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‘Just because I have autism doesn’t mean I can’t shine’

“Everyone has a mountain to climb and autism has not been my mountain, it has been my opportunity for victory.”

– Rachel Barcellona on Instagram

Read original article via Step Up For Students ‘Just because I have autism doesn’t mean I can’t shine’


To the School Districts: Kudos to You!

Blue Speech Bubble World Health Day Facebook Post(2)

CARD-USF’s catchment area covers 14 counties here in Florida. We work closely with all 14 counties’ school districts and district personnel. As a professional at CARD, I see the great work that CARD-USF and all of our districts put in each and every day through out the year for  constituents and teachers to be successful. However today, I am writing as an appreciative mom.

As a mom of two children who are currently in public schools (1 in Hillsborough, 1 in Pasco who has an IEP for Autism) I had a moment today where I stopped and took a moment to reflect on just how great the school districts (not just the 14 we cover; across the state) have been trying to navigate this crazy time.

What would have been a leisurely Spring Break quickly turned into a mad dash to get set up for distance learning. The districts quickly went to work and were timely setting up the meal program which allowed them to distribute meals to children. I’ve seen many parents report how simple it has been pulling up in the car line at their local school, picking up the bag lunch and carrying on with their day.

Additionally, the districts have been hard at work preparing laptops and other devices to hand out to students for remote learning. Again, another enormous task that has transpired quickly and effectively. School districts, in my case, Hillsborough & Pasco, have been emailing, robocalling, and using social media to get information out as much as possible. It can be a bit of information overload but a necessary evil as they are trying to do so much, in so little time and trying to reach every parent they can.

For me, I am fortunate enough to work remotely during this crisis and while that is taking place, I’m also working to get the kids set up for their new online education. My son’s teachers in Hillsborough County have been absolutely amazing. Through emails, Classtag App and even phone calls (yes, just got off the phone with one as I’m writing this) they have been so helpful and positive during this time.

Schools and teachers have been doing parades through their local neighborhoods just to see the kids and provide some fun. My neighborhood’s parade was today and teachers were honking their horns, waving and the kids in the neighborhood absolutely loved it as they waved and displayed their signs they made for their teachers.

During this crisis, I know much emphasis is on the medical professionals fighting the virus head on in our hospitals. As well they should be! I can’t even imagine the chaos in hospitals right now. However, I just wanted to give praise and kudos to the teachers and district personnel who are working hard as well in order to help our children adjust, stay positive and be successful.

So to ALL the school districts, the leaders seeing these plans through and to the teachers… THANK YOU!


Adrian Ruiz

CARD-USF, Communications & Marketing Specialist


Guest Blog: The Making of Eric Queen

Who is Eric Queen? Is he an existing character? Is he the kind of guy to rob houses like some kind of cat burglar, or is he the kind of guy who owns a cat who he sees as his brother? I’m sure most of you reading this blog has at least asked the first question among yourselves, in your inner thoughts. Except Christine Rover! No buts, ifs, or maybes!

I’m not here to waste your time by conducting a blog with a red herring! I’m here to explain how Eric Queen came to be. Now first thing’s first, he is a protagonist of an original story that is written by yours truly. “Can I buy it at Barnes & Nobles? What about Books a Million?” Well, I wrote this blog on March 8, 2020, I regret to inform you, no you can’t.

Not yet at least, I’m not published yet, but I will be(or I have been published by the time you read this in the future)! The story is called Breakthrough and I’m fully aware such a book series  exists already(and a movie from 2019, plus a song from 2011), but I need you to know that I’m not a copycat!

ANYWAY, not here to blab about copyright and lawsuits. I’m here to talk about Eric Queen. Now, in the first chapter of the first book, Eric is described to have dark hair, long straight bangs.his appearance was absentmindedly based on my cousin Chris who has these features. Then one day, I looked in the mirror and told myself: “That’s just not Eric Queen, that’s not who he is.”

I began to have a heated battle with myself, the other half of me said: “What are you talking about?! He’s just a fictional character! You’ve never been this dramatic over a fictional character before, like we always say: ‘Drama is for the stage!’” The half that saw the wrong said: “that’s not the point, Eric Queen is more than just another fictional character!”

The heat of the inner battle between me and myself began to create a storm in a teacup, especially when the opposing half asked angrily: “WHAT IS THE POINT THEN?!” The reply was just as aloud and lit a light bulb: “THE POINT IS ERIC QUEEN IS ME; A MALE ME!”  By then, the storm had ended and I just stared at my reflection. “A male me….” I said aloud but in a whisper.

As the story got in a deeper depth, Eric’s appearance changed from bangs and straight dark hair to curls and dark brown hair. He wore black thick glasses, and he carried his favorite of journals wherever he went. He indeed became what I wanted him to be. He became a part of me that can travel in the world inside my head.

I do hope y’all enjoyed this blog, and I answered that first question, as for the other two, well if you know me, you basically know Eric Queen and if you don’t, well I am one to own a cat and dub it a sibling. As for “is he an existing character?” The simple answer is yes. Ciao for now!

Guest Blog: The Backstory Of My Magnum Opus: Breakthrough

As I made it clear in my past blogs, my readers, I love to write! Okay, I say I have a love/hate relationship with it. What can you do? That’s enough weird talk about my “relationship”, I’m not here to write a blog with a misleading title, I’m here to tell you the story  about how I decided to write “Breakthrough”.

Now before I do, I’ll make this quick and clear. I can already hear you guys saying, “There’s already a book with that same title!” and “Wasn’t there a movie adaption of the latter?” To that before you start wigging out(I watched too much The Iron Giant, I’d watch it if you’re able, and if you have, watch it again.), I found out sometime after I finished my first collection of Markings by C.R. Gibson journals. I saw the movie in a bargain bin at Walmart.

Okay, now that I cleared that up, let me dive right into the backstory before you get bored from my rambling, I moved back to Albany, Georgia and I’m still not exactly thrilled about it. I had finished my first ten journals, all fictional. I tried to finish my other oodles of journals, but then I got the worst thing imaginable(well, for a writer anyway), a writer’s block!

I was like “Jesus, take the wheel! I can’t bare this pain!” After I got my act together, I went on my phone and checked websites that claimed to have cures for a writer’s block. The first one I checked out had 7 suggestions. Lucky number seven, maybe this’ll help me! I thought. Was it a right? Uh…no. No, my readers I wasn’t.

They listed to go for a walk, I looked outside and then heard my grandma say to grandpa(back when he was still around), “Goin’ to check the mail, Leon!” I decided to slip on my shoes and put on my Poké Ball Plus.  “Wait up!” I would call. Then, I walked with her outside. When we got back, she gave me a small box. “It’s from yer mama, Erica!” She announced, “Phew, it’s pretty heavy too!”

I took it from her and it wasn’t that heavy, I shook my head and tore that sucker open. Inside were ten black leather Markings by C.R. Gibson journals, I hoped that the first suggestion on that list worked, and big shock(not really) it didn’t work! I looked at the other suggestions and they were: “Try finishing your unfinished work, Meditate, sleep, write random sentences.” I did all of these on a regular basis and nada!

I was on the verge of giving up then suddenly on the third website I checked out, there was oodles of posts of writers making their own suggestions. The third one caught my attention almost instantly. It read: “Write a story about a character who is going through the same thing you are going through.” I pondered and wrote a page of this idea so I wouldn’t forget.

Then I went to Tampa, Florida to visit my friends and my CARD family. On my almost last day, I walked with Christine Rover to her car to get my bag of empty journals, and said out of the norm, “I bet there’s a dimension out there, with a male me and a male you.” We cracked some jokes and that’s how the main protagonist Eric Queen came to be, then eventually the story. I hope you enjoyed this blog! Sorry it’s so long!

Ciao for now!


Guest Blog: What Will Your Talent Be?

What will your talent be? It isn’t up to me, be whoever you want to be. If you don’t know what your talent is, don’t be distraught. I used to not know my own talent even when it was staring at me right in the face.

If it were a bee, it would’ve stung me that day. When I was very young; no not three, that’s far too young for me to remember. I was in first grade, where I wrote essays and when I was done, I’d write and draw my own stories without a prompt.

I did this until about grade three, then kind of stopped my doodles. Still I thought I’d be a cartoonist, not knowing all that went in making those cartoons move and talk. Years later, I found out how much work had to be done and decided to pursue a different talent.

I still drew; I couldn’t just say I was through. I didn’t find drawing my passion anymore, but for an assignment or fun, I will draw. I would rather do that then play in the sun or chewing on my plastic straw.

The following year, I ended up in a class I never knew excited; a creative writing class. I couldn’t bear to think of what would my teacher would say if I shared what I wrote. When she liked it a lot, I felt something in my gut.

I found out my talent was indeed writing, I began writing more and more, nobody ever thought they were a bore, especially my riddles that sure were a chore for them to solve. Then one day, my teacher, Ms. Kraft wanted me to do something with them.

She wanted me to write a new riddle every Monday for someone to solve, the riddle’s answer would be revealed Friday unless it was a holiday. I enjoyed going to school ever since that day.

Then during an awards ceremony on May 15, 2015,  I was given a future author award.That was the day that I found out what my true talent and passion was. I stuck by it and I still do.

The moral of this blog is to find your true calling. Sometimes life will throw curve balls, but it’s up to you to be pelted by them or dodge them.

Ciao for now!

Erica King

Guest Blog: What Writing is to Me

Hello, it’s your girl Erica again, did you miss me? I’m sure you did! I wanted to write a blog about what writing is to me. The next blog may be about Merry Acres middle school, and it may not be! It will happen though I promise! Look at me rambling and I’m not even at the meat of the blog yet!

Okay all big words and joking aside, I am here to talk about what writing is to me. Writing to me is a lot of thing: It’s fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s my escape when I’m overwhelmed. I’d be crazy if I said it was all fun and games, heck I’d be crazier if I said that it was all pros and no cons!

Well, my readers let me tell you something…IT IS NOT ALL PROS! You see, writing to me is also: torture, stressful and my prison! Let me explain, writing is fun, sure, but it can be torture when you set yourself a deadline or when you are given a deadline, and let me tell you, those things don’t come with pretty red bows!

Writing is relaxing sure, but when you are trying to catch some z’s and you’re as forgettable and creative as me, it’s stressful hearing those words and sentences repeat in your head like a song on repeat until you write them down whether on your phone or on scrap paper!

Writing is an escape sure, but it can also be a prison! You won’t be free until you finish your sentence! Ha, ha, ha! Seriously though, writing is no laughing matter, I love it, sure, but sometimes I don’t. It’s fine though, because no matter what writing is my favorite thing to do. I loved since first grade and I still love it today!

In conclusion, writing despite its cons, is my calling. I know it is, with as many journals as I have and as many pens that lost their ink, I know I’m doing something worth while and someday I’ll be published. When that day comes, I’ll be on book tours and enjoy it very much. Ciao for now!



Guest Blog: Everyone, Meet Erica!

Hi! I’m Erica J. King, a young adult with autism who once lived in Tampa, Florida and my favorite thing to do is write original stories. When I’m not writing, I’m playing video games or thinking about writing. I once owned two hedgehogs named Rosabel and Quilliam Shakespeare. Alas, they both passed away, but they haven’t left my heart.

Melancholy aside, I have attended many different schools and academies. I’ve attended:  Radium Springs Elementary School, Oaktree Elementary School, Merry Acres Middle School, Benito Middle School, Wharton High School, Focus Academy, and lastly the Learning Academy. I moved back to Albany, Georgia to help out with my grandparents. One of which is gone, my grandfather. I’m not going to make my first blog super sad so let’s move on!

I have been working on a story called “Breakthrough”, and no it doesn’t involve some guy falling through thin ice! It’ll be my magnum opus is all you’ll need to know. I will just say one thing about it, it’s about a male writer. I have written fifteen journals for the first book, fifteen journals equal fifteen chapters, and as I’m writing this blog I’m working on the second book and that one will have ten chapters therefore it’ll have ten journals.

Now I’ll talk more about my school experiences, more on the lines of Focus Academy and The Learning Academy. I’ll talk about Merry Acres in a future blog, because that in itself deserves its own blog! Focus Academy was certainly an experience, I met my best friend Francesca Rosa there during summer school. We are still friends today. I learned a lot there about developing characters and layering them.

After doing the high school part, I did a transition program where I did puppy training and volunteer work at a food pantry. I also learned about filling out applications, self-advocacy, and writing checks. Then after I graduated from that, I attended The Learning Academy. I made a lot of friends there and even had an old friend of mine attend too! There I learned a lot about furthering my skills, learning styles, more self-advocacy and attending job fairs. I even learned how to properly act during job interviews.

In conclusion, I hope you readers out there enjoyed this introduction blog and I truly hope that you want to hear more from me, I’ll even share some of my original writings if y’all want! Just let me know below, and enjoy the rest of your day! Thank you so much again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read this! I truly appreciate it 100%, really I do! Ciao for now!


Past blogs regarding Erica:  TLA Graduate Spotlight on Erica King


Thoughts on “Atypical”

Recently I decided to give the Netflix original series “Atypical” a try, and my expectations were blown away. Starring Keir Gilchrist, the show follows Sam Gardner, an 18-year-old boy with autism, as he searches for love, acceptance, and a purpose in life. There is also a lot of focus on his family and their trials and tribulations, but for this piece I mostly want to focus on Sam and his characterization. I’ve had my issues in the past with the “Hollywood autistic” as I call it; where most people on the spectrum are typically portrayed as either some savant genius with no ability to socialize, or completely incompetent. Sam strikes a really great balance in being a realistic depiction, and I found myself relating to him on several occasions. This is a comedy series, so some things naturally are a bit exaggerated, and I enjoyed those moments, but for the most part I found Sam to be my favorite character with autism I’ve seen in a long time, if not ever.

I won’t get too deep into spoiler territory, as I highly recommend the series to anyone reading this, but I do want to cover some of the basics. The story starts off with Sam’s quest to find a girlfriend, which right off the bat I think was perfect. I’ve written before about the struggles of those on the spectrum to find meaningful relationships, and they captured the struggle really well. Eventually, that plot point gets somewhat pushed to the side in favor of discovering who he is, what he’s passionate about, what he wants to do going forward in his life, and (very importantly) how he’s going to live independently, as he’s always been with his family. Once again, I’ve written about these very things before and the challenges they bring with them.

Now I looked it up, and Robia Rashid, the show runner, is not on the spectrum, but I could’ve sworn she was due to how relatable many of these situations were. Sam’s often blunt nature which takes some getting used to, the sensory problems that can manifest in unpleasant ways, his ability to “hyper focus” on something he’s really interested in, and a brutal lack of care for that which does not. And the actor who portrays Sam, despite being neurotypical himself, does a fantastic job of showing a lot of little intricacies. As I said before, I highly recommend this show to anyone looking for an emotional yet entertaining ride, complete with a great cast of characters, one of whom happens to be an individual with autism done right.

Reconsidering Neurodiversity

Here at CARD, our mission is and always will be to promote good relations between those on the autism spectrum and the general public, be it in the workplace, the community, at school, or even within the family unit. We believe it is imperative that people of all abilities throughout the Tampa Bay area are treated equally and fairly, and are never impeded from living their lives because of something they can’t control. While I’m sure everyone in the special needs community (and most people in general) believe in helping individuals who require it, there is some debate over the concept of “neurodiversity,” which is defined as “an approach to learning and mental health that argues diverse neurological conditions are the result of normal variations in the human genome.” Basically, if you’re a believer in neurodiversity, then you wouldn’t really view mental disabilities as disabilities at all, just quirks that can be worked on and managed with a few key strategies. Before doing my research for this post, I never even really questioned the validity of neurodiversity, but it’s definitely gotten me to question things a bit more.

I don’t believe it’s fair to argue for or against something without at least providing the counterargument which, in the case of neurodiversity, is that mental disabilities such as ASD, schizophrenia, ADHD, etc. are socially constructed and exist naturally as a part of the neural spectrum. Proponents argue that due to the lack of understanding of how the brain works, coupled with considerable doubts regarding the field of psychiatry, it can’t be proven that there’s anything “wrong with” and autistic or schizophrenic brain. As with many others, I’m not an expert on this topic, but this is their argument put as simply as I can.

As I outlined in the case for neurodiversity, there is a significant lack of hard evidence in neuroscience. The brain is not widely understood like other parts of the body, and as far as I can tell, this fact is acknowledged by the dissenters of neurodiversity. The 2 main critiques I found which I agreed with the most came from Psychology Today, and they were: while it is a noble goal to help people with these conditions, it’s absurd and even harmful to treat them as something desirable; and that all “medical diseases—not just psychiatric disease—rests on a subjective determination about what constitutes abnormality,” and it’s up to the professionals to make those determinations. While the goal is to de-stigmatize mental disabilities, the anti- crowd argues that neurodiversity proponents are doing the opposite. If these conditions are seen as totally normal, then why would there be a push to invest in treatment? It makes sense when you think of it that way.

I’ve lived with ASD my entire life, and here’s my viewpoint. I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I have, and I’ve worked through a lot. However, I don’t think autism should necessarily be “glamorized.” It does provide some benefits, but there are plenty of handicaps as well, and I’ve now come to seriously doubt neurodiversity.

-G. Sosso

Making Tampa Bay Autism Friendly

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you either live in the greater Tampa area, close to it, or have some connection to the city. As previously mentioned, I’ve had the great honor and distinction of being a part of the City of Tampa Autism Board in an advisory role. Our mission is to, little by little, transform Tampa into a place where individuals all across the autism spectrum can feel safe, secure and welcomed. The mayor has been incredibly receptive to the initiative, as have many of the prominent institutions around the city, such as the Glazer Children’s Museum who will be hosting this year’s Fiesta by the Bay for Autism. I’d like to talk about some of the efforts being taken around the city, as well as some small things the average person can do to make Tampa a more accepting place to people of all abilities.

Besides the support from the mayor himself, we’ve received support from so many places across the city. It’s no simple task covering a major urban area, but we believe we’ll get to every business one day. The Tampa Police Department has already integrated our teachings (which I starred in!) into their officer’s training, and the paramedics will now be carrying around cards, which people with autism can use to point out what is wrong without having to speak. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have featured CARD on the big screen at their games, and the Tampa Bay Lightning just had an Autism Awareness Night at a recent, very important game (I would have gone myself, but I can’t go betraying my Penguins like that). Glazer Children’s Museum and the Florida Aquarium are among the family-friendly locations around the Tampa area who have embraced our mission, and we have meaningful connections with WEDU, the local PBS branch. As a side note, make sure to check out Sesame Street, which has autism representation in the form of Julia, a friend of Elmo. These are just some of the larger, more recognizable groups involved with Autism Friendly, we have many more and the number will continue to grow. If you’d like to know more, check out the recent article I wrote for Tampa Parenting Magazine. My article is on page 17.

Every individual can make a difference. If your place of work is within the Tampa Bay area, please feel free to contact Dr. Karen Berkman at KBerkman@usf.edu or by phone at 813-974-4033. It’s completely free and is almost guaranteed to be a boon for your business. Plus, you’re doing a great thing for an entire group of people. But there’s an even smaller scale we can all work on. If you come across someone who you believe may have autism, be it in your place of work or just out in public and they’re struggling, be there for them in a supporting role. That doesn’t necessarily mean go and do everything for them; most won’t need it anyway. Rather, just be ready to offer a helping hand, and be patient with them. Be a friend, and they will be grateful, even if they can’t fully express it.

G. Sosso


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