Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Big Brother and Autism

Autism: A neurological condition, present from early childhood, characterized by great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships, and in using language and abstract concepts. This is the dictionary definition of autism, but growing up hand-in-hand with this disorder, I have developed my own definition. Autism: a wall that separates a perfectly understanding and aware human being from the rest of society, subjecting him to a life of false judgment, underestimation, and isolation.  In 1994, a 3 year old boy with no ability to speak, point, or communicate was diagnosed with severe autism. His name is Samuel Zachary Rosenbloom, and he is my big brother.

That very year, a baby girl was born, and as shockingly early as 9 months, she demonstrated the ability to communicate by screaming and pointing at the door to tell her mother the room was too hot. I was the child that could, and throughout my childhood, I excelled far beyond other children and stunned everyone. I was the one to fly while my brother drowned, and because of this, my mother devoted all her time and energy to him. She was the only person who understood at the time that he is a brilliant mind trapped in an unwilling body.

Unlike most families with an autistic child, I was fortunate enough to have my brother live with me, albeit with a constant staff of two or three caretakers. We went to school together, had family movie nights together, and even went out for meals together. Growing up, I had no idea of how rare it was to have an autistic child fully incorporated into society. At the small, private school setting we attended, Sammy was loved by everyone. As his little sister, I loved watching as all the students make an effort to communicate and be a part of his life. There was not one moment that I was ever ashamed that he was my brother.

I must not have been older than ten years old when I stood up to close the blinds to make the room darker so I could watch TV. My brother snapped out of his chair like lightning and bit my arm as hard as he could, almost carnivorously. He had always protected me and never even made any remote effort to hurt me. Aware and curious of his dissident behavior, my mother sat down with him and asked why he would do such a thing. She held his hand and watched as he wrote, in barely legible, cursive, wary letters, “My world is dark, don’t make it darker for me. I can’t stand it.”

All those years, I had a naïve, sisterly love for my brother, regardless of his behavior. I now have a much deeper understanding and appreciation for Sammy as a person. There are no words to describe the feeling of knowing his potential for success as well as his ability for compassion, and realizing that he will never have the opportunities that I do. This is what gives me the determination to succeed and live life to the fullest, because Sammy never had the chance to.

Sarah-Eve Rosenbloom

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