By Edgar Lopez
As a child, I would have punched anyone who would have called my autistic brother retarded.
Some people are offended with certain terms and prefer others. Retarded is clearly an offensive term, not only to the person with autism but to the families and friends of that person.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development” which vary in “difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors,” as defined by Autism Speaks Inc., the world’s largest autism advocacy organization that sponsors research and awareness through events such as the Walk Now for Autism, which occurs all over the nation.
Within autism, there are several branches which are autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder and Asperger syndrome. Autism isn’t always detected when the baby pops out of the oven.
Most of the time, the symptoms appear around the age of two to three. My brother, who is believed to have Asperger’s syndrome, fits into this category. He was diagnosed with autism around two by doctors and diagnosed at four by my family. This usually happens in uninformed families.
My mother and father would not accept that my brother had autism. I remember my mother asking me for reassurance, your brother isn’t different, right? He’s normal, she would say right after. I always answered, no, he’s not.
I wasn’t lying. I believed in my answer. I never saw him differently from other children, but of course, I lived with him. He is what I saw every day, evening and night. To my eyes, he had always been as he is. To me, he was normal.
That is probably one mistake parents make when they are told of their children. They deny everything, no matter who does the diagnosis. My mother, who is now well aware of autism and very active in my brother’s life, said that our former neighbor had visited various doctors for the right diagnosis, meaning a diagnosis that the neighbor wanted to hear.
The doctors said her son had autism. She denied it and asked for the opinion of another doctor until she heard the right answer, in her mind, no.
Her son went through high school and it wasn’t until then that they diagnosed him with autism. He went 18 years without help of any kind. Her son was also my friend. We played sandlot ball and other sports. His younger brother would always call him stupid for misunderstanding a lot. Again, I grew up with him. I saw him as normal, although I did think he was a bit slow.
Parents, instead of denying the symptoms and diagnosis, should embrace it and look for the best solution, which is to learn about the disorder. Some people might be ashamed of the disorder, but they shouldn’t be. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have statistics that one in 88 American children are diagnosed with autism. Boys are most likely to be diagnosed with autism as one of 54 boys will posses it, compared to one of 252 girls.
The Autism Speaks website states that it “affects over two million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions world wide,” which government autistic research suggests is a 10 to 17 percent annual increase. Because awareness has grown, there are many programs that can help individuals cope with autism. Public schools are required to provide a personal assistant during school hours if requested and approved at no cost to the family. Other forms of help include evaluations, group support, fairs and more.
Although there is plenty of help, there is also a lot of fighting to do. At 10 years old, I’d fight a few people, not caring if I lost or won, physically or verbally. My mother has always had to fight for my brother. There are a lot of parents who are denied access to help because they take what they are given. However, my mother never took what she was given.
When my brother’s middle school failed to provide a tutor, my mom went through lawyers, attorneys, social workers and others to get him the in-class tutor. While my mother fought for the tutor, my older sister went in to help my brother in his classes, until a tutor was provided. As for my little sister, who is one year older than my brother and in the same grade, she constantly defends him from classmates who call him retarded or stupid. Despite how well she defends him, sometimes she cries.
Many people think that because they’re autistic, they won’t or can’t achieve much. Some individuals with autism have great math, visual, music and art skills. Although not proven, it said that Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Authors George Orwell and Johnathan Swift were considered to have Asperger’s syndrome. Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokémon, is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, as well as Tim Page, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning, music-critic writer and editor. Matt Savage, a Jazz prodigy, is diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder.
The fight never ends. It always happens one way or another. As a child, in the mid-nineties, many people didn’t know much about autism. It wasn’t new, but it also didn’t have the recognition it has today. Even if you don’t have an individual with autism in your immediate family, help a neighbor, a friend, a cousin, an uncle, a teacher, a classmate, an athlete, a girlfriend, an employee, a manager, a scientist, a musician, a student, a person by learning and informing others about autism.
Although Autism Awareness Day passed, on April 2, you can still participate in the Walk Now for Autism event.
For questions or comments, contact the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (323)549-0500 ext 765 or visit www.autismspeaks.org for a more resources and information. As for my brother, he’s brought in better-looking report cards than I ever did.