A teenager has earned herself an army of fans after she finally reached her goal to help her severely autistic twin brother across the stage at their high school graduation.
Anders Bonville, 18, from Birmingham, Alabama, was diagnosed with autism when he was two, which left him non-verbal but – along with his sister, Aly – the pair developed their own unique language and set out to alter perceptions of the condition.
When the siblings first started school, Aly told AutismSpeaks how the other children in their class excluded Anders because he was “different.” She remembered: “Having grown up with Anders, I couldn’t imagine not having him be part of classroom activities and so my mother and I made sure to always introduce him to other students and have him give them high-fives.
“Then, they would realise that – even though Anders has autism and couldn’t talk to them and made weird noises – he was just a kid like they were.”
There was a brief period when the pair was separated, for the first time ever, when Anders attended a different school: “Although I was sad,” said Aly, “I realised I could still help Anders be included in his classroom at the other school.”
When the other pupils became more curious about Anders and his likes and dislikes, Aly had to explain that he could only vocalise – and not actually speak – so she created an ‘Ask Aly’ box so that the other kids could submit questions about her brother.
She said: “The most important thing, besides educating these fifth-graders about special needs, was that it really humanised my brother.
“He would get to be a part of the classroom and would carry the box to them every day and interact with them while they submitted their questions, It made Anders a part of the classroom and made students more accepting of him.”
When the pair was finally reunited at Oak Mountain High School, Aly began to think about graduation almost straight away. “I quickly realised that my imagination included Anders walking with me at graduation and I began to think of a way to have him there next to me,” she said.
“For my mother and I, it was never a matter of ‘if’ Anders would walk with me at graduation.”
As the big day drew nearer, Aly signed up for a cap and gown and registered for her own diploma and well as her brother’s – but she kept it secret from her family and friends.
Working closely with her teachers, though, she took into account the many things that could possibly go wrong: “Was he going to be mad, was he going to be content, would he be vocalising, would he be having a break down? All of these things were going through my head and I had a plan for each one in case something did not go as planned.”
Aly was called first on-stage to receive her diploma. With her brother being walked quietly behind a curtained area in his wheelchair to keep him calm, she quickly exited to get him before his name was called out.
Aly zoomed down the hallway with her brother in his wheelchair so that he would be happy when the big moment came.
Although the principal had ordered the audience to hold all applause until the end – the moment Aly took her brother’s hand and led him across the stage – the entire hall rose to its feet and erupted into applause – including the principal herself.
Telling Anders to high-five the principal as he walked off the stage, Aly and Anders’ moment couldn’t have been more perfect, she recalled: “Anders was smiling from ear to ear and I knew, from his eyes, that he understood he had just done something amazing.”
With Aly now set to head-off to Auburn University to study music, she expressed her vision for the future: “Our lives will never be perfect by any typical standards. But, it is our normal and it is perfect to us.”
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