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Where there is a Will, there is a Way...

By: Shreya P.

Using my personal experiences, I have highlighted the prevailing ignorance and myths around disabilities, particularly Autism. Growing up with a sibling with disability, the negative experiences we encounter are disheartening. Yet, I am hopeful because I have found a way to use Art to raise awareness and acceptance for people-with-disabilities. Art has a remarkable power to bring people together: irrespective of their age, race, color, need, ability. I am hopeful that my paintings can act as a positive catalyst to educate people, combat bullying, debunk myths, and erase derogatory language towards people-with-disabilities by fostering awareness, understanding and acceptance.

Honorable Mention · High School Writing (2024)

“I empathize with your situation. I used to have a sibling with Autism until he outgrew it at 5…” Last year, I was approached by a schoolmate; her words “used to” and “outgrew” lingered in my mind and prompted me to research Autism. Having a brother with a diagnosis of Autism and Down Syndrome, I feel incredibly protective of him and people with disabilities. Year after year, he has to prove himself, whether it’s for meaningful inclusion in school, making friends, or pursuing employment opportunities. Despite all the challenges, we are very proud of my brother’s accomplishments. He never quits, and we never quit on him! The more I read and researched, the more my understanding aligned with what I initially believed – Autism is a condition that exists on a spectrum, not a disease that can be cured or outgrown. Throughout my freshman year, I frequently encountered situations where schoolmates demonstrated ignorance about Autism and other disabilities, even manipulating it for personal gain or simply lacking understanding. The “never-ending stares” of people at my brother, whether we were at the restaurant, on a walk, at the airport, at the park, at the beach, or just minding our own business. The apprehension and ignorance from the community to accommodate my brother’s needs during community events, the indifference and lack of interest from parents of typical kids to instill the values and respect for people with disabilities in their children, the lack of meaningful inclusion for children with disabilities in the schools; there are so many experiences to share…I always wondered how I could transform the “never-ending stares” into “friendly hellos”? The “ignorance” into “acceptance”? The “indifference” into “empathy”? My non-profit, “Art for a Cause,” was born during COVID- 19 when I saw my brother struggle with social distancing. We painted together and created artwork to host my first Virtual Art Show. Through this process, I have realized that Art and painting have a remarkable power to bring people together, regardless of age, race, color, need, or ability. I hope my paintings can act as a positive catalyst to educate people, combat bullying, debunk myths, and erase derogatory language towards people with disabilities by fostering awareness, understanding, and acceptance in our homes, schools, and communities.

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