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Big Problem, Small World

Low angle view of a girl helping her younger sister by holding hands for crossing rocks on a beach. Photographed at Manori beach near Mumbai

Stares, sideways glances at the airport, random fits, anxiety attacks, anger. All of these, just because of a single word: Autism. Many people believe that autistic people should be treated differently, but, through my experiences, I know that this isn’t true and people with autism should be given the same chance in life as everyone else.

I first found out that my older sister, Brinkley, had autism when I was 8 years old. At the time, I had no idea what autism meant, and did not consider that people would treat Brinkley differently because of her autism. Luckily, Brinkley has a more moderate form of this disability, but it still has a huge impact on her life and the life of our family. Unfortunately, she has been treated unfairly because of her autism.

From what I have observed of my sister’s behavior, at times Brinkley flaps (and now crunches) her hands, occasionally she does not answer when I call her name, and she has trouble making and keeping friends. Brinkley also gets frustrated easily about the littlest things. Whenever my sister lashes out at home, I usually take my computer and run upstairs, but even in the safety of my room, I can hear the roaring screams from downstairs.

Brinkley also has many positive attributes, such as her amazing memory, her pitch-perfect singing voice, and her phenomenal writing. My sister is also like any other regular teenage girl with many interests including dancing, singing, baking, and she is a true bookworm!

Brinkley has been in some sort of therapy ever since I can remember. We have been all over Connecticut and New York looking for the best doctors and interventions for her. I have even worked to help Brinkley with eye contact and conversation skills. Sometimes I did not even know I was playing a role in helping her. As you can see, the impact that this disability has had on my family is significant.

Unfortunately, Brinkley has been discriminated against in her schools and in activities. It has happened so many times that it has begun to feel normal to me. Of this, Brinkley has said the following: “It hurts a lot and it is very unfair. I usually lash out on someone that didn’t do anything. It’s like a whirlwind of different emotions. And it is downright scary.”

The first time I can remember discrimination impacting Brinkley is when she wanted to join a synchronized ice skating team. Before tryouts started, my mom told the coach about Brinkley’s autism. When Brinkley got to the tryouts, the coach put her with younger kids, and then didn’t even give her a spot on the team, even though she was the best skater out there, because they were worried about how someone with autism would react in competition. Brinkley gave up ice skating after this incident.

Another time, she earned a leading role in her middle school play. Unfortunately, the school did not give Brinkley the supports she needed to be successful in the play and she had some bad behavior due to her disability. The school even kicked her out of the play! Because of all the social ramifications and due to the unsupportive school environment, Brinkley had to officially leave the school. She is currently homeschooled, which even she has admitted “sucks”.

Having a family member with autism has opened my eyes to all of the hardships and possibilities that can arise when you have a disorder. While it’s been hard, I still love my sister. She is a hard worker. Some things that come easy to me are very challenging for her. We all have to try to do the best we can with what we have and be more tolerant of kids with autism as they may be trying harder than we even understand.

Brinkley has been through many rough times due to discrimination and not getting a fair chance because of her autism. The good news is there is more awareness for this disability than ever before thanks to new efforts in mainstream media.

MK Blum

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the NLM Family Foundation.

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