My Brother’s Autism is a Disability


My Brother’s Autism is a Disability

Julianna Ricigliano

April is Autism Awareness Month. This year more than ever, I see a slew of articles and posts about how “Autism is not a disability, it’s a gift.” In my brother’s case, this is simply not true.

Let me begin by stating that my brother is outstanding in many ways. He can memorize directions in a second, know the day of the week for any day in any year, and most importantly, can absolutely light up a room with his beautiful energy. But I do not thank autism for these things. For one, he cannot communicate. He cannot speak what he is thinking, he cannot type what he is thinking, he cannot write what he is thinking. He has no ability to express what is in his head to anyone. Many times, this issue culminates with him slamming his head through walls or windows in mere frustration.

His OCD is so severe that sometimes he forgets to go to the bathroom or finish walking across the street. His social skills are so impaired that I am sure he knows his family loves him, but I am not sure he has meaningful connections with any of his classmates. Autism makes my brother’s life exceedingly difficult. On many days, it has quite literally put his life at risk.

Organizations like “Autism Speaks” have gotten negative press for many reasons. One is that it does not let autistic people’s voices be heard. If an autistic person can speak, by all means, listen. But unfortunately, my brother cannot speak. I wish I were not writing this article on his behalf. Yet, if I do not speak for him, he will have no voice.

Autism is a spectrum. No one’s autism is quite the same. So, if someone thinks his autism is a gift, I am thrilled for them. I am glad it complements his life. But do not claim the same for everyone. I understand that I do not have autism, so I know for a fact that there are aspects to my brother that I do not comprehend. Maybe an Autistic person who communicates verbally can understand these parts of my brother better than I can. But on the whole, no one knows my brother like my family and I do. We watch him struggle every single day, and there are little to no perks for these hardships.

Disability may have a negative connotation. I do not want people to automatically judge or look down upon my brother when they discover he is autistic. Maybe the goal is to change what people think about disabilities rather than changing the word. To claim it is a gift, or even simply a “different ability,” is an insult to my brother. He has to fight every single day due to his autism. He will wrestle with issues that most of us will never have to think about. There is no way to misconstrue what my brother has as just a quirk. My brother is disabled.