(NEW YORK) — A Texas mom whose two kids have autism is challenging others to learn about autism spectrum disorder this April, which happens to be Autism Acceptance Month.
It’s an issue close to Tiffany Hammond’s heart, not only because the condition affects her family, but also herself.
The 38-year-old told Good Morning America she received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome when she was 18 and in college. Nowadays, doctors no longer use the Asperger’s syndrome classification. Instead, people who were given that diagnosis in the past are now understood to have a form of autism.
“In college, I was just like, I don’t want to tell anybody this,” Hammond told GMA. “So I didn’t really think about it. I kind of took the [diagnosis] papers and hid them in my drawers in my dorm and tried to basically go about life as I always was going about it.”
But in the last two decades, Hammond’s perspective has shifted dramatically and she’s now on a mission to tell the stories of her family through her “Fidgets and Fries” website and social media platform and through her upcoming children’s book, A Day With No Words, out May 9.
“[I] try to create something based on my own life that I can share with someone else so that they can get a deeper understanding of what someone else might be going through,” Hammond said, adding that she feels “stories are our greatest teachers.”
Hammond said her older son Aidan, 16, doesn’t speak and her younger son, Josiah, 14, does speak, but only in some situations.
“One of the things that people will tell me after they learn that my son doesn’t speak is, they’ll say, ‘So he doesn’t know words?’ or ‘Does he not understand anything that we’re saying?"” Hammond said.
The mom of two however, said others’ assumptions are often far from reality. Hammond said Aidan does understand words and one of the ways he communicates is by using an iPad with an augmentative and alternative communication app, or AAC app, that lets him tap symbols, pictures and words.
Aidan’s communication method is featured prominently in A Day With No Words. Hammond said the children’s book is not just about Aidan but dedicated to him and his younger brother.
“I wanted to honor my son in every possible way that I could and then I wanted to challenge the reader, so I wanted to entertain them and also challenge them,” Hammond said.
“When I was thinking about it, I was like, this book is not for the autism community, specifically. It has to address those outside of it, because we will not make a more equitable and accessible world if we do not bring in other people,” she added.
With the book, which is also vividly illustrated by artist Kate Cosgrove, Hammond hopes to make readers “think more deeply about their own communication and their own interactions with one another” and “[apply] that to everyone and especially to people like my son.”
“There are a lot of us out there and just learning just a little bit can go a long way — just opening up your understanding and your eyes a little bit more and inviting yourself to learn about an experience that you do not know yet, that helps so much,” Hammond said.
“Even if you never ever in your entire life come across another or a single person that has autism, [learning about autism] still helps you to be a better human, it still helps you to be more compassionate and more understanding, just to learn about the many different ways that we can be human,” she added.
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