Best of Freshman Writing
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PSU – Berks
A Beautiful Mind
As a kid, I didn’t understand Daniel. I asked my mom why I rode on a van with Dan that picked us up at our house instead of riding on the school bus with all of the other kids in the neighborhood. “Because Daniel doesn’t like loud noise and I don’t want him to go alone,” she’d answer. I didn’t understand why my brother went to a special class outside of school to practice reading and writing when he already learned it at school. I was always wondering why Dan would become so angry or upset over certain noises. I thought it was weird that he put ketchup on almost everything he ate. I didn’t know why he was so focused and intrigued when he would put his hands in front of his face and move his hands and fingers in strange motions. There was much I didn’t know, and others didn’t know as well.
These curiosities didn’t turn into questions until about middle school. As little kids, I didn’t notice any differences in Daniel and adored him for his imagination. We would play all sorts of games that I would have never thought of by myself pretending to chase mythical creatures around my grandparents’ endless backyard, filled with trees and secret hiding places where we could imagine anything we wanted. We would go in the woods, and he would find bugs and automatically know the name of them. He would hold and admire bugs like they were cute little puppies, while I would laugh and say, “Ew, put that down!” Daniel and I would play Spiro the Dragon for endless hours on our Playstation, laughing at each other when we would run Spiro into a wall. We were best friends, but as we grew older, Daniel’s interests stayed the same, while mine changed. Eventually, we were no longer the best of friends.
My parents decided to tell me at the right age why my brother acted differently than everyone else.
“Daniel has autism.”
My mom and dad told me that Daniel wasn’t any less smart than anyone else; he was just wired differently, which made him act different, especially around other people. Even though I now knew why he acted differently, it didn’t change how I thought of him. But as the transition from elementary school children to preteens in middle school occurred, it became more and more difficult to deal with his disorder because others noticed he was different. Middle school was hell, and high school was five times worse; the maturity level somehow decreases as people go to high school. The teasing in middle school was mild. “Weird” was the daily name categorizing Daniel among most of our classmates. Also, some teasing in the boy’s bathroom was common, but that was normal for most kids that age. As high school approached, the teasing grew more mean and stressful due to the introduction of the word “retard.”
Retard: a slowing down, diminution, or hindrance, as in a machine; a person who is stupid, obtuse, or ineffective in some way.
Daniel, in no terms, is any of these definitions but was called “retard” or “retarded” on numerous occasions, ones that I have witnessed.
“He’s such a retard. Why does he walk like that?”
These were daily comments I heard from kids in the hallway, and I hate that I didn’t do anything about it.
Being autistic does not mean you are mentally retarded; it is a disorder. People who are autistic learn differently and are intelligent in areas that interest them personally. Daniel is not a fan of math, but if someone were to ask him to write a book about a fantasy world with mythical creatures, he’d have a fully written story in a matter of hours. He knows just about every existing and non-existing animal you can imagine, including what that animal eats, where it lives, what it looks like, and other meticulous details.
A speaker who attended an autism awareness event shared with the audience that her child was first diagnosed as “mentally retarded” (“In Defense”).
How people developed the idea that calling people who actually aren’t retarded “retarded” is a question I have been asking myself for a while now. I can replay the daily scenario in my head, over and over as Daniel walks down the crowded hallway in his everyday outfit of mismatched sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
“Daniel, why do you walk around with your hands like that?” one of his everyday bullies asks.
“Shut up, Matt!” Daniel replies in frustration.
One of the worst parts about Daniel having autism is that he knows something is wrong with him, and when someone asks him a question like Matt did, he can’t answer him, because he doesn’t know why he does the things he does.
During my high school years, I had sometimes wished I were a guy just so I could kick the living snot out of Daniel’s bullies. I have come to the conclusion that people just don’t understand. To be honest, I have used the word “retarded” as I struggled to fit in, and I’m not proud of it. But it clicked when I truly experienced the pain of this cruel word when it was brought up in my own house.
“Mom,” my brother asked ashamed, as if he knew the word was directed towards him. “What does retarded mean?”
My mom and I just looked at each other, with the same glassy-eyed look of disappointment and sadness. This is the moment that I realized that it’s just cruel, hurtful, and unfair to be called such a name. The first time I became fired up about this foul word was during gym class my senior year.
“Hey, Eric, pass the ball, retard!” a naive freshman yelled at the autistic boy as they played keep away during attendance. It set me off. Seeing another kid besides my brother being harassed like that made me want to punch him.
“Excuse me!” I said to the bully. “He’s not retarded. He’s autistic. Don’t call him that!” He shut up quickly. Being a senior helped in that situation.
We are all human and deserve to be treated with respect. Autistic people perceive smells, sounds, and tastes differently than others and look at the world with a unique perspective. But in reality, isn’t that how we all are? Everyone is different; people with autism are just more sensitive about it. This does not give people the right to call them “retarded” just because they express their feelings more openly than others. Autism should not be a burden; it should be seen as a gift, a gift to others affected by autism, because they experience new ways of seeing the world. As a kid, I wished my brother was normal so that my family and I could live a normal life. Now, as I’ve grown up and seen what my brother is capable of creating in his unique mind, I’m thankful for the crazy, hectic, family life that I have.
“In Defense of Retardation : Susan’s Blog.” Susan Senator. Susan Senator, 25 Mar.2006. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.
“Retard.” Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 27 Oct. 2011. Web. 3 Nov. 2011.
Madelyn Koch's essay appears here with her express written permission and cannot be reproduced in any manner or fashion without her express written permission.