... People that cry over inspirational videos that show no concern in real life. I am 18, a senior in high school, and the younger sibling of a 21 year old brother with low verbal autism.
First, the good news…
My school district honored me on the last day of summer vacation for my entry for the National Career Development Poster Contest. My visual arts in media poster placed first in state, and third place nationally in spring of 2012. I was surprised to find out I was also being recognized for my senior project work (done in junior year), which led to my becoming a contributing editor for Age of Autism. My subject for senior project was “Autism in Society: Media Portrayal Versus Reality”. District recognition was a very joyous moment for my family.
Shortly after that, my school district informed me I was selected as student of the month for my accomplishments. Typically, they send out a press release across the district, but they felt this accomplishment was important enough to notify the local media. I was thrilled! On Friday, October 19, I was interviewed by Jennifer Wirtzberger, a reporter for WLTX 19 in Columbia, SC. We spent about 2 hours together for the interview, as well as trying to get Anthony to overcome his reluctance and interact with me. The big camera made him shy. At 7 PM that evening, our story aired.
Jennifer’s interpretation was beautiful and heartfelt, and showcased what my family and I struggle with every single day. I am grateful for the support from my school district, close friends, and everyone who encouraged me throughout my life. I am profoundly touched, and I thank everyone who was there to support me.
This morning, October 20, I came across an article written by Dan Olmsted. The line that shocked me the most stated that, “The morning shows were agog Friday over the duet between Katy Perry and a tween girl with autism, to be broadcast on tomorrow’s “Night of Too Many Stars” benefit on Comedy Central. On the Today show, Al Roker said he teared up, and trotted out the old “it must be my allergies” joke as a way of calling even more attention to it.”
I watched the video in which Jodi DiPiazza performs a duet with Katy Perry, and my emotions were extremely mixed. I was so happy to see that Jodi emerged from the depths of autism with such amazing skills in music, and could perform in a professional manner in front of such a vast audience. I can only imagine her family’s joy. However, this video did not make me cry. I was overcome with dread. My concern watching it was that more people I know would focus on Katy Perry’s contribution than the young girl emerging from autism. As a sibling, this just seems like another video that will inspire tears from the same people that show no compassion for individuals like my brother.
Case in point…
I was recently told by a close friend that my constant focus on my career was “inhumane” and I should live for the moment and just “have fun”. I was heartbroken. This person knew me very well, and should have understood my determination comes from the reality that my brother will need to depend on me for the rest of my life. I am his only sibling. I am just waiting for this same person who was critical of me (along with many others) to celebrate Katy Perry for demonstrating similar concern. What I care about most is funding for medical research so that more may achieve such a marvelous recovery.
I appreciate events and celebrities that support autism research and funding. I cried many years back when Stephen Colbert donated his own money on a big paper check. However, the perception that autism is a novelty of childhood that miraculously goes away is heartbreaking for me. So much effort goes into that success. Generally, that effort is only focused on the very young, and the highest functioning. I have witnessed this attitude.
Jodi DiPiazza is an example of why you can’t toss people with autism aside. However, there is so much media focus on high functioning children with autism that older individuals like my brother are forgotten. It shouldn’t matter where you are on the spectrum, or how old you are. Everyone with autism needs treatment. Everyone with autism needs a miracle.
Natalie Palumbo is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.