to books and movies, play outside, and help with cooking. Although he's non-speaking, he communicates using RPM and other methods. He's a vibrant part of his family.
Liam's mom says: "Liam is entirely himself and quite perfect. We have learned so much about neurodiversity, embracing difference, and celebrating Liam's uniqueness over the last few years. I can't wait to see how Liam changes and grows as he gets older, and we are so grateful to learn from many autistic adults about the potential for Liam's future."
James, 3, North Carolina
James was just diagnosed with autism, level 2 and speech sound disorder. He was also born premature with hydrocephalus. He loves his older sister and older brother, trains, birds, lights, playing on the iPad, acting silly, and, selectively, hugs and kisses.
James' mom says: "He has taught us so much patience and love, and we adore him so much!"
Rhema, 11, Massachusetts
Rhema is autistic, epileptic, lovely, clever, gentle-hearted, and gracious. She communicates through RPM letter boards and her iPad. She describes herself as having "high expectations." She loves to color with markers, listen to music, and go for long rides in the car. Cheese and ice cream cake are her favorites! She hums the most graceful melodies. Rhema's adventures are documented at rhemashope.wordpress.com.
From Rhema's mom: "Her language, her life is a song. Whether she's humming softly or spelling words on her letter board, we feel so special that her beautiful voice blesses our days. Rhema has taught us to stop and really listen. And when we don't understand each other, love finds a way of translating for us."