TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – What is it like to live with autism? The answer to that question has changed over the years for people living with it.

Topeka author, 68-year-old Barbara Moran, describes what it was like to grow up in a world where she felt misunderstood.

Things were different for Barb as she was growing up. Barb was the youngest of 7 kids.

“She was odd from the get-go,” said Ruth Moran, Barbara’s sister.

Ruth & Barbara Moran (2019)

Ruth said her parents tried putting her through a number of schools, but she didn’t last long in any of them.

When Barbara was 10 years old, she went to Menniger’s in Topeka, one of the country’s top facilities for mental health patients.

She was there for seven years. But early on at Mennigers, and throughout her life, Barb felt like she had to conform to the expectations and standards of society. Awareness and understanding of people living with autism was limited.

So Barb relates more to objects than to people, including “Rooney” an old refrigerator she got in 1979, that lives in her apartment with her today.

Barb is also passionate about trains. She draws them, visits them, and names them.

Barb and Rooney

“I couldn’t connect with people and understand them. They were a foreign language to me. I thought of an object as somehow being (something I was) able to say what I wanted to it,” Barbara said. And objects didn’t judge her.

But Barb said what mattered most to her, “As soon as I got to have freedom, that made a difference, and just being able to make decisions and get things I wanted.”

Barb finally got her freedom.

“The fact that she lives independently is very remarkable. She wanted to be respected, make her own money, and I just think it’s remarkable given her limitations in the social arena,” said Ruth.

After meeting author Karl Williams at a national Autism Conference, Barbara got the opportunity to tell her story, the way she lived it.

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Over the decades, Barbara and Ruth have seen awareness, understanding, and acceptance of people with autism change.

Today their message to everyone is, “Be curious when encountering a person who is a little odd. And try to approach that person not only with curiosity but also an open heart. For years, I’ve watched people turn away from her (Barb) so I don’t view society as particularly accommodating, although much better than previously,” said Ruth.

I want people with autism and mental illness to be treated seriously.

– Barbara Moran

“Barbara and other people with oddities, occupy the fringe.
In my own journey, I’ve come to the conclusion, that it really is us who sit comfortably in the average, to open up to people in the fringe. Mostly we expect the ‘fringe’ people to come into the center. They can’t do it, and we shouldn’t expect them to do it,” Ruth said.

Barbara would like to get in touch with old friends from Menniger’s. To get in contact with her please email her at

For autism support, Barbara recommends contacting Breakthrough House in Topeka. You can find more information about their services by visiting or calling 785-213-8506