Autism Awareness Day 2013: What Autism Is Really Like

 

People are wearing blue for Autism Awareness Day, which is Tuesday. By 2013 I believe most people I encounter are already aware of autism, so now what?

Sure, it’s nice to see people support people affected by the epidemic that is Autism Spectrum Disorder by rocking a beautiful blue blouse or trendy cerulean skirt, but it doesn’t really mean anything deeper than a cute outfit for the day.

My sister was diagnosed with autism in 1994. She was 4 and I was 7. The neurologist told my mother she would never amount to anything. On the way home from the doctor's my mother was hysterically crying. My younger brother was trying to comfort her, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. She was still the same exact sister I always had. Felicia just got a new title after that appointment. 

I learned to deal with the strange looks from other children, but the demeaning and hurtful glances adults shot at my sister rattled me to my core. They weren’t just judging her but they were judging us too.

How could a family raise a child to be so unruly? Why did that noisy girl just steal the French fries from my plate? Is she really screaming like that because there aren’t any more cherries?

There are endless stories (embarrassing, funny, scary and sad) I could tell about Felicia: like the time she called her black bus driver a chocolate doughnut when she was mad at him, to which he politely told my mother he had been called worse things, or most recently, when I took her on a nature walk and had to explain to the park ranger that I had lost my 20-year-old sister when she ran away.

As far as my life is concerned, television and movies have never depicted autism in its true form. Somehow Hollywood was even able to glamorize a cureless mental illness that affects nearly 1 in 88 American children.

She’s not like "Rain Man" and she’s not like that quirky guy from the “World of Jenks." Autism isn’t fun most of the time and it isn’t what we see in the movies or on television — at least in my experience.

She’s noisy, she listens to the same three seconds of a song over and over again until you want to pull the hair out of your head, she doesn’t respond to demands, she can’t make decisions about things she has an interest in, she’ll never have a job, or fall in love or be able to live on her own without supervision, but I love her more than anything.

She’s taught me so much about life and how to be a better person. I’ve learned to appreciate the little things in life, and even just a little smile from her can make my day. She told me she loved me for the first time a few months ago and I’ll never forget it.

The neurologist could not have been more wrong when he said she would never amount to anything, because she’s everything to me.

Autism Awareness Day is much more than just making people aware. I would like for people to understand what it’s really like to live with it and deal with it. To know the frustrations and hopeless dreams that comes along with loving someone with autism, but to also see all the love and light they bring into the lives of those they’re close to.  

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