By Natalie Palumbo
I am 19 years old, about to start college out of state, and I am the younger sister to a 22 year old brother with low verbal autism. I consider this my summer of freedom. I graduated high school completing two majors -- Visual Arts, and Graphic Technology & Animation. I am excited to be going off to college in August to study my dream career at my dream school – Motion Design at Ringling College of Art and Design.
As excited as I am about going to college, I am worried about leaving my family. I have to keep safe and watch out for myself. If anything happens to me, their lives will be altered forever. I cannot let Anthony’s future be vulnerable to danger and uncertainty. I know I will miss my brother terribly. I am going to wake up to silence, and it will be unsettling to me. I am so used to the echolalia and background noise that it almost comes as a comfort. Hearing Anthony down the hall lets me know he’s okay. Now, I will have to call to check on him. Luckily, Anthony knows where I am going. He saw the college during Precollege 2012 and on Accepted Students’ Day 2013. Even though I know I will miss him, I am ready to submerge myself in my major, and make the most of this experience. I will be able to take this knowledge anywhere to use anytime -- even to advocate for Anthony and people like him.
My college roommate is very understanding about my concerns for my brother, and really hopes
to spend time with him. This kind of genuine compassion makes me want to cry. I am always looking for people willing to just let Anthony be Anthony, and not silently judge our family or tense up. They have been very hard to find. She reached out to me after I shared the link to the WLTX feature on Anthony and me from October 2012, and how I used art to communicate with him. I was nervous about posting the feature to the Ringling Precollege 2012 group – and even more nervous about posting the link to my Age of Autism PSA which placed 1st nationally in the Notre Dame High School National Film competition for spring 2013. I was really proud. Sharing the truth about my life is hard because I can never predict the reaction. I have faced more insensitivity than sensitivity. Anthony’s autism is such a big part of my life, it’s easier to share the truth than to try and hide it. Masking myself, or hiding behind a fantasy version of myself doesn’t help. The problems I face still exist, so hiding behind a lie is of no use to me. I would rather be honest and pursue something real that will make my life better. If the truth makes people want to pull away, I would rather know sooner than later. I want people in my life that are willing to accept Anthony and exercise patience. I have met a precious handful of people, and they know who they are.
The other thing I am worried about is finding someone willing to share my life, and accept Anthony too. I will need someone to listen openly to my concerns about raising healthy children. Another rarity. Someone who I thought understood me ultimately accused me of being “too focused on my career” and said I should “live in the moment”. It seemed so absurd since every moment I live is affected by autism. It is my past, my present, and my future. I will always be the only sibling to an older brother that will need lifetime care. My parents know it too, which is why they have sacrificed everything to support me and my dreams, and want me to have the best education. I need to live, because Anthony needs me to live. I cannot and will not throw away my opportunities. I need to be successful for my brother and me after my parents are gone.
Recently, at the suggestion of one of my friends, I started a Tumblr to post my brother’s many phrases which we call “Anthonyisms”. I also list my brother’s humorous antics, which are universally funny. My Tumblr is called “I Love My Brother” – A phrase which grew out of my many Facebook statuses in which I would write about something funny Anthony did or said.
As I plan my future, I actually pondered the meaning of life, and here’s my theory:
The meaning of life is to be remembered fondly, so do something important and purposeful.
I love my brother.
Natalie Palumbo is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.