DR RADICA MAHASE
One of the most common misconceptions about autism is that people on the spectrum cannot express emotions, by extension, they cannot love and show love. If you speak with any parent of a child with autism, they will tell you how loving their children are and all the ways they show their love for parents/caregivers, siblings and others who share a close relationship with them.
As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, I am happy to share a short article written by my niece, Maya Nanan. Maya is 19 and her brother Rahul, who is on the autism spectrum, is only a year younger.
In this piece, Maya writes about her unconditional love for her brother and how he shows his love for her.
“The relationship that I have with my brother is a very special and unique one. We are not like most siblings. Even though we are different in many ways – for example, he's non-verbal, but I speak a mile a minute – we still manage to love each other unconditionally and not fight with each other like other siblings our age.
"We are one year apart, so we grew up doing everything together; we are very close and have been that way since we were toddlers. I'd like to think we're a dynamic duo. We're so close that sometimes people assume we're twins, and it's so hilarious to see their reaction when I tell them that we're not.
"My brother stands out wherever we go and it’s not only because of his height! At 18 years old, if he’s happy he will sing his nursery rhymes at the top of his voice!
"In our world that isn’t consider appropriate, so of course people would stare. In a world where persons can be so mean and judgmental, he is so pure, sweet and innocent. He doesn't know about bad mind, negative behaviour, hatred, and jealousy towards others. He is so loving, caring, and compassionate. He's also really funny and he repeats sentences/phrases that I say often, at the perfect moment and makes us laugh. He is also very charming and loving in every way possible.
"I like that he doesn't allow anyone to be mean to me and he hates it when I'm getting buff – he jumps in and stands up for me. This is his way of protecting me and I think it's the sweetest thing ever! That alone tells me how much he loves me!
"Growing up, we did everything together and we still continue to do so. Now that I can drive, we both go out together, by ourselves, whether it's to watch a movie or go for ice cream, and we manage perfectly fine. I am not afraid to take him with me anywhere. I love that he and I can do things together, alone.
"Thankfully, I attend university online, so I get to spend a lot of time with him at home – sometimes I'm not quite sure who bothers who more or who hides from the other more. He shows his love for me by checking in on me constantly throughout the day, sharing his food, snacks and drinks with me and sometimes he comes into my room and stays with me, without me begging or asking him too. He would be on his iPad and I would be on my laptop doing my work. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful feeling.
"I am very proud that I was able to get a grant from the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to open an autism centre so that he has a safe place to learn. I named it after him – Rahul’s Clubhouse. I think of it as my birthday present to him when he turned 18 last year! I will continue to show my love for him by continuously advocating for him.
"I really wish that people would be more open-minded and that they would educate themselves, not only about autism but also about social issues and topics in general. Then people would become more aware of the realities of others who live in the same society and maybe, be a little more understanding.
"I hope that people will learn to be kind and patient towards those on the autism spectrum and that a simple thing as standing up for them, showing love for them, can make our world a much better place. When they correct someone who is saying something negative or ill-mannered about someone with autism or any other special needs or disability, they are being a voice for that person as well as spreading awareness – this can go a very long way in today's society, where word of mouth plays a significant role in people's daily lives.
"I would definitely encourage people to get involved with a local NGO where they can volunteer their time and services and get that one-on-one interaction with persons on the spectrum – trust me, this will be an impactful and very productive few hours of your life.
"To other autism siblings like myself: embrace your autistic siblings no matter what, regardless of whatever level they are on the spectrum. Find the things you both share in common and even if you can't, I am sure that you can find some sort of connection with your siblings regardless of your differences.
"Look at Rahul and I, for example. We are very different but that doesn’t stop us from having a very close bond and from loving each other. Be patient and understanding no matter what the situation is. There are rough days and there are good days, but true and unconditional love will get you through every day.
"Happy Valentine’s Day to my brother, my valentine. Happy Valentine’s Day to all autistic persons and their siblings – the love we share is unique and beautiful."
Radica Mahase is the founder/director of Support Autism T&T