Perspectives from Students: What is it like to have a sibling with Autism?
Claire Joanson ('19), Claire Tremper ('18) and Arianne Martin ('19) share their experiences with having a sibling with Autism.
March 6, 2020
Claire Joanson (’19)
My little sister loves to dance. She spends hours twirling through the house, making up new dance routines and carefully recreating performances she sees online. My little sister is also extremely curious. Whenever I’m cooking dinner her head is peeping over the counter, investigating what I’m making her that night, and making sure that I’m aware she’s available to try a bite before dinner time. My little sister is compassionate; she’ll leave little “I love you” notes on my bed showing us holding hands with hearts all around us if she knows I’ve had a bad day. Her smile is never wider than when she is surprising me with a gift she saw at the store and begged my father to get for me. My little sister is sweet, bubbly and happy.
She also has autism. Only one of those facts should impact how you treat her.
Angelina was diagnosed with autism when she was three years old and not hitting the markers other children her age were hitting. When she was diagnosed I was eleven years old and only knew of autism what I had read in books and seen on television. I remember crying when my parents told me, wondering how my sister would adapt to a world that I knew was unkind to those who were different. Even now, people spew “autistic” or “retarded” as an insult because the idea of someone being unique is so easy to latch onto as a marker of abnormality and so difficult for them to understand. Autism isn’t a death sentence; it’s a complex disorder that makes my sister and one out of every 68 children in the United States unique.
Those with autism deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion, like every other person on the planet. Her obstacles are not faults but stepping stones that have made her one of the strongest eight-year olds I’ve ever met. She’s my little sister, and this Autism Awareness month, I want everyone to know that she’s also my hero.
Claire Tremper (’18)
I am a triplet and my two triplet brothers have autism. I do not desire to keep this information from people because I am embarrassed, it is quite the opposite. When I explain why I am the only one of the three of us who has their license, a job, and goes to a public school, it is a natural instinct for others to offer their sympathy. Although some think that growing up with autistic siblings is sad, I believe it made me the person I am today.
Ben and Clay above all have taught me the value of love and patience. I remember the first time I realized my brothers were different. New white t-shirts were passed around from student to student for everybody to write their name and a nice message at the end of the year party in first grade. Clay saw the t-shirts and thought it meant that he should get undressed and change into the new shirts. I glanced over to my brother and saw that he was undressing himself for all of my classmates to see. I bolted out of the doors of my classroom, petrified and embarrassed. My mother and father explained to me how Clay’s mind worked differently than mine, and that it did not occur to him that he was doing something wrong. At the age of seven, it is hard to embrace things that are different. However, I quickly realized that Clay did not have intentions to embarrass me, he was simply acting the only way he knew how. That is when I decided that as my brothers’ sister, I would love them and be their biggest supporter.
For me, my life is normal because it is all I know. However, just a glimpse inside my household would look stressful to anybody who has not had many interactions with somebody on the autistic spectrum. I will admit that it is hard to be supportive of my brothers all the time. Just like any other teenager, I want my space and peace and quiet. When my brother, Ben, blasts music or claps for hours on end, I know he is happy, but it gets on my last nerve. Before I had my license, I rarely got anywhere on time because of the struggle it was to pack my brothers into the car just to drive me to a rehearsal or work. Even with these challenges, I know that they are doing their best and are just trying to get along like everybody else.
I want people to know that treating somebody who is autistic with kindness is so important. The amount of people who have been rude or impatient with my brothers breaks my heart. It is not difficult to simply smile at somebody who is clearly different; it means the world to them and their families.
Arianne Martin (‘19)
I recently took a quiz on how much I know about Autism. I did well, but I really had to think about each question. I compared the questions to the experiences of my younger brother, Jimmy. Surprisingly, some of the questions did not relate to my brother at all. I started to think about how different each child with Autism is. Many people I have talked to think that Autism holds certain people back from achieving their goals. However, I have a hard time agreeing with that idea. My brother is truly one of the smartest people I know, and I’m not sure if the Autism affected his intelligence. However, I definitely know that he does not lack brain power because of it.
Despite obstacles he faces, like social barriers and sensory overload, Jimmy achieves his outstanding goals. For example, Jimmy recently competed in a Special Olympics swim meet where he won first place overall. Autism did not stop him from winning, and it is likely that he will not be stopped in the future from achieving any other goals.
I would like anyone reading this to know that Autism is just an obstacle, not a complete blockade. Children and adults with Autism can still overcome hardships and difficulties despite any challenges they face. With love and support from families and friends, Autistic people can achieve whatever they would like.