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Sweeney: What taking the time to listen taught me

I am fascinated by the fact that sometimes it only takes one sentence to change our entire outlook on life.

Katlin Sweeney

Katlin Sweeney

Regardless of whether it is positive or negative, a sentence is a powerful thing. And when that statement is made up of a series of words that are strung together in the right way, they stay in your mind permanently.

I get excited about words on a regular basis, but what’s even better is a great story that comes with them. Something I heard recently reminded me of why I love words so much to begin with.

Watching people grow is of equal fascination to me that words are, and never has that been more amazing to witness than with my former kindergarten teacher, Kathy Anselmo. Not only did she teach me things about life that have proven useful to me in and outside of the classroom, but she and her family have introduced me to autism, a world that many of us are foreign to.

Autism is a developmental disorder that now affects 1 in every 50 children. While every person that has it faces different challenges (hence why it is often referred to as the Autism ‘Spectrum’), it essentially impacts the way a person can communicate. The task of organizing our thoughts and making our body move the way we want is something that many of us take for granted. But for someone with autism, those are tremendous struggles.

A lot of people associate the ability to verbally communicate what someone wants with being intellectual. However, people with autism are extremely intelligent and profound thinkers. They just need a little extra time to communicate how they feel.

When Kathy and Mark Anselmo’s son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, they could have easily just dismissed themselves into seclusion and been frustrated. But instead, they created the Our Nicholas Foundation, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping the more than 800 autistic kids and their families in the surrounding areas. They buy iPads and various technology to help them communicate, have created various sports programs for the children to compete in, and raise thousands of dollars to buy whatever the kids want or need.

Last night, I attended the annual Our Nicholas Foundation banquet that raises money for the various programs and supplies that they provide families with. Mark and Kathy both talked about their plans for the future, what they were thankful for, and what their experience has been like in helping their son Nicholas be successful in life. But it was Nicholas’ older brother Anthony that said something that really stood out.

When he got on-stage, Anthony talked about his relationship with Nicholas and the challenges that come with explaining to people outside of the autism community what it is. He explained how insensitive a lot of people are to the fact that Nicholas does not express himself in the conventional way, and how much judgment is received. But the statement that he concluded with was what opened my eyes to the reality of the situation.

“Nicholas isn’t the one that needs to change. We do.”

Let’s face it; we all have things that weigh down on us. Whether it’s bills, a successful/failed relationship, your career, or a miscellaneous worry, we tend to get a little self-focused. When we get stressed about our own problems, we forget about the challenges of others.

The things you might take for granted (for example the fact that you are able to read this without hesitation), is something that someone else struggles with on a daily basis. I’m not saying that our problems are not important. But I think that if we realized that everyone has moments of frustration, and we just took the time to help others out a little more, we would feel a lot different.

If we could just stop once in a while and be patient, kinder, and more understanding, the world would be a lot different. Sometimes, the solution to your own problem is helping someone else out of theirs, because when you show a little more compassion, you end up feeling a lot more optimistic as well.

2 Comments on Sweeney: What taking the time to listen taught me

  1. The last paragraph of this post is so beautiful I have tears in my eyes… thank you for those words.

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