By Sarah Sherwood
For those of us whose lives have been touched by individuals with autism, Autism Awareness Month means a time for reflection and outreach, a time to open up a dialogue about what it means to be a friend or family member to someone who sees life through a different lens. I am blessed to have a fantastic relationship with my sister. Though we may bicker and tease each other like any other pair of siblings, our friendship is special because it has opened my eyes and given me a window into another world. Having my sister in my life has allowed me to be a much more patient, understanding, and tolerant person. I have tried my best to extend these qualities to those around me, so that they can exercise them in their own lives and their own relationships. Of course, having a sister with autism isn’t always easy. Because not everyone is used to Jessie’s mannerisms and personality, they often have the urge to talk down to her as if she’s a toddler or incapable of understanding them. This is extremely frustrating for me, because I have a constant urge to shield my sister from people who don’t take the time to get to know and understand her. I am always looking out for people who I flag as “bullies.” These are the people who give her sideways glances, chuckle under their breath when she walks by, or roll their eyes when she speaks. It happens all too often that these people are members of my extended family, my brothers’ teammates, or my parents’ friends. Sometimes I have to bite down on my tongue or completely leave the room in order to avoid starting an argument or getting myself into trouble with a scathing comment on their intolerant behavior. My sister is made up of much more than the things that make her different. Please, talk to her like a person. My sister is affectionate, compassionate, and considerate. She has many fascinating interests and hobbies. Most importantly, she has feelings, just like anyone else. She knows when she’s being talked down to, though she may not speak up to say so. My hope, moving forward, is that people will start to see my sister for all that she is, and treat her with the respect that she deserves. I’m done biting my tongue. It’s my job to protect my sister, even if that means standing up to those I look up to and respect. I view Autism Awareness Month as an opportunity to tell the people close to me that my sister is more than her disability.