Autism is more than just a label

Carole Hodorowicz, Columnist

Adapt, accept, advocate. This is one of the many mantras repeated throughout April in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

This is the lifestyle for one in 59 children and their families.

This is something that needs to be recognized year-round, every day.

Autism is not the piano prodigy or doctor on television shows and the media. Autism is not universally one type of child. It is not just one set of conditions and challenges.

It is unique to each individual. While autism may be difficult to understand, it is important to recognize the enormity this mystery has on individuals and their families and loved ones.

I recognize my 17-year-old brother Michael. He has autism. To most of the world, this is all that defines him. To my family, to his teachers, to the Special Olympics and to other individuals with disabilities, this is just Michael. And guess what? That is just fine. It doesn’t overshadow who he is and what he is capable of.

I recognize my grandpa. Every couple weeks, he drives from Coloma, Michigan to Chicago to spend a few days with Michael. He is his number one fan, always has been and always will be. He is Michael’s main advocate and someone for my family to lean on when the bad days seem to outnumber the good. No drive or distance is too far for my grandpa when it comes to spending time with Michael.

I recognize my dad. He is up before the sun rises and normally works until it has long gone and the evening has come. His job is physically demanding and exhausting, but it never prevents him from putting his full heart into everything he does for my family, especially for Michael. No matter how long or draining his day is, my dad always has the time, patience and love to finish the day making Michael laugh. He makes up a song for just about absolutely everything for my brother—and I mean everything, from the smell of his coconut shampoo to playing a game of catch.

I recognize my mom. She has devoted her entire life to Michael. Every day, she exhibits patience and understanding. There are days, weeks and even months where patience and understanding are not easy to find. To be candid, you want to give up. You want to feel sorry for yourself. You want to curse God, or whatever entity you believe in, for putting you in this situation. But not for my mom. Being selfless and compassionate are more than characteristics—it is in every fiber of her DNA. Every day, she learns more about Michael and learns how to adapt to both the good and the bad, leading for the rest of my family to follow in her example.

I recognize my older brother and younger sister. They are ferociously loyal to Michael. Like my parents and grandpa, everything they do for Michael does not require any thought—it is innate and it is done without any hesitation.

I recognize that what some may some define as a sacrifice, my family and I define as just a part of our life. When you love someone, it does not feel like a sacrifice.

There are countless individuals and their moms, dads, sisters, brothers, grandparents who need to be recognized for the ways they adapt, accept and advocate.

Carole Hodorowicz is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].