Author Archives: Rachel Leslie (formerly Kenyon)

About Rachel Leslie (formerly Kenyon)

Rachel Leslie (formerly Kenyon) is an Aspie, Advocate and mom of two beautiful babes - The Boy (10) and RM (8). The Boy is a Legomaniac and RM is a kick-ass diva with Autism and 4q Deletion Syndrome.

It’s Not About the Cops and Their Paychecks, People

I mean, don’t get me wrong. Of all folks, our brave first responders should be able to get their drink on after a day like yesterday. Not having the cash to grab a 12-pack on the way home to wash down that kind of a day is just sad.

But really?

What do you think is the real problem here? Is it a government shutdown that delays some paychecks of some people who have taken hallowed oaths to do their jobs no matter what?

I’m confused.

Because for a brief moment I thought perhaps the focus today should be on why a dental hygienist from Connecticut put her toddler in the car and tried to take out The White House and half of Capitol Hill?

I thought maybe we should be talking about mental health and how there are a lot more folks not getting nearly enough or any attention to their mental healthcare needs.

I thought maybe we should start there.

I thought maybe I’d happily give up a paycheck during a government shutdown if only the genius who pulled the trigger on such shutdown was pooling those paychecks for mental healthcare.

I thought maybe those folks lying on the ground in DC while hearing shots fired yesterday would have gladly opened their wallets and handed the government a fiver if they knew it might stop the next burdened mind from going postal.

I thought maybe if our legislators who take millions from gun lobbyists turned around and opened mental healthcare clinics throughout this country we’d have something there.

I thought maybe we were the country that could get shit done in a crisis.

I thought maybe we cared more about our neighbors than this.

I think maybe not enough of us will care until the mental health crisis has us all pinned down under fire.

Autistic Mermaid Makes a Splash

Daryl Hannah, 52, talks openly about her autism.


It should be no surprise that many successful actors and actresses are on the autism spectrum if you take into account that scripting is the common means of communicative speech in autistics.

I always knew that I favored movie lines and TV personalities for picking and choosing my words in conversation.  For many years I thought that was my way of being witty and entertaining among those who may not otherwise have much interest in what I had to say.  The first time I recognized that I was mimicking a real-live person was at the age of thirteen on a trip to Disney World.  I came home with a southern accent thanks to the shuttle bus driver that picked us up from the campgrounds each day to take us into The Magic Kingdom.  Months of “y’all” later, it finally drifted away and was replaced with something new.  And while it seemed odd that I would find myself mimicking the words, phrases, gestures, and facial expressions of whomever I was spending most of my time with, I simply couldn’t help it.  It just happened.  At 16, I had grown a friendship with my brother’s wife who hailed from Massachusetts.  I admired her.  She was beautiful and smart.  We had the same creative taste.  Soon my “r”s disappeared as I found myself talking like her, making her characteristic facial expressions, and repeating her personal catch phrase “ever-loving”.  As in, “You must be out of your ever-loving mind.”

And I started to think that I was.  OUT. OF. MY. EVER. LOVING. MIND.

Until the internet came along.  You know, because if it’s on the internet it has to be true.  I read that on the internet.  I had researched and discovered that imitation or mimicry was a natural human behavior, often a subconscious form of flattery.  There was my answer!  There was nothing wrong with me, I just really liked these people!

Though as I grew older and entered into adulthood and corporate life, this pattern of imitation and scripting became increasingly frustrating as I noticed that adults don’t copy each other or speak in movie lines and I was in jeopardy of appearing like a weirdo.  Not to mention it was also becoming exhausting trying to keep up with the tangled web of adult office politics and shenanigans.  As naïve as I was to the social structure of adulthood, I knew there was no sensible structure to it at all.  I was now a professional.  Professional actor and scripting superstar.  I just had no idea what role I was playing.

The downside of communicative scripting is that it requires so much more energy to carry on an effective conversation for the person with autism.  Instead of speaking off the cuff like “typical” folks, we are listening to your words, searching for context to their meaning, then fishing around in our skull for a matching script we have memorized that will work to convey our own thoughts on the subject.  All of which has to happen in nanoseconds.  Sometimes the scripting is so subtle, even we don’t realize or recognize where it came from while we are using it.  Other times, we simply go straight for the pop culture quote and hope it’s funny and our timing is on point.  Exhausting.  There have been times I have been speaking with a friend, desperately trying to control my facial expressions and body language, and reign in my words, so that I am not caught in an obvious script or mimic of the other person.  That is tiring, too.  But if I don’t monitor myself carefully, I could end up the creepy Single White Female just because it’s so easy and subconscious to copy the person I am hanging out with.

Having Aspergers and being able to “fake it ‘til you make it” in the typical social world is worthy of an Oscar for sure.  My sister, and fellow autism mom, suggested that I become an actress when I spoke with her about my own diagnosis.  She was so shocked.  “Rachel!  My god!  You walk into a room and everyone loves you!  You’re so funny and smart!  It’s so hard to believe that you are not really that person.  Look at you!”

It hurt so deeply at first to hear such a reaction.  I should be an actress???  That’s your response??? Ouch!

But my sister taught me something very important that day and I am so grateful to her.  While the initial pain I felt was betrayal, I learned from that exchange that it was my grief for spending a lifetime acting and scripting to keep up with the world around me that hurt so badly.  I was angry that after all of this time, all the effort to engage and be a good person and a good friend was achieved with the words and actions of others.  None of which was my own.  It was all an act.

Or was it? 

If communicating with speech is the act of expressing or describing thoughts, feelings, or perceptions by the articulation of words, does it matter if my library is a virtual one?  Does that change the message or the sincerity?  Does it change the origin of such speech – my thoughts, feelings, or perceptions?

Absolutely not.  My sister sees me.  I am that woman.  I am pretty great.

So I get by with a little help from my virtual friends.  So what?  Some of them are great actors and actresses, public figures, journalists, and maybe a few are Real Housewives or cast members of Saturday Night Live.  Don’t judge.

And that’s ok.  That’s me.  That’s how I communicate.  Call it acting, scripting, or mimicking.  It doesn’t change the very authentic thoughts, feelings, and perceptions within me.  It doesn’t make me less.  Just different.  And being somewhat capable of “passing” as typical doesn’t make me any less autistic.  It just means I have worked that much harder.

I’m glad that Daryl Hannah can now talk openly about her autism.  It saddens me that it took her decades before she was able to share.  Hopefully, more stories like Hannah’s will contribute to advancing the dialogue about women and autism.  Successful women and autism, too.

How ironic that one of Hannah’s most notable performances was that of a mermaid – a mystical creature of the ocean who found chaos and discomfort within the unavoidably intriguing pull of being on land.  It can be momentarily intoxicating connecting with others, being heard, or making a Splash“.  We are wired to want to exist in reality rather than just observe it.  We want the high of friendship and intimacy without the social hangover autism hands us.

Like Daryl Hannah, we all want to share ourselves and our talents with others.  We all want the opportunity to shine without marketing strategies and press junkets to explain ourselves.

I’m autistic.  Some days I win the Oscar.  Most days I just wish for a cast and crew that love me for the scripting wizard I am and appreciate my character.  The truth is, we all work off of a script one way or another.  That doesn’t invalidate the sentiment.  If I make you laugh, I’m happy.  So what if I borrowed a few lines from Hollywood to see your smile?

You can read more about Daryl Hannah here.

The Grocery Store: Take Another Look, Asshole

This is my daughter.  She is autistic. And let me tell you, she is F-ABULOUS.


This morning, I read THIS post by Matt Walsh and WHOA – it was delightful to say the least.  Because one human being took the time to school another human being (we’ll call him “Asshole”) on the gross stupidity of making a comment like: “Man, some people need to learn how to control their f**king kids.”  In a grocery store.  Like, as if, the grocery store wasn’t torturous enough for kids and grownups with kids, Asshole had to share his clairvoyant perspective on the situation.

Way to go, Matt Walsh.  Your children are blessed to have you.

So I will take the liberty of adding this dimension to Mr. Walsh’s encounter.  Our dimension.  Our encounters with Asshole at the grocery store.  You see, every day my baby girl steps outside our door into a world that doesn’t quite understand her yet.  Where stares and whispers and outright insults assault her everywhere she goes.  Like in a grocery store when she is simply overwhelmed by the lights, noise, crowded aisles, or having to wait in the deli line for a slice of heavenly cheese.  Who knows what any child in a grocery store is flailing and wailing about?  You don’t, Asshole.  You just DON’T.

And so my daughter walks this world a target for Asshole and those like him.  She is target for gross misinterpretations and judgments of not only my parenting ability, but her intelligence.  Because commentary like above can not only be that bad, it can be so much worse.  So much more hateful.

My daughter can hear you, Asshole.  She understands every crinkle of your nose, every look of pity and she knows that your condescending tone of voice is more about your insecurity and discomfort than it is about her communication barriers or tantrums in the grocery store.  So whether you are claiming to judge me or my parenting style, you are really judging a seven-year-old child.  And that really makes you an asshole, Asshole.  And anyone like you who judges by first glance alone and dares to assume why a child is having trouble in a grocery store, or a park, or a mall, is not far from the kind of asshole that uses the R-word.


And seriously.  The F-word is so much more appropriate.  Does this child look anything other than F-ABULOUS?


My daughter may have challenges that are unique to your own, Asshole, but she isn’t complaining.  She is overcoming.  She hears the conversation and she is saying I AM WORTHY.  Behind her and so many others you don’t take the time to see, Asshole, are parents who love these children and are sticking by their guns in those grocery store aisles because every day is a battle.  A battle to teach and love and have patience.  A battle to overcome you, Asshole, and your judgy stares.

It is people like Matt Walsh that are changing the world every day with their WHOA – NO YOU DIDN’T courage to stand up to you, Asshole.

Each day WE step outside our door and into the world, WE are asking you to embrace US.  WE are expecting greatness of heart from YOU.  WE are expecting nothing less than what we all yearn for on this earth.  Love and acceptance.


Even FOR you and FROM you, Asshole.

That mother in the grocery store was FABULOUS.  Mr. Walsh was FABULOUS.

You, Asshole, have some growing and changing to do my friend.  And then maybe others with call you Fabulous, too.  And then we can all hang and be fabulous together.  Like it should be in this world.  A whole lot of FABULOUSNESS.


This is my daughter.

She is autistic.

Go ahead and drop the F-bomb, y’all.  Because she is F-ABULOUS.

What will YOU be?




I Will Even STARE. How’s THAT?

So many times, especially as parents to autistic children, we hear the words “eye contact” in a way that suggests they were written on the tablets brought down by Moses himself.


Looking people in the eyes while having a conversation is great, but if you continuously demand that of someone who is predisposed to feel uncomfortable in doing so, it can on occasion result in the truly gruesome side effect of AWKWARD STARING.  Or, far worse, it can set up an individual for failure and lead to negative feelings of self-worth.  There should be no form of correction or reprimand regarding eye contact when an autistic person is boldly making the attempt to communicate with another person in the first place.  And in no other disability population do we literally demand eye contact and hail such as the benchmark of progress.


Not only are Autistics expected to purposefully stress their already overwhelmed sensory systems by making eye contact, it is done with the expectation that it will somehow make autistic people better at listening and communicating.  That is simply absurd.

I am DAMN GOOD at eye contact.  I am so damn good that I can win a staring contest.  With myself.  And I am fortunate that no one harped on me all throughout my life to make eye contact.  It just so happens that I developed this awesomesauce skill all on my own without even knowing it.  Because I AM AWESOME.  Really, because I was observingEverything.  I knew I had no earthly idea what was going on most of the time, though I didn’t know it had a name, so I observed intently.  And I mimicked what I thought was acceptable and popular through watching others while they talked.

So after 38 years and counting, I don’t just make eye contact like an amateur.  Oh no.  I stare.  I will stare at your eyes, your mouth, your teeth, your hairline, your earrings, that big honking zit one centimeter to the left of the five freckles just due south of your right eye.  (Sorry.  But no worries, seriously.  Because I am the LAST person to judge, I am merely studying you so that I can be better at being me.  Take it as a compliment!)  So I am a champion at staring.  You will think I am making eye contact the entire time and you will feel good that I am listening intently to what you have to say.  And I am.  Honest to God, I am listening.  I am listening with my ears, eyes, nose, and I am listening with every scratch or pick of the skin on my left ear and every crackle of my toes inside my shoe. DEAR GOD. I am listening with the distraction of my own heartbeat pounding in my neck.  I do all of this so that I can listen.

For me, making eye contact, or at least staring intently somewhere in the vicinity of your eyeballs, is a lot of work.  There are times I physically CANNOT make eye contact during situations when I feel extremely stressed, uncomfortable, or threatened.  (Sometimes I cannot speak either, but that is for another post.)  It truly concerns me when I hear this commandment that autistic individuals are simply not functional if they are not making “the effort” to make eye contact when someone is speaking to them.  I wholeheartedly DISAGREE.  For some, not making eye contact is the only way they can listen to what another person has to say.  It is different for everyone.

I do, however, support a gentle approach to assisting autistics to improve their ability to make eye contact only if an individual has the desire to try, to connect using the eyes, as a means of reciprocal communication skills.

Eye contact is important in society because non-autistic interactive human beings have evolved into complex communicators.  But that doesn’t mean we make eye contact the Gold Standard of success for autistics.  It certainly cannot be assumed to be a benchmark of intelligence, or listening skills.

Some people will look you in the eye.  Some will stare.  Some will stare with an awkward flair.

Just remember, there are so many more ways we listen and take in information – with our ears and our hearts, with taste, touch and smell.  Most importantly of all, we listen with open minds.

Dave Matthews Band “So Much to Say”

Autistic Shibboleth: The Secret Handshake of the Adult Aspergian

[UPDATED 8-12-13, @ 09:58am]

  • Definition of shibboleth (n)*


[ shíbbə lèth ]

    1. catchword or slogan: a word or phrase frequently used, or a belief strongly held, by members of a group that is usually regarded by outsiders as meaningless, unimportant, or misguided
    2. common saying or belief: a saying that is widely used or a belief that is widely held, especially one that interferes with somebody’s ability to speak or think about things without preconception
    3. identifying word or custom: a unique pronunciation, word, behavior, or practice used to distinguish one group of people from another and to identify somebody as either a member of the group or an outsider

The origin of Shibboleth is actually biblical.  [It can be found in the Book of Judges, Chapter 12, verses 1-15.]  In layperson terms, it was a code word to prove your identity in gaining passage across the Jordan River.  If a person was asked for and responded with its incorrect pronunciation, that person was slain as an enemy.  For it was believed that only those who held the true faith and protection of God, would pronounce the Shibboleth correctly.

So I ask.  What is the Shibboleth for Autistics in our world today?

What is the correct word, or symbol, or advertising slogan we must use to correctly identify ourselves in this world without fear of persecution or rejection? Because ribbons and puzzle pieces just do not seem to be the Shibboleth we are looking for.  Lest we forget that the DSM-V is not our Shibboleth.

Who gets to decide if I am representing the Autistic Shibboleth correctly?  What is the punishment if I don’t?  How many friends need to turn their backs to me before I can correctly communicate Shibboleth?  Will there be a ceremony like in “Animal House”?  Thank you, Sir, may I have another?

Am I expected as a high-functioning adult with Aspergers to throw my HIPPA rights out the window and fork over my diagnosis to the public?  To include the part from the interview about being molested by a relative because I clearly didn’t understand at the time what was going on?  How about my issues with sexuality and gender?  Should we just begin an open dialogue now of how I was nearly killed by domestic violence in my early 20’s?  Or should we have tea first?

Exactly what is the Autistic Shibboleth that I can shout from the rooftop so that the non-Autistics in the Autism community can verify my credentials and the Neurotypicals on the outside of A-town can go ahead and believe that I am an Other?  Because I have to tell you, not one of My People has yet to say, “Are you really sure you have Asperger’s?”

Here is what I consider my Shibboleth:

Because on my very first outing as an official Aspie, I was honored to spend an evening in New York with two amazing families and their friends – The Paris-Carter Family and The Robisons, Ms. Kirsten Lindsmith, and Mr. Alex Plank – at a play entitled “The Laramie Project”.  I was the first to arrive in the lobby of the theatre. I was terrified.  New place.  New people.  All by myself.  So I went up to the ticket window and politely asked the woman there if she could spare a rubber band.  She looked a little puzzled and I am sure there was some snarky giggling, but when I explained that I had Asperger’s and was waiting to meet several new people and I was nervous, the rubber band would help calm me, she smiled and the rest of the folks in the lobby all smiled, too.  I put the band on my wrist and began to fidget away.  A short time later, sitting with my new friends, we talked about my rubber band.  It was my Shibboleth that day.  A pile of rubber bands later, all agreed it was fabulous that something so small could be so transformative.  And for the first time in my life, I felt like I was with My People.

So I ask.

When will there not be a need for an Autistic Shibboleth and when the hell can we just get on with it?

When might we stop needing hour-long PBS specials to share as our Shibboleth just to convince loved ones we’re seriously on the spectrum and not just looking for a cool new label.  (Because the label I would have preferred would have been “F-350” and it would be sitting in my driveway.)

As Popeye so eloquently said:  I yam what I yam.

Good Sunday to you all, My Friends.

Peace be with you.


[***UPDATE*** 8-12-13 @09:58am.  It seems sometimes when I write and seek to make a point that generalizes what can happen within this community, some worry for me that I am writing in anger or sadness. That is not necessarily the case. As with this post, I just wanted to paint a picture for those who may think the diagnosis itself or the label is more important than the person. That reaction, a demand for *proof* or the disclosure of details that the individual may not and should not feel they have to share is dehumanizing. Most especially when it comes from those closest to us.

Learning that I was born with, and have lived with, a completely different neurology than assumed for the first 37 years is a very lengthy process.  There was the initial suspicion.  Then the exploding light bulb when it all instantly became clear in a flood of emotions and tears.  There was talking, lots and lots of talking, with my husband and my parents.  There was anger.  Then depression.  Then acceptance.  And now, my friends - joy.  I am so grateful to know me, the real me, better than I ever could have had I dismissed the possibility.  When I was ready, I sought confirmation from professionals in psychology and autism.  It's been almost a year now.  Slowly, I am piecing together my past in a whole new light, a brighter light, a light that shines where darkness once blinded me.

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. - Robert Frost

I'm just fine, by the way, thanks for asking. Cheers!]

[ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS 8-13-13 @08:32pm. Inspiration for this post was from The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 8 "Shibboleth" and my inability to follow written and verbal directions when attempting to swipe my Visitor's Pass to gain access upon my visit to the White House in May, 2012.  Quite literally, I thought the uniformed gentleman standing before me was going to put me out of our misery.]

Family Excluded From Pool Membership Because Autistic Son Requires Flotation Vest

“If we make an exception for one, we would have to make exception for all.”

Photo courtesy of

June 27, 2013  [Updated June 28, 2013 6:50am]

Ellington, CT –  An exclusive country club in the suburbs of Connecticut excluded a family from becoming members because their autistic son would require a flotation vest while swimming in the pool.  With recent headlines of autistic children drowning rather frequently, one would think that a flotation vest would be a fabulous idea.  It seems it would be a much grander idea than outright discrimination of a person with disability and that person’s entire family.

However, when Mrs. Cristin Millen, a seventh grade Language Arts teacher in Ellington arrived at the Ellington Ridge Country Club to begin the membership process it never occurred to her that her son’s autism would exclude them from enjoying the same privileges other residents in the area enjoyed as members.  She left without being given an application but was told someone would get back to her.

“I almost didn’t say anything about his autism at all because I assumed it wouldn’t possibly be an issue,” said Millen.  “But when I became aware that the club had a rule banning flotation devices from the pool, I mentioned that I have a son with autism who is verbal, follows directions, and is a good swimmer.  I explained that we would be in the pool with him the entire time and that the vest was really just for peace of mind as he has always worn one.”

Ellington Ridge took Mrs. Millen’s request for exception under consideration for less than 48 hours before responding with a denial of membership.  Mrs. Millen was told that if an exception was made for one, an exception would have to be made for all, and that was not possible.

This country club is a private facility, which means that ordinarily the club owners and members could do whatever they please, invite whomever they choose to join, you get the idea.  But under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), any private club that opens its doors to the public at any time, waives that right.  The Ellington Ridge Country Club offers to open its doors for banquets, weddings, business meetings, fundraisers, and birthday parties.

Wait a minute…

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine if someone like ME thought to plan my autistic daughter’s birthday party at a beautiful venue such as Ellington Ridge Country Club, put down a chunky deposit, invited ten or so other Flaptastic kiddos and their parental units? What would happen when all of us showed up at the pool with our vests and inflatable wings? Would we all be tossed to the curb?

Can you imagine?

Can you imagine, Ellington Ridge?

Excluded Flotation Vest and the Handsome Child Who Wears It

Excluded Flotation Vest and the Handsome Child Who Wears It

UPDATE: Friday, June 28, 2013 6:50am – Local media reached out to the ERCC yesterday afternoon for comment.  Management quickly asserted that Mrs. Millen never filled out the application, so therefore the club was unable to review her family’s request.  However, in WFSB’s on air coverage last evening, management admitted that Mrs. Millen was not given an application during the miscommunication throughout the week but that ERCC would happily accept the family’s application with waiver for the vest.  In an email communication from management to Mrs. Millen last evening the same offer was made but included a timeline in which the Millen Family was advised it would take until mid-July before their application with waiver to accommodate their son’s need for a Coast Guard approved flotation vest could be approved by the Board of Directors of the Ellington Ridge Country Club.

LINK to WFSB News Coverage > CLICK HERE.



Graduating Typical Peer Preschool

Why My Seven-year-old Autistic Daughter’s Best Friends Are All Over 35


Today should be a joyous day for us here. There should be balloons and presents and cake and donkey rides or something.  But instead, it will be a quiet snoop and poop mission (real infantry term, you can look it up).  SGM and I will slide into the school for graduation and slide out, likely with me retreating into the fetal position in the bed of the truck as he takes us down the highway toward home at 80 miles per hour so that the sensory thrills of the ride numb me into a coma.

Let me explain.

It has now been a little over two years since RM began attending her outplacement autism school.  The one that took me fourteen months to get her into.  They have an amazing typical peer preschool on site, NAEYC-accredited, with staff that is fluent in sign language, art, music, and love.  The peers are ages three to five and are hand-picked to be excellent models for autistic friends.  In this setting where RM has spent about one-third of her time over the last two years, she has learned critical basic pre-educational skills such as turn-taking, group games, learning to sit for circle time with weather and calendar, following simple group activities, learning about friends and social themes like birthdays, holidays, and family.

Her time there has been priceless.

And filled with joy.

So today is a bitter pill to swallow.  My baby loves her friends in preschool.  But she is now monstrously larger than they are, and as she is turning seven in a few weeks, one cannot argue that the time to move on has come.  I accept that.  The school has been fabulous about slowly weaning her time out of the preschool over the last few months, so that it shouldn’t be a recognizable trauma for anyone other than me.

So here we are.  As she rode off on her van this morning the chest pains came and the crocodile tears and SGM telling me this is all ok, this is her path right now.  And sure, I agree.  And I didn’t even punch him.  He’s right. And I continue to cling to the God’s honest belief that truly, RM’s very best friends are not the children at the school anyways.  That was never the case from the very beginning. RM is in love with her teachers.  The DOZENS of adults who love her and care for her and teach her and joke with her and smile with her and talk with her and listen to her every single time she has something to say.

She thrives at this place because it is the grownups that hear her and understand her.  Not the typical peers, nor her classmates.  She loves this place because she is challenged there, not by communication boundaries, but by academics.  She loves this place because she knows well enough that these grownups are going to teach her the correct social cues every time.  She doesn’t have to decipher the behaviors of the typical peers there anymore.  And for now, just for now, I am ok with that. I have to be.

Here at home RM has her nine-year-old brother who adores her as her best friend.  They belly-laugh and play legos and watch silly videos of themselves and belly-laugh some more.  They are madly in love with each other.  If school doesn’t have the “age-appropriate” peers, well I have the best one at home anyways.

Meanwhile, trust that I aim to correct this situation at the outplacement.  There are far too many brilliant options to be considered.  There are ways we haven’t yet found to give our kids access to social time with typical peer models, so let’s find them.

Even the “best” can always be “better”.

My hope and dream for all parents is that you truly, deep within your heart believe that those scary sounding letters “I.E.P.” can start to look less daunting.  I want you to believe that you have the right, and the power, to build a program that has never been built before.  You can build it for your child.

There is no such thing as, “We don’t do that.”




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