Comment by Jennifer Krencisz
When I hear the word “autism,” I’m flooded with childhood memories. It’s been an integral part of my upbringing. It was much more unknown in the 1980s. In fact, that wasn’t even my brother’s initial diagnosis. Autism was feared, and parents dreaded this for their child.
My brother wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until he was about 6 or 7 years of age.
Daniel was born in April of 1980. I am the eldest of my Mum’s 3 children. Dan didn’t like being held as a baby. He was feeding himself his bottle at just six months of age! I do remember my parents becoming quite concerned as he approached his 1st birthday.
“Something is wrong with Daniel…”
My parents went through years of meeting after meeting, evaluations, psych evaluations, and assessments. I could see the concern in my fathers’ face, but his soon turned towards acceptance. My mother was in a state of grief. She was being blamed for my brother’s disability. I just remember her entering a very deep depression that she didn’t emerge from for several years.
She was told that he would be better off in a home, and that he’d end up a vegetable. Even at a young age, I knew this was false. I couldn’t accept that. And I didn’t. I would use my toy chalk board and magnetic letters and numbers and I would work with him every day.
I fought for him and I protected him. I had promised him, when he was just 2 years old, that I would keep him safe because he “grew like a flower in my heart.” I didn’t give up on him. I knew there was something different about my brother but there was nothing wrong with him as a human being.
I think that’s the part that has always angered me the most; for all these years, we were told that he would never do this or that, or couldn’t do this or that. Why not focus upon the things he CAN do? I would read to him as often as I could. He learned colors, shapes, days of the week, months in a year…and we just kept going. Daniel loved to listen. He was so eager to learn.
I had a lonely childhood. I was quirky and undiagnosed as a child, (I was later found to be autistic in my early 30’s,) and kids in the neighborhood were cruel. They called my brother hurtful names. I didn’t stand for it. I defended my brother and I was relentless.
I didn’t even care that we were alone most of the time. I didn’t trust people.
When he was about 18, he had said that “he wished he could make his autism go away.” And then he asked “if I could tap it out of his head so he could be ok again?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to do other than hold him while I cried my eyes out. This was one of the most heartbreaking things I had ever dealt with. So I worked to help him see that he was ok, and that Autism was part of him.
When my brother was 21, he graduated from High School. This was one of his proudest days and I remember his smile lit up the entire field house. He was also excited because he was going to be starting his job.
He works for a place called Careers Industries. They have several programs, and he is part of the workshop. He puts parts together among other light industrial tasks.
He’s been at the same job now for 20 years.
When I hear the word “Autism,” I am reminded of my brothers perseverance. I admire his tenacity and his strength. I’m angry that for many years, my mother’s head was filled with doubts and she had taken the blame.
And as a mother myself of an autistic child, I am proud of the accomplishments he has made despite a world that expected him to fail. But he didn’t. He succeeded. And he won by a landslide.
When I hear the word “autism,” I now think of hope, and the courage to unapologetically be one’s true self. To me, this word symbolizes inclusion, faith, and determination. Because that is everything I’ve seen in his eyes.
I can’t think of anything more worthy of ACCEPTANCE than Autism.