"We've detected some neurological defects in your child that will follow him or her into their lives, have you thought about termination of the pregnancy?"
In the chill of autumn, 1993, this was said to a twenty-seven year old woman by the doctor keeping an eye on her first pregnancy. When a prenatal specimen test was taken at twelve weeks, they discovered the anomaly in his chromosomes, this child would grow up different, unable to walk, talk, read, or write. He had autism, where he was on the spectrum, the doctors never bothered to determine. Twenty-Five years ago this year, a situation like that was expected to end in an abortion, or if the parent let their emotions take over, and the mother did carry to term and have the baby, the common decision was to lock the child away in some institution; like an asylum or group home, out of the view of common people. Doesn't that sound more like something to happen in the dark ages, not the nineties or early two thousands?
"Things like that should be locked away."
These words were said to that same woman, three or four years after the birth of her first child, the one born different, who wasn't expected to even exist. These words were snapped at her by a father in a Chuck E Cheese, as he angrily whisked his own child out of the ball pit because the little boys roughhoused just a little too much.
That little boy who lost all the friends he tried to make with children outside of his disorder, would soon welcome a baby sister into his world, a child that his mother was not prepared for and had no way of being sure he would be gentle around. At four and a half, the little boy did not understand his own strength, breaking his toys as if they were toothpicks. He was too energetic for his own good, he had a habit of bopping people on the head, as a form of coping with his surroundings, and grabbing things too tightly, as a form of sensory stimulation. It seemed all too possible to the young mother and her husband that their son would tap the baby's head a little too hard, or when he got rambunctious, possibly kick her out of her baby lounger. For the last trimester, the mother was terrified for her daughter's safety.
When the baby was born, and the eager grandparents brought the excited big brother to the hospital to meet the newest tiny edition to the family, the mom lay in her bed holding the newborn. The baby was beautiful in all regards, with a button nose and tiny pursed lips, bright blue eyes, and a tuft of silky black hair just like her father's. The little boy was all too excited to see the baby, already in love with his sister.
Mom whispered one final time as he approached,"Remember honey, be very gentle."
The little boy slowed his pace to a that of a snail, one step at a time, with his hands folded behind his back so he wouldn't touch her and wake her up. He stood for a moment, taking in the sight of his new baby sister, knowing in his little five year old heart, that he had to protect her, and for the first time in his life, his mother watched him be the gentlest he'd ever been, standing on his toes in his Spongebob sneakers and planting a soft little kiss on the baby's forehead.
As the family aged, the mother and father divorced, the little boy grew up with his family, attending specialized schooling that would help him prepare for his transition into adulthood. He grew into a teenager, with a slew of friends, crushes on girls in his classes, and learned to read and sign his name. He learned simple math, and lots of lessons in life, learned to prepare meals, to treat others with respect, and how to earn respect for himself. The young man went to his high school prom with a date, a girl he liked, who would earn the title of girlfriend for a few months. He's a ladies man, a great dancer, and has a terrific sense of humor. He is a whiz at video games and computer settings, he loves to learn, and often watches his favorite shows in multiple languages. He's a boy scout, a singer, and athlete, and a member of a family.
That little boy, who was unaccepted even before birth, is my brother. The young man he became is my role model, he is an annoying big brother when he wants to be, but an inquisitive mind and non-verbal communicator when he must be. He learned to walk, he learned to read, he learned to write, maybe he will never learn to talk, but he doesn't need to speak to let us know he loves us and the life he made for himself.
Autism affects one in every 88 children born in the United States each year, while times are changing, and our world is slowly becoming more progressive with our differences, we are still far from accepting those neurologically different, with each person who stands in support of understanding their world, maybe one day we'll make it. We as a world will be in the place where all lives really do matter, and chromosomal defects won't be the deciding factor on whether a child gets to exist.