Happy 2017, lovelies. This year I am launching a series of stories that can better connect and bridge the gap between siblings of sisters and brothers with special needs. To join the community and to find out more about this project, join us on Facebook: Sisters and Brothers on Facebook
Our first story is by Ali, a student at Azusa Pacific University, sister to James. I know you will feel the love in this piece. Storytelling is so important because it reminds us that we are never alone, and that everyone’s life matters.
Choosing to Love
When I was eleven months old, my parents brought home a little baby boy. Little did I know how earth shattering this would be.
My brother, James, was diagnosed with autism at twenty-one months old. This radically changed our family’s world, and my own. Suddenly, everything revolved around him. We went from being a “normal” little family of four who did activities together and led a social life to spending all of our time on autism intervention. I spent most of my childhood sitting with my mom in waiting rooms while James was at therapy. We couldn’t go out much because most places were too over-stimulating for him and would trigger his inappropriate behaviors, like biting people or randomly running away. His actions dictated the course of the day. Simple, daily tasks became brutal trials. We would go to the grocery store and out of nowhere, something so small like the screeching of the shopping cart, would trigger his behaviors, cause him to have a meltdown, and result in us leaving. He didn’t have the language to properly communicate how he was feeling. His meltdowns were his way of saying that something was bothering him. People thought he was incapable and hopeless. Even the church shunned us and turned us away. They told us not to bring James to Sunday School. They told us his disability was a punishment for my parents’ sins. We became outcasts in our community because we had a boy people couldn’t understand.
But I knew he wasn’t hopeless. I knew he was capable of fulfilling his potential. There’s no event I can pinpoint to explain why I felt this way. A sisterly instinct maybe? I’ve just always loved him. I was only two years old when he was diagnosed, and didn’t have the ability to see or notice his differences. To me, he was my adorable little brother who made our family complete. And because he completed our family, we chose to embrace autism and everything that came with it.
Autism opened up our family to the world of special needs: autism, downs syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and so on. I grew up amongst wheelchairs and extra chromosomes. The abnormal to most was normal to me. My identity was rooted in caring for those who were deemed unlovable, shameful, weird, and flawed. Society chose to ignore them. I chose to love and embrace them.
My family and I sacrificed a lot by identifying with the outcast and choosing to love our journey. My schoolmates and “friends” thought it was weird. They couldn’t understand why I would continually say hi to the child who couldn’t say hi back. And because of that, my social life was extremely hard. I found it difficult to express who I was because I, a typically developing girl, identified with those who were not typically developing. Apparently, that deemed me an outcast too. My dad hasn’t been able to share “typical” father-son experiences with my brother like watching a sports game together. My mom stopped working so she could take care of him and make sure he got the resources he needed. I didn’t do fun things with kids my age because I chose to sit with my brother so that someone would always by his side.
But I came to realize that I would much rather identify with those who were “different” than be amongst the most popular kids in school. People with special needs were beautiful in my eyes. I didn’t see disabilities. I saw special abilities. Lives bursting with potential. I saw beauty in brokenness, and lives filled with hope. James being in my life and brining me into this beautiful special needs population taught me so much more than I could ever imagine.
I learned that everyone can communicate effectively, just in different ways. I learned that it’s essential to celebrate every victory; whether it’s something as small as James surviving a trip to the grocery store, or James being on the principal’s honor roll in ninth grade. Every victory deserves to be celebrated. Every victory, big or small, is an accomplishment and a sign of growth.
James is different than most boys his age. He always has been, and always will be. It’s the reality of autism. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less.
On the contrary, actually. It means he is so much more.
Not just him, but the whole special needs community. They are all so much more. It’s a misconception that we need to teach, shape, and “fix” them. The truth is we need them to teach, shape, and fix us. We need them to open our eyes and show us the true beauty in the world. We need them to show us what it means to be compassionate and to give grace. We need them to show us the freedom of being ourselves, and embracing our uniqueness. I have come to find that the ones who are put in darkness are the true lights of the world.
And that’s what James has taught me. That’s my personal narrative. My identity is
rooted in loving the “unfixable” child who starts yelling in the middle of Sunday School. My identity is rooted in loving the boy in the wheelchair. My identity is rooted in loving the non-verbal, quadriplegic girl. My identity is rooted in loving the outcast.
My passion is to give a voice to those who can’t speak. To walk for those who can’t walk, and to hear for those who can’t hear. My calling in life is to shine light on those in the darkness, and help them find their own light. To show others the light that they bring, the light that they are.
All of us have the ability to choose what we do with the brokenness and hardships in our lives. We decide whether or not it’s truly broken. We decide whether or not we can overcome it. We can choose to either see something as broken and demand it to be fixed, or we can choose to embrace the cracks and see them as beautiful.