“I know you have heard of autism. I know you may think you know what it means,” writes author Mandy Farmer in her touching book From Motherhood.
“Autism can mean brilliant, but it can also mean challenged.”
On April 3rd 1994, Autism was born into mine and my parents lives. It would happen again on July 27th 1999, and again on…
We fear the unknown, and perceived disability can spark judgmental responses from the best of us. Nobody knows this better than Ali Carbone of Long Island, New York. Carbone has three brothers, all of whom have autism. Carbone shared her story on Love What Matters, but far from feeling like a victim of circumstance, she feels that her brothers have gifted her with a distinct “advantage in life.”
Carbone cites three dates as having changed her life, in 1994, 1999, and 2001 respectively: the years that her three brothers were born. “Ten years ago, I would have had to explain to people what autism was when they’d meet Michael, Anthony and Luke,” Carbone writes. “Today it’s likely that you’ve known, loved, or lived with a child or adult with autism.”
An exponential desire for people to share their experiences of having (or living with) a developmental or cognitive disorder means that we are all learning to be more compassionate. But “the spectrum is wide,” Carbone continues, and “no two autistic people are alike.”
The brothers’ symptoms are all different and exhibit varying degrees of severity. “My oldest brother is non-verbal, blind and epileptic,” Carbone shares. “My middle brother is verbal, social and suffers from severe OCD … My youngest is mildly verbal and hyperactive.” As such, their personalities differ hugely, too.
favorite people, favorite place, favorite age, favorite times<3
Michael loves Disney. Anthony “quite literally thinks he’s Michael Jackson.” Luke is mischievous.
Carbone knows all too well that the spectacle of her brothers in public, lacking inhibition, is a curious sight, but she has gentle advice for all of us: “Do your best to be kind.”
“If you see a kid flapping their arms,” Carbone gestures, “don’t laugh. If you see an adult having a meltdown, don’t stare. If they go for a hug or high five, don’t shy away.”
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“A smile from a stranger can quite literally change our day.”
Carbone didn’t realize that her brothers were “different” straight away. Michael, Anthony, and Luke were often written off as naughty in their early years, their symptoms hard to distinguish from the rowdy tendencies of squabbling toddlers. “It wasn’t until I was in Elementary school and aware of my surroundings,” Carbone writes, “going on play dates and seeing how my friends and their siblings interacted … that I began to realize.”
“For some reason I always felt like having the boys and this thing in our home gave me some kind of advantage in life.”
The protective sister quickly learned to exercise compassion with her brothers, and that same compassion easily spread into other areas of her life. “I remember feeling like there was bigger meaning or purpose to my life,” she shares.
Carbone also shared her story on Facebook in recognition of World Autism Awareness Day. Her post garnered an immediate response and an outpouring of support from other people affected by the condition in various ways.
One father shared a touching message: “As the father of three daughters with autism,” he began, “I can completely relate to your situation. It takes special people to be parents of children with autism. God bless you.”
“I have a grandson who is autistic,” wrote another, “graduating High School this year and going to college. We never gave up on him and we are so proud of how far he has come.”
“My brothers, and autism, have taught me everything I know to be true about life,” Carbone says. “Real life.”
There’s always space for more compassion, and Carbone thanks her extraordinary family for nurturing hers.