Autistic Mama and Sons Request: See Us for Us, Not our Labels

member highlight  positive parenting 

By Ashley Patek

Fidget and Fries

“It is a wonderful thing, being a mother. I don’t really think about being a ‘neurodiverse mom to neurodiverse children,’ I just think of myself as being a mom,” says Tiffany Hammond, an autistic mama to two autistic sons.

Practicing self-love and acceptance has been a journey for Tiffany. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a community of neurodiverse individuals to help me. I was alone and trying to navigate this world that wasn’t designed for a mind like mine. My grandma and husband are the ones I credit the most with my growth because, they not only believed in me, but they loved me whole, and as I am. And that is just what I needed to carry me through until I learned to love myself.”

The birth of her sons brought Tiffany closer to her inner child. “I saw myself in them. Not just their faces or their smiles, but their spirit. They were me, in smaller packaging, trying to operate in this world just as I used to. And they did it far better than I ever had. So I watched them. I learned from them, and I found myself within their person. They have healed me and they don’t even know it. Every part of the person others know me as today, I owe all the credit to them. I am okay with who I am because they are fully okay with who they are. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Tiffany describes her sons. “Aidan is my oldest, thirteen-year-old, and the sweetest soul ever. He is diagnosed with autism and Intellectual Disability. Because he is nonspeaking, he communicates using picture boards and an AAC app on his iPad. Josiah is eleven-years-old, my old soul with a giant heart. He is diagnosed with autism as well. While he does speak, it’s situational and he often uses text and writing to communicate.”

While there are similarities in the presentation of their autism, Tiffany and her sons are living interconnected individual experiences. “Both of my sons encompass strengths and have areas they struggle in, just like everyone else. My oldest is unapologetic with who he is. He wears his autism like skin. He is one with it and he is proud. I love and adore his confidence. Josiah is a brave soul as well, yet he keeps his diagnosis under the radar most times. I wouldn’t say he is ashamed of autism, but rather he doesn’t want that to be the focus of everyone’s interactions with him. He would rather just be Jojo, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” 

When it comes to describing the diagnosis of autism, Tiffany urges to drop functioning labels altogether. “Autism is one diagnosis, so I encourage others to remove high/low and mild/severe from the scope of vocabulary. They aren’t accurate measures of who we are as people. Once you are labeled with something like ‘severe’ people fail to think you are capable of more. And we are all capable of more. And if they label you as ‘high-functioning’, society’s perception is that your struggle is less in some way. This isn’t always true. In any case, who wants to be defined by the things they don’t do well? That is exactly what labeling someone as high/low and mild/severe does.”

Dropping labels makes space for the true and full expression of someone’s being. “Presume competence, and treat us like humans with dignity. I promise you will see the person before you, and that person will show you all of the things that the rest of the world told them that they could not do. People can breathe life into another with just one word, one thought, one action... but they can also snatch that life away with one word, one thought, one action. I ask that you give life by seeing past labels and witnessing the beautiful mind before you.”

Tiffany continues, “At the end of the day, we are just people like everyone else. We have feelings and thoughts and wants and desires. We want friends and to love and give love back. We are deserving of meaningful lives just like all others. If you’re neurotypical, I ask you to open yourselves up to us, see us, and befriend as you wound anyone else.” 

Convenient children are not healthy children. This is one of the many truths Tiffany holds dear to her heart and shares with her community. “We live in a world where we expect children to be miniature adults instead of children. But they are still figuring out their bodies, minds, and emotions, and the world at large. And that is for all children, regardless of neurotype. Yet, it makes it a bit more difficult for neurodiverse children when they are trying to figure themselves out in a world that is in many ways not designed for them all the while not fully grasping the need to be molded into pint-sized adults.”

“So many children, neurodiverse and neurotypical alike, enter social settings wound up but withholding release because they don’t know how it will be received. They don’t know if what they do will be perceived as bad or wrong, and they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. So they bottle it all in. They keep it locked up. And they aren’t actually being well-behaved, they are being trained - trained by circumstances to stay locked within themselves. And then they are praised by adults for being so calm and quiet and ‘mature.’ This does so much damage to a child without a disability, and it does so much harm to one with a disability.”

Emotional regulation is important for everyone, Tiffany shares. “So much triggers me and my boys and we have to find ways to center ourselves before it gets out of control. We don’t and cannot always name those really big emotions that we have so we are always working on new ways to identify what we feel. When we can name it, we can better stay on top of our reactions when those feelings do come. Learning about emotions is something that we prioritize heavily as a family.”

Tiffany found Generation Mindful’s tools to help her in this process. “Honestly, I think we have everything y’all offer. And we use every bit of it, often. We especially like the travel version of the Time-In boards. This helps when we are on the go or when the boys don’t want to be in the designated space in the house. I also use the PeaceMakers mantra cards as journal prompts for myself and the kids.” 

When it comes to support, Tiffany acknowledges that there is a lack within the community, yet she is dedicated to help turn the tide. “Parenting in general is challenging. Our circumstances definitely make it more difficult to access what we need to fully integrate into the community and we are constantly having to fight for rights, services, and accommodations. This is a heartbreaking aspect of our existence. One that I hope to chip away at with the work that I do.” 

At the end of the day, we all want to be seen, heard, and validated. Tiffany shares that her family and the neurodiverse community is no different. “We aren’t gifted because we are disabled. We are beautiful, unique, and special beings, but not because our disability makes it so, but because we simply exist. Humanity is a beautiful thing, no matter who wears it.”

_____________

** This mama identifies as an autistic mom and that is why we chose the language mentioned in the title. We are aware that some may feel more inclined to use "mom with autism", however we chose to be respectful to this mom's personal experience and preferences. 

** Tiffany Hammond is the voice behind Fidgets and Fries. She is an autistic mother and advocate. Tiffany is a storyteller, using her own personal experiences with Autism and parenting two Autistic boys to guide others on their journey. Her activism is rooted in challenging the current perception of Autism as being a lifelong burden, cultivating a community that explores the concept of Intersectionality and Autism, and inspiring thought leaders through storytelling, education, and critical discourse. She has a Masters in Developmental Psychology from Liberty University. 

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