Living Around Autism

Please welcome back Kathryn! Kathryn is a Live Green! intern, and she’s written multiple posts on her experiences at Iowa State. Today she’s here to share more information about autism awareness, which is related to social sustainability.

In our house, every month is Autism Awareness Month, not just April. I have been involved in many Autism awareness organizations both on Iowa States campus as well as in various communities. My family has been forever impacted by Autism and I hope others can grow to appreciate and understand autistic children better.

Living with someone who has Autism has been one of the hardest, most challenging but most rewarding experiences of my life. Autism has shaped my life in ways I didn’t even know were possible. It has taught me patience, kindness, unbelievable compassion, and most importantly, acceptance of others.

My younger brother, and best friend, was a fantastic little kid, always smiling and laughing. He was never a fussy child and always loved snuggling with my mother and me. It was at age four that my parents started noticing changes and quirks about my brother. He didn’t speak much, had trouble walking, covered his ears at loud noises, but could read chapter books, loved movies and music, and was fascinated with every kitchen utensil in the house. This was the introduction of the word “autism” to our family’s vocabulary.

Growing up together, my brother and I never played catch, or tag, or basketball. But we had marvelous imaginary games with knights, pirates, and conquistadors. We discussed the vastness of the universe and the age of the dinosaurs. We shared almost every childhood memory together and grew to be best friends.

“My brother is special,” I used to say to the other children on the playground. “He has something no one else in the world has.” In my house we never once treated Autism like a disability or crutch, but rather celebrated the different strengths it gave each member of my family.

Trying to understand what it is like for someone to have Autism is almost impossible to describe, and it is different for almost every child. Each child with Autism has different tendancies and idiosyncrasies.

I remember the first time my parents took my brother and me to Disneyland. Our excitement practically burst the doors off the backseat. We, like most children, had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but we hardly slept the night before imagining meeting all of our Disney idols face to face.


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When we finally arrived at Disneyland, I immediately jumped out of the car and ran towards the front door – not realizing my brother was still clinging to my mother’s side. He hesitantly made his way towards the gate, hands covering his ears. Once inside, my brother did not stop crying the entire 3-hour visit. He had no interest in the roller coasters, the masked characters, or the thousands of other people and their kids. Only now do I realize why.

Autistic children are very sensitive to their surroundings. Large groups of people overwhelm them, causing panic and anxiety attacks. In my brother’s case, his senses are heightened, making every sound twice as loud and twice as scary. He is quite content to sit outside on a nice day and read a book, and there is nothing wrong with that.

My brother has taught me many lessons about life. He has taught me to cherish the small things and not worry about what other people think. He has taught me what unconditional love looks like, and that it is okay to be different than everyone else. He has taught me to celebrate our differences and embrace those who are different than us.


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Autism is in no way a disability, disease, or curse. It is a unique lens for which many people view life. It is a different way to think about the world and reminds us everyday to be grateful for what we have. I love someone who has autism, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Written by: Kathryn Leidhal
Edited by: Laurelin Haas
Featured Image:


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