I’m 20, a sophomore Motion Design major at Ringling College of Art and Design, and the younger sister to a brother with low verbal Autism. As I’m writing this, we are in the middle of Autism Awareness month. I’m choosing to acknowledge Anthony and his kindhearted nature for the time being.
I was working late on a project for class, and a big realization hit me. Anthony being blissfully unaware of the impact of his autism can be a relief to me as his only sibling. He goes about his life uninhibited by hostile debates, tragic stories, and the deliberate degradation aimed at our community daily. If you asked Anthony what autism is, he couldn’t answer. To Anthony, the word autism is a “puzzle piece” or a “ribbon” design. He cannot comprehend it as a neurological disorder because that is a concept beyond his ability to understand.
Back in high school, I was working on my senior project entitled “Autism In Society: Media Portrayal Versus Reality”. For the project, we had to assemble a book with the research information, and make a front cover with the project title. Anthony looked at my book cover and read it as “Anacin In Society”. My mom and I giggled. It was a typical Anthonyism.
For those of you unaware, a 1964 Anacin commercial appeared during the sponsor break of the Ed Sullivan Show when the Beatles performed. We both love the Beatles, and watch that DVD often. Anthony loves to quote the Anacin narrator, “Pain. Depression. Anxiety. Pain. Pain. Pain.” It makes me laugh to hear Anthony’s pseudo serious imitation of the announcer. However, his non-reaction to my project was a reminder that he has no meaningful association with the word “autism”. It was just me making “art” for school again. Anthony seems to be unaware that his communication is even “low verbal”.
Recently, there have been controversial debates, hostile language, protesting, and even talk of forced medical practices that seem outrageous to me. There is no mental break for me as a sibling. What privately devastated families like mine is being constantly paraded and dissected in the news. People are being questioned and targeted for harassment and humiliation.
There are plenty of moments during my week where I will overhear something callous on the topic of autism. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t even respond anymore. I just sigh because I’m so disheartened and exhausted by the attitude. People have developed such a mob mentality on the subject. They don’t understand, and they don’t want to understand. I stick to speaking my own truth as a sibling.
My mom always encouraged me to take the negative energy I felt during the day and turn it into something positive through my drawing. Art became my favorite coping mechanism for the isolation of Anthony’s OCD, echolalia, and restlessness. I would always feel better after I made something beautiful. That coping helps me now while I’m working on animation projects for my classes. Art is my outlet for survival in the world.
It does make me feel better knowing that Anthony is immune to all the harshness of the current debate and attack rhetoric. I wish I could shut it out sometimes. For Anthony, I have to remain aware so I can protect him. His receptive and expressive language skills are severely impaired. When my parents are no longer able, I will be his caregiver. I need to be knowledgeable, even when it hurts. For now, I find peace knowing that while I worry, Anthony is blissfully unaware and enjoying his day. My mom always messages me when he says one of his funny “Anthonyisms”. I do love my brother.