Raising Awareness about Autism: Two Sisters Work to Educate OthersWritten by Chelby Daigle
Noor Siddiqi, 19, and Sara Siddiqi, 15, have a younger brother who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was four. “It has been a long journey for my whole family,” Sara shared. But both sisters are quick to point out that despite the challenges that have come with taking care of a sibling with autism, the experience has enriched their lives.
Last year, the sisters drew the attention of local media when they organized a table at their school, Gloucester High School, to raise awareness about autism on April 2nd, World Autism Awareness Day. With items donated by Autism Ontario, the governmental organization aimed at supporting those with autism, the sisters spoke to their fellow students about the disorder and shared their own story of living with a sibling with autism.
Noor explained that “Many people didn't know what autism was.”
“We explained that it is a spectrum disorder, which means that people with autism each have different challenges and abilities,” Sara detailed. They even invited local City Councillor Tim Tierney to drop by and learn.
This year, Sara did the same thing at her new high school, Sir Wilfred Laurier, as Noor is now a university student. As sisters of a sibling with autism, they feel that is necessary for them to be vocal advocates for people living with autism because they want to make sure that their brother is treated with caring and respect as he grows up. So whenever they can, they try to raise awareness and support local initiatives that help the families of children with autism.
They have fundraised and volunteered for Autism Ontario and Children at Risk, a local non-profit which supports the families of children with autism whose summer camp their brother attends. These organizations offered important educational and social activities for their family when they were first coming to terms with their brother's diagnosis. “Autism Ontario would organize events for autistic children and their families so we met other people there. We shared our stories and learned a lot from them. We also attended their workshops,” Noor said.
Sara and Noor believe that the siblings of children with autism experience many of the same frustrations as the siblings of children with a chronic illness or disability. “Sometimes you may feel that your needs aren't being met because your siblings' needs have to come first. But you can learn to find another way to get what you need,” Noor advises.
But Noor and Sara don't feel that having the added responsibility to take care of a brother with special needs is a chore. “It's a pleasure,” Sara stated. As their brother requires routine, adjusting to Noor's changed schedule as a university student presented some challenges which the family as a unit figured out how to solve. “We have definitely come closer as a family because we have to support each other and work together,” Sara shared.
“This experience is really a blessing,” Noor stated. “We learned to be more understanding and supportive of others. And to have an open-mind,” Sara added.
“We have met a lot of people with autism and we have learned more about disabilities and to accept them. We actually can be more emphatic towards other people because our experience gives us another perspective on life,” said Noor. “Some people are afraid to accept that their child or sibling has autism. But until you accept it you can't get help with it
The sisters are grateful for their faith which has supported their family in the most difficult of times. They are also pleased to see spaces within Ottawa's Muslim community being created for families like theirs by the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities (CAM-D) whose Eid lunch they attended.
They hope that more people will take the time to become aware about autism to be more supportive of people living with autism and their families.
Both sisters have this advice for other young people with siblings with autism: “You are not the only one going on this journey. Always look on the bright side and just take things one day at a time.”
To learn more about Autism Ontario visit www.autismontario.com
To learn more about Children at Risk visit www.childrenatrisk.ca
To learn more about CAM-D visit http://camd.ca
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