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  • Vivian Hirschfield

What I’ve Learned from My Brother Who Has Autism

By Vivian Hirschfield April brings rainstorms and, on sunny days, spring sports. For my family, April has a special meaning -- because it is Autism Acceptance Month.

In March 2008, my younger brother Will was born. Shortly after he turned 3, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Will Hirschfield "shows empathy, compassion and determination every day," writes his sister Vivian.

I like to think I teach Will a lot as his big sister, but I know that no amount of math homework I help him with at Deer Path Middle School or paper airplane tutorials I give will ever measure up to how much I have learned from him. Even with the odds stacked against him, he doesn’t hesitate to show empathy, compassion and determination every day. I try to be a little more like him every day.

As my mom (whose story of meeting my father on Death Row was recently featured in Lake Forest Love) once wrote in an article, “We don’t mourn the son we wish we had. We celebrate the one we got, quirks and all–the journey to meeting Will where he’s at, and not where we wish he was.” I think that sums it up pretty well.

Since his diagnosis, Will continues to amaze us. He can name every single car he sees out on Route 41, he can recite the Cars movie by heart, and he aspires to be a chef when he grows up. He loves going to The Lantern (maybe he’ll be a chef there!) and to Sweets in Lake Forest, and he loves to swim.

In 1970, the Autism Society launched a movement to promote education and reduce stigma surrounding autism and used proceeds to help benefit the lives of people with autism. Then, in 1972, it launched the first annual National Autistic Children’s week, which has now evolved into Autism Acceptance Month. So this April, I’ve made it a goal to learn as much more as I can from him, and give back to people just like him by learning as much as you can.

Educating yourself about autism can get overwhelming. To start, searching under the #ActuallyAutistic tag on TikTok opens you up to thousands of autistic creators’ pages with reliable information. There’s also lots of credible websites, like Neuroclastic -- a collective of autistic people aiming for a “future that is more accepting, accommodating, and empowering.”

While I don’t know what Will’s future holds, I know along the way he’ll have so much love and support, and I’m proud I can be there for him. Vivian Hirschfield is a junior at Lake Forest High School.


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