In the studio with the BLES Bobcat news team and art contest winners!

After our Disney bullying experience at the beginning of this year, I thought, “What kind of message are our kids receiving about autism?”

I wanted to make sure that we started the conversation locally as early as possible. I wanted to get ahead of the message, because while Billy's current four- and five-year-old classmates at Buck Lake Elementary School are the best and most beautiful people on the face of the planet (I really believe this), even great kids can turn into Mean Girls. And one day, he's going to that scary place known as middle school.

So, with the sponsorship support of my amazing sister, Samantha Strickland of Pea Green Solutions, I sponsored a poster contest at Billy's elementary school. The rules were very simple: Just do an Autism Awareness Month poster. Talk about how being different is ok and good. Use my blog title in it for extra credit.

About 40 fourth- and fifth-graders participated, and I got the posters back a couple of days ago.

I just boo-hooed as I went through them in my kitchen. I actually felt ashamed for adults and our utter inability to get it. Adults have to try to love the whole world and kids just do it so naturally. What happens to us?

While I already knew that Billy's teacher, his classroom aides, his school therapists and his wonderful principal have the most beautiful hearts, I was floored by the thoughtful and understanding way these young artists approached the idea of autism awareness. With the principal and art teacher's help, we narrowed down the big pile to 11 of our favorites (I couldn't eliminate one and make it and even top 10). You can see all 11 finalists at the Facebook page.

Then our panel of celebrity judges weighed in. And what a great panel we had: co-sponsor of the contest Samantha Strickland, CEO of Pea Green Solutions; Mark Marsiglio, CEO of ThinkCreative Advertising; Rosanne Dunkelberger, editor of Tallahassee Magazine; pop artist Jules Burt; and Jeanette Dummer, assistant director of the Florida State University Honors Program.

Today, we awarded the prizes for the top 5 posters during the Buck Lake Bobcat Morning News (side note: I was totally blown away by how professionally these elementary school students can produce, shoot and anchor a morning talk show -- they could teach the pros a few things).

We had three third place prize winners who each received a $10 cash prize:


3rd place: Joseph R.

Joseph R's incredible pencil drawing illustrates individual uniqueness through a cityscape of intricately drawn buildings.
I like the way Odessa D. created faces out of puzzle pieces and mixed media including pencils, pastels and puffy paint.
Striking, simple and effective, Claire H's colorful butterfly is a beautiful metaphor for autism.

Next, came our second prize winners, because Chloe B. and Natalie B. chose to work together on this beautiful design, while incorporates colored pencil and 3-D fabric elements. The artists share the $25 second prize for this beautiful poster:


And finally our first prize winner! The talented Lauren S. clearly "gets it," because in the words of one judge, "I like the suggestion of not just what to do but HOW to do it!" I also love the way a couple of the kids are wearing Life is a Spectrum T-shirts. GREAT idea, Lauren :-) Lauren received a $50 cash prize and FOUR TICKETS TO DISNEY WORLD!!


Thank you to all the young artists, esteemed judges, phenomenal teachers, the wonderful principal Sands and my tireless, creative and supportive sister Sam (did I mention that you should hire Pea Green Solutions for all your marketing needs???) without whom I truly would not have made it through this month.

You have all made this April a very special time for me and my family.

Reader Comments

Security text:*

Enter both words below, with or without a space.
The letters are not case-sensitive.
Can't read this? Try another


Wow! What amazing talent! I love how everyone has such a unique and different take on it. Great job everyone & congrats!!

1 Wasabi mommy

I really love the title of your blog.. it makes total sense.. just following you back.. from sits

Congratulations on the successful contest, Amanda! I hope other schools will follow Buck Lake's example!


What a creative way of spreading awareness to these kids Amanda. I read your bullying incident at WDW and that is really sad. In retrospect, I hope Disney will learn from it. Great work on the contest!

Snippets 'N Stuff

I posted a link on my blog. This was such an amazing idea.

Snippets 'N Stuff

What an amazing idea! I love this! The kids artwork is precious. I could see how you would get choked up. Thanks for sharing.

This is a great idea, wonderfully executed. Now I know what you've been doing all April...what are you gonna do with yourself when it's over?? I know I know...awareness isn't going to end on April 30, right? Great job!

What a Cool Idea!

I can't not get over how great the kids did with their art! They posters were all so amazing!

Total 11 comments


Believe it or not, there are people in this country who are still completely unaware that it's Autism Awareness Month.


Those people are clearly not reading this blog, because I've been talking about it so much that I'm starting to annoy myself. I'm afraid that I'm in danger of taking myself too seriously, that I'll eventually lose the ability to conduct normal conversations and will, instead, communicate only in long pretentious speeches peppered with words like “splinter skills” and “neurotypical” from which the local media is encouraged to pull inspiring sound bites.


After a month of “awareness speak,” I fully expect to wake up one morning and find myself transformed from my human form into one giant puzzle piece, the way that Kafka character turned into a roach ... See? What was I worried about? Name-dropping Kafka in an essay about autism awareness? There is clearly no danger of me becoming pretentious ... no... none

It may be time to go back to writing about how I need a pedicure and my inability to cook. (The link at the left is provided, in case you'd like to read something completely unrelated to autism awareness.)


That being said, prepare for a startling admission: ALL my reasons for getting on board the Autism Awareness Month Train this year are totally selfish. All. Totally. (Probably not that startling, after all.)


A year ago, I thought the whole thing was, at best, stupid: “Awareness? You want me to show you some bleedin' AWARENESS? just come a Little. Bit. Closer.” I'm always slightly Cockney in these violent fantasies, for some reason.


I know some of you who still feel this way – and to you I say, “What? You don't see how a blue Eiffel Tower is going to directly benefit your autistic child?” Cynics.


So I watched last year as Good Morning show after Good Morning show hijacked our community and our children to ask over and over again – sometimes completely ignorantly well-meaning -- “Are vaccines worse than POISON?!?” “Are children literally DYING of autism?!?!” “Will your child turn autistic and KILL you?!?!”


OK, perhaps I made that last one up. But just barely. There have been similar stories. Talk shows as recently as this year described autism as “The diagnosis parents fear MOST!!!!!” Surely, terminal cancer is a scarier diagnosis ... right?


I thought, I'm going to stage a coup of Autism Awareness Month – at least in my corner of the world. I'm at the very least going to join the cacophony of crazy to say, “I'm here too. Not miserable. Not afraid of matricide.”


I thought that maybe there's someone out there like I was three years ago, terrified of the A-word, and in addition to the stories like “The TERROR of Autism!!!!!!!” they should hear that our story is possible too: Three years after diagnosis, we are a joyful, slightly chaotic – often challenged – family. We have autism amongst us and we are still very very happy.


I'm not saying that our experience is an accurate depiction of the entire wide spectrum of autism. Far from it.


There are as many ways to be autistic as there are to be human.


But when PBS shares journalism legend Robert MacNeil's experience with an autistic grandson, and gives a forum for his daughter to share her opinion that her son is autistic because he was vaccinated and that all his problems were caused by vaccinations, I feel compelled to tell the five or so people who regularly read my blog that I feel differently.

My son was autistic from birth – though I didn't know all the signs because he was a baby and babies just don't generally do all that much then anyway. And his autism, while a profound part of who he is, doesn't prevent him from being a funny, social, happy, occasionally oddball, member of a family of oddballs. (FYI, I believe in a genetic component to autism with Very. Good. Reason.)

I continue to vaccinate my children. But I'm not here to debate vaccinations. That particular deceased pony has been thoroughly walloped on this site previously.


At the beginning of the month, we also “Lit it Up Blue” for Autism Speaks. And I was surprised by how gratified and touched I felt the first time I saw a cashier in a store on World Autism Awareness Day, wearing a blue shirt.


When I told her my son was autistic, she beamed (not the usual response), as though she felt a pride at being caught in an act of kindness. She felt ownership of the movement, even in a that small way that she participated. And we talked a little about autism and I was able to share our story (share=monopolize her time with a pretentious speech that took so long she nearly got fired). And she spoke as though she were directly involved, even though her personal link – something convoluted about her roommate's fiance's grandchild's husband or something – was less direct than what most of us deal with on a regular basis.


But we must invite these people into our community, to thank them for their contribution – even wearing a blue shirt – and make them feel like one of us, because today's blue-shirted Gap Kids cashier might be tomorrow's defender against restaurant bullies. She'll definitely be a voter (I have strongly encouraged her to bother to vote next time) and who knows? She might one day run for office and get to vote in FAVOR of funding programs for those with developmental disabilities.


I'm not asking for miracles. And I don't care if you light it up blue or green or if the whole thing just makes you see red.


But I do believe in sharing your story. Autism awareness is about making people aware of YOUR point of view. Hijack awareness for your own personal cause. Make the month of May “We're Still Aware Month” (actually, I think somebody's doing that ... or maybe I dreamed it) or tell someone, one person, something of which you wish they were aware.


At the very least, let's not reject the people that are trying to join us, trying to do something. Most of them would like to do more. If they're wearing a blue shirt, ask them, “Wanna do something for autism awareness? How about babysit my kids while I go to the grocery store?”

After that proposal, they'll think voting is the easy way out.

Reader Comments

I've learned a lot about autism from you, someone who has no autistic family members (that I know of), I appreciate what you do to educate people like me!


P.S. Now go get that pedicure...

Loved your post today, and have shared it with those unwitting people who call me "friend" on facebook. 8)

Well done... again.

It is funny how something as simple as a blue lightbulb on a neighbor's porch or a blue shirt on a friend can give you the warm fuzzies. It worked for me, though! It's a start! =)


I have been following your blog since finding you on Twitter. I really value all that you do and I don't know whether you take any notice of blog awards but I would like to pass one on to you and it's on my blog. Hope you like it.

Thanks again

Karen xx

As Always, Another Great Post

I'm pretty cynical about Autism Awareness Month. Yes, it's great that a lot of media is getting info out on autism--some info great, some not so great!

How much awareness is this really raising? I think the people who are interested are listening and those that aren't interest are tuning it all out.

I also feel that those of us that blog about autism year-round are doing are part! Yes, are situations are all different. That's a great representation of what autism is like!

Total 5 comments


OK, that blog post title sounds a leeeetle bit creepy and weird now that I read it in the big letters.

Nonetheless, we do now have a winner of our giveaway of the Scentsy Piece By Piece Warmer for Autism Speaks! Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway and big congratulations to ...

Mary M!

Mary will receive a brand new warmer and scented wax from Scentsy. Just email me your mailing address, Mary, to and Scentsy will send out a warmer directly to you ... and it'll still have that new warmer smell.

Reader Comments

Thank you!


Total 1 comments

As I reported last week, Dave was out of town for nearly a week. Upon his return, this smiling child greeted him ...


(Billy was there too, but he ran past so quickly there wasn't time for a photo.) Almost immediately *I* had to leave and go out of town overnight. The last time I left, BILLY MADE A CAKE. This trip, I returned after less than 24 hours to find ...


OK! Daddy says I'm ready for church!

So you can just imagine what the rest of the house looks like. Check back later if you'd like to find out if I survived the aftermath -- and to hear which of you won the Scentsy Giveaway!

Reader Comments

Snippets 'N Stuff

Hahahahaha. Oh my goodness! I want to go to YOUR church :)

Hey, I just met you over at SITS so decided to drop by for a visit. Thanks for sharing with us about your Billy, he is adorable. I have a beautiful special needs child who has had symptoms similar to Billy's, she has FAE. With medication and lots of therapy, we get by. I have *so* been in public with the meltdowns and the angry glares - if I see you out and about, I'll catch Billy and give you a big hug. Love ya!

I remember those days of children dressing themselves while Dad looks after them...I also recall coming home one night from work to find that two-year-old Kaylee had "rearranged" my carefully organized and labelled photos in a photo album while her father dozed on the couch!

Welcome home!


Total 3 comments


The winner of the FREE DVD of Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic is Heather from! Congratulations, Heather: Just send me your mailing address to, and I'll get a copy of this award-winning documentary to you pronto!

And for those of you in the Tallahassee area, you can come out and see this inspiring film on the big screen FREE this weekend at the Florida State University Student Life Center Cinema. The screening takes place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 17. Admission is free, but voluntary donations will be accepted for the FSU Card Center's Autism Project. Anyone donating $25 or more will receive a copy of the DVD to take home as well.

If you're not in the area, but you'd still like to see Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic, if you click on the banner at the top of this page, you can order one.

We're only halfway through Autism Awareness Month, and next week will bring more fun stuff: the winner of the Scentsy Piece by Piece Giveaway (there's still time to enter!), announcement of a special blogger giveaway, display of the winners of the autism awareness poster contest at Billy's elementary school (SO adorable!!) and much much more! (Actually, "much, much" is probably pushing it, but I'm kind of in a hurry at the moment and my mental thesaurus isn't working at top speed.)

Have a great weekend!

Reader Comments


Are you sure? Cause I usually win everything I compete in. Maybe I should have entered.

Wow! I won!! I'm so excited :) Thanks Amanda- I'll get that email out to you!! I can NOT wait to watch this!


SOunds like a wonderful book

Total 3 comments

Subscribe to this blog!

...or grab my button! button

(Billy and I are in it.)


Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30