April is an important month for me and my family. And usually when people ask why, I have a simple answer:
Because it is Autism Awareness Month.
For those that don’t know, I have a twenty-three year-old sister with autism. She is the only sibling that I have. To simply say that growing up with a sibling with special needs is different is a complete understatement.
In my experiences, it has been different but it has been wonderful at the same time. My sister is not someone that you are going to have a normal conversation with. She is verbal and she definitely likes to talk, but she does so in a different way. And that is not only okay, it is also wonderful. My sister enjoys talking about a variety of different things, such as our family vacations to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Disney, her friends at school and most of all, where my cousins are located at the current hour.
That is one example of a few unique aspects about Bridge, as my family calls her, that stand out to me.
She is smart in many ways. She is a big Disney fan, and she has seen most of, if not all, the old Mickey Mouse films that are almost a century old now. She’s also very good with the calendar. Do you want to know when my cousin Peter’s birthday is? Ask Bridge, she’ll tell you. You want to know when my aunt Suzy and uncle Matt’s anniversary is? Bridge will have an answer for you in a heartbeat.
She also is very optimistic about life. She is always looking forward to the next vacation. She is always looking forward to the next family gathering. She always looks forward to when our close friends, the Barry’s and the Gray’s, come over. And she is always looking forward to going to our favorite family restaurant, Marco Polo, in Summit, N.J.
Whenever I am not around, my mom will tell me how often Bridge will ask the question: “where’s Billy?” on repeat. It may drive her nuts, but she knows that she wants my presence to be felt. Whenever we are at a family gathering, and if one cousin is not present, Bridge will go on to ask my mom on repeat where that specific individual is located until there is a final answer.
It may make my parents and myself feel annoyed when we are peppered with questions from her, she does want everyone to be around and to be together as a family.
One thing that I find amusing that Bridget does is that she assigns everyone a character name, mainly from The Muppets. She claims herself as Kermit, which she undoubtedly deserves. Whereas my Mom is Miss Piggy, my Dad is Fozzy Bear and I, with some degree of hesitancy, am Gonzo.
Instead of referring to my Grandparents as “Grandma” and “Papa,” she calls them “Hilda” and “Tiger” in their place. I don’t know exactly where these terms come from, but she sure knows where.
This is a fun way for her to connect with others despite not being one hundred percent in the picture all the time.
Do you know what all of these things are? They are examples of unconditional love. Even though she may not function in the same ways that the rest of us do, I know that my sister truly cares about me and loves me. She would not ask about me if she didn’t love me. She would not ask where my parents were if she didn’t love them, and she sure would not be asking about the rest of the cousins if she didn’t love them either.
Growing up is different with Bridge if you compare it with others, but it is a pleasure to have her as my sibling. She is down to earth, she is lovely and she really wants to enjoy each and every moment there is in life for her.
The type of person that she is is why this month is important to me and my family. She, along with many other people with similar disabilities, deserve to have their presence be known. These individuals may act differently from the rest of us just a little bit, but in the end, we all fall somewhere along the spectrum. Bridge falls a little further down than the average person, but she possesses qualities and traits that many of us may not have. This month is a time to make these people feel as if they are just like the rest of us, even though they may be a little bit different.
The world is a place filled with people who have different personalities, behaviors and personality traits. Everyone should be loved and treated the same way, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum. This month encourages people to do just that, and if you see someone who may act differently than your usual self, show them some love and kindness. That act will go a long way.
Happy Autism Awareness Month, Stags!!
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