“Different Son” by Susan Werner – A Song about a Boy with Autism

Dear friends,

I launched Autism Today as an online community in 1998. For families touched by autism, and facing so many challenges already, the Internet is more than a tool, it is a lifeline, connecting us with other families, expertise and resources, inspiration, and yes, good old entertainment.

Every week, something truly magical pops up on YouTube.  This week we received a video by Susan Werner, a deeply personal song about autism, entitled Different Son. It is from her album,  Kicking the Beehive, which will be released March 1st.

Her agent says he fears Different Son will not get radio play, because it deals with too serious a subject.  But with one in 110 children born with the disorder in the US, we feel this is, for all the right reasons, music for all ears.

At Autism Today, we have a special love for artists.  Something magical happens when a child on the spectrum is moved to create art.  Properly cultivated, art can be the key to unlock exceptional gifts.

This is why we created the Artism series; and will soon publish Artism: The Art of Autism; and celebrate Autism Vancouver with a wonderful arts carnival.

So, today, instead of my usual blog, I decided it would be enough to share a beautiful song, about something we all are passionate about. Sometimes a picture — or a song — is worth a thousand words.

Have a lovely week!

77 Ways to say “Good Job”

Everyone likes positive pats on the back, recognition and acknowledgement for a job well done.  It’s especially vital when raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder.  We should be mindful that sometimes, with our children with ASDs, the label we use can be the opposite of a back-pat.

When I founded Autism Today, I asked my sister Susan to create a logo that would be overwhelmingly positive.  I asked her to use a star, like the gold star we all loved to get from our teachers in school, instead of the puzzle piece.  Autism Today is about celebrating the gifts of our children on the spectrum, not focusing on what we all know and understand to be real challenges.  There’s no argument autism is real and, for those without the necessary resources, overwhelming.  But all of us, parents and children with ASDs, must focus on the unique and often amazing attributes – the positive side – of ASDs, first to cope, next to survive, and, finally, to thrive.  I raised my son Jonny to think of his autism-related skills as wonderful gifts.  When he was born, I could never have imagined how much fulfillment and fun Jonny would bring into our lives as a family.  Focusing on his ASD as a gift, rich with possibilities, was an important aspect of that journey.

I remember people challenging me that no one would know we were about autism since we didn’t use the puzzle piece like everyone else.  My thinking has always and will always be to accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives.  That old Johnny Mercer tune was a great favorite of my beloved father, Jack Simmons, a World War II veteran, pilot and aerospace engineer.  Attitude got him and many hundreds of thousands of military folk through a terrible time in history.  It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the trials in our lives raising a child on the spectrum.  But inside that child is a treasure chest of possibility.  It is our duty, those of us who know and love these children, to find the gems within – and to do that, we must always, every day, focus on unlocking those gifts.  To do it, we must always accentuate the positive!

My dear friend, Stephen Shore and I were talking about how positives are so good for our kids with autism, especially when accompanied with a red skittle, and sometimes teachers can get carried away with saying “good job” to often so we came up with 77 ways to say good job without being redundant.  I thought I would share them with you all.  Its rather cute.  Enjoy and don’t forget to get the red skittles!

77 ways to say “GOOD JOB”

  1. SUPER
  2. That’s RIGHT
  3. That’s good
  5. Perfect one
  6. You’ve just about got it
  7. THAT’S IT
  8. Now you’ve figured it out
  9. GREAT
  10. I knew you could do it
  11. Now you have it
  12. Good for you
  13. Couldn’t have done better myself
  14. That’s the right way to do it
  15. You did it that time
  16. You’re on the right track now
  17. Nice going
  18. WOW
  19. That’s the way
  20. Keep up the good work
  22. That’s the way to do it
  26. Much better
  28. You did that very well
  29. FINE
  33. That’s great
  34. Right on
  35. Superb
  36. Good remembering
  38. I like that
  39. Way to go
  40. Good thinking
  41. Good going
  42. Very good
  43. You remembered your sound
  44. That’s really nice
  45. Uh huh
  46. That’s a good one
  47. Yes
  48. I liked that sound
  49. Good
  50. Nice
  51. You’re really working hard today
  52. You are very good at this
  53. I’m happy to see you working so hard
  54. I’m proud of the way you’ve worked today
  55. You are doing much better today
  56. That’s the best you have ever done
  57. You’re doing a good job
  58. That’s quite an improvement
  59. You’re getting better every day
  60. That’s the best ever
  61. You must have been practicing
  62. You’re really going to town
  63. ow that’s what I call a fine job
  64. You’re really improving
  65. You’re doing beautifully
  66. You’ve got that down pat
  67. You certainly did well today
  68. Keep it up
  69. You did a lot of work today
  70. I’m very proud of you
  71. Now you have the hang of it
  72. You’re doing fine
  73. You are really learning a lot
  74. You out did yourself today
  75. You figured that out fast
  76. That kind of work makes me happy
  77. That’s it

Presence: The Best Holiday Present!

I don’t know if you’re like me but the magic of the holiday season seemed to pulling a “disappearing act “ lately.  This year I haven’t been feeling the spirit.

It’s a combination of things.  I lost my mother Mitzi in August; and my beloved step-dad, Bunny, last year.  It also has something to do with the kids.  I have six beautiful kids and am so proud of them.  But they are all busily growing up, several of them now launched into their adult lives.  It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch them take flight – joyously strong, but – sadly for me – quite able to do without me.

Christmas intensifies both the joy of love and family, and the wrench of separation.  Miraculous and terrible things happen during this season.  Famously, suicide rates spike during the holidays.  But between these extremes, I wonder if the process of the holiday – the planes, trains and automobiles, the shopping, the petty fears and anxieties we feel about seeing relatives, friends and loved ones with whom we have unresolved issues – actually disrupts their fundamental power to redeem and refresh us.

Sometimes, the holiday routine just takes over, like an unwelcome guest in our home, disrupting the family bond with those we love.

I’m not the only one at my home feeling this way.  Getting ready for the holidays, one of my kids told me NOT to buy her a present this year.  She said gifts don’t mean anything to her.  I nearly burst into tears!  How could they not want a Christmas gift from their mom?  Then one of the younger boys perfunctorily gave me a list, as if I were running out to go grocery shopping.  Ironically, at first, my boy’s brazenly materialistic attitude – pretty normal for a boy in his early teens – reassured me.  “At least one of the kids still needs me!” a little voice said.

Upon reflection, my thoughts and heart settled on one idea.  Each of us, if we are lucky, struggles at holiday time between presents and “presence.”  Especially if you are in North America, we sometimes get lost in our weird obsession with material expressions of love, and the increasingly more elusive prize of being “present” – mindfully, compassionately, and spiritually giving of ourselves to others, whether they be loved ones or complete strangers.

My conclusion: Whatever object we give each other during the holidays, it will fail as a present if given without our presence.  Indeed, the most miraculous thing of all that I see is the love that sometimes flows between utter solitudes – people who have no other reason to give to each other but the impulse of goodwill that flows at holiday time.

Imagine if we were better able, throughout the year, to give our hearts to each other, with no expectation of return.  Able to give our most jealously guarded interior gift – the gift of being present to, mindful of and lovingly disposed towards others.

I am not advocating we abandon holiday gift-giving outright.  Indeed, taking a moment to reflect on the occasional contest of material vs. intangible giving, made the gift hunt much more fun.  Who cares what I buy the kids?  It makes me feel good to buy them stuff; and if they are in the spirit, even a lousy gift is fun to receive.  So today, I joined countless of other souls at the mall and put my heart and soul into getting things I thought my family would enjoy!  I hope if your experiencing anything similar you reach into your own heart and capture the magic of gift giving.  It’s a wonderful magic to find it again.

In this spirit, I realized this week I have a gift for all of you, who have enriched my life more than I can say.  As many of you know,  winter holiday and other parties are a very challenging for people on the autism spectrum, especially little ones.  Several years ago, I wrote, How to Plan the Perfect Party, a little book for my little boy and his friends, and their families, so people would understand how to include him in the fun.  I hope you will enjoy this book and put it to use to help your child or friend with autism to fully participate in holiday festivities.  I hope it will help you create wonderful, unforgettable memories.

Much love and joy and MAGIC for the holiday season.


Karen Simmons

Founder & CEO Autism Today

Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children with Special Needs

Lost My Best Cheerleader!

You may be aware that I’ve been distracted and less responsive this fall and especially since Christmas is around the corner I want to tell you why.  It’s because I lost the best cheerleader I`ve ever had in my entire life, my mom!

I found out about my mom’s passing at the exact moment that the movie “Temple Grandin, based on the life of Dr. Temple Grandin received the Emmys for the acting of Claire Dane and others and Temple grabbed the microphone on stage to ask her lovely mother, Eustacia, to stand up and be recognized.

My sister Susan was the one who called me to tell me that my mother had suddenly passed away from a stroke and I do believe I was in shock!  At that moment I realized that I will never have my moment of asking my mom to stand up and be recognized like Temple did, so maybe we can all ask Eustacia to be `the mom“ that stands up for the other moms that can’t be there.

The phone which was glued to my head went completely dead during this time of the Emmy’s and I completely forgot it was there as I was numb from the news.  It was almost like Mom was saying from Heaven, I want you to enjoy your friend, Temple Grandin`s fine moment in the spotlight as she hugged Claire Danes! Hugs are unusual for Temple. I also reflected that as an individual, the reason I do what I do is due to moms passion.

Mom would always tell me “Karen, you can do whatever you want to do as long as you set your mind to it”. It’s because of her that I pursue my work with relentless persistence never giving up no matter what gets in the way.  It was also very coincidental that this Emmy celebration was all about `What did your mother want you to be when you grew up’.  They would ask the stars that question and show the stories in little vignettes.

I still can`t believe she`s gone.  Mom was in everything that I do, she even drew some of the pictures in my first book, Little Rainman: Autism Through The Eyes of a Child.  She was truly my biggest cheerleader and fan and I feel her presence still there shining down from above as I write this blog.  To get a sense of my mom (and maybe even yours) I will share the poem I wrote for her…


She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her heart of gold she shared with you and presents she would send!

Every moment a story shared with love and passion true

By my side when I almost died, only to start my life anew

When mother said “now girls”, we knew we were in trouble

She’d holler out, “you kids clean up right now and on the double!”

She traveled the world from Hong Kong to Beirut, and with Bunny painted the town red

Operas, musicals, shopping, fancy clothes, always tasteful in what she did and said!

When she tried something really good, it was simply “the best she’d ever tasted”

And boy was she frugal you could always count on her for not a penny wasted!

An artist to her core, she’d say “oh, look at the trees and flowers”

She’d talk about her times and memories and we’d listen for many hours

She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her water colors are still filled with every color in the wind

Everything always had a place she’d say Karen “put it back where you found it”

Of course as kids when she said clean up, we’d say when we get around to it

She had a saying for everything like “I feel more like I do than I did”

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,   I hear her recite now in my head!

She always had her “face on” and was impeccably dressed

Perfection was her middle name and she always looked her best.

She was lovingness, please and thank you’s and her home was someplace special

Like a dream-world keeping things clean, “don’t put it down, put it up” all very beneficial

Somehow I never thought she’d leave us, and we’ll cherish her forever

She taught us all how to love and feel and was a mother like no other

Remembering her with wonderment like a connoisseur of dark chocolate

A real lady with all the class in the world, she’d want to be remembered like that!

She never knew a stranger, she always knew a friend

Her memory will live on in our souls, and over time our hearts will mend

Your essence will live on in our being and you will leave us…… never

We will all remember you Mitzi, love and butterfly kisses….. forever!

Before all this happened I had asked our Autism Today friends to submit articles to share with our readers.  We received an overwhelming amount of articles.  Then I had to fly to Alabama to tend to my mother’s affairs.  I don’t want anyone to think I dropped the ball or forgot about them as we still have all the articles ready to post to my site waiting on my computer and they are deeply appreciated so I want to thank each and every one of you that sent me articles for sending them.  Because of all that’s happened, we’ve decided to put them into the new website we are launching in November – December this year.  If you were one of the folks that submitted an article please watch for it on the new “launch” of Autism Today

Since I know so many of us are baby boomers and you may have lost someone very special in your heart recently as well.  To you I send my condolences.  Moms are everything, aren’t they?  They nurture us when we are sick, they love us and care for us unconditionally.  Temple’s birthday was on August 29th and my mother passed away on that very same day.   I will continue to do whatever it takes to bring her loving passion through me to the cause of autism related disorders.

Much love and warm wishes!  Have a happy holiday season.  Your loved ones would want it to be that way.


Karen Simmons

Beginning ‘Little Rainman’

During these days I sought information to help his teachers relate to him better by understanding him. Just like with Mrs. Spaulding example, I had to explain over and over again what Jonny’s unique gifts and challenges were all about. I looked for some sort of book I could just pass on to everyone, but there wasn’t any, so I decided to write my own. This eventually became Little Rainman, autism through the eyes of a child, which bridged relationships between Jonny, his teachers, and his siblings and eventually, helped him understand himself. Some of his idiosyncrasies in the book include spinning in circles, repeating the same thing over and over, watching and memorizing movies repeatedly, and his lack of fear.
Told in the first person from Jonny’s perspective, it starts out, “My name is Jonathan. I have autism (aw-tis-um). My nose looks the same as other people’s and my ears and eyes do too. Except that I can see and hear a lot better than most people. My brain thinks different. Some things I do better, like reading and copying; other things I do worse, like making friends.”
This was the rhyme and rhythm of Jonny’s thinking in those days. I sent it off to one publisher and 6 months later it was published as one of the first real looks into the truth about autism. The truth I came to share with you today.

“Little Rainman” – The full review

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