OPINION: Celebrating Differences within Autism


Francis Lewis spreading awareness for autism!

Teaching my younger brother how to ride a bike was one of the most complex challenges for me and my family. In the evenings, I would take him out to the park and teach him many things, one of them being how to ride a bike. On our walks, I would always notice him taking in the environment and looking at the trees, along with the people walking near us. I’ve always wondered how fascinating the world is through his lens. Helping him hold the bike as he tried to ride on his own was a big part of helping him balance the bike and using positive reinforcements to encourage him.

Growing up with a younger sibling who has autism has taught me many valuable lessons about life, love, and acceptance. As an older sister, I’ve always felt a special connection to my brother. We have a bond that goes beyond words and I’ve learned to communicate with him in ways that are unique to our relationship.

I’ve learned the importance of patience, empathy, and understanding, along with having gained a deeper appreciation for the unique strengths and abilities of every individual.

“Autism has gifted me the ability to better understand people who are different from me and approach them from a place of respect and kindness,” senior Yasmine Bonilla said. “I think I’m able to interact with and befriend all kinds of people, allowing me to hear diverse experiences and stories and learn from them.”

However, it has also presented many challenges. I’ve witnessed firsthand the struggles that my brother and my family have faced, such as feeling isolated. Many people still don’t understand autism and may make negative assumptions or judgments. As an older sister, there are times when I feel like it’s never-ending. For instance, I feel like I have to explain to my friends or worry that they won’t understand my brother and how he is. Nonetheless, it’s important to remember that with the right support, they will be sympathetic, as well as understanding and accepting of my brother’s differences.

It is a process of patience and learning how to adjust in certain situations, like when tantrums are involved or when he is irked over not being able to eat certain candies because sweets make him hyper. Applied Behavior Analysts (ABA) work to help the ones with autism integrate into society better.

“ I choose to pursue a career in Applied Behavior Analysis because it is my calling,” ABA therapist Susan Hunter said. “I learned about autism in my first years in college and how they were mistreated. That’s when I discovered that’s the field and population I wanted to work with, people diagnosed with autism, because they get marginalized.”

My brother receiving ABA therapy.

While it’s natural to feel irritated at times as an older sibling, I have learned to be mindful of how my brother may be feeling and to find ways to communicate my frustrations in a way that is respectful and understanding of his distinctive perspective. For example, Abdul always likes to wear his favorite sweatshirt to school. Repetitive behaviors can be a source of comfort for children with autism and can interfere with their learning ability. But as his older sister, it’s my responsibility to encourage him to try new clothing options, while at the same time being sensitive to his unique sensory needs and preferences. 

“Whenever I get frustrated by the obstacles, I take a moment to step back and practice empathy,” senior Yasmine Bonilla said. “I try to put myself in my brother’s shoes and hear him out to better understand where he’s coming from and how best to resolve the issue.” 

Stereotypes and misconceptions about autism are unfortunately very common in our society. These stereotypes and misconceptions make it difficult for individuals with autism to feel understood and accepted by others and can contribute to the stigma that surrounds autism. 

“In society, people with autism are shown negatively,” Hunter stated.  “Many misconceptions, such as autism, happen because of poor parenting, called ‘refrigerator mothers’. 

“It is caused by vaccines or by environmental factors,” Hunter added. “A person with autism is violent. I try to educate individuals that genetic factors cause autism.  People with autism are not violent; they are loving and caring individuals that learn differently.

These stereotypes can lead to negative attitudes towards individuals with autism, as they are seen as a “burden” on society.

“Some may struggle with social interaction, but they can develop social relationships and raise children,” Hunter said. “They can increase their functional skills, live productive lives, and contribute to their community.”

Singing is a great way for individuals with autism to connect with others and express themselves in ways that might be difficult through other means. Abdul loves to sing. He is eager to learn about music and different types of artists and genres and it plays an important role in his life. By supporting his passion for singing, we’re helping him develop his skills and talents, along with providing him with an outlet for self-expression and a way to connect with others.

“It is rewarding to see children with autism develop social and communication skills and effectively communicate their wants and needs,” Hunter said. “They increase their skills in singing songs, pronouncing words, doing household chores, shopping, and interacting with others in their community.”

As an older sister of a younger sibling with autism, I can attest to the fact that there is no cure for autism. While many interventions and therapies help them thrive, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Each individual with autism is unique and with their strengths.

Every Sunday, my brother goes bowling with his service group and with the other kids. “They can increase their functional skills, live productive lives, and contribute to their community.” ABA therapist says. It’s refreshing to see so many programs and social services in our community because they help bring change and awareness to people with autism needs.

By advocating for autism acceptance and challenging stereotypes about autism, you can help create a world where individuals who have autism are valued for who they are, being that an inclusive society is essential for ensuring that they have the support, resources, and opportunities they need to succeed and flourish. 

“People with autism are not violent,” Hunter said.  “They are loving and caring individuals that learn differently. Some may struggle with social interaction, but they can develop social relationships and be the best version of themselves.”