Parenting

49 Photos That Show What Autism Looks Like

Parents share their families' experiences with autism spectrum disorder.

“Worry,” “fear,” “chaos,” “exhaustion,” “hope,” “love.” These are some of the many words parents of kids with autism spectrum disorder use to describe their reality.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we asked the HuffPost Parents Facebook community to share what autism looks like in their families. While no two stories are identical, these parents wish for what everyone wants for their children: acceptance and joy.

Keep scrolling to see what autism looks like and read what it means for nearly 50 different families.

ANA ZAMBRANA
"This is what autism looks like in our home. This is Lucas, and he's 7. He was diagnosed in December 2016. He's considered high-functioning autistic. We took this photo to share his diagnosis with family and friends on Facebook. He is the light of our lives. He loves sports, loves school, and wishes to be a pilot when he grows up. Our silky terrier Bo is his 'baby brother.'"
candace davenport
"Zoe was diagnosed with autism at 23 months old. We had known for a long time prior to the testing that she had autism, but who was to say she wasn't just different than the rest. Every day is unpredictable. Zoe never has a boring day. I remember waiting YEARS to hear her first word. When she said it, I pulled the car over and cried so hard. She flapped her arms and did her self-stimming tongue thrusting, and I joined in too! She is just like every other child. She has good days and bad days. She has milestones and regressions. It's just that autism gives her that extra push to do things on a larger scale. I think she has started to learn that she is different than her classmates, and she has already been the target of bullying. Autism prevents her from understanding that bullies are trying to hurt her. She still will walk up to them and slowly make eye contact, smile, stick her hand out, say 'Hi friend! I'm Zoe Grace!', lick their cheek and skip away. #DifferentNotLess"
Missy Crosby Hopkins/Facebook
"My son (with glasses) and his twin brother. His brother has autism. They were raised apart but have recently been brought back together when we adopted our son. He sees his twin often now and cherishes their times. When his brother isn't understood by anyone else, my son can help others understand what his twin cannot express for himself. The face of autism in our house is the glow of brotherly love."
Amanda Casey/Facebook
"Autism in our house is a big brother teaching little brothers his heavy work moves that they now do it together. Lego pieces as far as the eye can see but don't you dare touch them. Pokémon cards as far as the eye can see but don't you dare touch them. It's limited hugs and 'I love you's, but when they happen, they're special. It's worrying about the future and working at life skills every day, so he can be independent when the time comes. Celebration over little victories like new environments and people without a meltdown. Talking calmly through the meltdown, letting him know I'm here. Hurt feelings when friends/family/teachers don't understand behaviors and think he's misbehaved. Being a strong advocate in those situations when it would be easier to be angry at those who believe it's misbehavior. It's loving every minute I have with him and his brothers knowing we are doing the best we can."
Lauren Johnson/Facebook
"Autism is our family is new. My 2-and-a-half-year-old has been recently diagnosed. It is raising a beautiful bright strong-willed child who may have challenges, but we will learn and grow each day. She hasn't talked yet and has difficulty at preschool. And it's extra hard for us since it's just me and her, and I work full-time and go to school full-time. Between early intervention and family, we are thriving. She may be young but she has the kindest heart that is full of laughter. I am so proud of her every day."
Christina Archambeault
"This is autism in our family. Can you tell which one is on the spectrum? Most people wouldn't guess, being that it's a picture. But, from left to right we have Maxwell who is 6, Gavin who is 8 and Bailey who is 2. Our middle child Maxwell was diagnosed on he autism spectrum at age 4. He's on the more severe end, being non-verbal and having sensory processing disorder. But, although he doesn't communicate, his siblings know when he's happy, sad, agitated, or just plain silly. We are very open and supportive in our household and try to give him as much opportunity as his two other siblings. The most important thing to us is to raise all three of our children to know that they are each other's support system, and family is first, always. We're autism advocates, but firstly, Maxwell advocates."
Alexandria Zabala
"Autism in our household is many things. It's unconditional love, it's long emotional days, but most importantly it's accepting different instead of ignoring and pretending it doesn't exist. Autism is everything awesome and exhausting, but there's nothing I would change about my son Michael."
Dixieapple
"Autism to us and for us has been: screaming, laughing, tantrums, tickling, trying to balance autism and typical, biting (not love nips, the kind that cause permanent damage), hugging, smearing (if you don't know, you don't want to), singing, aggression/violence, the Muppets, Wiggles, Oobi and Sesame on constant repeat, hitting, music, crying, making silly faces, depression, innocence, mania, medications, frustration, holidays whenever the mood strikes, sleep disorder, fear, guilt, joy, loss, drums and guitars (real and created), grief, spontaneous hugs and kisses, injuries, destruction, creativity, sensory seeking/avoidance, limited speech, obsessions, packing a bag of supplies for outings when your child is 17, snuggling at bedtime to 'talk' about the day, always being on hyper-alert status, never cooking just one meal, celebrating and appreciating all victories and accomplishments, loss of friends and family, learning who your true friends are (who are now family), constant advocating, endless fighting for services/help, limited ability to do things together, trying to enjoy the few things we can do together, the Dollar Tree being our own personal 'Cheers' ... everybody knows her name, meltdowns (different from tantrums), childlike excitement vs. teenager angst, constant noise, anger and love."
Kimberly Marin
"This is what autism looks like in our family. This is my 2-year-old, Noah. He was recently diagnosed with autism only about a week ago. He doesn't talk yet but is trying each day. He loves to line things up. It could be pens, army men, straws, teddy bears, anything. He loves music. He loves to dance, and he gets so excited, he flaps his hands. He can be mean to his siblings at times, but they are all learning different ways to distract him when he gets upset. Noah is so loved in our family. We wouldn't be our family without him!"
KayLeigh
"Autism is what makes it extremely difficult for my son to communicate with others, it's what makes him unaware of social norms and how to form meaningful relationships with peers. Autism is trading guitar practice or T-ball practice for speech therapy, occupational therapy and ABA therapy. Autism also looks like the pure joy on his face when he is swinging, it's the confident smile he gets when communicating with his AAC device. Autism in our family teaches us to celebrate and appreciate every. single. thing. Autism is hard, but this face is tenacious, and because of that, so are we."
Leenette Wells
"My oldest daughter is in middle school. Not only does she play viola in school orchestra, she is a figure skater who would skate every day if she could. She is my little caretaker, and is always worried about how we are feeling. My son was non-verbal until the age of 7; once words finally started flowing (as opposed to just random sounds), his vocabulary has grown by leaps and bounds. He is on grade-level with his coursework and is an electronics whiz. His tablet is his most prized possession; he video records himself playing drums, or makes movies out of his favorite clips.My youngest daughter puts the 'Autistic people are anti-social' notion to rest. She loves people, greeting everyone with an enthusiastic, 'Hi!' She makes eye contact and will sing and dance for you all day. The larger the audience, the better. She also loves to be silly and make you laugh. I never put a limit on what my children could do. Society does that enough already."
Elise Dale Fong/Facebook
"In my house, autism is being able to remember and recite a movie she's only seen twice, but not being able to remember her morning routine without a list or chart. Most importantly, though, my girl (who is 15) is absolutely accepting of all people who cross her path and does not see herself as different in any way. In my house, autism is being able to do whatever your peers do, but maybe do it in a different way or a different time frame."
Krista Grantmyre
"We have a vibrant, fearless non-verbal 3-year-old who is the apple of our eye. Liam was diagnosed in August 2016 and is now enrolled in an early education program that promotes inclusion. Nothing holds him back. We enrolled Liam in a Pre-CanSkate class at the local arena, and he rocked it so much so that he is going for another session this spring! While it's not the path we originally thought we would be traveling down, we definitely have a good tour guide!"
Karen O'Toole
"What does Autism look like? It's this sweet little boy. We have so many struggles, but nothing brightens my day more than hearing his belly laugh when he's playing with his puppy or getting tickled by mom or dad or when his big brother chases him. I often think what my life would be like with two typical developing children. As dreamy as that sounds, without Patrick I would be a horribly judgmental person. I would think that my 'perfect' children were the result of all the perfect parenting decisions I had made. Patrick has taught me patience, understanding, acceptance and unconditional love that I would never really know without living with autism in our lives every single day."
Nicole McCann
"A diagnosis is simply a diagnosis and nothing more. It does not define who your child is. Autism or ASD (autism spectrum disorder) is a spectrum disorder that includes a large range of linked conditions. Autism doesn't come with a manual. It comes with a parent who never gives up. Alivia has taught me more about life in the last two-and-a-half years she's been here, than I could have ever imagined. She has taught me to be brave, to be strong, to be courageous. She has taught me that even when you're tired and feel like you are at a standstill, you can keep going. She has taught me that there are many other ways of communication than simply just speaking. She has shown me how incredibly exciting viewing the world from a different angle can be! On some days we struggle. We struggle a lot. And on other days we accomplish and overcome a lot. Every day is unpredictable, but on days where I can't seem to keep away the tears, I have to remember that there is a greater plan. God knew exactly what he was doing when he chose me to be Alivia's mom. He knew I would be able to be her voice. He knew I would never, ever give up, no matter what it will take. And just like all parents, we have many worries. I worry about many things. About her knowing how loved she is, about her future, about her going to school, about people being mean to her, about people knowing she's different, and just about her life in general. But I have to remember worrying won't get us anywhere right now. What is meant to be, will always be. If you ever met our Alivia, you know when you watch her or interact with her, she is just so very special, and I just hope the world can see her the same. I hope the world can learn she is different, not less. She lights my world brighter than the sunshine, and fills my heart with so much love. And I just hope when she goes to sleep every night, she can drift off to sleep knowing the same amount of sunshine in her life and love in her heart. Most of the time I don't find autism to be the struggle, I find other people's understanding of autism to be the struggle."
Monique Lafourche Delaney/Facebook
"In our house, autism looks like utterly adorable and funny and sweet quirks from this kid right here. He is like a combination of Brick from 'The Middle' and Dewey from 'Malcolm in the Middle,' and as the middle child in a rather large brood, he brings out a level of tenderness in all of us that makes this family as amazing as it is. I wouldn't change him for the world."
Amelia Green
"Autism in our family means that love needs no words, nor does it have any boundaries. Our Alex changes the world with his smile and his unbridled joy without ever speaking a word. I knew at 3 months that something was amiss with my first sweet baby boy. At 13 months a diagnosis and at 8 years old, his mom graduated with a master's degree in applied behavior analysis and autism. Autism has changed my life in every way, and I am so much better for it. I have witnessed the smallest miracles that others take for granted. I have heard my son speak after years of speech therapy and then lost it. I have celebrated my son learning to use an iPad to tell me what he wants for snack after years of frustration. I have learned with my son and celebrated every step of the way. To love a child with autism is to live with an aching grief that few understand. It is also the most unbelievable joy, those milestones, goals and dreams achieved. Our end of the spectrum is a difficult path. We focus on functional goals rather then academic, as college or even standardized testing are no longer dreams. We focus on the things that matter, and we work on them and celebrate them and make sure to always work on them so they last. Our dreams have changed but they are still beautiful. We have two younger boys who are empathetic, sweet and kind in a way that is only possible because Alex is their brother. They look for the kid playing alone and make sure to say hi. They are kind and patient with their brother and quick to defend him when there are too many stares or whispers in public. Autism has made us all better people. Autism colors our world and makes everything more vivid and clear. I wish we could move past being aware to being accepting and inclusive."
Leanne Johnson/Facebook
"Autism in our house is finding those moments that will bring joy to our son's face. Finding the moments that he's not too anxious, so we can hug him. Finding the moments to sit with him, so he can fill our minds with his immense knowledge. Finding moments where he's concentrating on something so dear to him, and I stare at him and can't believe that he's ours. I wouldn't change him or any of his quirks for the world."
Katie McHale Reeves/Facebook
"My son Connor is 5 years old. At 3, he was completely non-verbal. He finally said 'Mommy' at 3-and-a-half. It was one of his first words and made me cry happy tears. He is now verbal and ready to start kindergarten in the fall. All of our hard work is showing, and we are so proud of him."
Melissa Cramton/Facebook
"Our daughter has Down syndrome and autism. For us, autism looks like a lot of things. Sometimes loneliness, sometimes happiness, sometimes confusion, sometimes overwhelmed. Always love. There's always love."
Amber Ayers/Facebook
"Autism looks like love and sadness. Hope and heartache. Beauty, magic, persistence and turmoil. It looks like a little boy that loves collecting DVDs so much that he asks for a DVD cake every year. We are challenged, but we are blessed."
Buffy Lael-Wolf/Facebook
"My daughter is 7 -- diagnosed at age 2.5. As scary as it was, getting a diagnosis so early was the blessing. She did six hours of therapy a week for two years. It was tough, but she made tons of progress. She is in a mainstream classroom with support and progressing well. The rule in our house is that you never apologize for who you are."
Eris McKelvey Wilson/Facebook
"This is what autism looks like in my house. My son was diagnosed at 18 months. He always spoke but is not a great communicator. He is loving, highly empathetic, engaging, intelligent and friendly to a fault. But he struggles with debilitating anxiety and rage. His focus is severely impacted, he has sensory challenges and goes through food phases where he wants to eat the same thing for months at a time. He is incredibly scared to be alone, at any time, even for a few seconds. He always seems to latch on to old or hard-to-find shows and movies, as is shown in the photo -- 'CatDog,' 'Roger Rabbit,' and 'Three Caballeros' toys he received for Christmas. To his core all he really wants is love, friendship and acceptance."
Michelle R Rice/Facebook
"Autism in our family is coming full circle, it is looking back on the very early years and wondering how you did it all. It is raising a non-verbal son with significant needs all while trying to balance life with his neurotypical sister. Autism in our house is facing the empty nest after 22 years of caregiving. It is navigating the system after 18 and ensuring that once we are gone, our son has a safe and happy home. Autism in our family is realizing that you will never stop wishing that you were a millionaire so that you could make sure your child will be taken care of the way you want once you are gone. And autism in our house is realizing no matter how tough it gets, the love and strength of your family is tougher!"
Athina Marie Fascianella/Facebook
"Every day in our home is #AutismAwareness thanks to this little blue-eyed miracle child that I have the pleasure and honor of calling my son. This is Joseph. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS at 18 months old. It was later changed to moderate autism. This boy, whose smile shines brightly with love and laughter. My little man, whose heart is so kind and compassionate and who genuinely just wants everyone to be happy. He is beyond intelligent, witty and wise beyond comprehension. He works so hard on a daily basis learning to deal with social protocols and changes in routine. I'm exceedingly proud of our Joseph for his fortitude and tenacity, his generous soul and protective nature over his little brother. He keeps us on our toes, but I wouldn't have it any other way."
Kim Treviño/Facebook
"What autism looks like to me: My baby. My world. Making me proud every day. He may never get the chance to tell me in words how he feels or how his day was. But I will understand him regardless, and I will help him understand the world."
Elizabeth Ann Garrison/Facebook
"Autism in our house is constant conversations about Minecraft and Skylanders. We are pretty proud of this photo. It was six years in the making. His last.hair cut at a salon was when he was 3 years old. He would go into meltdowns from the sensory overload of a haircut. In February 2017, he kept asking to dye his hair red, so we went back. He got a haircut and dye. He was so proud and so were we! He's 9 now, almost 10 and every day has its challenges, but every day I also see him persevere through uncomfortable sensory or social situations. He's come so far and we are beside him every step of the way!"
Elizabeth Lewis/Facebook
"This is my son Kameron. He is 8 years old, and he has two sisters. In our house, autism looks like happiness. He has a smile that is contagious and a love for life that is inspiring! We think he is fabulous. We say all the time that he isn't autistic; he has autism!"
Wenda Wright/Facebook
"Two of my sons -- my eldest Mariono and my youngest Xavi -- are autistic. Mariono was diagnosed at 7 with Asperger syndrome. Xavi was recently diagnosed."
Morgan Ayala/Facebook
"Both boys have been diagnosed with autism. Dominic is 4.5 and was diagnosed at 2, Ryder is 20 months and was diagnosed at 17 months. I, their mother, am also on the spectrum, and I have a variety of other mental health problems."
Kimberly Baker/Facebook
"Shane was diagnosed with autism at 15 months of age. It took my insistence to the pediatrician that something was wrong. I finally got the referral at nine months and waited six months to get into a developmental pediatrician. Shane was not a typical baby. He didn't want to be held, cried inconsolably, no eye contact, no words. I even had to put him in a bouncer seat to feed a bottle to him. He did just enough babbling of sounds to make the doctor believe he was fine, but I knew he wasn't. Sometimes as a mom you have to trust your gut and go against what the doctors and everyone else tells you. You are the mom, and you know your child. Never doubt your intuition. When we got the diagnosis at 15 months of age, I asked for another referral to get a second opinion, and it was confirmed by another doctor. When we returned to our pediatrician with a diagnosis, he said, 'Now I can see it, but I wasn't so sure in a child so young.' It is hard for a doctor to determine in a short office visit. Don't wait for a doctor to tell you, seek out your own answers. There was a time when we sat in the waiting room of an emergency department saying that we wouldn't leave until we got answers. Do what you need to do. Doctors see a small piece of the puzzle, while you see the whole picture."
Lori Cross/Facebook
"This is what autism looks like to us. Riley. He has a gentleness about him, sensitive, and funny, but will be moody and rage at the slightest routine change. They are focusing a lot about the transition into middle school, & it's triggered his OCD/anxiety. After his bald spot grows in we're going to keep his hair short. I'm sure it will help his hair situation, but he'll go back to chewing his fingers until they bleed, or ripping papers into a million pieces. I still haven't figured out how to not step in and speak for him in social situations. Many times, I'm torn between making him do something I know he's uncomfortable with vs. letting him stay home in his safety zone. I refer to Riley being like a light switch: If he's on, we're good, but if he's off, forget about it. I don't care what homework is incomplete, we're done. I love my son."
Amber Fowler Palmer
"Autism is learning to have lots of patience in a world that has very little! Autism is stressful, lonely and expensive! Autism is obsessions, scripting, routines and meltdowns! This is Ethan; he has an infectious smile, gives the best hugs ever, and can tell stories with just his eyes! He also struggles every single day to do the things others might take for granted! Autism is definitely hard for him, but he's such a happy boy for the most part!"
Daniela Attisano
"Autism in our house is screams and desperate cry and meltdowns sometimes. But also hugs and kisses and songs and drawings and love and cupcakes and Legos and inventions and extreme purity of heart"
Tara Lynn
"Lacey and I were diagnosed with ADHD in 2018, and Lacey was officially diagnosed with autism in March 2019. (After Lacey's diagnosis, I also self-identify as being autistic.) After Lacey's diagnosis, we realized autism was an undiagnosed condition in multiple generations of my family on my mother's side. I am single mom to two beautifully wild children, and own a business helping families in the Kitchener-Waterloo area enjoy a well deserved break at my family-focused wellness centre, Knead a Break Kitchener. Our home is filled with love and hilariously beautiful chaos."
Raquel Torres
"In our family autism looks like this -- us together (including my husband ) living the best life possible with and for our son Ryu who was diagnosed at the age of 5. He has come a long way, and while there are days we struggle, we as a family love him for his kind heart, his love for everything that is superheroes and for the love he gives us in return."
Elena Boston
"Autism is beautiful little surprises that warm our hearts every single time. Here our handsome boy Harvey is being so patient through the busyness of a craft store, then asking if he can hold the Easter Bunny’s hand."
Charlotte Cobb
"Autism is finding wonder in the simplest of things. The cold air, the crispy leaves and the freedom to dance in the park like no one is watching."
Joyce Lynn
"This girl has shown me what strength is all about! She is the strongest, kindest, most loving soul I know! Proud to be her Momma!"
Courtney Foster
"Having been diagnosed at the early age of 2, the days seemed so bleak. Worrying about his future. How would autism hold him back? Would he talk, have friends, understand feelings, learn to hold a spoon? In reality, I was the only one holding him back. I didn't understand autism. My son teaches me every day that anything is possible. To speaking full sentences, using utensils properly, and when it comes to numbers, he leaves me speechless. Autism for my son is limitless. His future is so bright!"
Missi Maiorano Brezina
"In our house, autism is our normal, our perfect setting on the clothes dryer of life. It’s listening to how Transformers save the world and how model toys 'are his people.' Autism is getting unsolicited hugs because he needs deep pressure and I need a good back crack. Autism is listening to the same video clip over and over and over and over again. Autism in our house is a reminder every day to be kinder, sweeter and more accepting. In our house, autism means love."
Joella Burbidge
"Autism in our family is rewarding, uncertain, terrifying, frustrating, exciting, sad and so so so intriguing! It can be experiencing absolute pure happiness and joy (as in the picture of our son Alfie at his happy place -- the beach), and those are the moments that get us through all the others that aren't quite as joyous."
Cripe Jason Lou
"Everyone faces challenges in life and for our family this is what autism looks like. A brave beautiful girl who faces the world head on. She makes our family very proud."
Mary Shearn
"Two of my three children have autism. They are 7 and 9. I'm so thankful I had them both so close in age. Though they fight, they also talk to each other in a way they can talk to no one else. They have very different personalities from one another, but they are both so precious to me. It has taken me years to accept their diagnosis, but I'm finally learning to embrace their quirkiness and individuality."
Raluca Isenberg
"Anne is 7. She is creative and ingenious. She loves to build and read! She’s empathetic and amazing! She’s my world!"
Emily May
"Autism. Life is twist turned upside down and some days we’re flush and some days we’re bust and we are always, always, always full of love."
Erin Kelley
"This is Grayson. To Grayson, Autism looks like speech devices, sensory meltdowns, constantly setting/controlling the environment, strict routines and visual schedules, worrying about safety and the future, tracking devices for elopement, child-proofing on EVERYTHING, extra locks on ALL the doors, hand-to-hand transfers, and only eating Cheetos for four days straight. But it also looks like giggles for no reason, twirling in the living room gleefully, snuggles and kisses, unending love, seeing the world from a different view, trying hard every day to learn new things, the excitement that comes from a first sign or a first word (especially when they said he’d never talk), the smile that lights up his face when Mickey comes on, the satisfaction that comes from lining up his cars in just the perfect way, or the laughter he has while playing with his sisters."
Lindsey Walsh
"Autism is the most humbling, frustrating, mysterious thing I never thought I would have to tackle. But this little boy -- he is the sweetest, kindest, most loving (and stubborn) guy I've ever known. I am so proud to be his mama and most days contain many tears and some laughs too. Autism is constantly teaching us how to be better for him. How to be more patient. And how to think outside the box. This is Oliver, and he has autism."
Ashley Balestriere
"This is how autism looks in our family. Both our son and our daughter have autism. They have very different needs and they each have their own strengths. For our family, autism is love. They have their challenges, but they look out for each other. Together, they can take on whatever challenges the world gives them! Their world is full of infinite potential."