If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a few special people in your life who will leave a mark. They will change the way you think, change the way you laugh, and change the way you love. Ultimately, they’ll tap into the core of who you are and you know your life can never be the same.
My younger brother Derek is the best thing that ever happened to me. Through him, I can see the world differently, and can never let that go. He has a light within him that radiates through everyone he comes across. Frowns falter, and bad moods are forgotten; his laughter is contagious and his smile can break hearts; he says your name in a way that makes you feel like you’re the most special person in the world- and when he looks you in the eyes with that sly charm? Forget about it, you’re toast. His light and happiness will have you hooked before you know what hit you.
When Derek was diagnosed with autism, the doctors told my parents he would never speak; and when he spoke, they said he’d never be able to learn math. Once he excelled in advanced math classes, they said he wouldn’t be able to graduate high school. When he passed the state-mandated MCAS testing on his first try, he moved on to college. When he continued to prove everyone wrong, the doctors were the only ones left speechless.
Derek is my superhero. He amazes me everyday, and I know he will be successful in whatever it is he pursues. He showed me how to appreciate the little things, to have an open heart and open mind, and above all, he allowed me to be the best person I could be.
Throughout the years I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt, and an unwillingness to let go of the things outside my control. I’ve wished to fail more and fail harder; I’ve felt guilty that I haven’t had to try as hard, when everything Derek has accomplished is admirable and inspiring. Why couldn’t it be harder for me and easier for him? Why can’t I make it better, why can’t I make it fair?
While I know these feelings won’t go away completely, I know that I’m a better person because of this amazing kid, and we are better because of each other. Despite the hardships he continually overcomes, he is truly the happiest person I know.
Life can be hard and barriers can be great, but I truly don’t look at my family life differently than anyone else’s - our challenges may be different than yours, but this is my normal. My family is crazy, wonderful, messy, funny, chaotic and filled with love. If autism has taught me anything, it’s that we must stop putting limitations on each other, no matter the circumstances; underestimating someone’s potential only serves as a great injustice to us all.
With my brother, I want to stand tall and make our voices heard; I want to knock down the barriers and acknowledge that being different is a good thing. Being different is what inspires greatness, it sparks new ideas and new perspectives to change the world.
This April, I launched the Make Waves fundraising campaign in an effort to spread awareness through education, and support the Autism research community with Autism Speaks.
I hope to shine a light on the unique, the special, and the differently abled; to challenge the pull to underestimate, and to acknowledge everything this community is capable of. To showcase what we are capable of when we come together, support each other, and educate each other on what it means to be human.
Every dollar raised through events, direct donations, and our online shop featuring exclusive products, will be matched by a private nonprofit in support of Autism Speaks, effectively doubling our efforts.
We all deserve to leave our mark, no matter how big or small - we can all create a ripple effect, and #MakeWaves in our own special way. My brother is already changing the world, I’m just trying to keep up.