Autism Awareness

While half my peers are casually dropping the line “fuck my life” in every other text, Tweet, and post, I’m over here feeling forever grateful for the small things.

Do you ever wake up and feel fortunate that you can verbally explain your weird dreams to your boyfriend? Or that when you don’t feel well, you can tell your doctor what’s wrong? Or that when you go out for coffee, you can order exactly what you like down to the number of sugar packets? Probably not.

Most of us take these small privileges for granted. It’s just a given that we’re able to communicate freely with others. But many people with autism, like my sister, don’t have these privileges. Growing up with an autistic sister has given me a perspective on life that has made me more compassionate, patient, and thankful for the simple things.

According to AutismSpeaks.org, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development.” Autism is characterized in several ways. For my sister, Lauren, autism has made it difficult for her to communicate complex feelings and emotions. Aside from using a very small vocabulary of key words and a few phrases, Lauren communicates primarily through hand gestures and expressions.

When she’s upset, she makes sure that everyone knows. But when she’s happy? When Lauren’s happy, her joy is contagious. She has the most addicting laugh in the world, the brightest smile, and hands-down the most incredible, warm, all-encompassing hugs on this planet.

Autism AwarenessPhoto via Becky Wetherington

One of the most important and humbling things she has taught me, is that just because she is unable to use language to express complex thoughts and ideas, does not mean she is incapable of having them. Quite the opposite. My sister is one of the most receptive and intelligent individuals I know.

Lauren and I have grown up like any other sisters. As children, we enjoyed drawing and coloring together. As teenagers, we fought constantly. And now, as young adults, we have a warm relationship marked by friendly words and harmless teasing. But despite this, our lives will ultimately be very different. While I have the freedom to choose any path I like, Lauren will not be able to live independently. She will never have a husband, children, or a country home with a white picket fence. She will not even have the choice to reject these conventions. I often remember this stark truth when I’m feeling down about my life. Sometimes it’s easy to feel as though our day jobs are meaningless, the morning commute is hellish, and fighting the weekend crowds at the grocery store is one of the most inconvenient things in the world. But in reality, these are freedoms we should cherish. Not everyone is so lucky to have them.

Through her boundless joy, through her songs, and through her smiles, Lauren has taught me that life is beautiful no matter the circumstances. And thanks to her, I am a more patient and compassionate individual. Each day, Lauren reminds me to laugh, smile, and embrace my inner child. She gives me some much-needed perspective. I am, no doubt, a better person because of her.

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