Reed Williamson was 3 years old when he called his father "Daddy" instead of "juice box." His mom, Lindsay, said, "At 2, when he was first truly diagnosed, we had no idea of where he would go or what he would do."
From autism diagnosis to honor roll —
"I am so honored to say that my 10-year-old son is in fourth grade and he is autistic," said Lindsay Mansfield, mother of Travis. "But he's not just autistic. He is a fully functioning student on honor roll. He has friends (and some girlfriends) that he hangs out with regularly ... He is a writer of the most creative stories. And he builds ships with Legos. ... Everything about him is perfect, autism and all."
Taking nothing for granted —
Lin Wessels remembers when she first saw her son, Sam, swinging in the backyard by himself. It took years of therapy for him to get the coordination to pump his legs while pushing and pulling the ropes with his arms and balancing on the seat.
'Watching the lights go out' —
"At 2 years old, Charlie was diagnosed with autism," said Matthew McGhie, his father. "The diagnosis hit us hard. In that moment, we realized things were going to be different. There wouldn't be Little League baseball; there wouldn't be any of the normal things for our family. Rather than hugs, we'd get scratches. Rather than giggles, we'd get screams."
Autistic adults are 'the invisibles' —
Michael Buckholtz is a multiplatinum record producer but says his adult autism leaves him feeling "invisible" to the wider world. "It can get exhausting feeling like you're the only person that feels the way you do," he said. "We need for the general public to truly understand that."
Asperger's inspires me to 'make a difference' —
Gretchen Leary was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 23, three years ago. "I have found my passion in life, and that is to spread autism awareness," she said. "I am hoping that one day I will be able to somehow make a career out of it, but for now, I am trying to find different ways to spread awareness."
Autistic son 'a blessing' —
Sarah Jane Rahme says her son (Devin, right) "paces, flaps, quacks, claps his hands and finds it hard to hold still when not engaged in an activity. The beauty of it all is that he doesn't notice when people look, nor does he care."
'I am proud of my Aspie sister!' —
"My sister (Elizabeth, pictured with her husband) has made enormous progress from being an almost non-verbal child and a super shy teen," said Tina Hilson. "She has two college degrees and ... travels to schools to enlighten people about the existence of, and strengths of, autistic people."
'In-between' verbal and non-verbal autism —
"I have learned so much from Bobby, with the greatest lesson being that material possessions do not make a person happy," said Cheri Smith, his mother. "Bobby is perfectly happy playing with dirt and water while most of his toys sit in their orginial condition untouched on the shelves in his bedroom. Bobby loves nature unlike any other person that I know."
Autism motivates Special Olympics swimmer —
Karen Willis of Millbrook, Alabama, said her Asperger's diagnosis motivated her to work to spread awareness about autism. "Don't give up, because it will get easier with time and patience," she said. "I've overcome a lot of challenges in my life, and I know that my future is bright even though I'll still have challenges to face. It's not going to stop me from living my life."