Valuing Difference


Photo: Joshua Huston

“By the time Jackie Moffitt was 16, he had transferred schools four times and was longing for a community where he could be accepted as his authentic self — an autistic person. “Autistic people are very dehumanized in our society,” says Moffitt. “They are perceived as being incapable of emotions. People are surprised that people with autism can understand humor or love. They assume that having autism means a lack of desire to connect with other human beings.”

Seeking this connection, Moffitt discovered Theater of Possibility (TOP), a theater arts program based in Seattle and Bellevue serving kids who are “quirky, spirited, or shy or who may have Asperger’s, autism, ADHD, or other learning or ability differences,” as the demographic is described on the TOP website.

Through theater games, improvisation, and role-playing led by TOP Director Lauren Goldman Marshall, Moffitt learned to embrace many of his personal attributes like extreme extroversion and abstract thinking that he’d previously felt pressure to repress.

“A lot of times for kids with disabilities their whole life is about people telling them what they’re deficient in,” says Marshall, who co-founded TOP in the years after her own daughter was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. “With TOP, they are here first and foremost to have fun and create theater together. I’m definitely highlighting relationship skills, but it’s brought in more through the back door. It’s about making kids feel successful.”

Now 21, Moffitt works as a teacher’s assistant at TOP, supporting the next generation of autistic children as they learn and grow while they also reach a level of self-acceptance.

“It’s not just about autistic people needing to learn neurotypical social skills so they can pass in a world that is majority non-autistic people,” says Moffitt. “I think that neurotypical people should also learn how to empathize with autistic people’s perspective and communicate with them on their own terms.”



Prescribing Shelter

Popsicle Place

Photos: Andrea Sassenrath

Popsicle Place, located primarily at the Mary’s Place Guest Rooms in South Lake Union and at a Mary’s Place house in Shoreline, gives homeless families with chronically sick kids a place to rest and recuperate. Families get private rooms, or the use of single-family houses that are loaned to the organization. The cost to run Popsicle Place varies by location and need of the families. The organization has received a couple of grants for the program, but primarily the funding comes from the general Mary’s Place budget.

Those who use Popsicle Place services include families with children battling cancer and mothers with babies born premature. The program is currently hosting about nine families but has the capacity to shelter more.


“Amber Wise never imagined that her 5-year-old son Josiah would one day be diagnosed with leukemia.

‘He was complaining that his legs hurt,’ Wise said. ‘It kept getting worse, and so we took him to the local hospital in Spokane, but they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.’

Finally, after running several blood tests, Wise received a call informing her that her son had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

‘When we found out he had cancer, I felt like I hit the bottom of the barrel,’ Wise said.

At the time, Wise and her family were homeless, struggling to secure stable housing in Moses Lake, a city on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. With the help of a relative, she relocated with her wife and son to Seattle where Josiah could receive the best possible care at Seattle Children’s Hospital.”

Pick up a copy from your local Seattle Real Change vendor! 



Maria Bamford Wants You to Know You’re Doing Great


In her sublime new Netflix standup special, Old Baby, premiering on May 2nd, Maria Bamford performs a comedy set in increasingly larger venues. What begins as a few jokes in front of a mirror, progresses to a living room, onto a bowling alley, and so on, until she goes out with a bang on a big stage. The special is sparkling, her jokes are original, and her audience grows more hysterical with laughter as the size of the performance venue expands and shrinks. She is truly magnificent.

Maria Bamford is my favorite comedian. I admire everything she stands for as a comic and as a human being, and told her so in stream of barely intelligible gushing at the beginning of our interview. I rarely find myself star struck these days, but Bamford is special. Her comedy has served as somewhat of a lifeline to me during particularly dark times, and I was determined to repay her with a good interview. My enthusiasm was profuse and unsettling, but she accepted it with grace. Stephen Colbert may have proclaimed her to be his favorite comedian on planet earth, but she is my favorite comedian in the history of the universe and I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and adoration.

I asked Bamford several relevant questions about her comedy special, but then, throwing caution to the wind, I dove in with the 36 questions. If you’re not familiar, the 36 questions refer to a study by the psychologist Arthur Aron (and others) that explores whether intimacy between two strangers can be accelerated by having them ask each other a specific series of personal questions. I had recently read Mandy Len Catron’s Modern Love essay, “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” and thought if there was ever a moment to accelerate intimacy, this interview was it. I asked Bamford if she’d heard of the 36 questions. She had. With genuine excitement she exclaimed, “let’s fall in love!” And we did. Or at least I did. Again.


How to Talk to Your Kids About Bullying


Adam Wenzel. Photo: Joshua Huston

We can all conjure an image of a bully, drawing from TV shows and movies like Back to the Future, Mean Girls and A Christmas Story (poor Ralphie!). But the truth is, bullying is not a normal, inevitable part of childhood. It’s a serious deviation. Gone are the days of dismissing repeated, aggressive behavior among school-aged children as merely kids being kids. 

Decades of research have taught us that children who are bullied — as well as those who inflict the bullying — often suffer anxiety, depression, poor academic performance and physical ailments, and are at a higher risk for substance abuse and a wide range of other health problems in adulthood.

Committee for Children, a Seattle nonprofit, is working to prevent bullying through a social-emotional learning program being taught to 80,000 Puget Sound-area students at 130 schools. 

‘It’s not just about making kids better, it’s about working with adults and an entire community to create a climate where bullying is not the norm, not tolerated, not OK,’ says Mia Doces, director of the New Mission Ventures program at the committee. 

No parent wants to discover that their child is getting pelted in the head every day on their morning bus ride or eating lunch in the bathroom to avoid taunting in the cafeteria. But if you don’t ask, you may never know. Many kids either don’t recognize that it’s a problem they should report, or they feel too ashamed to tell someone they trust.” 


Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis


What an amazing gift to work on this powerful documentary about opioid addiction. Proud to know these folks and so grateful for the opportunity to help change the national conversation on this issue.

Watch the full MTV documentary here: 

“Prescription For Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis”

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid addiction, know that you are not alone, that you are loved unconditionally, and that there is help. Learn more at:

When Your Child’s Worrying Becomes Worrisome


Jocelyn Skillman, Youth and Family Therapist. Photo: Joshua Huston

“What Seattle’s children are anxious about today might surprise you. While many are afraid of the dark or getting bad grades, some local mental health professionals say others worry about Mt. Rainier erupting and Donald Trump becoming president.

Regardless of the source, anxiety is a natural part of being alive. When we perceive danger, our thoughts race, our heart rate increases, stress hormones pump and our breath becomes shallow. This physiological response compels us into action when a real threat is present, or it’s time to perform a challenging task. But when the anxiety is prolonged and irrational, it can become a barrier to fully engaging in life. “


Or pick up a hard copy at your local Seattle library!


Ana Gasteyer Gets Into Character in ‘Lady Dynamite’


“Legendary SNL cast member Ana Gasteyer lives up to her reputation on the brilliant new Netflix streaming comedy Lady Dynamite, on which she plays talent agent Karen Grisham. Created by Arrested Development‘s Mitch Hurwitz and writer/producer Pam Brady, Lady Dynamite follows comedian Maria Bamford (playing a version of herself) as she struggles with mental illness and her career in Hollywood.

If you’ve ever met a talent agent in the flesh, you’ve probably met someone like Gasteyer’s Karen Grisham. She chatters at the speed of light, flatters with abandon, and is prone to deranged bouts of irrational anger. Saying so much crazy so quickly was a challenge, but Gasteyer makes it look easy. Be forewarned: the jokes land swiftly, so it can be difficult to catch all the funny over the sound of your own laughter.

I caught up with Gasteyer on Lady Dynamite, her jazzy musical act, and method acting at the guacamole table.”


Why Do Ghosts Wear Human Clothes?


Garments for the Grave. Designer: Pia Interlandi.

“Paranormal enthusiasts often report sighting spirits dressed in Victorian period clothing, flowing white dresses, or just jeans and t-shirts. Why? If ghosts are, as paranormal investigators would have us believe, essentially human spirit energy stuck in purgatory between earth and the great beyond, why do their manifestations include the manufactured convention of clothing? We consulted paranormal and death experts from around the globe on what ghosts are wearing these days and why.”

Read the Full Article on Racked – IF YOU DARE

When Missed Periods Are a Metabolic Problem

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects around 10% of women and doubles their likelihood of hospitalization for heart disease, diabetes, mental-health conditions, reproductive disorders, and cancer of the uterine lining. Yet, an estimated 70% of women with PCOS go undiagnosed and untreated.

Womb Art

Artisti: Vijay Sharon Govender

The Common Hormonal Disorder That Scientists Don’t Understand 

I wrote about this misunderstood disorder for The Atlantic. To learn more about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, check out the PCOS Challenge Website.

Read the full article here and spread the word to the ladies in your life!

Amy Sequenzia: Non-Speaking Autistic Speaking


“Amy Sequenzia is a non-speaking Autistic activist who loves words and writes free verse poetry. Amy also blogs regularly for Ollibean and Autism Women’s Network, and guest blogs for several websites. Amy serves on the Board of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) and the Autism National Committee (AutCom) and has presented in several conferences, in the US and Canada.

Amy uses AAC, FC and RPM to communicate. The right of individuals to communicate in any form that works for them is an important issue for Amy, as is the right of everyone to be totally included in the larger community. As a multiply disabled, non-speaking activist, Amy wants to reach out to young Autistics and their families, showing them that everyone should be heard because everyone has something to say.

Amy lives in Florida with friends, who are also her support staff. But mostly, they are friends. Amy’s links to published articles can be found on her blog:

When did you receive ABA therapy and what was your experience?

I was very young. I did not have the intensive 40 hours/week program. At the same time, it was disrespectful of my autonomy. Not only I was not allowed choices, nobody cared to tell me why I had to do what they wanted, as if their idea of “right” was unchallengeable. I was a kid and I was being forced to do things that my brain could not understand. Because the therapists were unsuccessful, they blamed my “profound retardation” and pushed my self-esteem to the ground.

Today, I know I was being myself and even showing self-determination. But at the time, I was said to be too damaged to “learn” (the right words would be obey, comply) and to be making life harder for my parents.That’s why I say I am proud I “failed” ABA.

What is your favorite part about being autistic? What are some things you can do or experience that you think non-autistics miss out on?

I like everything about being Autistic. It is who I am and I like myself (I had to learn that this is ok, after years of internalized ableism, of people saying I wasn’t good enough).

I don’t think people miss out on not being Autistic, in the same way I don’t think Autistics miss out on not being non-autistic.
We are who we are and we are who we are supposed to be. I respect the neurotypical and the non-autistic neurology.

There is though, one advantage non-autistics enjoy: privilege. Being considered the norm, the desirable, the “right”. But this is due to societal perceptions. This is true for all disabled people.

What alternative kind of support is the most helpful to you?

I cannot say it is alternative because my answer is: human support. I can do what I set myself up for doing if I have someone who respects me, who understands my needs, and who supports me without judgment.

Do you believe ABA practitioners have mean-spirited intentions?

No. But they learn from a very ill-intended textbook, the same one that tried to “fix” homosexuality. I am sure some of them are pretty bad and are stuck in the old idea that normalization is synonym of success. They refuse to acknowledge that being trained to obey, and to force our brains to do things in a way they are not wired to do causes long lasting pain, or makes Autistics learn the “correct” answers and “behaviors”, while keeping their Autistic essence buried and unexplored. Self-determination begins with choice and stories of adults who only want to please and look “normal” should not be considered success stories.

I hear a lot of BCBA’s saying that “their ABA is not ‘like that’”. If they are using a neurotypical measurement of success, their ABA is training into compliance, and it is bad. Some also like to say “’these’ kids need to learn things”, as if only Autistic kids need to “learn things”.

I think most of the therapists are unwilling to reject old methods, maybe some are just afraid of challenging the “big names”, some are just too happy to call anything ABA, which is expensive and with a powerful lobby, making it more likely to be covered by insurance.

The lobby is so powerful, ABA is now “teaching” Autistic kids things that every child should learn, or teaching them how to button a shirt, something most kids learn from their families. Autism is a developmental disability. Children learn in a different timeline. ABA measures Autistic children’s success based on a non-autistic timeline

What do you imagine as the ideal educational situation for a non-speaking autistic child?

The ideal situation for any child in school is to have their needs respected. For a non-speaking child, this could mean the educators learning the child’s communication method. Remember: everybody communicates, and behavior is communication. It is not the fault of an Autistic child that the neuromajority cannot understand her language.

How has your experience of autism as an adult changed since you were a child?

I had to unlearn ableism (I internalized all the assumptions about me, that I was broken, incomplete, not good enough) and I had to put myself out in the world. When I was a child, I didn’t know of any Autistic adults to have as role models. My parents didn’t know either and they made a lot of mistakes.

All the conversation was controlled by parents and doctors, usually full of pity and dire predictions. When I was a teenager, a doctor wrote on my chart that I had “no human dignity”. This was considered appropriate for him to do.

As an adult, I see more and more of us speaking up. At the same time, I see many organizations, formed by parents and family members, refusing to listen to us and raising money by spreading false assumptions about what it means to be Autistic, to have an Autistic child. Doctors and other professionals also need to upgrade their understanding of autism.

That’s why this is our civil rights movement. We are fighting to be heard in policies and decisions about our own lives. We are fighting for our right to participate and to be included. We are fighting to make the rest of the word understand and respect the Disability Rights Movement motto: Nothing About Us, Without Us.

Can you explain Echolalia and why this is so common for autistic people?

I am not echolalic so I can’t speak of it.

Are there some behaviors that you appreciated help changing and some that you wish helpers had just left alone?

Not really. I am lucky to have a friend who respects me and supports me, allowing me to find my own path. I have learnt to make my own goals and this includes to let go or to work on what might be considered “behaviors” by others. But I decide this.

Do you remember receiving a diagnosis of autism? What was that like? How did that effect your relationship with your family and your experience in school?


Can you explain self-injury behavior and how it happens from your perspective? ABA says that this is sometimes an attention seeking behavior and by ignoring it and rewarding the autistic child when they stop, the caregiver can help them discontinue the behavior. What do you think about this?

I bite my hands and fingers, sometimes I hit my legs. For me, it is a need for sensory input. Sometimes I do this because I fell discomfort, or pain that I cannot identify. It is not an attention seeking act. Maybe ABA therapists should just admit they really don’t understand Autistics. There are different reasons for self-injurious behavior, each person is different. For some it is a coping mechanism.

What misconceptions about autism are you working to change? How can non-autistics help?

The misconceptions are too many to list and I have been trying to debunk them all. I think the most common is the assumption that some of us are so “severely autistic” that we suffer. This is absurd because we only know how to be ourselves. If there is suffering at all, it happens through what we are forced to listen about us in the media and everywhere. As a non-speaking Autistic, I am presumed to be unable to understand complex situations, to have an opinion. So, yes, in the sense that it is still hard for me to be heard, this makes me “suffer”. But not really because it makes me more determined to keep speaking out.

Another misconception is that we lack empathy. For example: why are ABA therapists still forcing Autistics to do things that hurt us?Why haven’t most big advocacy organization run by parents joined us in remembering disabled people murdered during our March 1st Disability Day of Mourning? Where is the empathy for the lives of disabled people they claim to advocate for?Why almost every non-disabled person and media organization claims to “understand” and “sympathize” with murderers of Autistic and disabled people, while (rightfully) condemning murderers of non-autistic and non-disabled people? Who are the ones lacking empathy?

Another misconception is that epilepsy, GI problems, incontinence, are part of autism. Co-occurring diagnosis can stand or be treated on their own. Those are not autism. Autism is how a brain receives, interprets and sends information.

I have seizures almost every day. I hope one day there will be a cure for epilepsy, but I will still be Autistic.The same for my GI problems and the many other issues I have. Those are not autism. And my non-autistic friend has some of the same, plus some other issues. Like her, there are many others. They don’t need a change in their neurology to get rid of such issues. Why should Autistics?

To know what the misconceptions of autism are, just read what the largest autism “advocacy” organization in the world, Autism Speaks, says on its website. They are wrong in all of their assumptions, and they flat out lie about others (like divorce rate for parents of Autistics, and the vaccine myth, even if they tried to walk back on the latter).

The help we want is simple: listen to us, respect us. We are born Autistic, we will die Autistic. Don’t do to us what is not acceptable to be done to non-autistics. The way you treat us today will pave the way for how the younger generation will be treated in the future.

About identity-first language and writing Autistic with capital “A”

I use identity-first language because it is my identity and it cannot be separated from me. I don’t think I need to remind people that I am a person. Person-first is double standard if it is not used while referring to non-autistic people (person without autism?). Unless the Autistic himself prefers person-first language, it should not be something parents, politicians, organizations or the media imposes on the rest of us. I am not ashamed of being Autistic. I am not ashamed of being Disabled. I am proud. The capital letter is a matter of pride and a little bit of defiance. I want people to notice that small detail (I will not raise hell if it is not capitalized. I will do so if I am referred to using person-first language. In that case, I will refuse to be quoted or spoken of)

I wrote about ABA recently:

This is my blog: