Reader James P. Wallace, 11, is a sixth-grader at Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills.
One of my favorite pictures shows me and my little brother, Joey. It was taken in 2004. In this picture I am 4 and Joey is 3. We are holding hands and are getting ready to play with our soccer team, the East Meadow Strikers. My dad was our coach and I have been told that I liked to knock people down and that Joey always chased the ball.
This picture makes me happy because we were able to play on the same team. I didn't know then that my brother was diagnosed with autism. For those who don't know, autism is a disorder that disrupts the connections in the brain and can make it hard for people to talk, learn and get along with other people.
Joey is now 10. His biggest problem is that he cannot talk like other people and sometimes has a hard time understanding things. He uses a machine called a Dynavox to communicate. He touches pictures on the screen of things he wants and it talks for him.
Joey looks like a normal kid, but he likes to make noises that aren't always appropriate, like a shriek or a squeal. This usually makes people look at him, which makes me feel uncomfortable. Once we were at a bookstore when Joey let out one of his yells. A woman looked at us like we were doing something wrong. Since there is nothing wrong with Joey that you can see, people assume he is doing it for attention or just being bad. They don't know it is something he can't control or needs to do to express himself.
My brother is very active. He likes to swim, play baseball, basketball and lacrosse. He is really good at swimming underwater and can stay in the pool for hours, even when the water is too cold for me!
In lacrosse, he plays defense and goalie, just like me, and is good because he always wants the ball. On his basketball team, he is the point guard because he can dribble with either hand.
As we have gotten older, there aren't any opportunities for Joey and me to play sports together. Joey's abilities have not grown with his age. My friends and I play everything at a faster pace.
Because my parents do not want Joey to get hurt, they have found teams for kids like Joey. He plays baseball and basketball in Challenger Leagues in Dix Hills, and lacrosse with a Suffolk County Police Athletic League team. The teams are made up of athletes like Joey who have autism, or perhaps Down syndrome. He is coached by kids like me who volunteer to help.
The picture of Joey and me is also a reminder that we're "teammates" for life. Brothers should be lifetime friends. It upsets me when I see them fight. I wish that people could learn to appreciate what they have.
In the future, I hope there is a cure for autism. If Joey could be cured tomorrow, I would teach him how to play video games. He would become one of the "cool" kids because he would be so good at sports. Since he is good at them with autism, he would be excellent without it!
Until that day, I want people to treat Joey with respect and like a normal kid. I get mad when I see my classmates making fun of students with special needs in the hallways. I wish everyone could understand how hard it is for people like my brother to just get through the day.