FOR THE LOVE OF AUTISM
Stories of Love, Awareness, and Acceptance on the Spectrum
In this first-of-its-kind compilation, autistics, influencers, parents, and siblings dare to unite and amplify their voices and their community. Their goal: to change the narrative around autism.
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Each author contributes an honest, raw account of a life changed by autism. Their struggles are not in vain. Their adversity is their advantage. They find healing through resilience and acceptance. They combat stigmas and face broken systems. With vulnerability, they share what matters most.
Whether you are just embarking on your journey or have been wandering for a while, these stories show why you should never give in and never give up. They share how we all have something to teach and something to learn. Love changes the equation. Love is at the center of recognizing that we are all uniquely human. This anthology reflects the beauty of autism and the power of acceptance.
The mastermind behind The Autism Hero Project, Tamika Lecheé Morales, reveals that love can transform hearts and minds in this love letter to the world.
Tamika Lecheé Morales
Teacher, Actress, Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, and President of The Autism Hero Project, a nonprofit organization after her own heart.
Comcast Newsmakers, Fox News, NBC, Univision, Telemundo, and WGN9 – Chicago’s Very Own are just a few of the media outlets that have featured this “Firessa”. Tamika’s commitment to community inspired the very first Today’s Inspired Latina Woman of the Year Award in 2018 and the 2020 Wintrust Bank Superhero Community Award.
When Tamika is not serving her community primarily as a Second-Grade Dual Language teacher. She is serving the autism community as president and director of the board for The Autism Hero Project (AHP), a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to “Preparing kids with Autism for the World and Preparing the World for Them.” AHP does more than just raise awareness and compassion for families and children on the autism spectrum. They are intentional about creating a world of inclusion and sponsor medical insurance for children on the spectrum to gain access to the therapies they need to thrive and unlock their full potential.
As an actress, Tamika has been fortunate to play several leading roles by inspiring Latinx playwrights. Tamika is passionate about serving humanity by raising cultural awareness, invoking thought, and raising consciousness in the hearts and minds of audiences. Her acting career became the catalyst for sharing her life stories as a playwright and co-author for the book series, Today’s Inspired Latina Volume III: Life Stories of Success in the Face of Adversity published in May 2017 and her story “Heroes Wanted” in the Hispanic Stars Rising: The New Face of Power released in November 2020. Also, her book, Inclusion, was released in December 2021.
Tamika is on a personal mission to enjoy life to the fullest and relishes doing it with the people she loves most, family and friends.
Dr. Kerry Magro, EdD
“Autism can't define me. I define autism.”
Dr. Kerry Magro, EdD, is an award-winning professional speaker and best-selling author who is on the autism spectrum. Nonspeaking until two and a half, Kerry travels the country to help others find their voice. In addition, Kerry is CEO and President of KFM Making A Difference, a nonprofit organization that hosts inclusion events and has provided college scholarships for students with autism. In his spare time, he hosts a Facebook Page called Kerry’s Autism Journey that now has 215 thousand followers. There, he makes videos to highlight self-advocacy efforts. His videos have been watched over 35 million times.
Kerry’s best-selling books Defining Autism From The Heart, Autism and Falling in Love, and I Will Light It Up Blue! have all reached Amazon Best Seller Lists for Special Needs Parenting. For his efforts, Kerry has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, CBS News, Inside Edition, Upworthy, and HuffPost. Kerry resides in Hoboken, New Jersey, and you can learn more about him and his work at KerryMagro.com or how to have him speak with your school or business via email at Kerrymagro@gmail.com
Facebook Fan Page: @KerrysAutismJourney
Twitter, LinkedIn, IG, TikTok: @KerryMagro
Dr. Temple Grandin
“Autism is an important part of who I am but having an interesting career has given me a fulfilling life.”
Temple Grandin is a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. At age three, she was non-verbal and had all the symptoms of severe autism. Livestock handling systems designed by Dr. Grandin are used all over the world. Half the cattle in the United States and Canada are handled in a center track restrainer system she designed for meat plants. She also developed an objective scoring system for assessing animal welfare during the handling of cattle and pigs.
In 2010, Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World and she was also featured in an HBO movie titled Temple Grandin starring Claire Danes. Articles about Dr. Grandin have appeared in the New York Times, Discover Magazine, Forbes, and USA Today. She has also appeared on shows such as Larry King Live, 20/20, 60 Minutes, Fox and Friends and given TED talks.
Her book Animals in Translation was a New York Times bestseller. Other popular books are Thinking in Pictures, Emergence Labeled Autistic, Animals Make Us Human, The Way I See It, and The Autistic Brain. Temple has been inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She has received numerous industry awards, including CEOWORLD Magazine’s Top 10 College Professors in the United States.
"Live so that when your children think of love, fairness, integrity, and tenderness, they think of you.”
–H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Hugo Morales is a sales executive, customer service guru, and entrepreneur. He has spent nearly thirty years in the telecommunications industry working with people all over the country. The most rewarding parts of his career have been the opportunities to coach, groom, and work with some of the best salespeople in the industry.
When he’s not working, Hugo enjoys time with his two boys, Sebastian and Maximillian, and his beautiful wife, Tamika. He loves traveling, sports, comedy, and all things New England! Hugo has a heart for the homeless and has volunteered for more than a decade serving the homeless. His other passions include raising awareness and acceptance for autism. You can always find Hugo behind the scenes at all the events for The Autism Hero Project (AHP). Whether it’s the heavy lifting, driving, setting up, or “honey, do this,” he’s the man!
“What I want for parents of autistic children, is for you to know that no matter how lonely you may feel right now, you are not alone.”
#DearAutism #TheAutismCafe #YouAreNotAlone
Eileen Lamb, author of All Across The Spectrum and Be The One, is the founder of The Autism Cafe. She’s also a writer, photographer, and host of the podcast, Adulting On The Spectrum. Born in France, Eileen now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two sons, Charlie (9) and Jude (6). On her blog, The Autism Cafe, she shares the ups and downs of raising a severely autistic child while being on the autism spectrum herself. In her free time, Eileen enjoys daydreaming and road trips.
IG, FB, Twitter: @theautismcafe
“Unconditional love is the cure.”
Nicole Gottesmann is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. You can find her blog on Instagram at the handle @nicolegottesmann as well as on her Facebook page and YouTube channel, For the Love of Gabe. On YouTube, Nicole and her family share their lives as a family impacted by autism. Her inspiring posts and videos have an uplifting message: in spite of many obstacles, it is possible to have an amazing life full of love and hope.
A graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management, Nicole married her college sweetheart, Seth, with whom she had two sons, Gavin and Gabriel.
After losing her first born prematurely, Nicole became pregnant again. Five months later, Nicole became a widow while pregnant with Gabriel. Gabriel, now twelve years old, was diagnosed with severe autism before the age of two.
Nicole has been with her partner, Caroline Kiernan (who is also Gabe’s mom!), for six years. They live in Gaithersburg, Maryland, with Gabe’s best friend, their golden retriever, Bailey.
“Strive for the next best thing and be accountable to yourself. Find your passion and never look back.”
Andrew Arboe is the Director of Community Outreach of Planning Across the Spectrum. He reaches out to autism organizations to start collaborations on empowering the community. Collaborations include setting up speaking engagements, being involved in conferences, or connecting organizations to Planning Across the Spectrums’ services. Other work includes managing the free-to-use national calendar and writing blog posts on various autism topics. Andrew’s special interest is driving, and he wants others to navigate the driving journey with more supports than he had. He helped inspire the first autism program within The Next Street, a driving school in Connecticut. In 2021, Andrew created Driving with Autism to move his work towards the national level. Please stay tuned to Driving with Autism’s Facebook page for future updates on his webinar series and projects.
Being autistic himself, Andrew knows outcomes are like the ups and downs of the autism community. He aims to provide proactive values towards his work in the community. Andrew prefers the brick-and-mortar approach to managing transportation issues and promoting self-empowerment. He believes having people learn about self-help can make a major difference in their lives, more than waiting for an invisible force to make things better.
Andrew graduated from Manchester Community College with an associate degree as a Disability Specialist and is attending Charter Oak State College for a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He hopes to get certified in autism and other related fields.
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu
"I believe in acceptance...but...the truth is that LIVING that acceptance in all areas of your life in all ways at all times—it’s hard, and I don’t always succeed."
Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, PhD, MA, is an educator, writer, public speaker, parent, and global advocate whose work focuses on meaningful community involvement and leadership, disability, racial, and gender equity, dismantling stigma, and inclusion and empowerment. Often drawing from personal background as a person of color in a neurodiverse and serodifferent family, a late-diagnosed adult on the autism spectrum, and relevant educational and professional experience, Morénike is a highly sought-after presenter, consultant, and subject matter expert.
Morénike, founder and principal operator of Advocacy Without Borders, has been an invited speaker in the White House, at the United Nations Headquarters, a keynote speaker and/or presenter at numerous conferences, and provides diversity, research, and disability consulting to several organizations. Morénike, a Humanities Scholar at Rice University, has been published by Beacon Press and Palgrave MacMillan and will release a 2023 edited collection on neurodiversity in the Black community with Jessica Kingsley Publishing.
Morénike and spouse reside in the US Gulf Coast and proudly parent six beautiful biological and internationally adopted “tween” to young adult children, all of whom have “hidden” disabilities.
“Progress never stops.”
#GoodOnesFam #GoodOnes #AutisticInterpretations
Based out of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, Valerie Brooks, BSN RN, is the founder of Autistic Interpretations®, a social media community spanning a blog, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. A mother of three adult children, Valerie is the primary caregiver to her fully dependent, autistic, and legally blind 34-year-old daughter, Jessica. Together, they share a glimpse into their lives, rich with family, poodles, and southern cooking. Their posts reflect the joys and struggles of life with an adult autistic family member.
Having achieved her hard-won registered nurse designation and working in cardiac care, Valerie made the courageous decision to leave nursing to work from home and ensure Jessica would thrive. Through a steadfast commitment to sharing varied, authentic posts, Valerie has built an online community of more than 100 thousand subscribers. The goal of the #GoodOnes community is to share Val and Jessica’s version of “normal” to show that it is good, and that progress never stops.
Beyond frequent challenges and frustrations, they find joy, entertainment, lessons, laughs, and good times. Valerie and Jess both actively engage with their #GoodOnes followers, and it has enriched their lives beyond their wildest expectations.
“This is the life that I chose. This is the life that I worked so hard to make a reality.”
#DarylThePoodlePup #GoodOnes #GoodSister
Based out of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, Hannah Brooks is the youngest of three children. Hannah is a certified ASL/English interpreter and a co-creator on Autistic Interpretations, a social media community that spans a blog, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. She graduated magna cum laude from Valdosta State University with a BSEd in American Sign Language/English Interpreting.
Hannah has been a full-time nanny and is a life-long caregiver to her sister with autism. She enjoys quiet days at home with her family, as well as family trips to the mountains, Disney World, and the beach. One of Hannah’s greatest joys is her ten-month-old poodle puppy, Daryl.
“His needs are constantly changing, so there will always be something for me to learn.”
Letia Motley is a strong, independent African American born and raised on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois. She has spent the last twelve years in the northern suburbs raising her children, Cree, Xavier, and Brent, and building her business, Be Yourself Hair Care, LLC.
She has received honorable recognition from several institutions: an advanced certificate in cosmetology from Harry S. Truman College, a pharmacy technician certificate from Chicago State University, and a Bachelor of Science from National Louis University. Letia was inducted into The National Society of Leadership and Success in 2019. Her long-term goal is to become a speech pathologist, and she is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in speech language pathology with a concentration in applied behavioral analysis.
Letia dabbles in a variety of career choices and most recently served full-time as a supervisor at a home warranty company where she managed, traveled, and trained employees on claim authorization for homeowners nationwide. Soon, she will be taking her occupational therapy certification exam and her registered behavior technician exam. After passing these exams, she will serve as a certified occupational therapy assistant and a registered behavior technician.
Her experience with autism has given her the opportunity to meet amazing people. She enjoys networking with other members of the autism community. Letia volunteers by providing vital resources and information to parents and caregivers of children with different abilities.
In her spare time, she enjoys visiting with her granddaughter, Masterpeace, going on date nights with her husband, Christopher, and playing fetch with her dog, Charlie.
“My promise of love strengthens me along the way.”
Belqui Ortiz-Millili is an autism mom who is also a Certified Autism Support Coach, certified by The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC). She has been recognized for her work by Neiman Marcus as one of their “Faces of Beauty” honoring women making a difference. Belqui has participated in many symposiums and parent panels on autism awareness and parent panels and resides in Arizona.
She spends most of her time as a chef, recipe developer, food blogger, and YouTuber. Belqui enjoys cooking for Tastemade and sharing her recipes on local television. Her concentration is Latin Caribbean Cuisine and Latin Fusion Recipes, and she has been featured in Panasonic and Walmart+ campaigns sharing her delicious Latin recipes. Of Dominican descent, Belqui credits her bilingualism to her childhood living between the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Before becoming an autism mom, Belqui was an actor in her hometown of New York City and appeared in Law & Order and The Bill Cosby Show. She also hosted American Latino TV. Belqui holds an advertising and marketing communications degree from The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She is married to David Millili and has three children, Evan, Connor, and Natalie (RIP).
Facebook, LinkedIn, IG, Tiktok: @belquistwist
“May parents cherish and celebrate every moment.”
Marc Mar-Yohana founded OtisHealth in honor of his late daughter Constance. OtisHealth is named after Constance’s service dog, Otis, a faithful companion and constant protector. The mission of OtisHealth is to empower people with personalized insights to improve their health, the health of their loved-ones, and lives in their community. This includes implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems to help actively manage health and provide early disease detection. In his personal outreach, Marc brings together members of the medical, AI, and advocacy communities to solve issues in personal health management and healthcare equity. To learn more, visit otishealth.net.
Prior to OtisHealth, Marc held executive leadership roles in investment management at safety science company UL and private equity firm Pfingsten Partners; principal strategic consulting roles at NTT Data, M Operations, and Zerinc Technologies; engineering and operations leadership roles with Emerson Electric and Honeywell Aerospace.
Marc holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Northern Illinois University and an MBA from Arizona State University. He completed an executive leadership program at Yale University as well as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University.
Marc served as Adjunct Professor of graduate studies at Saint Xavier University, teaching courses in Global Marketing, Consumer Behavior, and International Business. He is a member of Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) and the Association of Clinical Research Professionals (ACRP). He is also an Industry Advisor for Valley Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (ValleyML.ai) and the Conference Program Chair for AI Expo 2021.
LinkedIn: @marc mar-yohana
Facebook: @marc mar-yohana
“My superhero is my son. He doesn’t need a suit or a cape—he is his own symbol of hope.”
Adam Otero was born and raised in the lower east side of Manhattan. In his childhood his family struggled with poverty and lived in the housing projects where life for a young male Latino was tough. In the 1980s, options seemed limited. If you weren’t in a gang, a drug dealer, or a common thug, you were easy prey to those who were. The one advantage Adam had was that both of his parents were hardworking, strict, and, most importantly, present. Their guidance and vigilance provided him with a strong work ethic and a moral compass that helped him avoid many pitfalls. After graduating from Murry Bergtraum High School early at sixteen, he followed the footsteps of his older siblings with a career in finance while casually pursuing his passion in art.
Today, Adam has over twenty-five years of experience in finance, clearing, and brokerage back-office operations. He attended undergraduate courses at the School of Visual Arts in Midtown Manhattan. In his spare time, he is an anime, cartoon, comic, and graphic artist whose images and illustrations have been used primarily by independently published authors. He has provided original artwork for small businesses, corporate events, and individuals for logos, advertising campaigns, and other promotional purposes. Adam’s aspirations include developing a series of children’s books that are not just inclusive but focus on characters that represent many areas of the special needs spectrum. Adam directs his focus on his family and on helping his son achieve greatness.
Facebook: ASD Superhero League
Kacie Wielgus Buzzard
“Autism taught us to control what we must, plan for what we can, and learn to embrace the unexpected.”
Kacie Wielgus Buzzard is a quirky soul trying to make sense of the world and the people who surround her. Born and raised in Illinois, Kacie was never really sure where or how she fit in, mostly because she rarely does.
Kacie is a rebel—she puts ketchup on her hotdog. She is contrary, loving murder shows and chick flicks equally. And she is known for pushing limits—too far—at least three times, the number of times she’s run out of gas. Her favorite TedTalk is Andrew Solomon’s “Love No Matter What,” her favorite philosopher is Sun Tzu, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is her hero.
She is the founder of therapymom.co a community for parents raising autistic kids. Kacie’s a contributor on The Mighty and Kveller and she serves as a pro-bono education advocate. Currently, Kacie works at BreezoMeter as Social Media Manager. For twelve years, she has been (mostly happily) married to John. Together, they and their three kids: Vivian, 11 years old (autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety); Caroline, 10 years old (autism, ADHD, anxiety, DDX3X syndrome, and more); and Gideon, 4 years old (autism and ADHD) live in Cleveland, Ohio.
Kacie has severe depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. For years, she has openly shared her struggles with mental health and her experiences raising three very different kids for three very different worlds. These experiences are captured on Kacie’s website and social media.
Website and Blog: www.therapymom.co
"Things that happen to us that may challenge us will often help us grow and have an impact on who we become."
#TheBlessingWithin #KnowledgeIsPower #FindingYourPurpose #BCBAMom
Lila Ayyad-Alharsha M.Ed.BCBA, has over twenty-five years of educational and professional experience in both the General and Special Education settings. She is a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) and a certified general and special education teacher. Lila holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership along with a Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. Lila is currently the CEO and clinical director of Academic & Behavior Consultants of Illinois, also known as ABC Health which works towards transforming the lives of families by providing quality ABA in-home and clinic-based services. Lila began her career as a teacher and also served as an assistant principal at Harnew Elementary in Oak Lawn, Illinois. For six years, Lila also served as the director of education for Helping Hand School in Countryside, Illinois, a therapeutic day school serving children diagnosed with autism.
Lila was recognized as “Teacher of the Year” in 2003 and was nominated for a Golden Apple Award in 2005. Lila has conducted trainings for educators, parents, youth leaders, and supervisors, and she also provides school consultative services for teachers and students struggling in classrooms. Lila and her husband Naser reside in Palos Heights, Illinois, with their four children Nisreen, Bilal, Mohammad, and Mustafa. Her youngest child, Mustafa (diagnosed with autism), is the blessing of her life, and Lila works to educate and advocate for others through her experience as a parent, educator, and board-certified behavior analyst.
“Don’t judge me for what I am; judge me for who I am.”
Mike Catuara is a photographer and graphic artist in the Chicagoland area. He works for Glancer Magazine and Lifetouch, scouting senior school sports, capturing social events, and framing lifestyle photography throughout Chicago’s western suburbs.
Mike has a bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Illinois State University, and before photography he worked as a graphic artist. His interest in photography stemmed from high school, where he found his knack for photography.
Mike enjoys capturing photos from social events to portraits to landscapes, but some of his favorites include sunsets. He continues to expand his skills, advocating for himself and other autistic people who wish to live fulfilling lives and exercise their gifts. To see Mike’s work, visit his portfolio site.
“We need a spectrum of opportunities for those on the spectrum."
#StrongerTogether #Aspiritech #NeurodiversityDrivesInnovation
Brenda Weitzberg is the executive director and co-founder of Aspiritech. She has a BA in psychology and special education with a graduate diploma in administration. She has more than forty years experience in social service administration, most recently as director of north shore operations for a Chicagoland nonprofit.
Throughout the years, Brenda has successfully worked collaboratively to develop and implement innovative programs to meet urgent community needs including Camp STAR, an evidence-based summer treatment program for children with ADHD, ASD, and related disorders.
Ana Carolina Uribe
"For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Ana Carolina Uribe Ruiz was born and raised in Ecuador, attended law school, and came to the United States to study finance in Florida. She became a local banker and then an international private banker. She met her husband and moved to New Jersey. Her son, Jose Maria, was born in 2001.
When her son was diagnosed, Ana became a fierce advocate for her son and the autism community. She believes that we must make a difference for these kids and young adults. Her current focus is on creating opportunities for people on the spectrum to find meaningful employment and secure steps to independence.
In addition, Ana is a mentor for STREAM (science, technology, robotics, engineering, arts, and math), showing young girls that they belong in these fields.
Ana also has a great love of flying, which she shares with her husband. As a private pilot, she advocates for women in aviation, and received the Jefferson Award for Public Service in 2014 for her advocacy, having organized introductory flights for more than 400 girls and women in the Bay Area of San Francisco. She is co-president of the San Francisco Bay Area Women in Aviation International (WAI) Chapter and the founder of the WAI Costa Rica Chapter. She is also a Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots council member and a contributor to the book Latinas in Aviation.
Judge Alicia Gerez (Graczyk)
“Parenting a child with special needs is hard. The fear is real, but a lot of what we imagine is not.”
#FullOfGrace, #AmazingGrace, #God’sGrace
Judge Alicia Gerez (Graczyk) was born in Brooklyn, New York. She became an attorney in 1996 and was appointed as a Justice of the New York State Court of Claims in 2021. She married the love of her life, Phil Graczyk, in 2003, and together they have raised their beautiful daughter Grace.
Judge Gerez serves on the Board of Directors of the Hagedorn Little Village School, Jack Joel for Special Children, a school for children with special needs. Through word-of-mouth, her name has become synonymous with being an autism warrior. She has counseled parents on all aspects of autism, educational services, and the emotional toll of diagnoses. Prior to becoming a judge, she served as a parent advocate for parents with special needs children and appeared before the schools’ committee for special education where services and accommodations are determined for these children.
In her personal life, Judge Gerez loves the ocean and living in a beach town where she watches her daughter surf every summer. She is a fitness enthusiast and enjoys traveling with her husband and adventurous daughter.
Facebook: Alicia Gerez Graczyk