In our own words: What I’m most thankful for

November 19, 2020

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to recognize the special people who shape our lives. For Marshall, 23, Blake, 27, and siblings Sarah, 12, and Frankie, 14, their autism journeys were guided by the love and support of family, friends, teachers and mentors.

In our own words: What I’m most thankful for - Marshall

Marshall, 23

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Marshall. I was diagnosed with autism at 15. Things weren’t easy for me growing up with just my mom, who did her best as a single mother to provide for us. We survived mainly on food stamps and didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad. Even before my official autism diagnosis, I struggled with building friendships because of severe social anxiety and depression. I felt like an outcast but understood that I can only be myself.

My mother passed away in 2016 and I was faced with even more heartache and struggles, but from those tough times I learned that we all face tough times. Those tough times can either make you or break you. I just want to inspire others to follow their dreams and never give up because I never did. Be grateful for who you are and the people who stood by you.

What services and resources are you most thankful for? 

I’m most thankful for having my family and the people I most care about around to help me achieve my goals. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to graduate high school, get my driver’s license or find a job. I’m truly thankful for my amazing uncle for being a father figure to me and guiding me in the right direction. I don’t know where I’d be without him.

What makes you most proud?

I didn’t have many friends growing up, but I had people around me who cared about me. I have to thank New Life Church for showing me what friends and family can be. I’m also very proud that I got a job at my local grocery store. I’m blessed to have a job and I’m thankful I can make money for my family and stay financially stable. I also found my voice through music, especially Christian hip hop. I’ve been using the money that I make at the grocery store to buy studio equipment and follow my dreams. My artist name is Prince Ray and I want to inspire others to not give up on themselves and their dreams.

What advice would you give to other people on the spectrum/families as they prepare for a socially distant holiday season?

To stay strong and don’t give up! It can be hard to celebrate like we’ve done in the past with the pandemic going on, but we can get through it together! 

In our own words: What I’m most thankful for - Blake and Amber

Blake, 27, as told through his sister, Amber

Tell us about yourself and your brother Blake.

I’m Amber, little sister to my big brother and best friend Blake. Blake was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half years old, but he’s never let that stop him from achieving anything. He’s one of the kindest and most tender-hearted people this world has to offer. He doesn’t open up to everyone but once he does, he loves for a lifetime in the purest way.

Even though he is partially non-verbal, Blake can solve almost any kind of “technical difficulty” with ease. He loves watching “Wheel of Fortune” and running errands with his Mum, riding the trains at the airport with his Dad, going to his Grammy’s house, driving the boat with his papa and playing cars on his race car track with his future brother-in-law.

Blake has inspired me to be that person I am today. To never let a label define me or keep me from breaking barriers, to love others and to always find joy in everything. I am so beyond thankful and proud to be his little sister. I would change the world for him, but I wouldn’t change him for the world.

What services and resources are you most thankful for as it relates to brother’s autism journey? 

My family is extremely thankful for the Best Buddies organization. It created a community for my brother that helped our family feel included. Some of Blake’s “favorite people” are some of his “Best Buddies” from over the years, including his best friend, Tyler. They also gave Blake tons of opportunities to learn new things, pushed him to do things that were out of his comfort zone and bond with those around him in new ways.

How has being by your brother’s side throughout his autism journey touched your life?

As Blake’s little sister, I have always been extremely protective. Even from the time I was 2 years old, I was always looking out for my big brother. I have always been the first to confront those who would make fun of him, push him to the side, etc. 

I also have done everything in my power to try and make the world a better place for people like my big brother. In middle school, I started the first ever Buddy Program. It consisted of having lunch with our fellow classmates in the special education wing, walking them to the school bus, playing games, etc. In high school, I volunteered for “Best Buddies,” the adaptive special needs theater class and was a peer tutor.

When I graduated and moved to Oklahoma City to dance for the Oklahoma City Ballet, I became the head teacher for our “Chance To Dance” program, designed for dancers with special abilities. I then decided to take my actions a step further and became a certified “Special Needs and Special populations Personal Trainer.” I try to do everything I can to make this world better for my big brother and all of the beautiful people living with special abilities!

What makes you most proud of your brother?

He has shattered almost every single label that was put on him as a child. When he was first diagnosed, there were so many people telling my family all of the things he would never be able to do like making true connections with others. Twenty- four years later, he has made more lifelong connections than any of us can imagine. I am so beyond proud that I have a role model like my big brother – it’s a blessing.

What advice would you give to other people with autistic siblings as they prepare a socially distant holiday season?

Find joy in the small and simple things. We have definitely learned as a family how much fun we have just sitting around the house together. We don’t need restaurants, arcades and material things anymore. We have joy in the small things, thanks to my big brother!

In our own words: What I’m most thankful for - Frankie and Sarah

Frankie, 14, and Sarah, 12, as told through their mom, Barbie

Tell us about your family.

I’m Barbie, Frankie and Sarah’s mom. My kids mean the world to me and I’d love for the world to see how special they are too. They might have autism, but that isn’t who they are.

We love to go to church as a family, go bowling and grab a bite to eat after, etc. These are the times I try to encourage them to try different foods, which they find fun. I don’t drive, so we take the bus together a lot, even sometimes out of town, which is a nice way to have adventures together. Each day with my kids is a blessing, and I am always learning about them and how their autism makes them unique.

What services and resources are you most thankful for? 

The best services for Frankie and Sarah were early intervention services. Having access to that, as well as the support of the people who have been by our side from the beginning, makes all the difference. Also, they’ve been lucky to have amazing teachers, who have gone above and beyond to help them do their best.

I’m also very thankful that the kids’ big sister, Chantal, is so involved in their lives. She is very understanding and helps out whenever they need her. It can become overwhelming for her at times, especially on bad days when they really struggle, but she always seems to keep a positive outlook. We’re so grateful to have her in our lives.

What makes you most proud of your children?

What makes me proud of Frankie and Sarah is how hard they work. Every day they put in the effort to do better and learn more, which makes me proud. They are also very good about showing their appreciation. I love to hear them saying “I love you” and “thank you for everything.” They are special kids.

What advice would you give to other parents of autistic children as they prepare for a socially distant holiday season?

My advice would be to know your children inside and out, which seems obvious but is very important. You can tailor the holiday to best fit their needs and find simple activities that make them happy. If the family is together enjoying each other’s company, that’s all you really need for it to be memorable.

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