I am happy to to post this essay, a Special Guest Post, by Katie Ragsdale, a sibling to a brother with autism.  I love Katie’s theme of ” acceptance, optimism, and the ability to look beyond the ‘book cover’ of a child.”  Here is Katie’s essay:

Katie Ragsdale and her brother Jim

For as long as I can remember, a poem has been hanging on my refrigerator; I read it every morning before I grab my apple. It says:

“Blessed are you who stand beside us
as we enter new and untried ventures,
for our failures will be outweighed
by the times we surprise ourselves and you.”

    It is in human nature to judge a book by its cover: to underestimate those for whom we have formed preconceptions. I have learned throughout my six years of being a volunteer counselor at Special Camp for Special Kids to defy this universal truth. In an environment where everyone is viewed equally, regardless of intellect, physical ability, or emotional stability, I have matured in many ways far beyond my years. As a spokesperson for this particular camp, I preach acceptance, optimism, and the ability to look beyond the “book cover” of a child who might be physically or mentally challenged or both.

My younger brother, Jim, was diagnosed with autism at age two. I didn’t quite understand what that meant when I was younger, all I knew was that he had  “helpers” come in every day, got to take longer baths than me, and our mom would read books to him before he went to sleep years after I was reading Harry Potter on my own. I never quite understood why people would stare at the grocery store; make comments in passing at the park, or request different classrooms at school.

Our world is laden with abnormalities; who is a stranger to judge what is normal and what isn’t? My brother is one of the happiest, smartest and most carefree people I know- last time I checked those were qualities to be desired, not judged. Some refer to Jim as the “human GPS”, for he can give you directions to the middle-of-nowhere Arkansas as long as he’s been there once in his lifetime. Others call him “The Mayor” to honor his passion for social greetings.  His autism doesn’t change anything, and as he enters his sophomore year of high school, he has developed into a brilliant person. I always have and always will love my brother and see him as an equal, but the rest of the world won’t, just because his brain functions a little differently.

It wasn’t until the summer before my 8th grade when my family discovered an environment where there was no “judging a book by its cover” theme: Special Camp for Special Kids. From that summer on, Jim and I would participate in camp for a week, me being a counselor and Jim a camper. Each counselor is paired up with a camper with special needs. Sure, it is a week where normally functioning teenagers give back and help the community, but most of the counselors know that they’re the truly fortunate ones. Special camp is merely one week, yet it has the potential to build memories that will last a lifetime. I look forward to that one week every year, and I will continue to do it far beyond high school.

Programs like Special Camp and Best Buddies have greatly influenced what occupation I wish to pursue in the future. Special Camp for Special Kids has challenged me to be the most accepting and patient person I could ever be, to ignore the stares of judgmental people and most importantly, to realize that a wheelchair or medical diagnosis doesn’t inhibit one from doing anything they set their mind to.

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