The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Hannah Van Ree

Van Ree's Voice


We are all born with our own special and unique strengths and weaknesses that we will uncover later on in life. Whether we are born male, female, destined to be tall or short, born with hair or without it – we are all different.

Some see our more struggling “differences” as flaws, while others may see them as gifts. But to me, what some consider flaws can be eccentric, and in there own ways, beautiful.

Some of us our born with what are considered “physical and mental disorders.”

Whether someone is born without a limb or with a confused genetic makeup, people that are born with or experience these differences may act different or feel as if they can’t act as “normal functioning humans.” I think some of these people are more special on earth than some of us who are considered “normal.”

Someone very dear and special to me is considered “different” by most people, and many people do not fully understand why she acts the way she does, and frankly neither do researchers fully – yet.

The doctors realized that my cousin, who I practically consider a sister of mine, was autistic when she was 18-months-old.

My aunt and uncle had thought that they had a healthy baby girl until at about that age when she stopped talking. Before that time she had been bright-eyed and could say words like “cow” and “dog.”

About the time of her diagnosis, the family had just moved into a new house, so at first the parents thought it was just the shock of moving that had quieted their daughter or that she was just tired of saying the words and in a sense “performing for company.”

Doctors at first said that my cousin Julie maybe felt her older sister, Jill, could talk for her or that she was deaf, or as the school district said she was “willful”--in other words just a brat.

Julie was diagnosed with classic autismand at age 2 went straight into a special school.

My aunt said that at the time of her daughter’s diagnosis my cousin’s chances of being born with autism was 1 in 10,000, and that she had been four times less likely than a boy to be born with it. The statistics are now 1 in 88.

According to the National Autism Society, “autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.”

It affects everyone who has it differently and to different degrees.

I know we all don’t remember a lot from when we were younger, but I do remember when I was younger I never saw my cousin Julie to be so different from other kids.

When I was young everyone’s personality stood out to me like a sore thumb, so to me she was just as different then anyone else was.

It’s funny that kids can be blunt sometimes and point out differences in others but at the same time accept everyone and be blind to social differences because they haven’t themselves figured out who they are yet either.

I just knew Julie was my cousin and that she always would be.

Yes, when we went to restaurants I knew Julie always got something different than us and that she always listened to her same Disney music tape--but everyone has those little things about them.

Julie would always eat before we went out, and at the restaurant my aunt always ordered her a cup of ice, a glass of water and some salt. I usually had a sandwich.

I played with action figures and tiny toy animals; Julie had piles of hundreds-to-thousands of almost microscopic beads all over her floor she played with.

My aunt would always have Julie say hello to us when we would visit and her response would never sound like our names, but she would look at us and we knew what she meant.

I always wondered why Julie never wanted to play with us and would instead go up to her room.

We were told that she didn’t like to play the same types of games as us.

But I also knew my cousin and I were also alike in a lot of ways. We both loved swimming, her aid-dog Jubal and Disney movies.

Julie got Jubal when she was 10 years old from the Canine Companions organization, and instead of needing an aid-dog for physical disability purposes, my cousin got one of the first experimental social-needs-driven dogs.

Jubal turned out to be perfect and a dog that everyone, including myself, shed a tear for when he passed.

I love my cousin and I always will.

Yes, some people may see her as different, but who is to sit there and tell me that they aren’t different themselves. Julie possesses special abilities and strengths just like any other person and also some weaknesses, just as I myself have.

I remember Julie would always have pile-after-pile of the tiny, seemingly almost microscopic, beads on the floor of her room. One time when my aunt was vacuuming one of those tiny beads was sucked off of the floor and lost in the abyss of dog hair and dust contained in the machine.

My aunt figured that since there were so many beads, most likely numbering in the thousands, that Julie would not notice the disappearance of one. She was wrong.

As soon as my cousin stepped foot into her bedroom she knew one of her precious beads had vanished. I have never in my 22 years of life, come across another individual with the same attention to detail as my cousin.

It reminds me now slightly of the movie, “Rain Man.” The movie stars Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, who plays an autistic man who has the ability to compute mathematical equations and numbers at an alarming, almost supernatural rate.

What prompted me to write about my cousin this week is that yesterday, April 2, served as World Autism Awareness Day.

My cousin will turn 29 in two weeks and participates in many community service projects on the daily, which are considered part of her job.

Next time you are out in public and see someone with a disability, you shouldn’tjust feel bad for them or think that they will never experience a great life.

Though to some extent it may be true that they will not accomplish and experience the same things that you do, they also most likely do not have the same outlooks and dreams of life that you do.

Every person has the chance to become an incredible human being, and someone may just surprise yousomeday and kick your butt in their specialty field when you aren’t expecting them to.

Some of my favorite quotes come from two women who battled with their own disabilities, Helen Keller and Mary Oliver.

Mary Oliver once said, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift,” and “Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled---to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world.”

Although life may be a little more challenging for those born with disabilities or those that acquire them, it is how they find their love of life and push through, and that is something that I find more special than little accomplishments that may be made by any healthy person.

To me, it is amazing that these special individuals find strength where most think they have none.

“Keep your face to sunshine and you cannot see the shadow,” said Helen Keller.

Hannah Van Ree can be contacted at [email protected]


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