My 22nd Birthday Wish

by JESSIE KARANGU

There is no one who has had more of an impact on my life than my little brother.

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Ted Mwatha, named after one of my father’s role models Senator Ted Kennedy and my maternal grandfather Eleazar Mwatha, is autistic. In case you don’t know, autism is a complex developmental disorder that impairs a person’s area of social communication. It’s a disorder which is growing rapidly and affects one in every 68 children in the United States.

My brother is non-verbal and can only say a couple words at a time. It’s difficult to communicate with him because his brain is not fully developed to the capacity of a non-autistic human being.

I try to hang out with him as much as I can but he prefers to be secluded. He doesn’t like to be disturbed, doesn’t like to be touched and can be stubborn at times if you don’t get him what he wants or aren’t able to understand what he is asking for. He loves to listen to music and loves it even more every time someone tells him to turn the volume down because it’s too loud.

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He can’t eat certain foods such as wheat because they give him stomach aches but ironically he’s obsessed with a Kenyan dish known as chapati, which of course is made of wheat. He does what he wants to do whenever he wants and however he wants which is why he can’t be left by himself because he doesn’t have the ability to comprehend the consequences that could ensue from his actions. Recently, he’s also developed epilepsy which has had a profound impact on my family’s ability to take care of him.

What hurts the most is that he is trapped inside his own prison by himself with no way of getting out. It depresses me to think that he’ll never be able to play a sport in school like I did (even though I wasn’t that good), go to high school prom, drive a car, attend college and do things for himself to live a self-sustainable life.

It kills me that we’ll never be able to have arguments against one another, play pick-up basketball, reminisce on crazy adventures we encountered together, raise our kids together and bond in the way that siblings normally do. But something I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that the easiest way to fail in life is to doubt God’s plan which is why I’m so grateful to have Mwatha in my life.

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Mwatha has taught me to be patient, to humble myself and to be grateful for the simple things we take for granted each and every day. His smile brightens up any room he’s in and his laugh forces anyone else around him to giggle as well. I don’t know how or why God made him the way he is but I’m accepting of it and love him regardless.

Without the support of my grandmas, aunt, uncle and church family who have all pitched in to take care of him or school teachers who instruct Mwatha basic communication skills or bus drivers who transport him to receive an education in the first place; I don’t know how caring for him would be possible for my family and I. Taking care of an autistic young adult is an insurmountable challenge which can put a major strain on all involved parties.

I echo this message to anyone with a family member who has autism.

We’re lucky to have the resources bestowed upon us here in the United States but as Mwatha gets older, it’s becoming more difficult to provide him with the assistance he needs. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for families in the country where Mwatha and myself hail from – Kenya.

The African culture is not as accepting of kids and young adults with special needs and at times, some of them are left on the streets to fend for themselves. As I embark on another blessed year of life, I want to open my 22nd chapter by giving back to autistic children in Kenya just like my brother who are in dire need of support and guidance.

The organization I’m choosing to support is the Autism Society of Kenya. The group was founded in 2003 by the grandmother of an autistic child who couldn’t find any resources, doctors or teachers to help her understand what autism is and how to raise a child with this brain disorder. As she pleaded her case with the Kenyan public to help her grandson in any way possible, she began to meet other parents in Kenya going through similar problems with their children.

Courtesy: Autism Society of Kenya

Since the organization’s founding, the Autism Society of Kenya has helped many families dealing with autism by providing a nutritional program, an education program which teaches them motor skills, and a training program for healthcare workers who can learn how to diagnose autism in young kids early.

For my birthday this year, I don’t want any gifts, I don’t want to party, I don’t want to have a birthday dinner and I don’t really need a cake. The only thing I would love is help from you to make a small impact on the world and be the change you want to see. I’m donating $22 to commemorate my 22 years of life and would feel very honored and grateful if you joined with me.

For college-aged students like myself, I know $22 is a lot of money but I would be extremely appreciative if you granted me this birthday wish, it would be one of the greatest gifts you could ever give me.

If you decide to join me on this voyage, click HERE to donate. Please take a picture or screenshot your donation and share it with me on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

Here is my screenshot:

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