In December, the Jubilee Project released the short film, “Fireflies,” to raise awareness for autism. In the film, Peter and his new autistic friend, Annie, discovered a shared language of their own and learned that beauty is internal. We challenged you to submit stories of your own experiences and describe what autism means to you. We received 5 touching stories that made us think about autism in five completely new ways. We hope these stories will inspire you and remind you of individuals in your own lives. Reach out to them, learn from them, and keep on discovering what Autism is…
DAWN CHEUNG is inspired by her sister to live every day with compassion and strength.
Deanna is probably one of the sweetest girls you’ll ever meet. She is 18 years old and about to graduate high school this year. During her spare time, she LOVES to volunteer and watches at least one Disney movie per day.
Deanna always wears a smile on her face and one might say that her most outgoing characteristic is her heart of gold. She is one of the most selfless and caring person I know. I consider her not only my hero, but my everyday inspiration. She is my little sister and, I simply love her.
Deanna’s story begins at the age of 3 when she was diagnosed with autism. My parents were concerned that she wasn’t speaking yet and one alarming symptom was her tendency to hit her head on the wall when she was frustrated or upset. Growing up, I never really noticed my little sister. She seemed to live in her own little world of mumbled words and blank looks. As I got a bit older and started realizing that my sister was different, but not really knowing what was wrong, I started to grow more distant from her. You see, I never felt like I even had a sister. I couldn’t even play make-believe games with her and every attempt to teach her a simple board game ended up with both of us in tears. Mine from anger that I couldn’t play with my little sister and hers from frustration.
I distinctly remember being in first grade, coming home one day and attempting to play with my little sister and just ended up in plain anger that she couldn’t understand a thing I was trying to tell her to do. That night at the dinner table, my parents asked me why I was being so angry and rude and being blinded by anger as a little kid, I yelled at my parents and blamed them for giving me such a “stupid little sister”. I didn’t understand why I had been give the little sister I had. Why wasn’t she like the rest of the people I played with? Was was she so different? And the only logical explanation I could make was that it was my parents fault for giving me such a sister. Both my mom and dad stared at me in disbelief for the words that were coming out of my mouth. My dad left the dinner table in tears and my mom just sat there in silence staring at me. Even from a young age, that was a moment I would never forget.
As I grew up and moved along middle and high school, I didn’t pay much attention to my sister in those years. In retrospect, I didn’t know what to do. My little sister lived in her own little world, and I lived in one that was different from hers. My sister had slowly made improvements, but in the end, I decided just to tolerate her because I really didn’t know much better.
Finally, one day, my senior year in high school, my parents invited me to go volunteer with them and my little sister. At that time, I was preoccupied by school and college apps, but I decided to go anyhow. I didn’t know by going, it would change the way I saw my sister forever. The volunteer event that was happening was an event at our local community center and they had filled their gym with fun activities children with disabilities could participate in. Children with all kinds of disabilities were there participating, but my sister. She was volunteering her time- pushing people’s wheel chairs, helping kids play in activities, and in the end, clean up. But more than that, what brought me to tears that day was my little sister trying to help another girl with autism participate in a ball throwing game. The little girl was scared and kept hiding behind her mom. My little sister then walks up to the little girl and reassures her that she will be safe and have fun and then offers her hand to guide her to the game. Slowly and with time, the little girl took my sisters hand and they spent the rest of the afternoon playing the ball game.
This moment changed my life forever. I realized just how much potential my sister had, but more than that, just how much compassion my sister had in heart despite her autism.
Today, my sister and I are closer than ever. She has improved so much and day by day, she gets even better. She still sees a speech therapist to consistently improve her speech and she still actively volunteers whenever she can! I just recently studied abroad for 9 months in Hong Kong and I missed her so much. We talked every week on Skype and coming home and having my sisters company to watch Disney movies or cook (She’s a GREAT cook! Even better than me!), has been a blessing for me.
My sisters autism didn’t prevent her from doing anything. Sure, it takes her more time to learn things, her speech is broken, and she still can’t make eye contact with you, but she has overcome so much that I can’t help but admire her. She literally inspires me every day to live life with a compassionate heart and to always remember what true strength really is. I really couldn’t imagine life any differently and I am so thankful for my parents for blessing me with Deanna.
Autism is being Sisters.