Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Honestly Autism conference. There, I was surrounded by parents, siblings, therapists, teachers, social workers, etc. -- all affected by and a part of the Autism community. During the few speeches I attended, I noticed a trend. When a story was being told about an individual with Autism - the crowd would react with the same response, "awwwwww." Even I was guilty of it.
It dawned on me -- I always talk about how we need to treat people with Autism with respect or treat them like there is no "normal." Help them, but don't pity them. Does anyone like to pitied? Felt sorrow for? No. Why do we do it to individuals with Autism? Now, of course, when I'm talking to my friends about something sweet someone else said or I see a couple's new baby, I do use the "aw" response. But do I do it when my friend gets a job interview? When my friend gets asked out on a date? When my mom makes me cookies? No. Those things are unexpected but yet expected of us. I have no problem understanding that my friend got the job interview or that my friend could get a date and end up married or that my mom would be able to use the oven. But, is that what we think for people with Autism?
I will agree that it is heart wrenching when people with Autism do things like this. When they get their first kiss or make you something special. It means everything to me. But it doesn't mean they were never capable. They are human first. All humans want to be loved, want to be successful, want to be there for people they care about. I agree it is a big difference between someone with Autism getting a diploma and when I get my diploma - because their struggle and their push was much more intense than mine. But it doesn't mean they are incapable. It isn't sweet. It isn't beating the odds. It's success. It's what they deserve!
Autism from a sibling's point of view...
My name is Paige and I am 24 years old. I graduated from Towson University with a Psychology Bachelors Degree. I am now working towards my Master's in Education of Autism and other Pervasive Disorders at Johns Hopkins. I am also a Behavior Data Specialist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute Neurobehavioral Inpatient Unit. My younger brother, Sammy, is 19 and has Autism. He is completely non-verbal, unaware of safety, is not toilet trained, cannot get himself dressed, and has difficulty with everyday activities that we all take advantage of. He works harder every single day of his life than anyone I know and he always does it with a smile on his face. He is my true hero and inspiration and because of him, I have dedicated my life to advocating and creating opportunities for individuals with Autism. I hope that I can make him proud and this blog is just a small part of the awareness I hope I can create about Autism and support other siblings impacted by Autism. I love you Sammy - thank you for everything.