When you say the word “Autism” it is easy to figure out who is in the know and who is thinking of the Rain Man.
I think of my nephew and his bright face. Robbie is nearly eight and has mild autism. Early intervention and lots of love have made the difference between him being able to make connections with people outside his sphere and living in a closed world. Recently, he donned a mime’s suit and performed in his school’s talent show complete with make-up. He has learned to make friends and bares little resemblance from the boy who once ran when his senses overwhelmed him. What hasn’t changed is his ability to capture hearts. Aunties aren’t suppose to have favorites, but Robbie holds a special place in my heart.
The other week, I came across this Facebook page, I’m different, you’re different. Let’s be friends, and my heart now belongs to Sarah as well. Her summer quest is to meet and make a 1000 new friends. Each friend that she makes is given a gumball.
Here is her story as written by a family friend.
Sarah was born in 1999 at the gestational age of 27 weeks. At birth she weighed only 1050 grams, suffered from a brain hemorrhage, a cardio respiratory arrest, and major neurological dysfunction. In utero she had constant exposure to drugs and alcohol. Due to underdeveloped lungs, she required supplemental oxygen, and had a feeding tube surgically implanted in her stomach. She was extremely developmentally delayed. By the age of eighteen months she had passed through two foster homes, and had begun having violent episodes of self injuring. Her prognosis was very poor, and institutionalization seemed inevitable.
Then, she received a visit from a couple who had already adopted five children. At first, they felt that Sarah’s situation was more than they were equipped to deal with. They declined the opportunity to foster her, however, neither of them could forget her sparkling eyes, and discussed her constantly. They came to the conclusion that if they didn’t adopt her, who would? Sarah celebrated her 2nd birthday with her forever family.
Over the years, Sarah has had ongoing medical issues, such as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Autism and Anger Management. Through a combination of traditional treatments and experimental regimens she has shown amazing progress. With the help of medical experts, behavioral specialists, special educators, family, friends, her siblings and her parents, Sarah, who was not expected to walk, has become a runner in The Special Olympics, and a strong swimmer who loves to surf with her dad. She is a talented artist, and enjoys sharing her unique pieces. School is a struggle for Sarah, and she currently reads on a first grade level. She recently completed a 7th grade, special education program.
It can be very difficult for her to make friends. As a result, with help from her sisters, decided to set out on a quest to bring 1000 new friends into her world. She feels that it is her mission to help people understand Autism. To accomplish this, she reaches out to friendly, non-scary, people, tells her story, gives them a gumball, then poses with them, while her mother snaps a portrait. She attends musical concerts, parades and gatherings where she finds that people are more than happy to join her adventure. Sarah, while still facing many challenges, has brought a special love to her family and her multitude of friends.
Written by family friend, Paul Irwin (Santa)
Like Kim Peek (man who inspired Rain Man) and Sarah is the best person to explain Autism to the world. Their world is beauty and unique to them. They are individuals. I feel blessed to have Robbie and his two older brother (both of whom are on the spectrum) as members of my family not because they have autism. They are just awesome kids whose labels don’t make any less awesome.
So if you see a young woman this summer wearing a tie-dye tee that reads free “Free Hugs” and offers you a gumball, don’t be nervous just say Hi.