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Autism means having different abilities, not having a disability

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Freshman blogger Bea Floresca shares her experiences having a younger brother with autism

By Blogger Bea Floresca

Autism is a developmental complication that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

My younger brother Carlos has autism, and it is his blessing and his curse. It limits his ability to understand everyday events, yet it makes him wonderfully innovative and perfectly optimistic. Unfortunately, often times people only associate autism with its intellectual limitations. In reality, people with autism are just like you and me: they are human beings with complex feelings who are striving for happiness.

I often experience the apathy people have toward those with autism through my experiences with Carlos. I absorb the societal judgment Carlos can’t always understand. I am the one who catches the stranger staring at Carlos and I am the one who understands their ignorance even when he doesn’t.

One of the most painful memories I have of such ignorance happened back in the sixth grade. My family and some close friends went on a camping trip to the Warren Dunes for a weekend. One night, Carlos, my friend A.J., and I left the tent to brush our teeth. When it was my turn to use the bathroom, Carlos stayed with A.J. When I returned, Carlos was innocently bouncing up and down, which is one of the ways he expresses happiness. I was horrified to find a much older girl addressing A.J.

The girl asked A.J. about Carlos.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” she asked sharply.

Her words sliced me like a knife. To this day, I remember the exact words I defended Carlos with.

“He is autistic, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with him,” I said.  At that very moment I wanted to insult her, to tell her off for being so rude, but I held my tongue and kept from using obscenities.

As I walked back to our campsite, hand-in-hand with Carlos, I felt wounded. That girl judged Carlos with ignorant eyes and a mind closed to understanding. It’s overwhelming and scary just to think back on that event.

On the autism spectrum, Carlos is considered high-functioning. However, he isn’t necessarily like the other twelve-year-olds who bike through the neighborhood with their friends. Carlos would rather spend his time coloring printouts of his favorite TV characters. Another one of his quirks includes his pickiness. He only likes certain foods, he only wears short sleeved T-shirts, and he never wears shoes with laces.

In my mind, he is a cheerful six-year-old boy trapped in the societal expectations of who a twelve-year-old boy is supposed to be.

While my little brother may have his quirks, he always finds new ways to amaze me. He is a master at organization and memorization. Because of this, he has a very orderly room; nothing is out of place. He is also skilled when it comes to anything visual. He builds master Lego models, and he can beat an entire video game in a matter of hours.

People are quick to categorize autism and other disorders as disabilities. They are not necessarily disabilities at all, but rather different abilities. Carlos’ differences make him who he is.

I am often asked if I wish I didn’t have an autistic brother. But to me, his autism does not matter because I love Carlos for who he is. We teach each others so much about patience, understanding, unconditional love, happiness, and more. I hope that some day everyone else will see Carlos and others affected by autism for the special people they are, not for the disability they were born with.

To help provide services and to support advocacy for those living with autism and other disabilities, you can donate to Easter Seals by clicking here.

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2 Responses to “Autism means having different abilities, not having a disability”

  1. Chris Kohley on April 13th, 2014 8:47 pm

    This is truly moving story. Unfortunately, some people are born with disabilities like Carlos, but I think it’s great that you point out that they are no different than anybody else. Your brother sounds like a very friendly person!


  2. Andrew Conwell on April 13th, 2014 9:39 pm

    Really is a touching story. Thanks a lot to the author of this article for getting this message out there!


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Autism means having different abilities, not having a disability