Growing Up With an Autistic Sister

By Joey Karlik
Staff Writer

In grade school, a sibling’s sole purpose, at times, was to ruin your life. They wrote in your coloring books, they were always priority number one when they came around and now you have to share the spotlight. My sister was a different case. To most people, Debi is a happy, affectionate, quirky freshman in high school. She sings, she dances, she loves cantaloupe and is truly obsessed with Pokemon and Sonic.
It takes a long time for someone to adapt to a person’s Autism. But I was able to adapt easily having Debi as my sister growing up. I didn’t think Debi was different than any other kid, I just played with my sister just like any other older brother would do. She never really had any other friends besides me, so when I had friends come over, she always wanted to join in. Luckily, I had friends who were okay with it and let her join in on the fun.
Eventually I found out that she had Autism, it felt just as hard as the first time I found that Santa Claus wasn’t real. It was hard and crushing. I had a sister who had a disability that wasn’t even her fault. I became scared of what people would think about me at school. I didn’t know at the time but my mom was thinking the exact same thing. I figured out that as a kid who took a while to figure out the social behavior at school and to me, it became my responsibility to help my sister become socially acceptable.
I had to teach Debi the rights and wrongs of middle school and social behavior. I had to teach her sarcasm and when people used it or when she can use it. Sure she wouldn’t listen to me right away, but she eventually did. Mom could help, but she knew very little of what actually went on inside the other classrooms besides her own, at least not the math ones. I also taught her how not to point out the obvious, because sometimes it could hurt someone’s feelings.
There is are a bunch of levels of Autism. Some are more severe than others. Debi has the lowest level called aspergers which means she can function on her own and doesn’t need any sort of help, except when it calls for social activities. For example, if she gets mad at someone for what they are doing like scratching velcro on a binder, she quietly sings to herself some Carole King, or the musical classics like Lion King or Rock of Ages. Otherwise Debi is just like you or me.
To her parents, Jennifer and Greg Karlik, she is their everything. When she was a toddler, they thought other children were just like her; but it wasn’t long before Jennifer noticed something different about her child.
“She was in special needs Pre-school just like you [the author],” said Jennifer. “But when they pulled you out, they said you were done. You didn’t need anymore help with your speech. With Debi, we couldn’t exit her out. We then realized it wasn’t her speech. It was her behavior.”
The Karliks then took action and went on the hunt to find a place that could help.
“After we thought that she needed more help, we looked up where to go and that place was Community Connections,” Jennifer said. “We were told it was the best place to go.”
Community Connections later told the Karliks something that was about to change their lives, Debi was Autistic.
Jennifer and Greg will never forget the day they were told this for the first of many times,
“It was a relief for us, now we had an explanation on why she was acting the way she was,” Greg said. “We were very thankful that not only Community Connections told us, but also pointed us into the right direction.”
After she graduated Holy Name Catholic School, the question on Jennifer’s mind now changed. She wondered if Debi was socially capable enough to deal with a larger middle school crowd on her own.
“I feared for her not advocating for herself and not getting what she needs, because I’m not there,” Jennifer said.
As a math teacher at Kayhi, Jennifer has used the experience to help her classroom management.
“I squash the students who are bugged by the Autism, I can pull them aside and I can explain to them what it is. I can also stop the kids who are picking on the people with autism. I understand it fully now because of Debi,” she said.
Debi has exceeded expectations and is now doing great, even though she still has instances of “bad behavior.” She takes singing lessons and wants to become a famous Broadway singer and believes nothing is stopping her from making that goal.
Today I’m proud to call her my sister. It makes my life interesting everyday. From her thinking she was an upperclassmen because her locker was upstairs, to her getting so psyched every Christmas just to have an excuse to listen to Michael Buble. Even though when I drive her home after school, she talks to herself and uses her imagination, I still love her like any other brother should. 

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