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Autism Awareness Month: Why It Matters

Unless you know someone with autism or work with autistic children or adults, you most likely do not know how to interact with someone who has autism. Or, you probably do not have the slightest clue what autism is.

Autism is a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people and in using language and abstract concepts. The condition can vary in severity, with children who are able to speak and communicate mildly to children who cannot verbally communicate at all.

Autism can take over a child, teen or adult’s life by becoming more than a condition – by becoming a lifestyle and a label. The condition can limit a person’s entire life by affecting their motor and verbal skills.

Why is this important if autism does not influence you personally? Well, because it might one day. 1 in 68 children are identified as having autism spectrum disorder. The prevalence of autism in the United States keeps growing as the years go on. The cause? No one knows yet, but I promise it’s not as bad of a thing as it may seem.

My brother is severely autistic. He began showing signs of autism during his early years of childhood when my parents realized he was not advancing like a normally functioning child. He is severely autistic, meaning he cannot verbally communicate with us besides limited syllables. He understands everything, he laughs at jokes and he is more than a vegetable in the room- he is a human. But, some people honestly forget that just because he cannot communicate or speak.

I do not know my brother any other way. I would not want him any other way. He is Jesse! I only lived seven months without him, for which I do not even remember. But, what I do remember is the 20 years that have made me into who I am today because of him. 

Autism may challenge you and make you wonder, “Why can’t my brother tell me about his day? Why can’t he tell a joke?” Autism may have you hopeless, feeling depressed over the fact that your brother will never get married or live on his own. Your brother will never be able to function fully by himself. He will never be able to walk across a stage and graduate or receive his college degree. He will never work a real job or own a house. But, I will tell you what autism is.

Autism is patience. Autism is kind. Autism is optimism. Autism is acceptance.

I have learned to never, ever in my life begin to think negatively of someone because they have a disability. Having an autistic brother has taught me to be the best version of myself for him. He is happy, all the time.  All the time is an understatement. He is loving. He will smile or hug anyone, no matter what mistakes they have made or what their past leads to. He inspires me every day to love, smile and laugh like tomorrow is not guaranteed.

You may feel better about yourself for making fun of a child with autism, but I feel better about myself knowing that I have the privilege to know a child with autism. He has taught me, with no words, more than anyone ever will in my life. It is your loss if you choose to stoop down to that level.

Autism has taught me to live fearlessly, lovingly and happily. Autism matters. Let it touch your life like it touches mine every day. Support Autism this month and every month. To donate to Autism Speaks, visit https://www.autismspeaks.org/

Hi ladies and gents, my name is Mel, Melanie if you're feelin' fancy. I'm a senior studying advertising, political science and fashion at West Virginia University. In addition to my studies, I am the Campus Correspondent for the WVU HC Chapter! You can hear me on the radio at U92 FM reporting the news and hosting morning shows. If I'm not there, I'm most likely at the local Panera eating my body weight in broccoli cheddar soup or writing about the daily, awkward encounters I experience. I represenative of the college of media as an ambassador and the prez of the magazine club. Oversized sweatshirts and jean on jean are my aesthetics. Lover, not a fighter unless you tell me Joe Jonas wasn't the best Jonas. Laters, baby.
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