Every Monday evening from preschool to second grade, I had to go with my sister to her “social group”, which helped her understand how to interact with other kids. Younger me didn’t know what it was for, but I did know that I hated being dragged there for an hour to sit in a waiting room while she got to have what I thought was play time. Having an older sibling who is on the autism spectrum isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary experience; however, when I learned she was autistic only a few years ago, it was. As someone who is not neurodivergent, I have watched her live a completely different life than mine. Even though we’re sisters, our relationship is unlike most and our personalities couldn’t be more different. I didn’t know there was a reason behind it.
April is National Autism Acceptance Month, which is meant to shed light on and educate people about autism. Acceptance is a key word because despite being a common disorder, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is still stigmatized, especially in generalizing it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2022), there are different “severities” in someone’s social capabilities. This makes it so that individuals may need support in one focus while excelling in another, and that signs are not always very observable. This is the case for my sister.
I can recall bullying where my sister was outcast by classmates for her social awkwardness, which was actually just her ASD signs. In high school, it transitioned from bullying to carelessly throwing around offensive comments and slurs right in front of her, while not directed at her, and it rightfully made her upset. Her peers were calling someone “stupid” by comparing them to a neurodivergent individual like herself. Society made it so she couldn’t stand up for herself without being judged.
I know it’s challenging for others to understand my sister’s behavior, as I had the same unaware perspective growing up. However, neurodivergent or not, why should people be treated differently for being who they are? When I hear people talking poorly about others, I think about my sister and how she was judged by people who didn’t know she had ASD. Most don’t take the time to see who she really is. Autism today has more awareness than it did in the past, but is still lacking in acceptance. I have had the advantage of experiencing it every day.