Autism Awareness Day: Experience of Having A Sibling With Autism
Today is Autism Awareness Day, an internationally recognized day meant to encourage Member States of the United Nations to raise acceptance throughout the world about people with Autism.
But so much is still unknown about the developmental disorder that affects millions across the globe. Like many other developmental or mental disorders, there is no cure for Autism and preventative measures are still being researched.
That's why I'm sharing my experience as a sibling of somebody diagnosed with Autism, and what I've personally learned from it.
She's called me her "Big Brother" for as long as I can remember, despite being two years my elder, it's a title I've come to be proud of. Growing up with my sister, Rachael Dunn, has been something that's had the most significant impact on not only my life, but my family's as well.
We found out Rachael had Autism when we were both young, I'd say around the time I was six or seven years old, after years of seeking a diagnosis. I'm lucky enough to have parents that still to this day have never put any pressure on me to be anything besides the best brother I could to her.
Growing up, I found that describing this experience and the feelings associated with it to be challenging at times. That was until years ago when I found a poem that still hangs in my father's office today, entitled Welcome To Holland, written by Emily Perl Kingsley in 1987. Though it's written from the perspective of a parent of a child with a disability, it's the most similar representation of what I feel as a brother.
Welcome To Holland
By Emily Perl Kingsley
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.