Our oldest son will be heading off to college in the fall. “In the fall” sounds like a long way away, but when I look at the calendar I gulp. That’s only a month away! How could 18 years have flown by so quickly?
Christopher is an amazing person. He has achieved so much in his young life, but I fear that he is sometimes forgotten amidst the overwhelming demands of his youngest sibling. I am reassured, though, when I read the following essay that he wrote for a scholarship contest. His writing shows a depth of understanding that is rare, as well as a tendency towards compassion and acceptance. He gets it. We are super proud of him.
I never thought that I would say that my 8 year old brother who flaps his arms wildly and screeches when he’s excited but screams bloody murder when he’s mad would have had such an immense impact on my life, but here we are. May 14, 2009 was the day my life changed completely. Peter was born, and was diagnosed with autism not long after. When I heard that Peter was autistic, I was confused, and scared. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect. Before that point, I hadn’t really had any experience with anyone with any type of disorder, and I definitely didn’t realize how it would affect me.
There is a common misconception among society that people with autism- or any disorder- are going to be less successful in life; they are considered abnormal. Although it may be true that those affected by autism may act differently from the majority of others, it isn’t necessarily true that this is abnormal. What, really, is “normal?” Is it just something that society is used to? Why, then, is it so bad to be considered abnormal, and what gives people the right to even consider others abnormal? Isn’t it plausible that those considering others as abnormal are actually abnormal themselves?
All these are thoughts that have percolated in my brain recently, but particularly since Peter was born. I worry constantly about what other kids and people might think about him, and it pains me to know that many people probably consider him to be “weird” or abnormal. Working as an afterschool and summer camp counselor for the YMCA has allowed me to understand how “normal” kids Peter’s age act, and it is shocking to me how different it is. Peter is 8 years old now, and to be completely honest, he is much better behaved than his 8-year-old non-autistic counterparts. What a shocking paradox this is, with the all too common misconception being that autistic people behave much worse than others. Peter is extremely low functioning, as he is unable to speak verbally, and has very little self awareness of harm or social settings in general, yet his behavior surpasses that of many of his counterparts.
Peter is also very hardworking and determined in his daily endeavors. He uses a program on his iPad called “LAMP Words for Life” to communicate, and does so very effectively. Every day, we realize that Peter is much smarter than everyone thinks he is. He knows his animals, foods, and most of his favorite movies and places to go (like Publix and Arby’s for example), and he is just learning his numbers. He makes progress each and every day working with his therapists learning new words and phrases, and is very determined in doing so.
Peter has taught me so many important values in my life that I’ll cherish forever and continue to share with the people around me. First, he has taught me to have patience- a lot of patience. Patience with him in particular, as he works to better himself, as well as patience with others in my life. It’s never fun being in public when Peter gets upset and begins to scream, but I remember that the only way to get through it is with patience. Along with patience arises the necessity of understanding. In my opinion, there is no way to fulfill one’s life without being understanding of others.
Something else Peter has taught me throughout his life is to have determination in anything you do. In the past, I gave up on many of the things I felt passionate about- sports, clubs, and organizations. After Peter came into my life, I realized that if I tried my absolute hardest (like he does everyday) in many things, I’ll find success. I became heavily involved in student activities at my high school in a magnet program, as the student body vice president, in National Honor Society and BETA Club, and I graduated top 10% of my class. Without Peter, I don’t know that I would’ve had the determination to do all of those things and more. Peter has made my life worthwhile, and enjoyable, and I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.
Without even knowing it, Peter has, in fact, changed my life. He is the reason that I’ve decided to attend the University of South Carolina as a freshman this fall to study exercise science. My primary goal is to become an occupational therapist to work with kids like him that need and deserve that form of assistance. Along with the knowledge that I’ll acquire in school, I am hopeful that I’ll be able to change someone’s or even a family’s life forever, just like Peter has for me.