Nov 7, 2011

Guest Blogger: About Avi

Picture books may have relatively few words but they can convey big ideas. A manuscript goes through many rounds of revision and editing, and many people can be part of that process. In preparing Nathan Blows Out the Hanukkah Candles for publication, we showed the manuscript to a wide variety of readers, from preschool teachers to families with special needs children. We were especially interested in feedback from siblings of special needs kids, who we thought would have a very important point of view for us to consider. Rebecca Goldsteen, now a high school senior, is one of the siblings we approached during the editing process. She shared an important perspective on what it is like to have an older brother with autism. Rebecca provided us with important notes on the realism at the heart of the story—what a relationship is like between siblings, or with a friend who does not understand autism. We thank Rebecca for allowing us to share the following piece of her writing about her brother, which she developed as her college essay:

Being human means being imperfect. Being human means having flaws. Being human means being independent and original. But most of all, being human means interacting with the world around us, including the way we treat others.

When people realize my brother is autistic, whether or not they are aware if it, they immediately treat him and speak to him differently. This has made me very aware of the way I treat others, based on what I think I know about them.  Many people with autism are very skilled in something, whether it is related to school, sports, or hobbies. My brother, Avi, has the most impressive memory of anyone that I have ever encountered. Those who know this about him tend to associate it with his autism and categorize it as “the thing he’s good at." To those who know him well, however, it is easy to see that this aspect of him comes nowhere close to defining him as a person.

If anyone who knows him well were to be asked to describe him, some adjectives they might use include caring, sweet, funny, loving, smart, confident and creative. It is understandable that these words have been used an infinite number of times to describe countless individuals but they truly shine through Avi’s personality, specifically, through the way in which he treats his peers. Avi has taught me to treat everyone fairly, no matter what. Even if he doesn’t know someone, or has heard bad things about him or her, he talks to them respectfully, as if he or she is a close friend of his.

Most people don't really think about the importance of family until they are grown up. Avi never forgets to tell our immediate family, as well as our entire extended family, how much he loves and appreciates all of us. If not for him, I doubt I would think about how happy I am to have the family that I have, even though we have many flaws.

One day when my brothers and I were home, I was frustrated about something too small for me to be able to recall. Avi noticed my frustration and asked what was wrong. I explained to him why I was aggravated and he responded by asking, “Why?” This puzzled me. I tried once more to explain the reason and how there was nothing I could do about it. He shrugged, put one hand on his hip and scratched his head with the other, smiled, and asked if I wanted something to eat. I was amazed at how, although he understood my frustration; he couldn’t understand why I was focused on something so small and unimportant when I could be enjoying myself.

My friends have always been impressed with how difficult it is for me to become angry. I can’t say that it is because I have a high tolerance, because that is untrue. The reason I can easily disregard things that irritate most people is because I have learned to put myself in Avi’s shoes and see the way that he would perceive the situation and think; “Is this really worth getting mad about?” If the answer to this question is no, which it usually is, I simply forget my aggravation and move on.

Avi does not hold grudges. He truly understands the meaning of second chances. He wakes up every morning with the attitude that yesterday is history and that the present is full of possibilities. I have seen the way people treat other people, and I have seen the way that Avi treats other people. I strive to be like my big brother: to judge as little as possible, to ignore the little things that frustrate me, to make every experience as enjoyable as possible, to treat others the way that I want to be treated, to do things not because I am supposed to but because I want to, to make every day better than the day before, to love with all my heart and most importantly, to be happy.

--Rebecca Goldsteen

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