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Natalie Palumbo Autism Sibling on The Pursuit Of Happiness

NP Senior TributeBy 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

Natalie Colorful

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.

NP Ant  Nat TJ Elliots June 2013Recently, 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.

Comments

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Carolyn Gammicchia

Natalie,

I am so glad that you shared this piece and as a fellow sibling and mother to indivduals with autism I felt many of what you are currently. It was difficult too to witness our oldest leave to go away to college and his brother with autism cope with the loss.

Overall if was a very good learning experience for both of our sons and I think it will too for you and Anthony. What assisted was them writing actual letters to each other rather than e-mails or text messages. They both then were able to have those on hand as a piece of each other and refer back to them when either was lonely or wanted a pick me up. Our son was gone for two years and seeing them both mature over that time was very inspiring.

Best wishes for your new and exciting educational and creative path and much appreciation for all of your efforts to bring social justice and awareness issues of autism to light. Your work is amazing and I know you will make us all proud, and especially Anthony, with your future efforts.

Looking forward to seeing your future work Natalie and have fun!

Carolyn

Shiny Happy Person

@Dan's mom: so sorry for your loss. Many of us know the worry you express over your son; losing your daughter is yet another dagger in the heart.

Natalie, as a parent to an only child, I also know the worry that Dan's mom and so many others here have expressed many times over the years. Your commitment to your brother is an immeasurable gift to your mom and dad. They've sacrificed everything for you, and you've given it all back to them. Enjoy your time at college, be safe, and know how blessed your brother is to have you for a sibling.

cherry sperlin misra

Natalie, It is so great to read your articles. thankyou for sharing your life with us. Try not to let people who don't understand autism bother you. Im sure that many of them will later revise their ideas, recalling their experience with you or your brother. You are the catalyst.Life has its ups and downs, but in the end, having something to live fore is a pretty good thing!

Jeannette Bishop

Natalie, thank you for how you share your talents. I wish you the best in all your inspiring "dreams" for the future.

TxWarriorMom

What a beautiful post. You are an angel sent to take care of your brother. I think often about how much of a burden we are placing on my son's younger brother because he will someday be his brother's keeper when we are gone. He has a loving heart, and I pray he grows up to be just like you, Natalie.

Agnes k.

Your parents should be very proud of you they raised a wonderful caring and loving child. Your brother is very lucky! Lots of success but from the sounds of it you will achieve much success solely on your passion and compassion.

Laura

You are an amazing woman!! Anthony is one of God's precious children, as are you. He will be walking right beside you through your amazing journey called "life." All lives are different and you have a wonderful positive nature which will take you anywhere you (and Anthony) want to go. God bless you and your love for your brother. Enjoy yourself!! Find your passion and share it with him. He is a positive influence in your life, maybe he takes care of you in some ways. :)

4Bobby

Beautiful!

Dan's mom

My daughter died a few years ago, making her younger brother with autism an only child. Like you Natalie, she cared very deeply for her brother. Her loss is still deeply felt, not just for the loss of her, but also for the loss of a future support person for her brother. So far, we've not been able to find anyone who will carry on for my son. This is the single worst worry I have in the world.

John Stone

Have a great time at college, Natalie!

John

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